Sony's WF-1000XM3 earbuds reign supreme in the true wireless world

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Fri July 26, 2019

Story highlights

  • The Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds are available for $229.99
  • Sony's latest true wireless earbuds shrink the size and improve noise cancellation

Sony's new $229.99 WF-1000XM3 true wireless earbuds offer great sound, a smaller and more comfortable design, better connectivity along with improved battery life, and noise cancellation. Yes, you read that right -- these earbuds feature noise cancellation.

It's not Sony's first rodeo in true wireless -- these are the second generation true wireless earbuds from the brand. In the landscape of true wireless earbuds, these are on the general consumer side, competing with AirPods and the like. They rest in your ears with no wing tips or wrap-around ear hooks, and they don't feature any water- or sweat-resistance like the $249.95 Powerbeats Pro.

After a few weeks of testing, I'm impressed with the WF-1000XM3s. Let's talk through why.

A premium design with a twist and turn insert

I go back and forth between earbuds quite a bit, because I'm always on the hunt to find the best ones for you. I really like the design of the WF-1000XM3s. These are much smaller than other true wireless earbuds and can be hidden much better than, say, a pair of AirPods.

The main bulk of the earbud sticks out a bit, while the ear tip slides into your ear canal. You give it a slight twist, and you're set. That tighter fit from the earbud helps to create sound isolation without even turning on noise cancellation or ambient adjustments. I also find that these sit better in the ear canal than AirPods or other true wireless earbuds that don't have the ear tip. However, like so many things, this is a matter of personal preference.

Sony includes a number of ear tips, from silicone to foam in several sizes, in the box, so you can find the fit that's right for you. It's worth taking some time to find the right one. Having a stable fit can turn the experience up to 10, in more ways than one.

These come in your choice of black or silver. Like all other true wireless buds, you get a carrying case that doubles as a charger. The Sony WF-1000XM3s have a big case, although not as large as the massive one on the Powerbeats Pro. These are a bit more pocketable, but it still might be a stretch. This case features a USB-C port for charging (a cable is included in the box), and the lid on the black model features a pop of color with rose gold. Spots for the left and right buds are clearly labeled on the inside, and you get an LED charging indicator.

All in all, Sony did a really lovely job of crafting a premium pair of true wireless earbuds that aren't obnoxiously large. Whether you're popping these in for a quick listen on a walk to work or have them in for a long flight, they seem to just disappear, which is exactly what you want.

Really great sound on a wide stage

It's not like Sony is a newcomer to audio, and as expected, these sound great. Whether it's the latest track from Taylor Swift or Bruce Springsteen, these present a clear, crisp and rich audio experience.

For earbuds this size, it's pretty impressive. Powering the sound experience inside is a custom processor from Sony that aims to provide the best sound experience. As with the over-ear Sony WH-1000XM ($348; amazon.com), you use the headphones app for iOS or Android, which includes a full equalizer setup. This allows you to adjust the bass or treble on an individual level, and you can also pick from several presets.

With any track, these earbuds don't try to overdo it, and it all feels very measured. You can hear the nice strum on a guitar and the harmonies that are formed. Alongside those you'll hear the crispness of a snare drum or the depth of a bass drum, blended with the other instruments and the vocals.

It presents a surprisingly wide sound stage that gives each instrument its own voice, likely thanks to Sony's years of experience in audio and the enhanced processor.

Even better for those who want a super high-quality experience, you can turn on DSEE HX, which uses proprietary software to upgrade the sound quality of tracks you're playing. These earbuds sound a lot better than their competition, specifically a lot better than AirPods.

Noise cancellation with music lets you shut out the world

Not many true wireless earbuds offer noise cancellation, the technology that employs microphones to effectively listen to the environment around you and then mask it with silence. Bose will have a true wireless pair with active noise cancellation arriving in the future, but for now Sony is on top in this sector.

Via a tap on the left earbud or through the companion headphones app, you can customize the noise cancellation level. Even better, you can opt for an adaptive mode that will track what you're doing. This way if you're walking, it knows not to put noise cancellation full blast.

And that noise cancellation is impressive. I used these outside in New York City, and with noise cancellation on and music playing, I was in my own bubble. It's really impressive, and a lot of it falls on Sony's proprietary technology including the dedicated processor.

Solid battery life and a companion app

The battery life was really great, even with noise cancellation or the adaptive mode turned on. I got on average about six hours of battery life on a full charge with full-on noise cancellation. With that tech turned off completely, you're looking at about eight hours of battery life. It's a super impressive length that zips right past the second-generation AirPods, which fall in around five hours.

Of course, the carrying case does double as a charger and battery pack for these headphones, but you may find you don't often need that, especially with six hours of battery life on the buds themselves. You can quick charge for about 10 to 15 minutes in the case to get close to two hours of listening time.

You can monitor the battery life in real time via the companion app for iOS and Android. This is the same app that Sony's other audio products use, and there aren't any updates to it. You still pair the WF-1000XM3s through Bluetooth in settings on your phone, and that serves as the main connection. But the app also allows you to control noise cancellation, other settings and even the equalizer with ease.

It's not as simple a pairing process for iOS users as AirPods or Powerbeats Pro, but it's really not that bad.

Bottom line

Sony's WF-1000XM3s are up to snuff. While they don't include water- or sweat-resistance, they pretty much check all the other boxes for true wireless earbuds -- and then some. Sony is going for the core consumer market, which is likely you. If you do want a pair that can handle water and sweat, you should look at the Powerbeats Pro. Those looking for fast pairing with iOS will need to look for AirPods or the Powerbeats Pro.

However, those won't have a super sleek design that is comfortable for hours. More importantly, they won't feature the impressive noise cancellation that is found in the WF-1000XM3s.

I think you'll be really happy with the Sony WF-1000XM3s. AirPods, Galaxy Buds and even Powerbeats Pro have a tough new competitor in town.

Note: The price above reflects the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.