The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of tech gear

Sony WH1000XM3 Review

Exceptional sound quality and noise cancellation
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:   $350 List | $348 at Amazon
Pros:  Great sound quality, great noise cancellation
Cons:  Expensive, touch sensitive controls can take a little getting used to
Manufacturer:   Sony
By Max Mutter and Steven Tata  ⋅  Sep 23, 2018
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88
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 12
  • Sound Quality - 30% 9
  • Noise Isolation - 25% 10
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • User Friendliness - 10% 7
  • Portability - 10% 9

The Skinny

Offering incredible sound and the best active noise cancellation of any of the headphones we tested, the Sony WH1000XM3 easily earned our Editors' Choice Award. Sony has really set themselves apart when it comes to active noise cancellation, with these headphones offering a nearly silent cone in which to enjoy your music. Sony also made slightly deeper earcups and added more padding for this new model, and reduced the weight a bit, bringing the comfort level closer to that of the competing Bose QuietComfort 35 II. For those that want their music to sound as good as possible with little to no interference from ambient noise, these headphones are the best on the block.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Sony WH1000XM3 provided the most effective noise cancellation in our testing, and shared the top slot for sound quality. This made these headphones the clear winners of our Editors' Choice Award.

The Sony WH1000MX3 vs the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 II


For those willing to pay top dollar for the best sounding wireless headphones, the shortlist is comprised of the Sony WH1000MX3 and the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. So which one is best for you? The short answer is that we would suggest the Sony to the vast majority of people. Since these two models are pretty much even when it comes to sound quality and price, the superior noise cancellation performance of the Sony makes it a better choice for most.

However, there are a few circumstances where we would recommend the Bose flagship model over Sony's. While Sony has upped the comfort factor in the latest iteration of the WH1000MX3, the Bose QuietComfort still has slightly larger and deeper earcups, and slightly more supple padding. So if you have larger than average ears, or just tend to be uncomfortable after wearing any pair of headphones after a couple of hours, we think you'll be happier with the Bose QuietComfort.


Performance Comparison


There isn't much not to like about these headphones, which is reflected in the incredibly high overall score they ended up with after our rigorous testing process. However, they do have some very minor flaws, so read on for the full details.

Sound Quality


Here the Sony WH1000XM3 is matched only by the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, sharing the top score of 9 out of 10.


These headphones sounded exceptional in our testing. They combined crisp treble, hearty midrange, and powerful bass to create a full-bodied and nuanced sound. Turning on noise cancellation brings out even more of the music's subtleties and makes for a great listening experience. Overall, this felt like the kind of high-end sound one would expect from a pair of $400 headphones.

The Sony WH1000XM3's sound is very similar, both in balance and quality, to that of the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. We doubt even the pickiest of audiophiles would be disappointed with either of these models.

The WH1000XM2 produces impressive sound.
The WH1000XM2 produces impressive sound.

Noise Isolation


This is where the Sony WH1000XM3 really shines. These headphones earned the top score of 10 out of 10 in this metric.


In our testing the Sony WH1000XM3's active noise cancellation was able to make us completely oblivious to ambient noise when we had music playing. This was about even with the performance of the two Bose models we tested, which were the only ones that could compete with the Sony. The real difference came when music was not playing. In that case some noises did make their way through the Bose headphones. Voices in particular could at least be heard, if not understood, when wearing the Bose headphones with noise cancellation turned on and music turned off. The Sony still let some noise in when the music was turned off, but that noise was slightly quieter and more muffled than the noise the Bose models let in. The difference is somewhat minor, but if one of the big reasons you want a pair of wireless headphones is so that you can enjoy a museum without listening to the cacophony of school field trip groups, we would opt for the Sony over the Bose.


Sony also offers a number of noise cancellation features that Bose does not, pushing them another step up in terms of noise cancellation performance. First, you can set the noise cancellation so that voices are still filtered through to a large degree. This is great for airports and train stations where you'd like to drown out most noise, but still, want to hear announcements on the PA. You can also turn on an ambient noise mode, where the microphone actually pipes in outside noise. Ok, technically this is the opposite of noise canceling, but it is actually useful for walking on the crowded street when you actually need to hear your surrounding. In comparison Bose only lets you adjust the noise cancellation between off, low, and high.

Comfort


The WH1000XM3 offers slightly deeper and more padded earcups than previous Sony models, bringing them within spitting distance of the top-end fit of the Bose QuietComfort 35 II.


The Sony WH1000XM3's ear cups have nice, plush padding that doesn't produce any hot spots, even after wearing them for hours. They are also wide and deep enough that most people won't have any parts of their ears rubbing on the cups. The Bose models still have a bit more padding and slightly larger ear cups, making them a better choice for people with particularly large ears, or those that tend to not like wearing headphones.

The WH1000XM3's large ear cups are quite comfortable.
The WH1000XM3's large ear cups are quite comfortable.

User Friendliness


The Sony WH1000XM3's on-headphone controls have a little bit of a learning curve, which bumped the score down to a slightly above average 7 out of 10.


We get Sony's thinking here, touchscreen controls are all the rage, and putting touch-sensitive controls on a pair of headphones allows for a much more minimalistic, streamlined look. However, this is a rare instance where you're using what is essentially a touchscreen that you can't see, because it's on your head. After a while swiping our fingers up and down to adjust volume and forward an back felt somewhat natural, but it certainly took a bit of getting used to. More basic functions like tapping to play/pause work very well, and it's nice that you can just tap your ear to pause instead of having to find a physical button.

More advanced features, like customizing the sound profile and noise cancellation settings, are done through the Sony Headphone Connect app. The app is well designed, intuitive, and easy to navigate.

One feature that Sony really like to put in their advertisements is the fact that you can put and hold your hand on the touch pad earcup to momentarily pause your music and shut off noise cancellation. We found this a great feature for quickly being able to hear PA announcements or for when you need to navigate across a busy street and want to be able to hear everything. We did find that using this feature when actually interacting with people, buying a cup of coffee for instance, got us some scowls. Not everyone is familiar with the specific features of Sony headphones, so it is easy to look like someone that is too lazy to take their headphones off to talk to another human when using this function. This isn't a criticism, just a friendly tip based on our real-world experiences.

Portability


The Sony WH1000XM2 is quite portable and earned a high score of 9 out of 10 in our portability testing.


The ear cups fold flat so the headphones can be packed into the included semi-hard carrying case. The headphones also weigh only 9 ounces, which is about average and certainly doesn't feel heavy. Overall these headphones are just as portable as their main competitor, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II. Only the Beats Solo3 earned a better score in this metric, due to a heavily padded case and a weight of just 7.5 ounces.

We gave the WH1000MX3 an extra bump up in its portability core for two reasons. First, it has a field-leading battery life of 30 hours. It also has a quick charge feature that gets you 5 hours of playback with just 10 minutes of charging. Both of these things make the WH1000MX3 great for long travel days.

The WH1000XM3's convenient carrying case.
The WH1000XM3's convenient carrying case.

Value


The Sony WH1000XM3's list price of $350 is identical to the top-scoring Bose QuietComfort 35 II. Both are top-notch headphones that deliver excellent sound quality, but we have to give the edge to the Sony WH1000XM3 due to the better noise canceling technology. If you're looking for the best possible listening experience, $350 feels like a fair price to pay for these headphones. If you're looking for the best performance per dollar, check out the TaoTronics TT-BH22US instead.

Conclusion


The Sony WH1000XM3 offers field leading sound quality and noise cancellation. Literally the only downsides of these headphones are the high price tag and the fact that people with very large ears may find them slightly uncomfortable. If you can shell out the money and have averaged sized ears, you won't have any complaints about the WH1000XM3.


Max Mutter and Steven Tata