Sony WH-1000XM3 ANC headphones sound even better
4.9Overall Score
Name: Sony WH-1000XM3 Ambient Noise Cancelling Headphones
Price (RRP): $399
Manufacturer: Sony

Could Sony improve on its best noise cancelling headphones in 2018? Well, yes. The WH-1000XM3 (M3) is superlative – and that is no mean feat.

We said the WH-1000XM2 (review here) was “Exceptional – the one to beat.” It is fair to say the WH-1000XM3 has even better noise cancelling, sound quality, and battery life. And the price is a meagre $399. Who could ask for more?

What is a Sony WH-1000XM3?

It is an over-the-ear, automatic noise cancelling (ANC) headphone with benefits. Benefits include an amazing fit (lighter and even more comfortable even for long wear); 30-hour battery life (up 50% over the M2); even better frequency response (better sound); and what I consider the best noise-cancelling in its class (Sorry Bose, Sennheiser et al.).

In the box

  • Headphones (website here)
  • 3.5mm to 3.5mm stereo cable (great – no more mini-stereo jacks)
  • Aeroplane dual pin adapter
  • USB-A to USB-C (very short cable)
  • Hard zippered carry case

First impression over the M2 – lighter but still very much a Sony.

The WH-1000XM3 look like the M2 predecessor but when you put them side-by-side, you can see the design refinements. A better padded top band, slightly slimmer ear cups but more room inside, and USB-C charging. Add Google Assistant (for Android devices) and even better ANC and sound quality.

If you are an M2 owner, don’t rush out because the new app also works with it. Or perhaps find a relative to palm them off on and go for the M3.

Codecs 101 – how they affect music playback.

Codecs provide encoding and decoding that compresses audio into small data packets that Bluetooth can transmit.

Bluetooth defaults to a standard SBC codec – a low complexity sub-band codec that suits compressed, lossy MP3, AAC and WMA music. It can transmit at up to 320kbps, but that is usually closer to 100-150-200kbps. Music is ‘psycho acoustically’ manipulated to lop off data it can’t transmit. There are also latency issues – 100ms or more that can affect sync, especially for movies. But to most, it sounds fine!

By comparison, higher quality codecs like Qualcomm aptX/aptX LL/HD are up to 352/576kbps, and Sony’s adaptive rate LDAC is up to 990kbps.

What this means I that these can handle higher 16/24/32-sampling and up to 48/92/192kHz bit rates. Android Oreo and Pie now support these lossless codecs, but it does depend if the smartphone processor can handle them.

You may have to go into Developer Options on Android smartphones to see if it supports higher bit rate codecs. To access Developer options, go to Settings, and search for Build. Tap seven times to activate it. If you mess anything up, then just turn off developer options!

In other words, there is so much affecting how any Bluetooth device sounds – let’s not even enter the Apple world where AAC reigns supreme.

It can pair with any Bluetooth NFC device or use the normal Bluetooth discovery. Regrettably, the WH-1000XM3 is not multi-point (e.g. pair to two devices), so you need to re-pair if using another device.

How do the WH-1000XM3 sound?

We can’t use our test instruments on over-the-ear headphones (or buds). So, we rely on how it sounds to us. Our tests include both SBC and LDAC mode with a Samsung Galaxy Note9.

SBC theoretically gives 20Hz-20kHz (16-bit/44.1kHzsampling). Frankly, MP3s sound pretty much the same on this and LDAC because the recording (encoding) format was lossy to start with. For example, Spotify mobile streams at 96, 160 or 320kbps –all very lossy rates. It does not offer Hi-res audio streams, so SBC is fine for most.

LDAC gives 4Hz-40kHz (96kHz sampling). To test this, we read Sony’s guide for beginners and found some FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec at1411kbps) from one of Sony’s recommended music services. Suffice to say that FLAC content tends to be ‘paid for’.

The WH-1000XM3 shine with FLAC and LDAP (even aptX HD).

But Joe and Jane Average will likely only use these with Bluetooth SBC and lossy content never knowing what they are missing.