Ears-on: How Sony’s new WH-1000xM3 headphones raise the bar … again

Sony has just announced the WH-1000xM3 headphones at IFA 2018, and after no less than 15 hours of nonstop evaluation, we’re convinced we have another set of best-in-class cans in our hands (and over our ears).

Sony already had two home runs in a row with its 1000x series headphones, and now it has a third. The original model challenged then industry-leader Bose, the second generation currently stand as our pick for the best wireless headphones you can buy, and as of today, the third generation are poised to carry on the legacy.

Epic battery life

Just 4 minutes before my Lyft arrived to cart me off to the airport, the WH-1000xM3 arrived. With just enough time to pull them from 18 layers of bubble wrap, I stuffed them into my backpack alongside my Bose QC35 II and embarked on what would become a 17-hour voyage to Berlin, via Amsterdam.

I used the headphones nonstop on a 10-hour flight to Amsterdam.

With no time to charge the 1000xM3, I had to trust Sony’s claim that the headphones could run wirelessly for five hours after just 10 minutes of charging. Good news: It’s true. The headphones were running at about 10 percent on arrival, and I charged them for 15 minutes prior to taking off via a new USB-C charging port (cable included). I was able to use the headphones nonstop on a 10-hour flight to Amsterdam, through a 1.5-hour layover, and for another hour and a half to Berlin. I still had 20 percent left after all of that and have yet to charge them as I write this.

Slimmer and more comfortable

The 1000x series has always been a comfortable pair of headphones for long-term use, but with the 1000xM3 come a few notable improvements that we find elevate the overall experience. There’s a slimmer profile, yet the earcup is deeper this time around. The headband has an altered radius that better fits the arch of our head and reduces clamping force, and there’s more padding in the headband, too. These new cans are lighter, too, despite improvements to several internal components. Compared to our Bose QC35 II, we might lean a little toward the Bose in the long-term comfort department on breathability alone, but not enough to sway any decision between the two.

More power, better performance

Sony’s new QN1 processor brings a few enhancements to the 1000xM3. It’s really like having two chips in one. The noise-canceling circuit is more powerful and more efficient, and audio processing, held separately from the noise-canceling functions, is meant to be improved as well.

On the noise-canceling front, Sony has added the ability for the headphones to not only cancel out static noises coming from planes, trains, and automobiles, but also noises commonly heard in an office environment, from voices to general clatter. For those times when one does want noises coming through, Sony has built in an algorithm which detects alert noises like horns and sirens and will selectively let those through, based on whether the user is in motion. Fine adjustments to these settings can be made with Sony’s Headphones app, available for iOS and Android.

Studio recordings sound intimate and impeccably produced, as they should.

What’s more, Sony has built pressure sensors into the 1000xM3 to adjust the level of noise canceling to match surrounding air pressure. We’ve found this feature to work extremely well. We felt no undue pressure at sea level, and no anomalies while in flight.

Audio performance is also meant to be improved, with 32-bit signal processing, a high signal-to-noise ratio, and low distortion. We’ve not had the chance to compare this third-gen set to our second-gen headphones for differences in sound quality, but we can say we’re extremely pleased with the experience thus far. Studio recordings sound intimate and impeccably produced, as they should, while live music recordings sound wide, expansive, and highly immersive. Bass is tight and tuneful, with just a bit of punch in the midbass, and midrange is lucid and transparent, while the treble reveals tons of detail without ever becoming strident.

Fun features

Most of the features are the same this year, but we find they work better than before. Cup your hand over the right earcup and music will pause as sound from around you is piped into the headphones so you can hear your travel partner, office mate, or airline attendant. Will you look a little dorky doing it? Yeah, maybe, but it’s pretty damn convenient.

Swipe and tap controls are also still here, with the ability to play/pause, advance/reverse tracks, and adjust volume up and down with gestures on the right earcup.

Just buy them

The WH-1000xM3 will arrive on store shelves in September for $350, and we suggest you buy them if you’re in the market for wireless headphones. Once again, Sony has made an impeccable product worthy of my gushing and I stand behind every word. I look forward to putting these headphones on every time I need them, and I know I will for years to come. You will too.

Update: Adjusted model number to 1000xM3 to conform with Sony’s branding acronym.

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