Sony’s WF-1000XM3: Fine, intelligent wireless listening

| Updated on August 04, 2020 Published on August 04, 2020

The true wireless earbuds sibling to the world’s favourite headphones are finally in India and they compete with the AirPods Pro with an amazing price

It’s difficult not to have great expectations of the Sony WF-1000XM3. They’re the true wireless siblings to what became the world’s favourite headphones for the masses, the WH-1000XM3. Outside of outright audiophile territory, those headphones were held as the standard with which to measure all other headphones. Many reviewers have now voted the earphones equivalent highly as well.

The WF-1000XM3 have come in rather late into India for unknown market strategy reasons. These have been around in the US and, perhaps, elsewhere for just short of a year. No matter — better late than never, specially at the fantastic opener price of ₹17,990. They’re arriving at a time when the true wireless segment is soaring in India and are going to compete with Apple’s AirPods Pro, Sennheiser’s Momentum 2, Bose’s SoundSport earbuds and about a hundred others. And come out quite a winner.

The WF-1000XM3 earbuds come out of a most unusual looking case. It’s exceptionally large — the AirPods Pro case is almost half the size — but also very interesting and stylish looking. Our unit has a copper toned lid and a beige body, looking very sophisticated. There‘s a black and copper variant that also looks classy. Its pocket fit may, however, well be an issue for many.

Unusual looks

In the case, the also unusual looking earbuds sit firmly and magnetically. Lights on the case and buds tell you the charge status. The earbuds are themselves biggish and look as if they may not fit — but they do, and quite comfortably at that. Comparing with chief rival, AirPods Pro, the design is totally different with these having no stem and sticking out a bit from the ears. The AirPods Pro are more minimalist and not so in-ear. I find both comfortable in different ways but the AirPods Pro are lighter and easy to even sleep with while the Sony earphones are bigger and protrude more. I think fit will not be a guarantee for everyone.

The Sony earbuds pair readily enough, including with NFC and incidentally can be used with more than one device. They have wear-detection and will turn off if you take even one out of your ears. But you can take one out of the case to use singly for phone calls and the like. The AirPods Pro don’t turn off until you put them in the case, but they can be used singly too. They have a stellar pairing and integrating process, as long as it’s with Apple devices.

Like all Sony audio products, the Sony Headphones Connect app is a big bonus: it gives you control over all the smart features, plus has an equaliser to tweak the sound to the user’s liking. Anyone who wants more bass can create a preset and save it for use. The AirPods Pro don’t have an equivalent app or equaliser, though on the iPhone there are some settings that can be changed and an ear-fit test that can be taken.

All depends on fit

The 1000XM3 earbuds don’t fall out of your ears, but it does depend on using the right ear-tips for your ears and they can get dislodged if you decide to lie down to listen to music. The AirPods Pro actually don’t come out from brushing against a pillow, and I will often find both buds still in my ears when waking up in the morning. The Sony earphones actually have very sensitive touch controls — there’s a round touchpad on each bud. These are both great because a mere touch can trigger an action without banging the earphones into the ear, and not-so-great because there are often accidental touches causing unwanted actions. I may be just flicking my hair away from my face when I find the music stops. The AirPods Pro have another kind of touch control, but require strong definite taps and a pressure-sensitive press on the stem to change the noise cancellation status.

I found the active noise cancellation on the Sony earphones adequate, but not at the level of over-ear headphones, which they actually cannot be. For earphones, the in-ear-ness gives a passive seal and with strong sounding music, you can keep noise out. I often couldn’t tell if my air conditioner was on, for instance. I couldn’t even hear the beep of its remote when I pressed a button and had to look up to see if the AC’s light was on. That’s enough for anyone. They let in ambient sound with a tap on the left earbud. The AirPods Pro also have excellent active noise cancellation and that, too, without causing pressure in the ears, but Sony takes the feature many notches further by including several levels of noise cancellation and also using Adaptive Sound Control to learn where you are (walking, at home, etc) and adjust the noise cancellation accordingly. The AirPods Pro handle ambient sound very well and interestingly.

Sound quality on the 1000XM3 earphones is excellently clear and fine. The sound is balanced and has more variety and nuances. The app can be used to change how you want to feel and hear your music. The AirPods Pro sound very good as well and perhaps less finessed, but the difference between them isn’t dramatic. The AirPods Pro do you get louder while the Sony earphones are finer sound. The battery life, better than that on the AirPods Pro, is 24 to 32 hours, depending on noise cancellation level. Ten minutes of charge on the Sony can give 90 minutes of play.

The Sony earphones win on the looks front if you like earphones to make a statement while the AirPods are understated and have become a status symbol no matter how they look. The AirPods Pro are unquestionably the more comfortable and better and more firmly fitting of the two while the Sony ones can get a little dislodged. But the Sony earphones win on the features front, using innovative smart customisations with touch controls and the app. They also win out on the sound quality front with their clarity and finesse, slightly better than the AirPods Pro, which, however, has more volume. The two are equally good with noise cancellation. Ultimately though, the AirPods work best and rather magically with the entire Apple ecosystem of products, including the Apple Watch. They’re also water resistant. The 1000XM3 earphones will work with any Android phone as well as with Apple devices — so the ecosystem you’re on matters. The truth is each has something over the other. The AirPods Pro happens to cost more at ₹24,000, which is a strong factor for many.

Price: ₹17,990 introductory, ₹19,990 subsequently

Pros: Great price in India, packed with smart ANC features, can work with two devices and single-bud, excellent sound, app support, great battery life with fast charging, responsive touch controls, good latency handling on Android, assistant support, voice guidance

Cons: Fit, comfort, sound and ANC depends on fit, which is not guaranteed for everyone, leaves aside own proprietary codec, no water resistance, sensitive controls trigger action when brushing against anything, bulky case and buds, no wireless charging, 360 degree sound doesn’t work

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Published on August 04, 2020
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