Sony has been an audio industry power house with its products spanning from headphones to smartphones. It has been present in every small audio revolution, from minidiscs up until now with state of the art noise cancelling headphones. Sony WH-1000XM3 is their latest flagship pair. How does it stack up against the competition and might these cans just be the best out there? Let’s find out.

Pros
  • Probably the best noise cancelling in the game
  • Pleasant sound out of the box

Pros list with Sonarworks Reference calibration

  • Even high mids
  • Detailed sound throughout spectrum
Cons
  • Big dips in the high mid frequency spectrum
Use cases Best use case:
Travel
Recreational listening on-the-go
Tech specs Type
Closed back, On-ear
Frequency response
4 Hz to 40000 kHz
Connector
Stereo mini jack, Bluetooth
Adapter
Airplane adapter
Weight
251 g (without cable)
Require headphone amp
No
Build quality

M3 are the third iteration of the WH-1000X product line. While the first two models seem fairly identical with some material changes, the M3 has gone through a minor design overhaul. It keeps the same form and shape factor, but the headband is now a bit thicker and the cups have a smooth matt finish. The design is more seamless. The body is made entirely from lightweight plastic, but it does not feel cheap. As many other noise cancelling headphones, the WH-1000XM3 are made to be portable for usage on the go. Well made hinges allow to fold the cups so the pair fits into a traveling pouch. 

Sound

Like other noise canceling bluetooth headphones, the WH-1000XM3 can be used in different modes. The noise cancelling and ambient sound modes work via both bluetooth and cable connection. When the battery drains, headphones can still be used with cable, although this will alter the sound quite dramatically.

The noise cancelling mode has a bit of an exaggerated bass response that might be a bit too overwhelming. This is a trait that was not so highlighted in the previous versions of the WH-1000X model. For some music genres this might be a good thing. The biggest issue might be the huge dip of almost 10db in the high mids, but somehow it does not ruin the listening experience. Our measurements show that the ambient sound mode has the same frequency response as the noise cancelling mode. Fortunately these headphones do not introduce any annoying resonances across the spectrum as would the Bose QC35II do for instance. This means, that the calibration doesn’t have to struggle to get a flat frequency response out of these cans.

When the headphones are turned off, the high mid dip becomes even deeper crossing the 10db mark, and becomes uncomfortable. The bass is less exaggerated though. 

Channel balance

The channels have a rather good balance in these headphones. Up until 1 kHz they are almost identical, but above that it does not exceed 5 db difference. This trait remains present in all the units of our sample pool. 

 

Comfort

These headphones are designed to be comfy and just might be the most comfortable noise cancelling headphones out there. The pads on the cups are not too thick but not too loose either, so there is no wiggle room around the pinna and the headphones stay firmly on your head. Ear overheating and sweating was a bit of an issue with the M2 after longer periods of listening because of the thicker earpads, but this problem is no longer a pressing issue with the M3. The headband also is a big improvement with the added padding. 

Value

These headphones have the full package – good build quality, good design, good sound, excellent noise cancelling. The competitors in this price range might excel in some categories but fail in others. So if you’re willing to spend somewhat 300-400 USD for a pair of noise cancelling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM3 is your best bang for buck. 

Observations on how headphones perform after applying Sonarworks Reference calibration Total Harmonic Distortion

Overall these headphones don’t distort across the frequency spectrum but there is a THD spike at 3kHz, but it is barely audible. 

How accurate and consistent is the correction effect among different listeners?

The calibration effect is very consistent with these headphones. These cans take the calibration very well and the effect translates very good among different listeners.

How much do they differ pair to pair in terms of frequency response?

These are rather consistent headphones, and if you get a pair, you can be sure that it will meet the quality standards. The difference between pairs rarely exceed 3db. 

Rating

6.8 / 8.3 / 9.0

Sound rating is a weighted average of Frequency Response, Adaptiveness, Harmonic Distortion and Channel Balance scores, with Frequency Response and Adaptiveness having the greatest influence.

5 / 9 / 10

The flatter the frequency response – the higher the score. When evaluating the frequency response score with the Average calibration profile, the pair to pair consistency of the given model is taken into account – if we have measured a considerable frequency response inconsistency among multiple pairs of the given model, the score drops, as the profile loses accuracy. Individual calibration will grant perfectly flat frequency response.

7.5

Adaptiveness shows how capable these headphones are at delivering the same perceived frequency response to any listener. Headphones with high score will sound nearly identical to everyone.

9

Harmonic distortion – the lower the Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) figure, the higher the score. Headphones with prominent 3rd harmonic distortion above 100 Hz will score lower.

8 / 10

Channel balance – the closer to identical the frequency response of both channels, the higher the score. Individual calibration delivers perfect channel balance.

8.5

Comfort – shows if headphones can be used for long listening sessions comfortably. Every model is tested by at least a few individuals.

8.5

Build – evaluates how well the headphones are put together, the materials used and indicates the expected longevity. Easily replaceable (and easily available) parts will boost the score. We don’t do any stress tests and very few models are used for longer than a couple of days, so this is a fairly subjective score.

9

Value – indicates the price-performance ratio of the given headphones and how they stack up against the competition. High score means that you won’t find more neutral sounding alternatives for the price.

Conclusion

These are probably the best noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones in the game. They are not neutral sounding out of the box, but the coloration they add is not unpleasant. And with the calibration these headphones sound very good and could even be considered for something more than just recreational listening. 

Final Rating

8.3
With Sonarworks Reference 4
Calibration Enabled
7.1
Without Sonarworks
Calibration

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