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Sony WH-1000XM3 : A Walk in the 𝙿̶𝚊̶𝚛̶𝚔̶ Countryside for Noise Cancelling

Take a microphone and measure ambient noise, then into your *cans* feed the phase inverted sound – the negative if you like. Voila – you have noise cancelling. It’s really not rocket science but, as the familiar know, done well it is weirdly unique to the senses. As weirdly human as being able to sit on a flying plane, where you might use them, whilst eating chicken, that used to fly.

Bose have a market position with their QuietComfort series, with a strong aviation headset heritage holding their back. Up against the Sony’s are the Bose QC 35 II. Sony’s WH-1000XM3’s are a garden stepping stone from the WH-1000X and WH-1000XM2’s, with untrodden paving to be footed with the recent leaks about the XM4 model. One wonders how many steps to the shed of ultimate cancelling performance?

Utilitarian and plain looking, whilst remaining lightweight, the XM3’s won’t necessitate tiger balm to relieve tension headaches over long sessions. Alleviate summer walk sweatiness by momentary ear exposure. Inevitable with, what looks like, leatherette ear pads. Quite what Sony were thinking with the *porridge sludge* coloured grey model. The black version with copper featuring, snaps relative quality. Build is customarily celestial.

Sony WH-1000XM3 review
Sony WH-1000XM3 review

Sony like feature lists. They always have, from eighties Walkman’s to noughties Hi-Res. Not all that unsurprising for consumer audio. You’ll find out with use, which features you are on foot or horseback to.

For sure, pretty much everyone will have their walking boots on to the noise cancelling spec. Bringing it to stark and reflected realization, came when asking a stranger wearing them, what he thought. He didn’t answer, nor the second time. Of course he didn’t…he was totally ‘Mutton Jeff’ in his moment. 

In contrast to some Bose QC15’s I have, admittedly old school tech now, the XM3’s are of a different zenith in cancelling prowess. Against the QC15’s and with music at a similar level, not only do the Sony’s pancake external bass almost to flour, but environmental midrange is *cooked out* too. What’s left is an expansive thin semblance of outside sound. In A to B’s, the Bose’s are more like elaborate ear muffs with all outside frequencies spiking and dipping still. Apparent when listening to music and even when not, in both models the cancelling can still be active. A reason to buy the XM3s just as ear muffs too, especially when flying. Perhaps an odd utterance for an audio site.

Sony V Bose / New V Old : WH-1000XM3’s and QC15’s
Sony WH-1000XM3 review
Sony WH-1000XM3 review

Aside from the sound adjustments a plenty, which I tackle in my part 2 film, from 360 spatial audio to atmospheric efficiency adjustment for use on planes, the XM3’s are balanced sounding. On detail, compared to non cancelling over ears at price, these Sony’s don’t reach parts others can’t. But they don’t shout from the rooftops that they can. That kind of nods to the hushed and relaxed reason you might buy them with their PhD still being from The University of Noise Cancelling.

Best described as sonic all rounders with lots of tonal mass, the 360 Reality Audio sound-staging is a multi direction party in your ear. Audio from the 4cm dynamic drivers, uncannily shifts and floats within the space of the ear cup giving a strong sense of direction-ability, much more than the relative flat stereo image of some other more expensive headphones. And that’s not putting these Sony’s on a level par, it’s just their personality. As closed headphones they are much more in control of bass than similarly priced headphones like the Meze 99 Neo (non cancellers)

Sony WH-1000XM3 review
Sony WH-1000XM3 review

Treble isn’t particularly elevated and is hauled back. Bass is more prevalent than midrange, so frequency response isn’t particularly flat. Turning bass right down is sometimes necessary on lots of services including Tidal, one of the steaming services optimised for 360 Reality Audio.

Using the fixed 3.5mm cable into the XM3’s gives a widening of sound-staging, utilizing the Sony’s swapped out Analogue amplification over the previous model. Detail goes up a peg too. 

More kudos for the Sony’s and a reason to buy is LDAC Bluetooth compatibility, meaning Bluetooth is definitely not ‘Blurtooth’ anymore. Almost as damn it to CD quality. Partner up LDAC digital audio players or Android Phones with Oreo 8 and up, which can also exploit LDAC, and you have on tap 990kbps streaming to your ears. AAC Bluetooth for Apple phones up to 320kbps only.

For all of the XM3’s character, including the disembodied and quirky voice of the XM3’s female assistant, I can’t recommend these Sony’s. The likely September scheduled CES release of the XM4’s, not their confirmed model name yet, means you might be best suited to hold out! But whatever, if you want the world to just shut up, you have a BIG reason to shortlist these cans. Recommended.

Part 2 film to come….

Countryside around Shoreham
Sony WH-1000XM3 review


$280 / £250


  • Type : Closed Dynamic Driver Headphones
  • Freq Response : 4Hz – 40kHz
  • Sensitivity : 104.5 dB / mW (1 kHz) (when connecting via the headphone cable with the unit turned on), 101 dB / mW (1 kHz) (when connecting via the headphone cable with the unit turned off)
  • Battery Life – 30 hours with NC on (charge over USB)
  • Bluetooth version – 4.2 (2.4GHz band)
  • Bluetooth range – 10m
  • Supported Bluetooth Audio Formats : SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC
  • Colour : Grey / Black

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Written by Simon Price

I'm an audio lover who likes sharing experiences of faithfully reproduced audio in a CREDIBLE, BALANCED and ENGAGING way. I’m interested in products; their looks, functionality and features, and most importantly how they sound! My reviews keep technicalities easy, as I believe great audio is non exclusive and to be enjoyed by all! It's all about the music!

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