Reviewed: Sony's Latest True Wireless Earphones with Noise Canceling and a Long Battery Life

Sony makes great products. Sure, it's gone through some difficult times over the years where budget product lines have been outsourced with predictable results, but when Sony gets a product right, that product will have an extra luster and sheen that reminds you why Sony is a premium brand responsible for so many firsts, including the Sony TC50 tape player that accompanied the astronauts of Apollo 11 to the moon, half a century ago.

This month I've a real treat for you because Sony's latest true wireless Bluetooth earphones - the Sony WF-1000XM3 - have just arrived for review. This is Sony's earphone version of the company's stunning

WM-1000XM3

noise-canceling headphones, which I reviewed last year. I was bowled over by the quality of their noise cancelation, battery life and how the headphones played music so beautifully. For the first time, I was able to listen to music properly on a flight without interruption from the plane's engines. You can read my thoughts on those headphones

here

.

The last pair of Sony true wireless, noise-reduction earphones I reviewed were the

WF-SP700NR

, which sounded great but had pretty poor battery life and a rather flimsy charging case. Well, it looks like Sony has taken some of the criticisms of the WF-SP700NR on board and produced a new pair of true wireless noise-canceling earphones that set standards for others manufacturers to follow.

The WF-1000XM3 look absolutely gorgeous, and that's before you even open the charging case. The case is covered in a black neoprene, and the lid is finished in a lovely copper color, sporting a discreet Sony logo etched into its top. There's a silver version available if black is a little austere for you. A crescent-shaped red LED on the front of the case indicates when the case is being charged. The top of the case flips open to reveal two substantial-looking earbuds that look classy and understated as they nestle in their charging pods. Each earpiece sports a red LED that illuminates when the batteries are being charged in the charging case, plus there's also a blue LED to indicate Bluetooth status.

The charging case is charged via a USB-C connector built into its base. The onboard lithium-ion battery holds sufficient charge for three complete charging cycles of the earbuds. The buds can play for up to eight hours on one charge, which is a big improvement on the two hours or so that I managed to get out of the Sony

WF-SP700NR

.

To get the best from these earphones it's a good idea to download Sony's Headphones Connect app, which enables all sorts of customisation plus firmware upgrades when they become available.The Headphones Connect app also customises the Adaptive Sound Control, a smart function that automatically detects what you're doing - for example, travelling, walking, or waiting - and adjusts the Ambient Sound function to suit your surroundings.

The app also enables customisation of other settings such as the touch controls on each earpiece, plus there are EQ preset and two personalised settings, as well as levels for Sony's Clear Bass to boost the bottom end. The app can also customise settings for noise canceling and Ambient Sound. Ambient Sound is a handy feature if you wear earphones when cycling or jogging as it enables you to hear cars approaching or other hazards by allowing a certain amount of external noise to get through.Placing a finger over an earbud immediately turns the volume down and allows ambient sounds in so you can, for example, chat with someone without taking the earbuds out. If you do take an earbud out of your ear, the music stops instantly and will start up again once you pop the earbud back in.

Sony also offers its Music Center app which can be downloaded for iOS and Android smartphones; this works as a music player, enabling users to select music stored on the smartphone or to browse Internet radio stations via TuneIn. It's a nicely designed app and has a button for launching to the Headphones Connect app for switching EQ settings or reconfiguring touch controls etc.

Included in the box with the earphones is a USB-C charging cable and a choice of six pairs of ear tips made from silicone and memory foam, both in small, medium and large sizes. The instruction manual encourages users to take time to select the correct size of ear tip, and even points out that you might want to use different sizes of ear tip in each ear as some people have ears with different canal sizes on left and right.

I chose the large memory foam size to begin with but then switched to the silicone tips because they were a better fit. Ear tips that fit properly are absolutely vital, especially for noise-reduction earphones, as only a snug fit can deliver good noise reduction and sufficient bass levels. Because true wireless earphones are stored in a charging case, it's not always possible to fit aftermarket ear tips such as the excellent Comply Memory Foam type because the lid of the charging case may not be able to close. I'm pleased Sony has included a choice of both silicone and memory foam tips as it shows the level of thought that's gone into the design of the WF-1000XM3 earphones.

As already mentioned, these earphones offer a noise-reduction function that samples surrounding sounds and then subtracts the sound from the music to cut down any noise that might interfere with your listening pleasure. Headphones with noise canceling circuitry tend to work very well, but earphone designs less so. I'm happy to report that the WF-1000XM3 make a pretty good job of filtering out extraneous noises like train tracks or jet engines. This is thanks to two sampling microphones, one facing forward and one facing backwards. The sound is captured by the mics and sampled through Sony'sQN1e HD Noise-Cancelling Processor which removes the noise from the music. Sony claims the processor uses significantly less power than most NC systems, which is how theWF-1000XM3 can manage up to six hours of continuous play time with noise canceling engaged.

Okay, so the noise canceling on the WF-1000XM3 isn't quite as good as the superb Sony WM-1000XM3 headphones, but it's almost there. Noise canceling and Ambient Sound Control can be turned off at any time simply by tapping the control button of the left earpiece. The Headphones Connect app also offers the option to choose what button controls do. With noise canceling turned off, the WF-1000XM3 can play for up to eight hours before needing a recharge. That's pretty good going, almost as good as the superb

Cambridge Audio Melomania 1

with nine hours of playing time.

Now to the all-important listening test. I popped the earbuds into my ears and paired them up with my iPhone. A voice in the earphones told me when they were connected and let me know how much charge the earphones had left. I could also also check the remaining charge via the Headphones Connect app or by looking at the battery status indicator in the control bar on my phone.

In real-world use, the battery performance was close to what was stated on the box. Obviously, at higher volume levels the battery life will be reduced, but at eight hours without noise canceling, these earphones have enough stamina for most users to listen for a whole working day. Incidentally, with a quick 10-minute recharge, the earbuds can play for up to 90 minutes.

The sound from the WF-1000XM3 was everything I expected, and possibly a little bit more. The details at the top end were exemplary with plenty of detail and they never struggled to handle cymbals or high-hats. The bass was there in spades and with as much thump as you'd want, thanks to the EQ setting in the Headphones Connect app. However, it's the midrange that's the star of the show; the sound is forward, detailed and so natural, I felt as if I were listening through a pair of open-backed headphones. The presentation was superb without a hint of Bluetooth hiss or a single dropout in all the time I was testing them. The connection was rock solid even when I had selected a preference for sound quality setting over signal stability in the Headphones Connect app.

As far as codecs go, there's support for AAC and SBC but no support for Qualcomm's aptX or Sony's own LDAC codec. This isn't a huge problem as both iOS and the latest version of Android support AAC. I think the absence of aptX and LDAC support might be down to the quest for a longer battery life. The chipset used in most Bluetooth earphones supporting aptX can draw up to 20mA of current, which soon runs the battery down, especially when you add in the overhead of noise cancelation. The lack of aptX support might put some buyers off but I can't hear much difference between aptX and AAC on most headphones.

The WF-1000XM3 support Google Assistant and Apple's Siri using microphones on the earpieces pick up the voice commands. The same mics are used for phone calls, and the WF-1000XM3 also supports hands-free calling with phones that are HD Voice compatible. I don't own an HD Voice phone so I wasn't able to test that particular function, so if any readers get a chance to try it out, please let me know how you get on.

The regular phone call quality was pretty good for wireless earphones, but not as good as talking into a phone directly. I tried the call quality out by phoning a friend and my voice was described as beinga bit "cupboardy", but no more so than when using the speakerphone function on the iPhone.

Verdict:

The Sony WF-1000XM3 true wireless noise-canceling earphones are a mini triumph. Sony has made them sound great. I love the design, especially the charging case with its two-tone finish. The battery life is as described and the quick charge function is handy for a quick top up while grabbing a coffee. The music I listened to for the review sounded great and detailed and I don't believe the lack of support for aptX or LDAC codecs is a big issue. Noise-cancelation works well, certainly well enough for listening to music on a flight. Also, top marks to Sony for providing silicone and memory foam ear tips. These earphones are everything you'd expect from Sony and they put right the shortcomings of the WF-SP700NR battery life.

Pricing:

$229 / £220 / €249

More info:

www.sony.com

Specifications:

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