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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Excellent sound quality
Impressive noise cancellation and features
Great battery life
Sometimes-spotty Bluetooth connectivity
A little pricey
No official waterproofing
The Sony WF-1000XM3 are amazing earbuds that sound great—when you can get the Bluetooth connectivity working without issue.
Sony has dropped a real bombshell on the true wireless earbud market with the release of the WF-1000XM3. The wildly popular (and confusingly named) WH-1000XM3 over-ear earbuds turned a lot of heads, and are still considered in the top few Bluetooth noise-canceling earbuds out there. Sony has taken that aesthetic and that technology and brought it to a product that competes directly (and in my opinion, capably) with the popular Apple AirPods and Airpods Pro. I got my hands on a pair of the WF-1000XM3 earbuds and ran them through their paces for a few days in my life. Here’s how they fared.
The first thing I noticed when unboxing the WF-M3s is that they have really picked up where Sony left off with the WH-100XM3 over-ear cans. They’re available in two colors, black or silver, but those colors feature Sony’s classic copper accent tone in various places. This is carried through to the battery case in a really pleasing way. The case itself is very similarly shaped to an AirPods case, only bigger and wider.
However, the magnetic lid sits flat on the top of the case and is copper-colored, providing a really nice accent to the matte plastic. The earbuds themselves are also pretty unique from a design perspective. Most of the build is comprised of a flattened, pill-shaped enclosure with Sony’s logo and the noise-canceling mic array sporting the copper accent. The eartip itself comes off this outer shape at a biased angle to better align with your ear canal so that when you’re wearing them, they sit flat and straight against the side of your head. For both the case and the earbuds, Sony has taken the path less traveled for true wireless earbuds.
Most other manufacturers have opted to either make earbuds into dangling stems like Airpods, or to create the smallest possible footprint, like the Galaxy Buds. I like that the earbuds don’t disappear into your ear, but I also like that they look more “normal” than the dangling-stem variety. Overall, this category is a win in my book.
I am an extremely tough customer when it comes to the fit of my earbuds—a fact that is further amplified when the earbuds are true wireless and could fall to the floor. The Sony WF-1000XM3s sit right in the middle of the pack for comfort. On one hand, they employ silicone ear tips (with three size choices, and three size choices of foam tips, too) so they will fit snug into your ear. So they aren’t just sitting there dangling.
But I was a little disappointed to see that, even though Sony has chosen an elongated enclosure, they haven’t included an outer-ear wing or fin-like some other brands. This makes them a little more precarious than I’d like for a premium pair of true wireless buds. I also think that, though they aren’t the tightest around, they do feel really stuffy when wearing them. At 0.3 ounces, they’re also not the heaviest nor the lightest I’ve tried.
The running theme of these earbuds is clearly a middling one, and because comfort and fit are largely subjective to a specific listener, I can’t knock Sony too much on this point. There are definitely more customization options than if no eartips were involved.
These earbuds took everything I threw at them completely in stride, from bass-heavy hip-hop music to the lightest acoustic tunes.
The look and feel of these earbuds is the most enjoyable aspect of owning them. The case is made of a soft-touch matte plastic with a sleek copper-toned lid. The lid opens easily and quickly snaps shut in a really satisfying way.
The earbuds feature similar materials, and Sony has made sure to include magnets inside the case to suck the earbuds back in. These magnetic touches and high-quality materials are basically musts, in my opinion. One of the biggest gripes I had about the Jabra Elite 65t earbuds was that the earbuds just rest inside the case, and snapping open the case took a lot of force. Having a seamless, no-nonsense mechanism for these common tasks is crucial in giving you confidence in your purchase.
One major drawback of the WF-1000XM3s is that they don’t offer any official waterproof rating. I’m actually surprised this isn’t included here, considering how much attention to detail has been spent on the rest of the features. This could actually be a dealbreaker for some users, especially those who want earbuds for working out. While I did bring these along for a gym session and they didn’t seem to be harmed by any sweat, I can’t say with any firm confidence that they’d survive a long, strenuous session, or even some light precipitation. Just take note of this if you want an all-around pair of earbuds.
As is the case with the WH-100XM3 over-ears, the sound quality of the WF-100XM3 earbuds is virtually best in class. I’ve tested a lot of true wireless earbuds and even when compared to other luxury brands like Bose and Master & Dynamic, I think the Sony WF-M3s edge them out for a couple reasons.
The closed 0.24-inch driver is a very capable little speaker that provides an impressively rich response across the full 20–20kHz range. This is not common in earbuds by any stretch, and I can say in practice, these earbuds took everything I threw at them completely in stride, from bass-heavy hip-hop music to the lightest acoustic tunes.
Now, if you don’t love the sound quality of these earbuds right out of the box, there is actually a lot of recourse available. Thanks to the Sony earbuds Connect app, which I’ll dig into more later, you can actually adjust the EQ with five bands of precision—boosting bass, cutting mids, emphasizing voices, etc. This, when paired with the adaptive noise cancellation, gives you a really clean environment to truly tailor the sound to your tastes. I did find there was more Bluetooth stuttering and distortion than I’d like, which isn’t exactly related to the sound quality, but is something to note. But when the music was playing, it was decidedly robust.
Manufacturers have taken amazing strides when it comes to battery life for compact little wireless earbud package like this. When you look at Bose’s SoundSport Free, you get about 12-15 total hours when including the case. With AirPods, you’ll get a full 24 hours with the case.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds give you up to 8 advertised hours in the earbuds, with an additional 18 with the case. This is a really impressive feat considering just how much sound these little drivers are pumping. Sony does caveat these numbers by stating that you’ll get closer to 6 hours with noise cancellation on and closer to 4 hours if you make a lot of phone calls and use noise cancellation.
I got right around 6 hours in the buds alone, but I swear I was trending higher than 18 hours with the battery case. It’s a little hard to give exact figures, because most of the time you’ll want to store the buds inside the case that charges them, losing track of the battery totals. But the reason I outlined the Sony-advertised numbers above is that I’m always impressed when a manufacturer gives you honest, conservative, real-world detail about battery life. They aren’t trying to claim best-in-class, but they want you to know this device will last you through a few workdays. To charge up the whole case it took me about an hour and change, and though I did find the earbuds charge slower than I’d like, I was still pleased with this package.
Setting up the WF-1000XM3 earbuds was about as basic as you could hope for—just pull them out of the case and select them in your Bluetooth menu. I also like how simple it is to kick them back into pairing mode for a second device: Just hold your finger on both ears’ touchpads simultaneously for 7 seconds. So far so good.
Where I ran into problems, however, was during my first commute using the WF-1000XM3s. Though I received little-to-no stuttering or interference in my home, once I got onto a crowded, fast-moving subway car, I noticed very real stuttering and cutouts. These weren’t loud pops, and weren’t that distracting, but they were definitely there. I investigated further and found that this can be the case for the WF-1000XM3s if there are a lot of wireless devices around, or if you leave your phone far away from the earbuds and there are people in between. It’s frustrating, because Sony’s marketing materials brag about a new dual-Bluetooth chip and an improved internal antenna.
And considering NFC is available right out of the box, Bluetooth 5 is loaded in, and Sony even uses their proprietary DSEE HX sound-enhancing compression protocol, I was really disappointed that the on-paper specs didn’t mean anything for a rocky commute. Updating the firmware helped a little, and I found no issues when in a stable, stationary environment. Sony does also offer a “Connection Priority” mode in the app, focusing all the energy on Bluetooth connection, rather than fancy sound quality improvements. But in my experience, this really was a ding in the con column.
The Sony WF earbuds give you up to 8 advertised hours in the earbuds, with an additional 18 with the case. This is a really impressive feat considering just how much sound these little drivers are pumping.
The WF-1000XM3s did not leave me wanting for fancy technology and standout features. First, there’s Sony’s impressive QN1e noise cancellation chip here, which serves to provide noise cancellation while only minimally affecting the quality of the audio you’re listening to.
There’s that afore-mentioned DSEE HX proprietary compression format, dual-noise sensor technology that adapts the noise canceling to your environment in a really intelligent way, and even a handy Quick Attention feature that lets you place a finger over your left earbud to momentarily lower the volume of your music and pass through ambient sound. There are touchpads on each ear that let you assign controls—such as answering phone calls, calling up Google Assistant, and the like.
These controls expand even further when you download the intuitive Sony earbuds Connect app. The app lets you toggle on the adaptive sound control, which I found really impressive because the app let me assign different “profiles” based on different times of the day and the activities I’d likely be doing in those moments. You can also access the afore-mentioned noise cancellation/ambient sound controls and the EQ.
There’s also a whole 360-degree audio section that prompts you to take a snapshot (literally, with your phone’s camera) of your ear canal and better optimize the way that spatialization of sound is portrayed. These are extremely nerdy, audiophile-centric controls that, out of the box, can mostly be left alone. But if you’re someone who likes to roll up their sleeves and really get your device acting how you want, then there are tons of options here.
The average retail price of the WF-M3s is $230, straight from Sony and most retailers (though Amazon typically undercuts this by different amounts depending on if you catch a sale). This is, without a doubt, a premium price point for earbuds. But if you zoom out and look at the rest of the field, it becomes surprising how affordable they are for the feature set offered. AirPods Pro (Apple’s answer to the noise-canceling, true wireless game) are $250, for example.
Considering just how good the WF-M3s sound, how capable the noise cancellation is, and how premium the full package is, I can’t help but think Sony is driving a good bargain here.
The true competitor to the WF-1000XM3s doesn’t come from Apple or even Bose. It comes from Sennheiser. For exactly the same price, the Momentum earbuds (see on Amazon) give you truly premium sound, but don’t offer noise cancellation. You’ll get less battery life, but in my opinion, a slightly nicer design. The Momentum does offer app control, but not nearly as much as Sony, but Sennheiser packs in IPX4 waterproofing, so they’re probably more friendly to the elements. It’s a close call here, so this is definitely an alternative you should consider.
Almost perfect true wireless earbuds with great noise cancellation.
The Sony WF-1000XM3s are truly beautiful true wireless earbuds that pack a head-spinning spread of features. From the class-leading noise cancellation and beautifully rich sound respond to the amazing battery life and premium package, there’s a lot to love here. But take note of the Bluetooth connectivity issues that, to me, are almost unacceptable for a pair of earbuds that do everything else right. Your mileage could vary though, so if you love how these things look and need that premium noise cancellation, go for the WF-1000XM3s.