Sony's critically-acclaimed WH-1000X series of wireless, noise-cancelling headphones is making a return this year! Unveiled at the IFA Berlin 2018 expo, the WH-1000XM3 are a significant step forward in a number of ways.
Except the name. That part remains terrible.
Much improved, lighter design
Every self-respecting wireless, over-the-ear pair of headphones should be comfortable enough to be worn for extended periods of time, but we all know very well this is not the case at all. Too often headphones will try to chew away at their listeners' heads, clamping them strongly with all force they may have. Not the Sony WH-1000XM3! For such a sophisticated pair of headphones, the WH1000XM3 are surprisingly light. Not only that, but their clamping force is very low – there is an immediate sense of comfort once you put them on (unlike with their predecessors), and all that is while they successfully and immediately block out all outside noise. How do they do this? Is it magic? Sure feel like so, but we're sure it's the result of countless hours of work and innovation instead.
Appearance-wise, the Sony WH-1000XM3 are quite reminiscent of the previous models in the series, but the headband has been improved to both look better and feel more comfortable. Now, there remains less of a gap between the headband and the listener's head, making for a less off-putting styling. In terms of color variants, we would really like to see more from Sony. There are two versions: black with copper accents, and platinum silver with gold accents. Both of these look good, but headphones can make much more of a fashion statement, and Sony isn't taking full advantage of the opportunity. Instead, it's going for the minimalist look, and we guess that's OK.
Sound quality and noise-cancellation
The star of the show in the premium consumer class of wireless headphones these days tends to be noise-cancellation. With the WH-1000XM3, Sony is at the forefront of this technology. At the carefully staged demo are Sony had set up, there were multiple speakers outputting a constant, heavy sound very similar to what you get in a plane. That's on top of all other music that was playing around! It really was quite a busy and, more importantly, noisy environment to be in, and of course, these were the perfect conditions for to drive the point home. Just as we put the WH-1000XM3 on, all outside noise suddenly disappeared, only to be replaced by the mellow music playing on the demo Walkmans. It was a great experience, and one which proved the effectiveness of Sony's noise-cancelling technology.
There are three modes that you can listen to the WH-1000XM3 with: noise cancellation on, noise cancellation off, and ambient noise pass through. The latter mode is obviously designed for those times when you'd like to be more aware of your surroundings and not isolate yourself too much. You cycle through these with the press of a single button.
Speaking of buttons, the music controls are integrated into the right earcup, which is touch sensitive. While using these hidden touch pads may be a bit fiddly at times, it's probably for the better here, as having multiple buttons and switches laid around the headphones would have taken from their pleasantly minimalist design. Swiping up or down along the earcup controls the volume level, while swiping forward and back is used to change tracks. Play and pause are done by double tapping. There's also one final gesture, where you can cover the whole earcup with your hand – this lowers the music volume and completely enables audio pass through, allowing you to quickly communicate with someone. This is also the time when your virtual assistant of choice will be listening for commands.
Unfortunately, we couldn't test the sound quality of the Sony WH1000XM3 properly in those busy conditions, but we'll hopefully be able to do so soon. According to audio experts around the web, the WH-1000XM3 are capable of outputting superb audio, in part thanks to their built-in analog amplifier.
Price and release date
Needless to say, Sony got us very excited for its WH-1000XM3. Thankfully, it long be long before hit the shelves, which should happen later this month. The only potential obstacle to obtaining them would be their admittedly high price of $350. These babies sure don't come cheap, but hey – all of this acoustic goodness, plus 20 hours of continuous wireless music playback? Give us a call if you find a cheaper offer!