Sony WH-1000XM3 Review: The King of active noise cancellation


The Sony WH1000 XM3 headphones are the upgrade to the Sony WH1000-XM2 headphones.

Now the XM2’s were in my opinion the flagship over-ear wireless Bluetooth active noise-canceling headphones along with the original Bose QC35 II.

So naturally, Sony was going to have to do one hell of a job to improve on those headphones.  Then Sony unveiled the WH1000XM3.

Initially, I imagined that the only difference would be the 3 at the end.

Many people who purchased the XM2’s stated that these headphones were very good at keeping out noise, but comfort was a problem.

I found the Sony WH-1000XM 3 to be absolutely amazing.

I should not show my bias, as this is meant to be an honest review, but the Sony is my favorite in the category of wireless noise canceling headphones, closely followed by the Bose Quietcomfort 35 II.

The Sony 1000 MX3 headphones are truly a master class and in my opinion the King of over ear Active noise cancelling Headphones.


These headphones are ‘smart’, equipped with advanced noise-canceling technology, such as adaptive sound control, and smart features such as quick attention, voice assistant, compatibility, and touch control.

For those who fly frequently, Sony has optimized the sound at high altitudes, through the addition of unique Atmospheric pressure optimization.

Smart Sensors

With the Sony WH-1000XM3 it’s all about smart technology. Sony has done all but done away with buttons and has designed these headphones to be controlled with the fingers instead.

The only actual buttons that you will find on the XM3 are the noise cancellation and the on/off switch which are raised and have a nice tactile response.

With the touch sensor control panel, you can remote control your music playback on the connected Bluetooth device or perform other operations using touch operations.

Panels – Answer calls, change volume, change tracks.

To answer phone calls, simply double-tap the panel. Changing volume and tracks can be accomplished by swiping the panel up and down.

Swipe forward to get the next track and backward to go to the previous track.

Fast forward.

To fast-forward simply swipe forward, hold, and release at the desired playback point. Note that it may take some time before fast-forwarding begins.


To fast rewind/rewind: simply swipe backward hold, and release at the desired playback point. Note that it may take some time before rewinding begins. Begins.

Voice assistant

The WH-1000XM3 comes with built-in Amazon Alexa. You can also activate google assistant with one long press of the voice panel.

Hands-free calling

Hands-free calling can be activated with a double-tap. The existence of several microphones means that voice quality is clearer.

With the voice prompt feature known as voice guidance, you get an indication of various modes such as powering on/off, Bluetooth pairing/disconnected, battery charging, noise-canceling etc.



When the Bluetooth is activated, the sensors on the left earcup, below the noise cancellation button, and above the on/off button will indicate the Bluetooth status.

When your device is paired to the headphones, the blue dots will flash twice, when paired the sensors will display 8 dots which will flash quickly for 5 seconds.

The indicator on the left earcup lights up red or blue to indicate the power or communication status of the headset.

The indicator located on the inner region of the left earcup, below the noise-canceling button, and above the on/off button, contains a lot of information about the status of the headphones.

Bluetooth works better with A2DP (Advanced Audio distribution profile). Profiles, which enable you to enjoy high quality music wirelessly and AVRCP (Audio Video Control Profile) which allows you to adjust the volume.

The headphones come with NFC technology.

Noise Canceling

Adaptive Sound control

Adaptive sound control automatically detects if you’re travelling, waiting or walking and adjusts the ambient sound settings accordingly.

Quick attention

Quick attention is a neat feature that allows you to talk to others without removing your headphones.

All you have to do is place your hand over the housing to turn the volume down. This can be very useful in a flight where you want to quickly chat to a flight attendant or listen to any announcements.


The headphones come with built-in lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, and contain a USB battery charging port.

Simply connect the headset to a computer or USB AC Adapter and you can start charging.

The battery life is 30 hours when fully charged. This is with noise cancellation on, and continuous music playback.

This is one of the features that make The Sony WH-1000XM3 stand out from the crowd, as most of the other headsets out there at this price point provide 20-24 hours of battery life with noise cancellation on.

With noise cancellation turned off, the battery can last up to 38 hours, nonstop. It takes about 3 hours to charge the battery to full capacity from empty.

I often connect my USB Type-C Cable to my computer for charging. If charging starts whilst the headset is on, then the headset switches off automatically.

One inconvenience with the WH1000-XM3 is that unfortunately, the headset cannot be turned on when connected to an AC outlet or computer.

This would also include registering and connecting to a Bluetooth device and performing music playback.

But this is not a problem related to the Sony’s as most other headsets are designed in this way.

If you do not use the headset for a long time, there is the possibility that the rechargeable battery usage hours may be reduced. This can however be improved by a few recharges.

To avoid over discharge, ensure that the battery is charged to its full capacity every 6 months. This must be done if the headphones are not used for a long period.

The quick charging is the best that I have ever come across. Just 10 minutes of charging, gives you 5 hours of battery life.

Fortunately, I make use of public transport, and never must concern myself with temperature, as the temperature in most buildings is generally fine.

If you use your car however, then it is in your best interests not to leave your headsets in a parked vehicle as the heat could affect the performance.

Also, makes sure that your headphones are never exposed to extreme temperature changes, direct sunlight, moisture, sand dust and electrical shock.

The red indicator on the bottom right-hand side of the headphones lights up during charging.

When the remaining battery life is high, the sensor will flash twice in blue, and when the headphones need recharging the sensors will flash 3 red bars for about 15 seconds.

When the voice guidance says, “Low Battery”, please recharge the headset as soon as practical. The headset will sound a warning beep when completely empty and the voice guidance says please recharge headset.

When the battery is done charging, the sensor automatically lights up.

Refer to the tables below to get an indication of the Battery and talk time.

Communication time

Noise canceling function/Ambient Sound ModeAvailable operating time
Noise canceling function: ONMax: 24 hours
Ambient Sound Mode: ONMax: 18 hours
OFFMax: 30 hours

Source: Sony

Standby time

Noise canceling function/Ambient Sound ModeAvailable operating time
Noise canceling function: ONMax: 30 hours
Ambient Sound Mode: ONMax: 22 hours
OFFMax: 200 hours

Source: Sony

Headphone cable connected (power is turned on)

Noise canceling function/Ambient Sound ModeAvailable operating time
Noise canceling function: ONMax: 36 hours
Ambient Sound Mode: ONMax: 26 hours
OFFMax: 44 hours

Source: Sony


The quality of the sound has also been improved in these headphones, when compared to the XM2’s.

The cans have a built-in amplifier in the High definition QN 1 noise canceling processor.

The headphones come with 40mm dome shaped drivers (CCAW voice coil), which come with Liquid crystal polymer (LCP) diaphragms.

These drivers make the phones perfect for heavy beats, such as hip-hop drums, and can even produce frequencies up to 40KHz.

With the Sony connect App, you are able to create virtual surround sound. This allows you to control the type of listening environment, to go from outdoor stages, clubs and halls.

Sony have added an extra touch with sound position control, which allows you to choose the direction that the music comes from.

The bass seems a bit heavier on the XM3, almost like there is an additional amount of thump. This bodes well for Hip Hop drums and even EDM tracks.

Clarity, instrument separation and sound stage do resemble the XM2 quite a bit though.


Playback times for the Sony WH-1000XM3 differ based on the codec used, what the headphone is doing (playing music, chatting to people, just chilling), whether DSE HX and noise cancellation are on.

By using the “Sony | Headphones Connect” app, you can check which codec is used for a connection or switch the DSEE HX function.



The build of the XM3 is somewhat better than the XM2. The tolerance of the headphones is much better as well.

Also, you will notice that the XM3’s stretch out a little bit more and are far more big head friendly.

Ear Cups and ear pads.

The Sony WH-1000XM3’s come with close but loose fitting ear pads. These are a pair of headphones that I could wear all day without fatigue.

When doing a direct comparison with the XM2’s you find that the XM3’s have more spacious ear cups.

The benefit of this that the ear cups do not touch the outside of your ears and your ears do not heat up.

The ear pads are squishy soft and made of foamed urethane, and are made even more comfortable given the ergonomic ear space structure.

This basically means that the shape of the ear cups are not round and are Big ear friendly.


Further, adding to the comfort is the lightweight design which ensures that all you need to worry about is listening to your music.

The headphones come in at 255g, which is incredible given all the technology that the cans come with.

This is an additional upgrade from the XM2 which came in some 20 grams heavier.


Sony decided to make these headphones in silver and black.


The plastic slider allows you to adjust the size of the headband.

The one improvement that Sony have made is the addition of additional padding to the top of the headband allowing for more padding.


What’s in the box

The headphones are graced with touch sensitive volume controls, include a 1.2m single sided detachable cable, a gold-plated L-shaped stereo mini plug, stereo mini jack and circumaural wearing style.

Carrying Case

The ear cups swivel inwards, so that they can be packed up neatly in a compact case. The travel case is a hard-durable case and comes with a cable for wired listening.

I love the hard carrying cases because they do the best job of protecting my headphones, unlike pouches which I feel do well to protect against scratches, but if my headphones are to move around in my luggage they could get damaged.

The carrying case of the XM3 is larger than the carrying case of the XM2’s. This is because of the addition of an extra compartment in the carrying case of the XM3’s.

The headphones come with a 3.5mm audio cable that is 1.2m long. My only criticism of the cable is that it looks a little weaker than the XM2 cable, and also looks shorter. But this is no deal breaker as you can always get another cable.

I suppose, given that the asking price for the XM3 is exactly the same as the initial asking price of the XM 2, Sony had to cut costs somewhere.


Audio and connectivity

The WH-1000XM3 come equipped with Sony’s leading audio technology LDAC. LDAC is known to stream audio over Bluetooth connections up to 990 kbit/s at 24 bit/96kHz (high-resolution audio).

Sony claim that LDAC transmits 3 times more data than conventional Bluetooth® wireless audio, which is why you can enjoy such high res audio content.

The headphones support Bluetooth version 4.2 with a range of approximately 10m, which is pretty standard. The Bluetooth frequency is 2.4GHz, and supports SBC, AAC, apt X, apt X HD and LDAC.

By downloading the Sony, I headphones Connect App you have the power to use smart listening by adaptive sound control, control ambient sound settings and adjust the sound levels with the equalizer.

By controlling the equalizer you can create the perfect sound for your music from the presets.

Another neat feature is that the headset volume during a call and during music playback can be independently adjusted. Changing the call volume does not change the volume of music playback and vice versa.


Noise cancellation

Sony calls these the best noise canceling headphones ever made. The Sony WH-1000XM3’s come with Sony’s HD Noise canceling Processor QN1, which really does enhance noise canceling


The dedicated NC processor ensures that the reproduction of your music is never compromised due to processor performance.

Before I purchased the Sony, my expectation of a pair of noise canceling headphones was that they would at best,

block out low frequency sounds like vehicle noise and most of the noise in the busy streets, but I would often expect that voices and background noise would be reduced but not eliminated.

Up until now, I had always imagined that if you wanted noise canceling headphones you would have to compromise a little in terms of sound quality.

I think Sony has managed to solve this problem with the WH-1000XM3 range.

The noise canceling/ ambient sound mode button is located on the left-hand earcup. To activate noise cancellation, press and hold the button for roughly 2 seconds to optimize the function.

In a very quiet environment the noise cancellation may not be too pronounced.

The noise cancellation ability may vary or be affected by the way in which you wear the headphones.

In other instances, a beeping sound may be heard in the headphones. If this does happen you may want to take the headphones off and put them on again.

I also enjoy the fact that white noise has been kept to a minimum on these headphones. Also, wind noise is kept to a minimum.

I notice with many ANC headphones that when they are played in windy conditions they tend to let in some wind.

The headphones work well extremely in a car or train. I found that almost all the noise was gone on my daily commute to work.

Also, makes sure that you do not place your hand over the noise canceling microphone.

The noise canceling microphone is located on the outer part of the left and the right earcup, just below the slider. Noise cancellation is turned on automatically when you turn on the headset.

If you wish to switch off the noise canceling function, Press the NC/AMBIENT button repeatedly until the noise canceling function is turned off.

Each time the button is pressed, the function switches as follows and is announced by the voice guidance, 1) Ambient Sound Mode On/ The noise canceling function/ 2) Ambient Sound Mode: OFF and 3) The noise canceling function: ON/Ambient Sound Mode: OFF.

You can also change the settings of the noise canceling function and the Ambient Sound Mode with the “Sony | Headphones Connect” app.

If the NC/AMBIENT button is set as the Google Assistant/Amazon Alexa button, the noise canceling function cannot be switched on by pressing the NC/AMBIENT button.

You can also optimize the noise canceling function to suite the wearer using the noise canceling optimizer.

The noise canceling function will be optimized by detecting the shape of your face, your hairstyle, the headset attaching condition based on the presence of glasses or the pressure change in an airplane.

It is recommended that you run the optimizer when using the headset for the first time or when the air pressure changes in an airplane.

To power this function, makes sure that the power is turned on press and hold the NC/Ambient button until you hear the voice guidance.

Test signals can be heard during the optimization. When the optimization is finished, you will hear a voice guidance “Optimizer finished”.

After changing your hairstyle and removing your glasses. Turn on the optimizer after reaching a stable flight condition, when inside a flight.

The condition set with the NC Optimizer function is retained until the optimization is run again.

It is recommended that you turn on the NC Optimizer function once again after getting off the airplane.

The noise canceling optimizer is operated from the Sony/Headphones connect app.

Also, makes sure that you do not touch the headphones during optimization, otherwise they may not have the desired effect.

The optimization is canceled when the headset receives another operation command during the optimization.

The one other thing that I want to mention is the ambient sound, which is simply background noise present in a scene or location.

The ambient sounds can be heard through the microphones embedded in the left and right units of the headset, whilst listening to your music.

To activate ambient sound, press the NC/ambient sound button and connect the smartphone (with the “Sony | Headphones Connect” app installed) and headset via Bluetooth.

Activate voice focus and pick up sounds in your surroundings, such as plain announcements, even as you enjoy your music.



The Sony’s are priced at one hell of a premium. $350* is no small price to pay for a set of headphones.

But the question is, are they worth it? In my view at that price point, there can be very little that is missing from a pair of headphones.

I feel as if the Sony scores very high on almost all the features that I would want in a pair of cans.

The noise cancellation is tops and includes ambient modes so that you can control the amount of noise that enters your eardrums.

And the sound quality is diverse and brilliant. Overall, I would give these headphones a 9/10 and definitely recommend them.

Reasons to consider buying:

Smart technology that allows you to use your fingers to control the headphones.

Quick attention, voice assistant, compatibility and touch control.

Built in google assistant and Amazon Alexa

Unique Atmospheric pressure optimizing.

NFC technology compatible.

Adaptive sound control to control the amount of sound coming in.

30 Hour battery life with ANC on, 38 hours with ANC off.

USB Type C compatible.

Quality ANC using High definition QN 1 chip.

Spacious ear cups and built for comfort.

Lightweight at 255 grams.

Hard durable carry case for additional protection.

LDAC compatible ensuring high quality audio.

Multi-point technology allows you to connect to 2 devices at a time.

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