WH-1000XM3: Improvements refine a great product

Mala Bharghava | Updated on: Oct 17, 2018

Sony takes the crown for its combination of excellent sound quality and active noise cancellation

It isn’t easy making a really good thing better. But that is exactly what Sony has done with its WH-1000X line of headphones, the third time around. When the WH-1000XM3 was handed over to us for a review, the headphones looked familiar but turned out to have numerous tweaks that quite changed the listening experience. If you’re willing to spend on an excellent pair of headphones, read on.

If the looks of a pair of headphones matter to you, these come in black and grey, though there are the usual fancy names for these colours. I opted to check out the grey because it made a good change from black. I thought the headphones’ design, as before, had an understated elegance though some leathery-looking touches are now gone and replaced with other smooth materials. It’s interesting how small changes can enhance listening. This time around, Sony has increased the circumference of the ear cup so that it really is over-the-ears, sealing the sound in and preventing it from leaking out too much. This also contributes to the noise cancelling by closing off the outside world.

The padding on the outer rim of the ear-cups and under the headband is also more plush and comfortable — and it’s important to make these headphones comfortable because you will be tempted to wear them for long hours. Sony has also tried to reduce the space between the lower portions of the headband and the wearer’s head so that it fits better. I found it fitted well, but I seem to have a smaller-than-regular head so they still slip a little if I look down too much. But if something had been done to make them more tightly gripping, they would have been painful to wear. As it is, they’re light and soft and one barely feels their weight unlike some that clamp on like a large vice and end up giving you a headache. I was also delighted not to suffer from ‘hot-ears’ syndrome while using these, except a little when I stepped outdoors. All the WH-1000XM3 have on them is two buttons on the left ear-cup. These are for power and battery status and for changing the mode from full noise cancellation to bringing in ambient sounds to switching both off and just listening to audio normally. The button will optimise the headphones for your current activity and surroundings and in a few seconds let you know the optimisation sequence is complete. There’s a Quick Attention mode with which you merely raise your palm to the ear-cup and the phones will let in all the important sound you need from around you, such as airport announcements. These features were present on the previous two models and on some of Sony’s other headphones and are quite unique and innovative. Essentially, they ensure the headphones are tuned to let in or keep out noise and increase comfort during flights, walking outdoors, and so on.

This series of headphones has always had touch-sensitive controls. The right ear-cup just needs a light finger swipe up or down to control volume, left and right to change tracks, and taps to turn on or off or take a call. Very often, there are accidental touches such as when you just want to adjust the headphones on your head a bit or move your hair out of the way or some such. But you do quickly get used to handling them. There’s the Sony Headphones Connect app, which a user must download and tinker with. You’ll find everything from various optimisations for noise cancelling and ambient sound as well as a sound equaliser, which I didn’t feel like adjusting because the default sound was so good.

You can’t help comparing the WH-1000XM3 with Bose’s Quiet Comfort equivalents, especially the QC-35 II because Bose has been the reigning king of noise cancellation. But with the third iteration of its WH-1000X headphones, Sony has taken the crown. You can just put the headphones on without music and see the instant cessation of hums and whines from things like airplane engines, fridges, air conditioners, steady traffic, etc. Discrete noises also disappear although you may be able to hear someone right next to you. Bose can do all this as well and has several modes of noise cancellation but the finishing touches to the active noise cancelling are put in by the sheer quality of the sound. Once that’s on, you can say goodbye cruel world. I found I couldn’t hear things like water filling from the tap (it ended up spilling over), the noisy kettle coming to a boil, and the neighbourhood dogs.

The sound quality is quite superb. You get powerful sound. And despite a driving bass, you can hear details in the music you never noticed before, even with songs you thought you knew well. You can listen using the included aux stereo cable, which will mean being able to listen to hi-res music without loss of quality and detail, or you can go Bluetooth if you don’t have access to hi-res music in the first place. Either way, the sound signature is fantastic.

An elegant carrying case houses the WH-1000XM3 and its charging and aux cable. The Type C cable lets you charge the headphones for 10 minutes to get five hours of listening time. And otherwise for a full charge, it’s 30 hours, which is generous by any standard.

Is the asking price too much for these headphones? Quite emphatically — no. Not for what they give you in return. After going through my share of headphones, I would have to say the WH-1000XM3 are the best I’ve ever reviewed. I’m even willing to put my money where my mouth is and buy them myself in the next few months.

Price: ₹29,990

Pros: Excellent sound signature, expert noise cancellation, enhanced comfort and tweaks, numerous unique smart features and controls, excellent battery life with quick charge, USB Type-C port, supports hi-res music files

Cons: Touch controls get accidentally activated, no dedicated personal assistant button, can only connect to one device at a time

Published on October 17, 2018

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