Price (RRP): $399.95
The Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds are unusual, and I mean that in a good way. The reason is in the name. They are true wireless, noise cancelling buds. Usually noise cancelling means earbuds which are tethered together by wire. But by dint of using the QN1e chip, Sony has managed to get all this, plus a long life, into the new buds.
Sony WF-1000XM3 Features
As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Sony likes to call all its eargear “headphones”. What most of us call “headphones” it calls “headband” models. Anyway, the Sony WF-1000XM3 buds are in the same family as the highly regarded Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones. “F” for wire Free, “H” for Headband.
The noise cancelling capability of the WH headphones is provided by the QN1 chip. The QN1e chip further miniaturises it and reduces energy consumption.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 buds conform to most of the norms for the breed. The buds are small and light. I’m on the road as I’m writing so I don’t have my own scales to hand, but I have no reason to dispute Sony’s 8.5 grams each specification. They most definitely aren’t aimed at the sports/active market, so they don’t come with wings or fins to lock them in place. Instead they rely on their overall shape and the friction of the tip to hold them in place.
Another point emphasising that they are not sports models: they have no IP rating, so use during majorly sweaty activities should be avoided.
The buds come with seven sets of tips. Three are “comfort” foam tips, while the other four are different sizes of silicone tips. I typically need the largest size of tips for a good fit for my ears and that was the case with the Sony WF-1000XM3 buds. The largest of the “comfort” tips was about the same size as the second largest silicone ones, so I couldn’t achieve satisfactory results with them. But the silicone ones worked fine.
Thanks to the low energy consumption, the Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds are rated at up to six hours operation on a charge. And that’s with the noise cancellation switched on. With it off the rating goes up to eight hours.
They snap into a rather stylish, and also relatively large, carry case/charge case. It holds sufficient charge to refill them twice. That means a total power-point-free period of up to 18 hours with noise cancellation and 24 hours without. Dropping the buds into the case for ten minutes gives them about 90 minutes of playback. A full charge of the buds take about an hour and a half.
The case weighs 77 grams. There are no dimensions stated on the Sony spec sheet and, again, travel means no ruler to hand. I’d estimate it’s about 80mm wide, 30mm deep and 60mm tall. The review unit was the black one with the bronze trim. The other version is off-white with platinum trim.
Now, there’s nothing unusual about buds coming with a case, nor even with them being held in place by magnets. But I must say that this worked more positively than most. The snap is audible, LED’s glow red to show that the electrical connections have been made. And that was with the largest tips installed. Not once did the proper charging connection fail to take place.
Control and noise reduction
Each of the buds has a touch-sensitive – it’s electrostatic, apparently – patch on its exposed portion. That’s how you control them. The default setting has the right one control play/pause (a single touch), answer or hang up calls (double tap), skip forwards (double tap) or skip backwards (triple tap). And the left one cycles through the listener’s interaction with the outside world.
The buds have three modes in that regard. One is noise cancellation. That works by capturing environmental sound, processing it, inverting the waveform and feeding it back into the audio signal at the correct level. That cancels much of the outside world. The Sony WF-1000XM3 buds seem to advance the art by employing two microphones. One on the outside works in the usual way. The cancellation signal can’t be based only on the noise hitting the headphones on the outside, but on what noise will make it through to the ears. With most systems the physical transmission of sound through the body of the earphones is based on a model.
But these earbuds have a second microphone on the inside, near the sound transducer. Precisely how that contributes to the function is unclear, but I can think of several ways. For example, it might improve the model by comparing it to reality. Nonetheless, Sony claims a marked improvement in noise reducing capability.
Tap the sensitive area of the left bud and noise cancellation switches off, while “ambient noise” mode switches on. This uses the microphones to pipe in sound from the outside world so that you can hear what’s going on around you, perhaps engage in conversation. The third mode switches that off and also leaves noise cancellation off.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 control app
The app connects to the buds and allows you to adjust EQ and bass level and reassign the control button functions. For example, you can reverse the functions of the left and right control, or you can assign to either one of the buttons the Google Assistant function. Tap it and Google will listen to your commands and questions.