I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: true wireless earphones are the future. Although the form factor took some time to grow to its full potential, true wireless earphones today can be practically as good as full-sized over-ear wireless ones when it comes to features and sound quality. At this point, there’s really nothing holding any of us back from enjoying the benefits of being completely wire-free, with not even a physical connection between the left and right earpeices.
The last year or so has seen the launch of some impressive flagship-grade true wireless earphones, such as the Apple AirPods Pro and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2. Both of these are priced at a premium, but offer good sound and effective active noise cancellation. Taking these two on is the latest launch from Sony, the WF-1000XM3 true wireless earphones.
Although launched globally in 2019, the Sony WF-1000XM3 has only recently been launched in India, priced at Rs. 19,990. This pair is a hint more affordable than the AirPods Pro and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, but promises the same flagship level of audio performance, with active noise cancellation. Is this the best pair of true wireless earphones you can buy today? Find out in our review.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 is big, but feature-filled and comfortable
Unlike competing options that have more compact designs, the Sony WF-1000XM3 is big. Each earphone is big and bulky, and the charging case is also not as easily pocketable as that of the AirPods Pro. The earphones are entirely plastic and don’t weigh too much. They look good, and have everything you need built into them, including big wear-detection sensors on the insides, large touch-sensitive zones for controls, indicator lights that are bright enough to shine through the casings, and two microphones on each earphone.
Included in the box are six extra pairs of ear tips – three silicone and three foam. Although the earphones were comfortable, the fit felt a bit precarious regardless of the ear tips I used, because of their size and shape. I always felt that I needed to be a bit careful when using them while moving around or lying down, since they could slip out easily or move around just enough to compromise the noise isolating seal needed for effective active noise cancellation. A rubber surface on the inside helps maintain the seal, but the fit always felt a bit too delicate and easy to upset.
The touch sensors on the Sony WF-1000XM3 earphones are large, work well, and can be customised using the Sony Headphones Connect app. You have to choose between some functions though; you can set them to control ambient sound (including hear-through and noise cancellation), playback, volume, or your voice assistant (either Google Assistant or Alexa). You can choose a set of functions for each earphone, but you can’t mix and match between these sets.
This was a difficult choice for me, and I had to sacrifice volume adjustment on the earphones themselves in favour of playback and ambient sound controls. Ideally I’d have had all three with different gestures to manage all functions. That said, the gestures are easy to remember and even easier to use.
The Google Assistant and Alexa gesture sets let you control more features related to these voice assistants, and Google Assistant definitely worked a bit better than Alexa at this. I was able to get detailed briefings and notification readouts using simple gestures. However, as stated, I preferred having playback and ambient sound controls, which meant using only the standard voice assistant activation gesture the few times I needed it.
A quick tap on the left side let me cycle through hear-through and noise cancelling modes, and a continuous press activated the quick attention mode. On the right, a single-tap played or paused music, a double-tap skipped to the next track, a triple-tap skipped to the previous track, and a long press launched the default voice assistant on my paired smartphone. Volume controls also worked well when I had it active.
The charging case of the Sony WF-1000XM3 is large and I found that it was not very easy to slip it into my pocket if there were already things in there. However, it is quite good-looking and decently built. The lid is copper-coloured, the USB Type-C charging port is at the bottom, and the earphones latch into place magnetically. Interestingly, there’s also NFC on the case for quick paring with compatible devices. There is a small indicator light at the front of the case which illuminates when the earphones are charging, but no there are no specific battery level indications. You will have to use the app to check the estimated battery level of the case and earphones.
Like most of Sony’s high-end headphones and earphones, the WF-1000XM3 can be used with the Sony Headphones Connect app, available for iOS and Android. The app lets you customise controls and noise cancellation levels, adjust the equaliser, set up adaptive sound controls, and update the firmware on the earphones. I found all of this useful when setting up the WF-1000XM3 the first time.
You can also turn DSEE HX (Sony’s sound enhancement engine) on or off, but I couldn’t perceive any difference in the sound when this was active. While the app does show estimated battery levels for both the earphones and the charging case, it was only really accurate for the earphones; the case showed a 100 percent charge for the longest time before abruptly dropping to 60 percent and then further, giving me no real indication of how much power it had left.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 uses the QN1e noise cancelling processor, said to be a smaller TWS-friendly version of the QN1 processor used in flagship over-ear headphones such as the WH-1000XM3 and WH-1000XM4. The earphones have 6mm dynamic drivers, use Bluetooth 5 for connectivity, and support the SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. The lack of support for aptX or LDAC is a bit disappointing, given that the slightly more expensive Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 earphones put aptX to very good use.
Battery life is decent on the WF-1000XM3, with the earphones matching Sony’s claim of six hours with active noise cancellation on, and the case offering an additional three charges to the earphones for a total of 24 hours of use. There’s also quick charging on the case for the earphones, with up to 90 minutes of battery life promised from a 10-minute charge.
Good, but not class-leading sound quality on the Sony WF-1000XM3
Sony’s premium wireless headphones and earphones have typically been among the best-sounding you can buy, largely because of good tuning, technically impressive specifications, and decent noise cancellation which enhances the listening experience. The Sony WF-1000XM3 checks some of these boxes, but falls short when it comes to Bluetooth codecs, with just SBC and AAC supported.
The earphones try to make up for this with very good tuning, but the resulting sound quality, while definitely very good, doesn’t quite match up to the standards set by the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2. However, the Sony WF-1000XM3 does offer what is perhaps the best active noise cancellation I’ve yet experienced on a pair of true wireless earphones.
Although held back a bit by the lack of advanced Bluetooth codecs and problematic seal, the Sony WF-1000XM3 still sounds pretty good. Listening to The Girl From Back Then by Kings Of Convenience, the sound was detailed, and even captured the typical nuances of the studio recording experience which adds to the charm of this gentle acoustic track. The imaging and wide soundstage were particularly enjoyable, with the spaciousness in the sound coming close to what I’d expect to hear from good over-ear headphones with muc larger drivers.
Switching to fast-paced electronic music, I played Heer by Nucleya. The bass drop on this Indian dubstep track was calculated and powerful, yet played more on the senses than simply rattling my eardrums. This tight bass made for an extremely enjoyable listening experience with electronic music, since it didn’t heavily intrude on the rest of the frequency range, the spaciousness of the sound, or the level of detail on offer.
This excellent tuning ensures that the Sony WF-1000XM3 is cohesive with its sound, letting it comfortably keep pace with even the busiest and most detailed of tracks, such as the beautiful Love Love Love by Moullinex. The sounds of the forest and raindrops at the start of the track sounded almost real and present, and weren’t drowned out even when the punchy bass kicked in. The gentler instrumental elements were always clearly audible, showing just how good these earphones are when it comes to detail.
Despite all of this, the Sony WF-1000XM3 doesn’t quite get to the level of quality of the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, which is still the best-sounding pair of true wireless earphones I’ve used. I can’t help but wonder what this headset would have been capable of if it had had support for the aptX or LDAC Bluetooth codecs; the electronics and drivers seem capable of processing more digital data, and the limitations of the AAC codec here do hold the Sony WF-1000XM3 back, in my opinion.
Where the Sony WF-1000XM3 hits it out of the park is active noise cancellation, with performance that is a fair amount better than on the Apple AirPods Pro. Once you get a proper seal and ensure that passive isolation is in place, the WF-1000XM3 does an excellent job of cutting out noise. Whether it was my ceiling fans and air conditioning, or the general hum of the urban outdoors, the earphones significantly reduced the noise filtering in.
This made listening to music as well as dialogue in videos and games much cleaner, and generally made the listening experience more immersive and engaging. The hear-through mode, while effective, wasn’t as natural-sounding as on the AirPods Pro. However, you can customise the level of hear-through; the highest level was a bit too shrill and amplified too much background sound, but turning this down a bit made for a pleasant enough experience.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 is very good for voice calls, and I didn’t face any trouble when using this as a hands-free device to take calls on my phone while at work, as well as for the occasional video calls when using my laptop.
Although launched only recently in India, the Rs. 19,990 Sony WF-1000XM3 was launched globally in 2019, much before the Apple AirPods Pro and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, which it goes up against in the flagship true wireless segment. Despite its age, this pair of earphones holds up impressively against the competition when it comes to sound, and goes considerably further with noise cancellation abilities. When it comes to active noise cancellation, there isn’t a better pair of truly wireless earphones than the Sony WF-1000XM3.
Battery life is decent, and performance on voice calls is good, but the Sony WF-1000XM3 doesn’t quite match up to the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 when it comes to sound quality. Very good tuning can’t entirely make up for the lack of support for advanced Bluetooth codecs, and the large and bulky design of the earphones meant that the fit was always a bit precarious even when it seemed secure.
At Rs. 19,990, the Sony WF-1000XM3 does also have the advantage of price over the competition. It’s definitely the best pair of true wireless earphones you can buy for less than Rs. 20,000, but it may be worth considering the AirPods Pro or Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 if you can bump your budget up a bit.
Price: Rs. 19,990
- Looks good, plenty of ear tips included
- Useful app with lots of customisations
- Calculated bass, detailed and spacious soundstage
- Decent battery life
- Class-leading active noise cancellation
- No advanced Bluetooth codec support
- Precarious fit
Ratings (out of 5)
- Design/ comfort: 3.5
- Audio quality: 4
- Battery life: 4
- Value for money: 4
- Overall: 4
Why are smartphone prices rising in India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.