Levels

There was one significant weakness in the performance of the Sony WF-1000XM3 earphones. And for that weakness I blame Europe. You see, much of my digital music started life on CDs, and they are CDs I’ve been collecting since the early 1980s. These days most music is “normalised”, and even dynamically compressed somewhat so as to play back at a high average level. But that wasn’t the case in those days. Quite a few of my CDs peak at several decibels below the full scale available in digital audio. Their average level is much, much lower.

Now the Europeans, intent on protecting the hearing of the kiddies above all, have introduced stringent rules regarding the maximum levels that headphones should produce. And they are based on certain assumptions about music levels. The net effect is that they limit not only the maximum level that headphones are allowed to produce, but the maximum gain that they can apply to the signal.

Sony is a good corporate citizen, so it complies with the laws of the various lands. And for an international product such as the Sony WF-1000XM3 earphones, that ends up being the most restrictive international standard. That is, Europe.

I have something more than 60GB of music on my phone. And on a number of occasions I stopped playing what was there and streaming the remastered version from Spotify instead in order to listen at a satisfying level.

UPDATE: Latency

A commenter notes that this review didn’t initially address the issue of latency. That is, the delay between the audio signal being produced in the device and it being reproduced in the earphones.

That’s a hard thing to assess in earbuds. I will note that Sony says that the QN1e chip reduces latency. I’ve been looking at latency issues for years, and have found that it is very difficult to assess unless the delay is well over a hundred milliseconds.

To try to get some kind of handle on it, I installed a metronome app on my phone and tried comparing several sets of Bluetooth ear gear with the phone’s built-in speaker. I could not tell any difference between the Sony buds and the speaker, nor between it and the current Bose noise reducing headphones. The sound of the metronome aligned as close to perfectly with the visual indicator as I could perceive. My sense that it may have been a little more perfect with noise cancellation switched off, but since we’re right at the limits of perception, that could well be my imagination.

And all that depends on the latency, if any, in the phone’s display. If it’s delayed, then a close match between sound and picture could be indicative of greater delay.

Conclusion

That quibble aside – it really only matters if your music collection comes from older CDs – I think everyone would be impressed with the Sony WF-1000XM3 in-ear buds. They sound first class, do a great on the noise cancellation and have a very long battery life. And they look really good.

Sony’s site for this product is here.

Sony WF-1000XM3 wireless noise cancelling headphones
Name: Sony WF-1000XM3 true wireless noise cancelling headphones Price (RRP): $399.95 Manufacturer: Sony
Excellent noise reductionVery good sound qualityLong battery life
Be careful around water
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of use
Design
4.6Overall Score