Today I’m checking out the Sony WH-1000MX3 headphone – a wireless over-ear headset that has supplanted the BOSE QuietComfort QC35 has a leading consumer headphone. With Bluetooth Connectivity and active noise cancellation in tow, the WH-1000XM3 doesn’t come without its share of bells and whistles. But do those extra adornments warrant the $348 price tag?
Sony WH-1000XM3 Review
The Sony WH-1000XM3 comes with a carrying case, a charging cable, and an aux cable for wired use.
Holding the headphone, it feels lighter than it’s predecessor, the XM2, but not quite as solid. In addition to the flimsier build, the WH-1000XM3 sports an improved headband with more synthetic leatherette padding. While it doesn’t really feel all that different to me compared to the XM2, your mileage may vary.
Pairing is quick and easy, and right out of the box I’m ready to begin my first listening session. Running on Bluetooth 4.2, the XM3 offers support for AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX HD, and LDAC. Battery life comes in at a near-standard 30 hours.
Noise cancellation appears decent, allowing me to phase out the normal office chatter of my coworkers and my fellow reviewers. The hear-through mode also works okay, though it may not be as clear or succinct as on other models from competing brands.
An optional app allows users to customize the sound of the WH-1000XM3, as right out of the box the sound may be a bit…lacking.
Frequency Range: 4-40,000 Hz
Nominal Impedance: 16 ohms (ANC off), 47 ohms (ANC on)
Sound Pressure Level: 101 dB (ANC off), 104.5 dB (ANC on)
The specifications given show off the XM3’s wide frequency range, though unless your wireless device has access to LDAC, you’ll be stuck with a 20-20,000 Hz frequency range. Impedance remains low, as I would expect from a wireless noise-cancelling headphone. Lastly, sound pressure is adequate, with the SPL climbing a bit higher when the ANC feature is switched on.
Right out of the box, the Sony WH-1000XM3 sounds too bass-heavy to enjoy. More than just powerful bass, the sound here exhibits a characteristic sloppiness that drowns out detail. Once dialed back with the app, the low end can actually sound decent, giving way to a fairly detail listening experience.
Slightly recessed at first glance, the mids suffer from the over-extended bass. There’s plenty of detail here in vocals and instrumentation, you just can’t hear anything all that well with the sludgy, cludgy bass overwhelming everything around it. Again, once dialed back in the app, you have access to a richer and more competent sound, but one I still wish was more attainable without having to tune the headphone.
At times a bit tinny, the highs on the XM3 constitute a very mixed bag. There’s a decent sound here, it’s just been compromised by the rest of the sound profile. Vocals sound smooth enough, but lack some sense of nuance. And instrumentation sounds about the same, lacking some critical detail in the higher highs. As a result, the high end can be tuned via the app to sound a little less harsh and grating, but it never gets as good as other headphones.
Once the bass is dialed back and the high end adjusted, the sound does open up a bit, leading to some space within the sound. While the XM3 never seems to exhibit a truly wide soundstage, it still offers enough depth to make music sound somewhat realistic.
The app is a must if you want to use the Sony WH-1000XM3 for anything other than an expensive paperweight. Right out of the box, the sound may seem abysmal, but some moderate re-configuring with the Sony Connect app allows the XM3 to at least sound good with some music.
Honestly, I feel like Sony could have made this headphone sound a little better – and they could have still offered the app to cover all their bases. The XM2 didn’t sound as bad right out of the box, still being enjoyable with pop, rock, hip-hop, and electronica. In contrast, the XM3 remains virtually unlistenable until you get the app and correct its issues.
For $348, the Sony WH1000XM3 offers a decent sound – albeit one that requires some fine-tuning and adjusting on the part of the user. For $348, it’s not a bad headphone, but at this point I would personally hold out for Beyerdynamic’s Lagoon ANC.
Still, if you need a headphone right now, and you have about $350 to spend, I would still recommend the Audio Technica ATH-ANC900BT over the Sony WH-1000XM3 for sound quality. Not only is the ANC900BT more detailed, but it doesn’t require a ton of control through an app – it sounds great right out of the box.
If you don’t care about sound quality and want to impress some people, you could probably go with the XM3 and still enjoy it. Good noise cancellation and easy-to-pair connectivity make this headphone fairly easy to use in day-to-day operation.
For a price of $348, the Sony WH-1000XM3 offers a a high-tech headphone with good noise cancellation and a decent sound. Although the poor sound quality straight out of the box may necessitate using Sony’s app to adjust the audio quality, this headphone offers a decent wireless and noise-cancelling option.
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