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Sony WF-1000XM3: The Best Noise-Canceling Wireless Earbuds of 2019


August 7, 2019 Reviews By Photo by Chandler Bondurant

The Sony WF-1000XM3 ($228+) are the company’s newest true wireless earbuds and they’re really the first serious true wireless earbuds to have active noise cancellation. Sony’s previous true wireless earbuds, the Sony WF-SP700N ($178), were also marketed as “noise canceling” but the problem was that their noise-canceling wasn’t that good. That on top of connectivity issues reported by some users. The Sony WF-1000XM3 are an entirely different breed, however; they’re part of the company’s 1000X line, which includes the hugely popular Sony WH-1000XM3, and Sony has basically taken all the abilities and features from those noise-canceling headphones and put them in a wireless earbud. They are available in black or silver.

Sony has never been great with product names – too many numbers – so forgive yourself if you confuse the WH-1000XM3 and WF-1000XM3. Here’s what you need to know: “WH” stands for wireless headphones and “WF” stands for “wireless free.” That’s it.

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The Good: The Sony WF-1000XM3 are the only true wireless earbuds available right now that have noise-canceling abilities worth their salt. And those noise-canceling abilities aren’t just good, they’re actually great. Over the past few weeks, they’ve been super helpful blocking out ambient noise while commuting on the subway, as well as blocking outside conversations while at the office. Obviously, the first job of any headphones or earbuds is to sound good, and the Sony WF-1000XM3 sound fantastic: clear mids and highs, and bass that can punch. If you want to tweak the EQ, it’s quite easy using Sony’s companion app.

Are Sony’s New Noise-Cancelling Wireless Earbuds Airpod Killers?

The brand-new processor inside the Sony WF-1000XM3 is what enables its great noise-canceling but it also enables something called “adaptive sound control.” There are three preset modes that you can switch between by tapping the left earbud – noise-canceling on, adaptive sound control on, and both off – and with adaptive sound control turned on, the Sony WF-1000XM3 automatically adjust the noise-canceling settings depending on your activity and the ambient noise around you. For instance, if you’re walking, it will let ambient noises in so you can hear your surroundings. Or if you’re constantly standing up and sitting down, the earbuds will switch over to “transport mode” and make sure the noise canceling is at full 100 percent. I had fun experimenting with adaptive sound control but ultimately I like to have noise-canceling turned on all the time, and so I spent most of my time in standard noise-canceling mode.

The Sony WF-1000XM3 lifted many of the best and most modern features from the Sony WH-1000XM3, too. The wireless earbuds have intuitive swipe controls on each earbud. The optical sensors in each earbud so the music will play/pause every time to put in or remove an earbud (you can turn this feature off via the app). There’s a conversation mode – if you hold/press the left earbud, it lets ambient sounds in – so you can have quick conversations with somebody without removing an earbud. And they charge via USB-C. Additionally, the battery life is maybe the best of any true wireless earbuds out there; each earbud gets around six hours, but the charging case adds an extra 24 hours with noise-canceling turned on.

Who It’s For: Anybody that wants premium wireless earbuds with the best noise-canceling abilities. If you like Sony’s WH-1000XM3, but want them in a wireless earbud form, the Sony WF-1000XM3 are exactly that.

Watch Out For: These are premium wireless earbuds and their price reflects that: at $230, they fall between AirPods ($159) and Powerbeats Pro ($250). They’re not water-resistant and the design of each earbud makes them stick out of your ear; basically, it’s not recommended to run or exercise while wearing these. The charging case is rather large and not really pocket-friendly. There’s no swipe gesture on the earbuds to adjust volume, meaning to lower or raise the volume you have to take out your smartphone or use Google Assistant. There’s no way adjusting the noise-canceling levels via the mobile app (the settings when in adaptive sound control mode are preset).

Alternatives: The Sony WF-1000XM3 are really the only noise-canceling wireless earbuds on the market right now. Bose will be releasing its own variants, the Bose Noise Cancelling Earbuds 700, but those won’t be available until sometime in 2020. If you don’t care about true wireless, Bose’s QuietComfort 30 ($299) are wireless “neckbuds” with excellent noise cancellation.

Verdict: Sony has brought the sound quality, noise cancellation ability and the best features from its WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones, and packed them into a pair of true wireless earbuds. They’re on the expensive side, for sure, and you probably aren’t going to exercise with them, but the Sony WF-1000XM3 are some of the best wireless earbuds you can buy. Especially if you want to block out all other noises around you.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The WF-1000XM3 sound fantastic, fit securely and comfortably, and have some fun, touch-based features that make them easy to use. And their active noise canceling is so effective that it’s starting to scare my family. Last night, I blocked out an episode of Paw Patrol, then removed a bud when I saw my preschooler’s lips moving. She asked, “Mommy? Are you wearing the things you wear when you don’t want to hear us?” — Adrienne So, Wired

• “Sony’s true wireless WF-1000XM3 earphones deliver excellent noise cancellation and powerful audio performance with the ability to adjust the EQ. The Google Assistant inclusion seems like an afterthought, and not a terribly unique one at that. This, along with the lack of ANC control in the Sony app and the frustrating on-ear controls, diminish the allure of what is otherwise a great product. The noise cancellation is strong enough, however, that the earphones are still worth considering if true wireless ANC is your top priority.” — Tim Gideon, PCMag

• “Bass-heavy genres sound superb with the WF-1000XM3, too. The low-end tone is big and boomy, but it’s never too much. This means the pounding heavy metal drums of Gojira’s The Way of All Flesh don’t drown out intricate finger tapping and other guitar riffs. It’s rather chaotic music, sure, but the WF-1000XM3 keeps everything organized, and each instrument stands on its own.” — Billy Steele, Engadget

Key Specs

Driver: 0.24-inch dome driver
Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz
Battery: 6 hours per earbud; up to 24 hours of battery life total with ANC turned on (with case)
Charging port: USB-C
Key features: noise-canceling, adaptive sound control, Quick Attention, works with Google Assistant

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Sony provided this product for review.

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