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Business News/ Technology / Tech-reviews/  Sony WH-1000XM3: Noise-cancelling headphones done right
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Sony WH-1000XM3: Noise-cancelling headphones done right

Sony’s WH-1000XM3 is one of the best active noise-cancelling headphones in the market but comes with its own set of quirks

The 1000XM3 used a noise cancelling processor called the QN1.Premium
The 1000XM3 used a noise cancelling processor called the QN1.

The 100ABN was Sony’s first shot at challenging Bose’s dominant position in the premium, noise-cancellation headphones segment, but it’s the 1000X series that has established the company here.

Sony’s new generation 1000XM3 pits itself against heavyweights such as the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and Bang & Olufsen H9i, as well as experimental ones like the Fiil Diva Pro.

Despite the high price tag of 29,990, the Sony WH-1000XM3 is arguably the best noise-cancelling headphone in the market.

The earcups come with more padding, making them comfortable for prolonged use. They also fit better around the head now, which is a notable change from the 1000XM2.

At the same time, the WH-1000XM3 wouldn’t qualify as an “upgrade" to the 1000XM2. There’s not much change in terms of audio quality, except that the lower (bass) notes sound slightly tighter. This is evident only if you use the two headphones side-by-side.

Audio quality is still excellent. The headphones handle metal, jazz, rock and even classical Indian music with grace. Bass notes in songs like Hey Go Go by Alphabet Botanical sound great, while the opening segment of Ilahi by Arijit Singh is lively and fast. The 1000XM3 also offers support for high-definition audio, LDAC and aptX codes for the audiophiles.

The headphone retains all the useful features of the M2. It detects changes in atmospheric pressure and adjusts noise cancellation accordingly, meaning it is well suited for air travel. This feature gives it an edge over its competitors.

The headphone also changes mode depending on if you are walking, in transit, or simply sitting. In the Transport and Walking modes, the headphone allows some ambient noise in so that you remain aware of your surroundings.

For the Staying or noise-cancelling mode, the set uses a new chip, the QN1, to deliver better signal processing. Sony calls this “HD noise cancelling".

As a result, the 1000XM3 is quite adept at drowning out voices, car engine sounds, aircraft rumble and more. If you need to speak to someone while listening to music, you can simply place your palm on the right earcup, and the headphone will stream the caller’s voice through by amplifying it.

Where it fails, in a way, is in the ambient mode. While the 1000XM3 does let ambient sound in, you can’t really hear much when you are listening to music. Hence, if you are out for a walk, you are unlikely to hear a car honk.

Another drawback is that the 1000XM3 is generally poor at managing calls. If you are on “adaptive mode" (which can be toggled from Sony’s headphones connect app) where the headphone detects your state automatically, getting a call puts it in the ambient mode. As a result, all background noise is let in, and the person on the other end can’t hear you. To fix this, you are required to press the noise-cancellation button, but that takes two button presses, by which time most people will just hang up.

Despite these shortcomings, the WH-1000XM3 is the device to buy if you are an audiophile or a discerning traveller who cares about the quality of noise cancellation.

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Prasid Banerjee
An engineering dropout, Prasid Banerjee has reported on technology in India for various publications. He reports on technology through text and audio, focusing on its core aspects, like consumer impact, policy and the future.
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Updated: 26 Oct 2018, 06:18 PM IST
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