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- Sony recently released a new pair of $350 noise-cancelling headphones, dubbed the WH-1000XM3s.
- The WH-1000XM3s look, feel, and sound like a more refined version of the headphones Sony released last year that they replace.
- Whether I was on the subway, sitting in the office, or walking around the streets of New York City, I felt like I was in a noise-isolation chamber, alone with my music.
- Their only downside is their price.
For the past two years, my go-to recommendation for noise-cancelling headphones has been the newest entry in Sony's WH-1000X series. The series packs world-class noise cancellation into light, comfortable headphones that have always sounded pretty good.
I've been testing the newly released WH-1000XM3 headphones, which Sony sent me for free to test, and they're a substantial improvement over any noise-cancelling headphones I've tried to date. Not only has Sony improved their design and their noise-cancelling features, but the company paid extra attention to making them sound a lot better.
Sony's WH-1000XM3s keep the best design features from last year's model, with welcome improvements like a better power button and USB-C charging.
The WH-1000XM3s look and feel like a more refined version of the pair Sony released last year. Instead of flipping a switch to turn the headphones on, there's a power button. Instead of a textured finish, these headphones have a smooth finish that gives them a modern look.
Another modern touch: The headphones charge over USB-C instead of MicroUSB, which brings us one step closer to a world where every gadget we own uses the same charging cable. These differences are subtle, but welcome.
The headphones are lightweight and free of unnecessary bulk but have ample padding on their headband and ear cups. I wore these headphones for long stretches at a time and they never felt tight or uncomfortable around my ears or head.
Noise cancellation has become a common feature, but Sony lets you customize and tweak this setting more than its competition.
What sets the noise-cancelling feature in Sony's WH-1000X line apart from most of its competition is how extensive it is. Instead of only giving you the option to turn its noise cancellation on and off, Sony offers tons of customization.
In Sony's Headphone app, you can run a "noise cancelling optimizer," which measures the noise in your environment and the room's atmospheric pressure — it also registers how you wear your headphones — to adjust its noise cancellation based on your current environment. You might think that measuring a room's air pressure is superfluous, but remember, the headphones were made with plane travelers in mind.
You can also manually select one of four noise-cancellation modes — "staying," "walking," "running," or "transport" — and make tweaks to how much ambient noise you want to let in. Or, you can let the headphones automatically adjust when the situation in the room you're in changes by enabling "adaptive sound control."
During my tests, the WH-1000M3's noise cancellation was unmatched.
Whether I was on the subway, sitting in the office, or walking around the streets of New York City, I felt like I was in a noise-isolation chamber, alone with my music. Certain loud noises would get through, like the Mariachi buskers who made their way through my subway car, but even they sounded distant.
Every song I listened to through these headphones sounded clear and balanced, regardless of its genre or volume.
This theme of customizability carries over to the way these headphones let you adjust the sound of your music.
Through Sony's Headphones app, you can manually adjust the WH-1000XM3's EQ or select one of eight pre-set EQ setting. If you manually adjust their EQ and find a sound profile you really like, you can save it as a custom EQ.
Additionally, Sony built two settings into the Headphones app that allow you to give your music a more surround-sound-like quality. The first one is called VPT (Virtual Phones Technology), which rearranges the sounds in a song's mix to make them sound like they're being performed live. You can choose between different virtual venues, including "arena" and "concert hall" to change how the music is presented. Second, you can use Sony's "sound position control" to make the music sound like it's coming from a certain direction, again, to simulate the way you'd hear music in a live environment. Both settings were fun to play around with.
Sound customizations options are great, but they're only useful if the headphones sound great to begin with. After spending a few days with the WH-1000X3s, I can tell you that Sony really knocked it out of the park this time. These headphones sound excellent. Everything I listened to sounded clear and balanced, even at higher volumes. The headphones can produce enough bass, treble, and midrange frequencies that I could easily hear every note and nuance of different songs, like a singer taking a breath before singing a verse.
At $348, these headphones are expensive, but if you're looking for the best noise-cancelling pair available today, this is it.
Sony's WH-1000XM3s are an excellent pair of headphones. Their one downside is their $348 pricetag. A certified refurbished version of last year's model, the WH-1000XM2s, costs $130 less on Amazon. It doesn't sound quite as good, or block noise quite as well as the WH-1000XM3s, but the difference in cost is something to seriously consider.
If you're a frequent traveler, have a noisy commute, or just want the best pair of noise-cancelling headphones on the market today, the WH-1000XM3s are the way to go. Sony's competitors can (and should) try to beat these headphones, but they're going to have a tough time.
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