The quality of the WH-1000XM3 is by some margin the best-sounding noise-canceling headphones we have heard to date.
However, we can go further and say they are also an excellent set of wireless headphones. We make a point of this because it has been common knowledge for some time that ANC tech can have a punishing effect on fidelity.
The pressure chamber feeling we discussed in this review is a big part of that. In doing away with that, Sony allows these headphones to compete on a more level playing field with other top Bluetooth headphones that don’t use noise cancellation.
I won’t pretend that this is in any way an audiophile-grade headphone. This is aimed at a mass consumer market, not a niche audience, so it is tuned appropriately. You get a warm presentation with the smooth, clean midrange, rolled-off highs, and elevated low end. This is a very versatile tuning profile that is known to work well with the majority of popular music genres. I liked it, and I thought my music sounded rather good.
A massive consideration that people overlook when talking about the sound of certain audiophile-focused headphones like this is environmental noise reduction. Yes, your open-back Audeze LCD-2 is going to thoroughly hammer the Sony Wh-1000XM3 when it comes to sound quality. They won’t sound so good when you hear engines hum and people chattering. Removing the background noise is a massive part of getting a cleaner sound, which should not be forgotten.
The soundstage is of medium stature, and there is a bit more width than depth to the sound. It’s more significant than the Bose, that’s for sure. And if you get the App set up just right with the staging, they can sound grand when paired with the right track. That said, for the most part, I preferred to leave this on the stock setting, although it is fun to play around with on different songs;
Imaging is just average, which is expected for headphones at this price point. Instruments define themselves well but lack the refinement that sound-focused headphones offer.
Vocals are certainly a good showing here. Both male and female vocals are given plenty of space and clarity to shine, and the added warmth across the presentation tends to aid this. I found that male vocals, in particular, had a pleasant tone, and the smooth presentation of the highs complemented the weight behind them.
Mids are smooth and warm, with stringed instruments just about carrying enough weight. Again the warmth of the tuning helps out here, and if you listen to a lot of rock, pop, or hip hop, these headphones should serve you well.
The low end is enhanced and has a certain dominance over the presentation as a whole. It can have a good rumble and speed of attack, and only minimal bleed into the lower midrange was observed.
Comparisons and Alternatives to the Sony WH-1000XM3
Bose QC35II vs. Sony WH-1000XM3 –
The obvious competitor for the crown in the noise-canceling world is the Bose QC35, and when compared head to head with Sony’s WH-1000XM3, the QC35 is starting to look very long in the tooth. Bose hasn’t changed or added much to its headphones over the years. It’s starting to show as Sony flexes its might in innovation and execution. The Bose is still an excellent headphone, and in my opinion, they still have the edge in both style and comfort. Everything else though, I have to give props to Sony.
Sony WH-1000XM2 vs. Sony WH-1000XM3
With the introduction of the XM3, the outgoing XM2 model can be found at heavily discounted prices online. So I wouldn’t rule out purchasing it if money is of concern. I have had mine since the first week of launch, and they have been a tremendous workhorse of a headphone for me. I place them on equal footing with the Bose QC35II. The XM3 is undoubtedly the better headphone in every way, but the XM2 is no slouch and offers tremendous value at current prices.
Feature-rich App enhances the experience
Useful Touch control
Excellent battery life and quick charge
Excellent sound quality
The best Noise Canceling headphones you can buy in 2019
Conclusion – Sony WH-1000XM3 Review
The WH-1000XM3 doesn’t reinvent Sony’s noise-canceling flagship headphones, but it refines it to a point where it is close to perfection. They have taken most of my complaints about the XM-2 and improved on the previous experience. I am more than happy to recommend these headphones to anyone who puts noise cancellation as a priority.
As I said, they aren’t audiophile headphones. They are very good-sounding headphones, especially considering the previous obstacles companies have had in matching the sound quality and ANC technology.
As a complete package, this headphone is extremely hard to criticize. It’s feature-packed, well built, sounds good, looks good, and blocks unwanted noise like nothing else. For someone who travels as much as me, this is the perfect headphone right now. It’s the most used out of all the 100+ headphones I own, which probably speaks volumes.
A great headphone that is pricey but IMHO well worth it. It’s the gold standard, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Bose fires back within 2019.
It has been almost a year since we published this review of the Sony WH-1000XM3, and I can honestly say that these are the best wireless headphones I have ever used. Every time I get on a flight, these are with me, making me wonder how I ever listened to non-ANC headphones while traveling.
The Headphones themselves look as good as new and have had no software bugs that I have found. Sony is decent at keeping the app updated, and I don’t see any failures in the future.