Sony WH-1000XM3 review: Still the best noise-cancelling headphones

When it comes to picking a pair of headphones, there are 3 things I always consider: sound quality, comfort, and battery. The Sony WH-1000XM3 or M3, for short, not only ticks all those boxes but also comes with a lot of neat features, highlighted by some exceptional noise-cancelling capabilities.

What’s so good about the M3’s noise-cancelling is that it blocks out all the ambient sounds you don’t want to hear when you’re listening to a song or watching a movie. It can turn the loud buzzing from air conditioners to a soft hum. In busy places, such as a mall, for instance, it can completely drown out the noise of a large crowd. The noise-cancelling is so effective that when I remove the headphones, it surprises me how noisy some places can actually be.

The M3 has an Adaptive Sound Control mode that automatically chooses a noise-cancelling profile for you, using the built-in microphones that monitor the sounds in your environment. You can also toggle these settings yourself through a mobile app. Adjusting settings help when you plan to wear the M3 when you’re walking outside, for example, as having some ambient sound enter can boost your situational awareness.

Even more impressive is that it does all this without compromising audio performance, which Sony credits to its new QN1 chip. The audio quality is excellent and incredibly immersive with crisp clear mids and highs and a punchy bass. It more than delivers in this department and is arguably hard to match in this price range.

The right ear cup has a touch sensitive surface that lets you perform a number of functions. Double-tapping the cup lets you play or pause a track; swiping up or down changes the volume; while left and right cycles tracks. Covering the entire cup with your hand lets outside sound in, which helps when you want to talk to someone without removing the headphones. The touch controls are intuitive, but it can take some getting used to. I found myself switching tracks when I wanted to actually raise the volume.

Image by Franz Lopez/Rappler

Design-wise, the M3 looks and feels premium while still managing to be comfortable for long periods of use. For one, the bridge of the headband and the ear cups are lined with a soft cushiony padding that lessens any pressure you might feel from wearing a pair of cans. The ear cups are also deep and spacious enough that it takes a lot longer for your ears to feel hot. I had the M3 on for 3 to 4 hours at a time and not once did I ever feel any discomfort or felt the need to remove them.

The headphones feature a USB-Type C port for charging, allowing it to juice up really fast. You can probably get it fully charged from 10% battery in less than two hours. And according to Sony, you can get up to a whopping 30 hours of use at full battery. This sounds about right from my time using it wirelessly as I was able to go about a day and half of heavy use without needing to charge.

The biggest drawback of the M3 is that it can only be connected via Bluetooth to one device at a time. This can be a dealbreaker for those used to having audio devices with smart pairing features. However, it didn’t really bother me as switching between devices only took a few a seconds. Still, I would have appreciated having the ability to seamlessly switch without going through the process of disconnecting and connecting multiple devices.

While it has dropped in price since it launched last year, its current retail price of P17,000 is still admittedly quite steep, specially for those just looking for a casual listening experience. But I would argue that for headphones in general, you really need to spend to get great audio. And the with this pair of cans, you really do get what you pay for.

I previously included the M3 in Rappler’s 16 favorite gadgets of 2018 and months later, what I wrote back then still rings true. It’s still one of the best, if not the best, noise-cancelling wireless headphones in the market, combining stellar audio performance with exceptional noise-cancelling technology. – Rappler.com

(Disclosure: Sony lent a unit to Rappler for the purpose of this review.)

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