Are Sony’s new wireless ear buds worth the extra expense?

Review: Two words alone justify the price of the WF-1000XM3 – noise cancelling

With companies such as Apple, Samsung, Bose, Sennheiser and Huawei pushing their wireless headphones, it is getting to be a competitive market.

Product name: Sony WF-1000 XM3

Price: €250.0

Where to buy: www.harveynorman.ie

Website: www.cony.ie

Wed, Oct 9, 2019, 15:00

   

Bluetooth headphones have become much more popular in recent years as big phone makers ditch the headphone jack on their flagship devices. Apple removed the jack from the iPhone 7 back in 2016 , and in the intervening years we have seen manufacturers follow that lead.

That leaves you with two choices: use headphones that have a USB C or lightning connector, depending on your smartphone; or go wireless.

Bluetooth headphones can be the more convenient choice for a few reasons, not least because should you decide to switch ecosystem, you’ll still be able to use them with your new phone.You can say the same for a USB C or lightning set.

There are plenty of options to choose from, ranging from full size headphones to miniature in-ear buds. And with companies such as Apple, Samsung, Bose, Sennheiser and Huawei pushing their wireless headphones, it is getting to be a competitive market.

Sony has been working away on its wireless ear buds, with the WF-1000XM3 the second attempt at cracking the market. It appears Sony has learned a few things from its initial run at things, but there is still room for improvement.

So why would you choose the Sony WF-1000XM3 ear buds over Apple’s AirPods or the rivals from Samsung, for example? They are more expensive at €250, putting them €100 above the Samsung version and €70 ahead of the AirPods.

Convenience

There are two words that justify the price tag: noise cancelling. That’s the difference between a calm commute with the hum of the bus, train or traffic on your walk muted to a bearable level, thanks to technology that blocks out the worst of it.

This may not be the first iteration of Sony’s wireless ear buds, but they are the first to include active noise cancelling. That makes them a logical choice for people who either commute a lot, or just hate the intrusion of the outside world.

I am usually more of a fan of over-ear headphones, but there are times when buds can come in handy. When you are travelling, for example, and airlines ask you to remove over-ear headphones but permit in-ear buds while taking off and landing. Or if you don’t have the storage space in your bag for a full sized set of headphones, the ear buds can be much more space efficient.

Sony has also taken all the lessons it has learned about audio over the past few years and turned out a really great sounding set of ear buds. Even though the buds don’t use the AptX codec, you can’t fault the sound, and the Bluetooth 5.0 connection is fairly solid, apart from a hiccup here and there.

Comfort

Sony is ticking off a lot of boxes here. Active noise cancelling, touch controls, adaptive sound modes and ambient noise at the touch of an ear bud. There’s an app that lets you customise the sound, opting for vocal boosting, tweaking the bass or treble, or changing what each touch control can do. It’s a handy thing to have, although not essential to using the buds as a straightforward audio products

To change the volume of your audio though you will need to return to your phone. It’s an odd oversight that spoils and otherwise pleasant experience. If you need to cut the sound in a hurry, you can remove an ear bud, which will pause the audio until it senses you have put them back in.

But all that extra technology means the size of these buds will have to increase too. Unfortunately, in this case at least, I have ears that are on the smaller side. That means anything that protrudes too much feels like it is weighing me down, and they feel like they are going to fall out. Unlike the Samsung Galaxy buds, it was difficult to get a really comfortable fit despite the options available in both foam and silicon tips ; I topped out at around an hour of wear. Having said that, they were more comfortable than the AirPods, which I can tolerate for about 20 minutes before having to take them out. And anecdotally, my experience was isolated, with others claiming they were very comfortable to wear.

Function and form

Bigger buds means a bigger charging case.

On the one hand, the case is too bulky to shove in your pocket – or at least my pocket anyway. On the other, it is less likely that you will lose these in your bag. There have been several slightly panicked moments over the months when I think I’ve left the Samsung Galaxy Buds down somewhere, only to find them hiding underneath my credit card. There is no real risk you’ll lose this case.

It’s not here for the aesthetics though; it serves a function, namely, keeping those buds charged up. You’ll get a full charge in 90 minutes, and overall the case can power up the buds three times.

As for listening time, Sony beats both its rivals on that score. With the active noise cancelling turned on you’ll get more than five hours of use, which more than matched the Airpods’ five hours maximum and beats the Galaxy Buds and their four hour battery life.

Turn the ANC off and you will get up to eight hours, although why you would fork out for noise cancelling buds and then switch it off is anyone’s guess.

Does the active noise cancelling trump fit? The noise cancelling is great, but that will only go so far if you feel like the buds will fall out if you are a little too active.

The good:

Active noise cancelling is always welcome, as is the ability to allow ambient noise to filter through. Great for travelling so you can pick up any important announcements.

The not so good:

Size wise, these buds are bigger than you might expect. How you feel about that will be a purely personal choice, but they pushed the boundaries of my tolerance for oversized earbuds. There were also some mystery beeps by the buds; I never did figure out what they were trying to alert me to.

The rest:

That battery case will keep your buds powered up – but only for three full charges.

The verdict:

A solid set of earbuds with some minor drawbacks.