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The WF-1000XM3 are especially great at cancelling out the low rumble of an air conditioner or engine
The WF-1000XM3 are especially great at cancelling out the low rumble of an air conditioner or engine

Sony WF-1000XM3: Setting the benchmark for true wireless audio

  • The WF-1000XM3 are premium noise cancelling headphones that do not come with sweat or water-proof certifications
  • The 1000XM3 has an uncanny ability to keep up with the most eclectic playlists, something that I’ve usually found to be a sign of good audio products

For those of us who’ve spent a few years covering tech, praising Sony’s 1000XM line of audio products is almost an yearly affair. The new WF-1000XM3 lives up to that name, while setting the benchmark for premium true wireless headphones. At the same time, it reminds you just how much Sony compromises on its non-1000X series products, which is sad.

Before we get to the good things about this headphone, let’s discuss what doesn’t work. The WF-1000XM3 are premium noise cancelling headphones that do not come with sweat or water-proof certifications. This makes no sense, especially since the Bose Soundsport Free and Apple’s Airpods Pro — arguable the only real competition for these — both come with such ratings.

Curiously, Sony has the WF-SP800N, it’s “sport" range of true wireless headphones, which are sweat proof and have the same certification and are priced at Rs. 18,990 (the 1000XM3 cost Rs. 19,990). But telling the user to choose between the 1000XM3’s excellent audio quality and the WF-SP800N’s sweat resistance really isn’t a fair choice in my opinion. I’ll skip the squats if the music doesn’t keep me going.

That aside, there’s plenty to root for too here. The 1000XM3 has an uncanny ability to keep up with the most eclectic playlists, something that I’ve usually found to be a sign of good audio products. I have Take Control by Old Gods of Asgard to Strawberry Fields Forever by The Beatles and Regenbogen by Nina Muller on the same playlist, and distinctly bass biased headphones or ones that are too bright, would just make for a jarring experience. The 1000XM3 keeps up admirably.

Instrument separation is top class across genres and vocals don’t get cut off by too much emphasis on bass or high notes. Don’t get me wrong, Sony still has emphasized bass here, and this is consumer friendly audio quality more than it is audiophile class. But that’s just the point — the WF-1000XM3 brings the best consumer class audio you can get in India right now. For those who don’t like the default audio signature, Sony’s Headphones Connect app has an equalizer to boot.

The audio you get here is often what people generally call “clear". I can’t think of many true wireless earbuds that can define the spatial aspect of music. The fact that you can perceive space in the music is what makes this even more immersive. That’s another sign of a truly great pair of headphones. For reference, the perception of space is usually reserved for high-end over-the-ear headphones. This will especially come in handy for John Butler type music.

If Sony takes all other features away from this but retains the audio quality, that alone would make the WF-1000XM3 worth buying. But what justifies its nearly 20k price tag are the gesture controls, active noise cancellation (ANC) and more.

ANC is another crucial area where Sony has excelled with the 1000XM line. The WF-1000XM3 are especially great at cancelling out the low rumble of an air conditioner or engine. You can long press the left earbud if you need to quickly have a listen to environmental audio or an announcement at the airport.

There’s also adaptive noise cancellation, which aims to adapt to what you’re doing. The headphones will recognise if you’re in transit, sitting down at home and so on. Sony has had this feature for a while now, and I’ve personally never found it useful. Between ANC and music, there’s no way I hear incoming noise with these on. The 1000XM3 kept telling me I was in transit while I sat on my desk working. Given that the feature has been present for a few generations now, you would expect better results from Sony by now.

Also, though noise cancellation is great, it doesn’t really help for calls. You’ll still depend on your phones for those at most times.

The Headphones Connect app also lets you toggle DSEE-HX on or off. This is a little Sony feature that upscales audio from low quality tracks, like MP3 and AAC, to better quality. I doubt anyone who spends this much money on headphones has low bitrate music on their phones or streaming apps, but it’s a handy feature, but made no difference on my test tracks or Apple Music’s high bitrate streaming.

Lastly, Sony’s gesture controls are absolutely on point. The headphones never misbehave, but it takes a short time getting used to the controls. While the earbuds are large, the target touch area is a small circle and I’d really recommend holding the left or right bug with two fingers before using a gesture.

At this point, I probably don’t need to tell you that the WF-1000XM3 are worth buying. I suspect we can thank Apple for the 20k price tag, since Sony had to make this cheaper than the Airpods Pro to get around Apple’s ecosystem advantage, even though this one beats Apple in audio performance hands down. At the introductory price of Rs. 17,990, you should definitely pick them up right now.

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