Sony WH1000XM3 noise canceling over ear headphones review: Bose should be nervous

The noise cancellation technology on these headphones are the best we’ve ever tested

Sony WH1000XM headphones review
Bottom Line
Sony's WH1000XM3 Noise Cancelling headphones are all-around incredible wireless over-ear headphones that offer the best noise cancellation technology we've ever tested.
Audio Quality
Noise Cancelling
Excellent, customizable noise cancellation
Customizable EQ audio settings
Long 30 hour battery
Google Assistant integration
Amazing sound quality
Very comfortable
Ambient noise is too noisy on phone calls
Touch buttons are a bit tricky to use

Sony’s WH1000XM3 wireless noise canceling over-ear headphones are the headphones to get this holiday season. They’re the hottest noise-canceling headphones on the market right now, and for good reason. They check all the boxes: best-in-market noise canceling, features, looks, and audio quality. With their premium price, they’re competing with Bose QuietComfort and Beats Studio over-ear headphones.

Design & Comfort

The WH1000XM3s aren’t the most unique or flashy looking headphones, instead, they’re just very clean and polished looking. Clean doesn’t mean boring — I get a lot of questions and compliments wearing them. They have a beautiful matte finish. The silver finish is reminiscent of old Sony tech, like the original PlayStation. They’re mostly plastic, but don’t feel plasticity.

The oval ear cups are large enough to cover most large ears. They’re well cushioned with an ultra plush memory foam. These headphones are so comfortable, you could easily wear them for hours at a time. For such large ear cups, the unit is still pretty small and folds into a manageable size for your backpack or bag.

The clean look is due in part to a lack of buttons — The entire right ear cup is a touchpad that works by swipes and taps. I’m not a fan of touch buttons, but these are at least easy to get used to these. Swipe up and down for volume, back and forward for track controls, double tap to pause, and palm the whole cup to turn on the ambient aware active listening feature. There’s a press-and-hold button for on/off/pairing, and a customizable button that can control noise canceling or Google Assistant (configurable with the app).

Google Assistant

Google Assistant integration is a really nice touch, though it seems to come in place of your default voice activation feature (i.e. Siri). Google Assistant works on both iOS and Android. Of course, it’s more capable on Android, but still impressive on iOS. It will read your notifications, control your music, answer questions, and handle other commands. On iOS it just lacks some integration with native apps and features.

Noise Cancellation

The noise cancellation is hands down the best I’ve ever experienced. Bose noise cancellation has always been a little extreme for me, and I’m almost always disappointed with the anti-noise hiss that comes with NC on most headphones. Usually, there’s either too little noise cancellation, or you feel like air is being sucked out of your ears.

The noise cancellation is hands down the best I’ve ever experienced.

Sony has implemented the most natural sounding versions I’ve ever tested. It cuts out almost all background noise and you probably can’t even tell that it’s on. Nearby voices are drowned into near-silent murmurs. They virtually silence airplane and transit noise. It’s actually pretty scary and dangerous walking outside on the busy streets with this feature, but Sony has a solution for that! Not only do they have ambient sound control to allow a configurable amount of sound through (i.e. voices), but they have Adaptive Sound Control which can detect what you’re doing and control ambient noise accordingly. If you’re on the move, it will allow some background noise. If you’re sitting, you’ll get pure silence.

The App

The app is one of the best headphone companions we’ve seen. It’s easy, intuitive, and sticks to features that matter. You can also update the headphone firmware with it. With the app you can decide what the NC button does, configure ambient noise preferences, optimize noise cancellation for your ears, and best of all: configure the sound profile. There’s a fully customizable equalizer with different presets so that you can tune these Sonys to your desired listening preferences. You’ll hear the effect in real-time, and the setting will persist regardless of the app.

Sound Quality

That brings us to sound quality…it’s amazing! There’s a lot of life and vibrancy in music. The bass gets seriously bassy, thumpy, and low, and it’s customizable! I’m a sucker for pronounced vocals and mid-range audio and after a couple of minutes of playing with the equalizer, I officially have new go-to headphones. Music is very detailed and there’s a lot of clarity in the high ranges. To get you started in the equalizer, you can choose from flat, bright, excited, mellow, relaxed, bass boost, treble boost, vocal, and speech. While it’s a little gimmicky, you can also control the position of your music, and customize different sound spaces like concert hall or club.

Battery Life

There’s an impressive 30-hour battery, with a quick charge feature that gives you 5 hours from a ten-minute charge. It charges via USB-C, and there’s a short cable included, but no adapter. You’ll need a 1.5A (or higher) adapter for quick charge. The charge can easily last you a week or two. In practice, I don’t get 30 hours of playback, but I suspect this is because I usually leave them on until they shut off on their own

It’s no surprise that Sony’s WH1000XM3s have grown in popularity in so little time. They’re also the third of this lineup, so Sony has had time to perfect them. We only have a couple gripes with them. We admit the touch buttons add to the aesthetics, and even though these are very usable, we still regularly skip tracks on accident when taking off or putting on the headphones. But the biggest gripe is phone calls. On calls, Sony turns on the ambient aware microphones so you can hear your surroundings at full blast. In theory, this should sound more natural, but in reality, I can hear trucks three blocks away louder than the person I’m chatting to. Hopefully, there’s a way to turn this off in the future in the future.

Bottom Line

Sony’s WH1000XM3 have almost immediately become our go-to headphones. Their noise cancellation technology is the best we’ve ever tested, and sounds so natural too. The audio quality is so lively, and headphones don’t get too much more comfortable than this. Pair that with their foldability, portability, long battery life, powerful app, and Google Assistant integration and you have an expensive pair of headphones that are actually worth the money. The Sony Headphone Connect App allows you to customize your listening preference to true audio perfection. $349.99 is a lot to pay for headphones, but if you can swing it, they’re worth it. All in all, Sony’s WH1000XM3 Noise Cancelling headphones are all-around incredible headphones for everyday use Sony’s WH1000MX3 are currently available from Amazon for $349.99.

Update (Jan 8, 2019): Sony will be adding Amazon Alexa support! You’ll be able to update with the app and speak to Alexa to control audio playback. Update should hit Q1 2019.

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