Sony WF-1000XM3 Earbuds review

Our tech writer Hadyn Green reviews the Sony WF-1000XM3 Earbuds.

Woman wearing Sony WF-1000XM3 Earbuds

Wireless earbuds aren’t a new thing, but these ones from Sony are a bit different. They include active noise-cancelling technology, along with excellent sound.

The audio is some of the best from any earbuds I’ve tried, giving good range without the harshness you get from a lot of other buds. However, the fit didn’t work for me and I was always worried they’d fall out.

Battery, style, and fit

The buds come in a stylish case with a lid that snaps shut with a satisfying “thunk”. The case is also a USB-C charger that can charge the buds three times over. These buds have a six-hour life, so with the case you should be able to eke out 24 hours of listening, making them great for travelling.

While they felt quite large, they didn’t actually stick out from my ears too much. Most of the bulk is from the noise-cancelling tech.

The Sony WF-1000XM3 Earbuds come in a stylish case featuring a built-in charger.
Sony WF-1000XM3 Earbuds and case

The instructions made it clear that the buds needed to be fitted correctly and they come with three sets of rubber tips – in two different types of rubber – so you can get the right size and fit for you. Sony recommends a twisting motion when putting them into your ears, which is good advice for any earbuds.

However, despite carefully trying a few different tip sizes, the buds didn’t fit as well as they should’ve. Though they stayed in while I was walking, they felt like they could fall out at any time. When I was jogging, they fell out almost instantly. Other earbuds I’ve trialled have either lasted a few seconds or well over a minute, before working themselves loose, the Sonys never lasted more than 20 seconds.

It should be noted that everyone’s ear canals are different, so this may not happen to you and annoyingly, as with all earbuds, you won’t know until after you buy them.

Noise cancelling

These tiny buds have the same noise-cancelling tech as Sony’s top-of-the-line over-ear WH-1000XM3 headphones. I’d like to say the buds had the same results as the bigger headphones, but they didn’t.

The noise-cancelling system allows the buds to pick out voices and amplify them into your ears.
Inside Sony buds noise-cancelling technology.

While they do block out some exterior sound, it’s no more than if you stuck anything in your ears. I compared these earbuds to another pair of buds without noise-cancelling, and found no difference in noise reduction.

What the Sony buds do better is focus on external voices. The noise-cancelling system allows the buds to pick out voices and amplify them into your ears (if you want). This seems to go against the idea of having noise-cancelling in the first place, but it can be useful if you’re in a place where you need to hear announcements (such as when you’re taking public transport) while listening to music.

There’s also an adaptive mode that uses motion to sense what you’re doing and changes noise-cancelling accordingly. So full noise-cancelling while you’re walking and voice focus if the buds sense you’re standing.

Sound quality

Sony is known for delivering good audio and these ear buds don’t let the team down in that regard. Using my five-track headphone testing playlist (see below), the buds were impressive.

The sound was generally very clear with a good amount of depth. You could make out the various layers of each song. There were some downsides though, as high tones were quite sharp and vocals tended to dominate over instruments.

The playlist

My reference playlist (tested against a pair of Sony MDR-7506 over-ear headphones):

Tom's Diner – Suzanne Vega
The Chain – Fleetwood Mac
Back in Black – AC/DC
Boredom – Tyler, the Creator
Rain – recording of natural rain sounds.

These tracks were chosen for their complexity, musical variation, and clarity of recording. All were listened to in a lossless format.

Wireless and functionality

These earbuds are Sony’s first truly wireless set. While true wireless is a phrase that means the buds aren’t connected to any wires, it has evolved to mean a wireless Bluetooth connection to each bud individually (rather than having one connection to a single bud that then links to the other one).

A wireless Bluetooth connection to each individual bud allows them to have more functions.
Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds insides

This type of wireless connection allows the buds to have more individual functions. So, for example, one bud can control playback, while the other controls noise-cancelling. You can change functions using the Sony app on your phone.

The app also allows you to set the level of noise-cancelling, play with the EQ, and customise how you want the buds to work.

To use the controls, you tap a touch-sensitive panel on the bud. However, I found it was too sensitive. More often than not, if I adjusted the fit in my ear, I would bump the panel and start a function I didn’t want.

When you remove a bud, the audio automatically stops, then resumes when you replace them. However, I had them sitting in my hand and must’ve bumped the panel and only realised when I put them back in my ears and music was already playing.

Sony WF-1000XM3

Price: $450
Battery life: 6 hours (up to 24 hours using case to charge)
Driver unit: 6mm, dome type (CCAW Voice coil)
Ear tips: three different sizes, two different materials

First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.

These headphones were loaned to the writer by Sony.

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