Sony WH-1000XM3 Hands-on Review : First look – The best just got better – again

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Sony WH-1000XM3 first look – What you need to know about Sony’s third-generation ANC wireless headphones

Two years ago Sony took me into a room at IFA in Berlin and announced its intention to unseat Bose from the top of the noise-cancelling headphone market. That was an ambitious objective, but they did it.

Bose remained a crowd favourite, but it has yielded a significant chunk of its market share to the Sony MDR-1000X. The same thing happened in 2017 with the arrival of the second-generation Sony WH-1000XM2.

It was only a matter of time before the Sony WH-1000XM3 came along. Here’s everything we know about from the launch at IFA 2018.

Sony WH-1000XM3 vs 1000XM2

Here are the key improvements the Sony WH-1000XM3 offers over the 1000XM2, at a glance:

  • More comfortable fit
  • USB-C charging
  • Quicker charging – 10 mins for five hours playback
  • Better noise cancelling
  • Better audio playback

Sony WH-1000XM3 – Design and features

The Sony WH-1000XM3 are clearly descended from the 1000XM2 and the 1000X before them. The overall shape and look are the same. Any why not? The original design was great.

The only obvious change in aesthetics is the lettering and the trim around the noise cancelling microphones. The black version has bronze accents – tasteful – while the champagne version is appropriately a little more bling with brass accents.

The fit is more comfortable. The padding appears thicker – or the drivers are more recessed, I couldn’t really tell from my short time with the headphones. Either way, there is more space for ears, which make these unquestionably over-ear headphones.

There is also a more subtle profile. The headband bends more acutely to reduce the what Sony calls ‘the Mickey Mouse effect’, where a headband extends too far from your head and looks a little silly. The Sony WH-1000XM3 are also a little lighter than before, dropping from 275g to 255g. A reduction in 20g might not sound like a lot, but the difference is obvious if you hold up both old and new versions.

Left: 1000XM2 Right: 1000XM3

The chassis remains primarily plastic, but it’s a nicely finished and not tacky, and there’s just enough metal in the headband to come across more luxurious than the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. I’m told the plastic used remains the same, but the hinges have been improved.

There is faux leather on the headband and ear cushions. The back of the left ear cup has an NFC chip for rapid Bluetooth pairing. The right ear has a touch-sensitive control pad: swipe left and right to change tracks, up and down to change volume, double-tap to play or pause. The plastic on the back of the ear cups has been swapped from a rougher, textured finish to a smooth one – I’m told that’s to create less noise when they’re used.

The Sony WH-1000XM3 has swapped the ubiquitous micro-USB charging port for the new USB-C standard. That means adopters of the latest Android smartphones will be able to pull double duty with just one charging cable. Although USB-C is a welcome addition, it appears this is just for charging – there is no word on this being used for music as you can on the B&W PX.

Battery rating for wireless and noise-cancelling usage remains the same at 30 hours. There is a handy quick-charge feature, which gives you about five hours of play time in just 10 minutes.

Sony WH-1000XM3 – sound quality

The outside may look familiar but the Sony WH-1000XM3 have had bigger upgrades on the inside. That’s thanks to the new ‘HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1’, which promises to be four times more powerful than the last processor.

Sony claims it’s better at cancelling out transient sounds such as street noises and voices. That’s very welcome, because transient sounds typically pose a challenge: noise-cancelling headphones generally fare better with low, constant sounds like the drone of a plane engine.

This totally works. I stood in the middle of a busy show floor with journalists and engineers nattering away, and I compared the new Sony WH-1000XM3 with my own old 1000XM2. The reduction in voice volume was remarkable.

I could still tell people were there, but making out individual words was a lot harder – and this was with music turned off. Play some music and you’ll have no problem burying other people’s racket.

An engineer tells me the drivers haven’t changed much, but that audio performance has been improved by the new processor. It can handle 32-bit hi-res audio, and includes a DAC and an analogue amplifier – leading to a higher signal-to-noise ratio and lower distortion. In my limited listening time, I did feel the performance was a little cleaner and firmer than the 1000XM2, but I’ll have to get a finished pair in for testing to confirm.

Still, if I had to take away one thing from my demonstration it’s that Sony’s managed to improve its already class-leading noise cancellation. I’m very excited about this one.




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