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Sony’s WF-1000XM3: true wireless & noise cancelling

  • 1000XM3. Sony’s full-size, flagship ANC headphones arrived with the refreshed WH prefix a year ago to become the newly-crowned king of noise-cancelling headphones. On comfort, active noise-cancellation and overall sound quality, the WH-1000XM3 still leads the pack at their €379 price point – three reasons why we named them ‘Product of the Year 2018’.

    For those seeking a more discrete solution, Sony has today announced a true wireless version of the 1000XM3. The WF-1000XM3 comes with in-built active noise cancelling, a Sony-specified 6-hour runtime (with 18 more available via the magnetic case’s three refills), proximity sensors (pausing music upon removal) and a ‘Quick Attention’ mode that momentarily lowers music volume and lets in ambient noise when a finger is placed over the left earbud’s touch control.

    And like the WH-1000XM3, the true wireless WF version sports Sony’s DSEE HX sound enhancement that (somewhat questionably) claims to restore information stripped out by lossy compression.

    And if all you want is a Sony true wireless earphone that can play music and actively cancel ambient noise, the WF-1000XM3 seem like the logical choice. However, for those who care more about sound quality – especially those with WH-1000XM3 experience under their belt – the new true wireless model represents somewhat of a conundrum.

    Sony has engineered the WF-1000XM3 so that each earbud pairs with the host device – a feature should improve connection stability. That this connection is ‘Bluetooth 5.0’-compliant seems impressive at first blush. But it’s the details that matter. Let’s dig in.

    The over-ear WH-1000XM3 supports a host of advanced Bluetooth audio codecs: AAC, Qualcomm’s aptX/HD and Sony’s own LDAC. These codecs play a key role in maximising the headphone’s sound quality. Experience with the bigger Sony tells us that aptX HD and LDAC make music sound punchier and more tonally satisfying than AAC. SBC isn’t even in the running. To these ears, the WH-1000XM3 sound a bit better when paired with an LG V30 (that supports aptX HD) than they do with an iPhone (that only does AAC).

    There’s no such fortune for our kind with the freshly-minted true wireless WF-1000XM3 whose internal “newly developed Bluetooth processor” specifies support for only a single advanced codec: AAC. No aptX/HD. No LDAC.

    Whilst AAC is an audible improvement over the mandatory SBC it isn’t quite as aurally nourishing as aptX/HD or LDAC, the advanced codecs favoured by the likes of Google, Samsung, LG, HTC etc. for their flagship models.

    Any iPhone or Android device running Oreo 8.0 or above will support AAC. Paired with either type of handset, the WF-1000XM3 will sound good but will fall slightly short of Bluetooth audio’s full potential i.e. that which we get from the WM-1000XM3 over ears and their LDAC / aptX HD support.

    On the other hand, with AAC in play, the WF-1000XM3 will iron out Bluetooth audio’s variability for most users. Readers are advised to demo the Sony true wireless model with their own smartphone before they buy.

    The WF-1000XM3 begin shipping this month and will sell for US$229/€250. Your choice of silver or black.

    Further information: Sony

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile. John used to live in Sydney. Now he lives in Berlin.

    Follow John on YouTube or Twitter

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