SONY WF-1000XM3 WIRELESS NOISE-CANCELING HEADPHONES

Two years ago, my family moved into a new house in a new city that was very clearly intended as an upgrade for us.  Most importantly, this new city had a school district in which my children had better opportunities to grow, but we also were blessed with a bigger house, a bigger yard, awesome neighbors and great neighborhood (among other things). 

At my old house, I grew to hate yardwork…shortly after buying that first house, I had the great idea to cut up the grass and replant from scratch to make a nicer lawn; I ended up with a bumpy, partially grown, clover-infested back lawn after a few weeks of really, really arduous physical work.  It wasn’t a great payoff.

Then, for the subsequent 8 years, I had the pleasure of maintaining that lawn which was always a source of frustration because of how bad it looked to me.  Then when we moved, while waiting for the first house to sell, I had to do yardwork at two houses instead of one, which didn’t help matters.

In the end it worked out, and the point of all this is to talk about the very nice, very lightly used zero-turn mower that I was able to purchase from a close friend.  Because it is a bigger yard (and because I also mow my neighbor’s lawn), being able to ride a mower versus push it is a wonderful blessing.  Over the next year, I grew to rather enjoy doing yardwork, partly because of my sweet wheels, and partly because it was a regular opportunity for me to spend time with myself–and music.

You will inevitably see a landscape company at some point mowing lawns with large mowers like mine, and in almost every case the operator is wearing hearing protection.  And yes, these mowers are loud, but those giant ear cups are super warm, and they don’t let me listen to music while I mow.  But do you know what does?  Truly wireless earbuds.

Ah, so that’s the point of all this. 

Sony recently announced and released a follow up to the 1st generation Sony WF-1000X Truly Wireless In-Ear Noise Canceling headphones; this “2nd” generation product, perhaps not so aptly named the WF-1000XM3, are very reminiscent of Sony’s other recent release, the WH-1000MX3 noise canceling over ear headphones (which you can read about here).  Needless to say, due to the success of the WH release, anticipation was high for the WF buds.

Two important things to consider as you continue on in this review.  First, because this is a next-generation product which the first generation I reviewed in late 2017, I will be making some comparisons to them.  Second, because I have what I consider an excellent pair of truly wireless earbuds already (the Jabra Elite 65t), the bar is set pretty high for these WF-1000XM3s.

Up first, the unboxing experience is a significant upgrade from the 1st generation product, although (and this is a weird thing to pick out) I find it odd that the inner box slides out to the left instead of the right…just seems off.  Anyway, the packaging is simple and refined, certainly not “the most” premium, but also not cheap.  The buds are packaged separate from their charging case, which is may 3 times the size of Apple’s Airpods case.  The case supports charging USB-C charging with an included short USB-A to USB-C cable.  My unit came with no charge, so I had to wait to really dig into them.

The case itself has a very sleek and classy look, but I found the gold/black case to excessively show finger prints and sweat/oil from my hands.  The lid closes with a satisfying “snap,” and the buds are securely held in with magnets; the case boasts 3 full charge cycles for the alleged 6-hour buds, and has an LED on the outside to show charging status. 

After charging, and following the basic pairing instructions included in with the packaging, I was up and running in no time.  Sony has enabled these with a newer bluetooth chip (Bluetooth 5.0, thankfully) that provides simultaneous sound transmission to both buds from the source (instead of having a primary bud that relays the sound, and while this falls short in the video department, I think it helps the pairing process to some degree.

I was surprised to find that these buds have no ear tips or fins to help secure them in place, but Sony somehow engineered these to hold snug without due to a unique shape at the base of the earbud.  In general, they were comfortable–but in my opinion not as comfortable as the Jabra Elite 65t buds.  Regardless, in the ear, they are low profile and don’t stick out too far, an improvement form the first generation.

The technology inside also includes the same Sense Engine functionality as the first generation, allowing the earbuds to (to some degree) determine the best sound delivery for your surroundings.  An upgraded antenna design, paired with Bluetooth 5.0, increase the range on these from their predecessors.  

The buds themselves are touch-sensitive and support the same “Quick Attention” feature from the WH headphones, allowing you to place a finger over the left earbud to disable noise canceling and decrease the volume, so you can hear your surroundings.  A few other gestures can be customized within Sony’s Headphones App (not the worst audio companion app there is, for sure), and these fully support both Siri and Google Assistant as well.

From a sound perspective, the WF-1000XM3 earbuds perform very well.  Great lows and mids, and very minimal splitting in highs with the volume at max, make listening to these a joy when I want to disappear in some music.  The fist generation buds also performed well in the sound department, but these are certainly an upgrade–and surely an improvement on the sound performance of the Jabra Elite 65t buds.

But perhaps the reason you buy these–and spend $230 in the process–is because the WH headphones seemingly unseated Bose as leader in noise-canceling performance upon their release.  Sadly, though, I was disappointed by the WF ear buds, finding the noise canceling performance to be average to slightly above average, but in no way superior to the 65t. 

(This is the point where I reference the start of this review–and my lawnmower.  You see, I depend on my Jabra Elite 65t ear buds to get me through those 3-hour lawn care sessions, including blocking out the sound of a very loud lawnmower and also a whiny trimmer.  It does this well, so much so that additional hearing protection is not required, and I can only hear a low hum of the mower while I ride around my yard in musical bliss.  Because I don’t often fly, I think this is a great test for noise-canceling ear buds…and while the WF-1000XM3 ear buds also blocked out a significant amount of the mower’s sound, a slight difference in the fit (perhaps) as well as noise canceling performance that just isn’t as good will keep me from using these the next time I need to spend a few hours in the yard.)

That said, without one to compare to the other, I think most people will be satisfied with the noise-canceling performance of the WF-1000XM3 buds overall–and given the overall better sound performance when compared to Jabra’s Elite 65t buds, it might be worth the extra investment.

One of the big missteps of the WF-1000X first generation ear buds was a significant and excruciating audio delay when watching videos…so understandably, I was looking forward to that being rectified with the XM3 ear buds.   As with any next-generation product (these are technically second generation, in spite of the “3” in WF-1000XM3), there was improvement here…but not drastic improvement, and the problem is not yet eliminated.  This is unfortunate, and arguably not due to an old version of Bluetooth, but something is preventing this from being a really great set of ear buds for watching videos in addition to listening to music. 

I’ve reviewed Sony products enough to have substantial experience with their companion app, and find it to be one of the better audio companion apps available…allowing custom EQ settings (which save to the buds, even when moving from device to device), access to Sense Engine and DSEE-HX settings, as well as a simple pass-thru music player for controlling your tunes.

Overall, the WF-1000XM3 offers a decent pair of noise-canceling ear buds that have great sound.  The fit is great considering a lack of ear fins, and multiple tips are included in the box.  Bluetooth 5.0, USB-C charging and gesture support all help offset the lackluster noise canceling performance…while I don’t think you’d be upset to have these, I don’t think they are the best bang-for-the-buck when it comes to truly wireless noise canceling ear buds. 

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