WF-1000XM3
Control app (left); EQ adjustment in control app (right)

As you can see, you’re going to have to make choices if you’re Google Assistant dependent.

The left button has another very useful function: tap and hold. Do that and the audio program mutes and the ambient sound mode switches on so that you can hear around you. Finger off and the previous state is resumed. That’s ideal for brief interactions with others.

There’s also an “Adaptive” mode, in which the buds switch on and off various functions according to the environment that it thinks you’re in.

If you change anything via the app, it sticks. For example, the DSP used for EQ is inside the buds. Change the EQ and you can pair the buds with an listen to a completely different device and the EQ will remain the same.

Another way in which the Sony WF-1000XM3 earphones differ from the norm is their method of Bluetooth communication. With most buds, one of them connects to the phone and passes through the music to its companion bud. With these ones, both connect to the phone. You can use either bud for hands-free and just let the other charge.

Noise cancellation

Before getting to anything else, let’s consider the noise cancellation. Does it work?

The answer is, yes, very much so. Very effectively. With the silicone tips snuggly fitted in my ears, there was already fairly good passive noise isolation. The active cancellation on top of that provided noise reduction at least as good as any over-ear headphones I’ve used.

Like any of them, it’s not perfect. Nothing is. But it cuts away the midrange where most of the noise energy is exhibited. Music which I had to turn up too loud with many other earphones can be played at a more moderate level with perfect clarity.

Sony WF-1000XM3

I tried these earphones on a train, on a plane and in an automobile, and they did the job very nicely.

I had the opportunity to ask Sony’s engineers whether they were able to share a graph showing the effect of the noise reduction by frequency. But it seems that such details remain confidential.

The touch controls were fairly easy to use and quite reliable. I confess, I was unable to master the triple-tap. Sometimes I could get it to work, but most times my tapping cadence was wrong, or something.

Listening to the Sony WF-1000XM3 earphones

Just as important as effective noise cancellation is sound quality. On this front the Sony WF-1000XM3 earphones were in the very highest tier of performance. In short, they sounded great. On genre after genre they delivered music with a dynamic liveliness that marks high quality head and ear gear. Every element of the music was easily distinguished, apart from the very deepest bass. Instruments could be picked out. Coherence was maintained in the most complex of musical passages, and throughout it all percussion pierced through with being constrained by the driver. That in particular is something that many buds are weak on.

All of which goes to show that it’s not necessarily how big a driver is but how well it does its job. Sony used 6mm drivers to keep the size down, but you wouldn’t guess that from the full bass. That bass certainly covered bass drums effectively. It faded only when it came to some really deep bass synth passages.

I was so impressed with the sound that I phrased my question to the Sony engineers about driver choice in terms of what distinguishes the driver from lesser ones. They responded that a large part of the choice was based on driver sensitivity. That explains its dynamic responsiveness. They also agreed with my suggestion – I think – that the output is EQ’d to provide the kind of sound they wanted.

The default tonal balance was a little brighter than is my preference, but that was easily tweaked in the app. I just knocked one decibel off in the 2.5kHz band, set the 6.3kHz band 2dB down, pushed up the 400 hertz slider by 1dB and added +2 to the “Clear Bass” setting. The result: nice.