Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Sony. I also no longer have the 230 buckeroos or so that went toward the WF1000XM3. Amazon and Sony got them. The WF1000XM3 houses a single 6mm dynamic driver per channel, a pretty advanced noise cancelling engine, and a quality wireless signal. Want to know more? Hit up Sony, here: WF-1000XM3 - Only Music, Nothing Else.
The WF1000XM3 is about as pretty as a car crash. And like a good country collision you’ll find half a bike helmet across its grill. The other half dredges up fuzzy memories of of jawbone BT units from the early 2000s. By the way, back in the jawbone days, a mate of mine hot got hit by a douche jabbering into one behind the wheel. Half a helmet indeed.
So it goes.
6mm dynamic driver with neodymium magnet
20Hz - 20kHz frequency response
Up to 6 hours battery life during music playback
Bluetooth 5,0 (SBC, AAC codec support)
haptics and build: ohmage and porridge
Tastefully ugly and impossible to say as it is, the WF1000XM3 (herein XM3) is tightly put together. Plastic fastens it from butt to face, keeping it pretty lightweight. Inside is a battery that’s good for up to 6 hours of music with NC on, or 8 without it.
The XM3 bristles with sensors and gizmos. Not to be mistaken for either are its bass ports, drilled into either side of the sound tube. These allow the XM3’s tiny driver to flex and rebound out again a good amount of bass.
Sony bill the XM3 as a fully wireless noise-cancelling earphone. The former it does lickety split. Like, when prioritising connection quality, I can get up to 60 from my phone before the music cuts, or 50 when prioritising sound quality. If I allow for minor signal drops, I can push up to 80 metres and 60 metres respectively. That’s practically a marathon as far as I’m concerned. Even so, my first-gen AirPods connect better through walls and when going up and down floors. AirPods also connect really fast, where the XM3 can sometimes take more than ten seconds to be ready to go.
As soon as the lady in my ear said that I had engaged the noise canceller, the sound of my aircon zapped completely out. So did the washing machine. And both were going full tilt. What a system. Unfortunately, there’s a catch. Integral to noise cancelling is a good microphone circuit. Bad mic amps and attendant circuitry create noise. The good news is that the WF1000XM3’s mic amps and associated circuitry produce very little noise. But, positioned on the outside of the earphone, the mic port mic pics up hella wind noise. And wind noise can’t be cancelled. Take a walk? Jog? Step out to the mail? If there’s a hint of wind (or if you’re moving fast), it will whistle in your favourite music, EFAP episode, movie, or other and there is nothing you can do about it but plug the microphone with some cell tape.
The XM3’s case, which fast charges when plugged into a USB-C port (yay!), does its job well. There’s even a bit of a soft touch thing going on, which keeps it from slipping out of the hand. Its lid is light, and props open thanks to an inner bracing hinge. But, the AirPods case is easier to open and snaps back together more solidly. It’s far better than the Astrotec S60 case, though.
Fit: ohmage and porridge
The XM3 goes in easily and stays put. It is big, and may stretch small ear bowls but its long sound tube keeps it fast in the ear. You can jump, and jog, and run; it won’t budge. Of course, the moment you take it outside, or move faster than a walk, it will whistle like the Dickens.
Despite not bearing a water-resistant badge, the XM3 can, like most consumer electronics, weather some moisture. But to me, it is too precious to candidly thrust at real Nathan.
My favourite ear pads are Sony’s long hybrid earpieces in M size. They are soft enough and run their seams far enough behind insertion depth to not bother sensitive skin. The triple comfort pieces are even comfier, but also easier to gunk up. Both isolate well with or without noise cancellation engaged.
All hardware functions are controlled through circular touch pads on the outside of the earphones. You can control play/pause, noise cancelling, ambient settings, telephony, and more. They do lots, but I’ll be buggered if I can ever find them when I need them. Instead, my fingers tap the XM3’s bike visor.
BTW, Sony’s Headphones app - through which equalisation, location-based NC, and other settings are engaged - grates against basic iOS design ethics. It also doesn’t jive with the look or feel of the XM3 earphones, or even the Sony brand. It is generic, ugly, and requires too much hands-on to be useful. It also disconnects from the XM3 as soon as you switch apps. At least it doesn’t affect your music.
kitsch: ohmage and porridge
The XM3’s sombre gold lid tops a long black, and elegant bum. Its display box is small-ish, and pasted with too much branding, text, and notices considering how little its manual covers. If you’re going to spatter a box with that much text, at least show the earphone spec. If you’re going to so carelessly spatter an earphone’s box with text, at least make the corresponding app mimics the style.
Sound: ohmage and porridge
Yes, the XM3’s mics and pre-amps are good. And its headphone amps are strong enough to blow your ears. Cooler to listeners like me, its those amps deke out the worst hiss- still however, a tiny ocean of shhhhh-shhhhh-shhhhhh persists.
Wireless earphone makers: want the best-sounding earphones with the most audiophile plaudits? Do what Flair Audio do and design circuits wholly insensitive to hiss. Add to that noise cancelling and voila! Another plaudit.
Considering that the XM3 also cancels outside noise, that leftover ocean is impressively small. It’s just not zero. If you’re normal, you’ll get on. If you’re like me, there will always be something there in the background, itching at your eardrums. Worse yet is the design flaw in the microphone port which funnels wind into your music the moment you step outside.
Bass vs. Mids: ohmage and porridge
At base, the XM3 runs a pretty flat frequency response. It has a medium-sized lift in the middle and upper bass and almost no sub bass. Above is a mildly expressive mid range. Using the Headphones app you can twiddle frequencies up or down from 400Hz to 15,6kHz along five bands. There are twelve equalisation banks to tailor to your fancy. Even EQ-boosted to favour the ninth circle of Hell, however, the XM3 is incapable of yawning open the first few seconds to Markus Schulz’s MainStage. A few dozen Hz above that, however, and the XM3 gets nice and toasty. In fact, when punched up a notch, in a funly strident manner, its lows reminds me of the Flares Pro.
To software-caffeinated bass and highs, you can add ambient control and get a decently wide, if flat sounding soundstage. No matter the setting, bass stereo detail is middling. Centrally it pulls channel detail into a thick core. As a result, stereo texture detail is average at best.
Sony decided to play it safe. The XM3’s bass is good, and in the high-bass region, even powerful, but it lacks follow through weight and stereo ambience. All they had to do to nail both would be to plug the XM3 with the Sony MDR-EX1000’s guts. They didn’t. And while the 6mm driver they put in has ample low-end push, it hasn’t enough of all the right stuff to deliver much more than that.
Bass vs. Highs: ohmage & porridge
Chimes and cymbals and other hi-frequency instruments sparkle something good but never get hot. The XM3 isn’t as safe-playing an earphone as a planar magnetic, or, say Earsonics’s SM3, but I think it safe to say that if you don’t like peaky treble, you’ll be fine with the XM3. If you are a treble head, the XM3 will offer enough to keep you listening, but it’s got very little Audio Technica CK10 or even Flare Audio Flares Pro sparkle. In this regard, it is like the MDR-EX1000. Unlike the EX1000, however, the XM3 lacks deep, detailed, and rich Z-axis high-range fades.
Neither male nor female vocals really stick out against the highs or lows. Instead, they fade into the surrounds in moderately fast-fading vignettes. Still, vocal-range sound pressure is high and great for jazz, live, and the like. Ditto for mid to mid-high range instruments.
The XM3’s midrange soundstage is average. The X-axis spreads to the shoulders, but with next to nothing along the Z-axis, that spread is pretty flat. The Y-axis never really gets farther up than the eyebrow or lower than the chin. Instruments are clearly defined, but not cubbyholed into unique, scalpelled niches.
Within these bounds, bass moves freely to the sides where a number of its counterparts push it to the centre. This adds weight and presence throughout the audible range. Here and there, it also covers over lower midrange details, where more centrally anchored bass might reveal or buttress midrange detail.
The XM3 is pretty well balanced. Neither bass nor highs really tromp over the mids. And, because neither is super stereo detailed, mids stick out a bit more than they otherwise would. Want a V or U shape sound signature? You can add one in. But make no mistake, you won’t get the XM3 for naturally luscious mids.
If only Sony hadn’t installed wind traps, the XM3’s noise-cancelling engine would be tip top. If only the XM3 connected as quick and flawlessly as Apple’s AirPods, it would be hard to recommend the Apple earphones. If only Sony’s Headphones app was better designed and stayed connected when switching apps, I’d bother to use it. The XM3’s connection range is sick and totally buggers Flares Pro 2, AirPods, and a bunch more wireless earphones. But it doesn’t sound that much better than AirPods, and its physical interface is kind of sloppy.
I expect the WF1000MX3 to sell well, but I don’t expect it to capture a long-term user base.