Review: Sony’s WH1000X M3 delivers pure noiseless musical bliss
By Chong Jinn Xiung December 31, 2018
- Delivers best-in-class noise cancellation
- Switch to USB Type C allows for quick charging
NOISE is ever present all around us and it is a part of everyday life. You just have to learn to endure it. But, sometimes it can be unbearable and downright distracting especially if you have important work to do or just want to relax to some music.
Few will argue that a good pair of noise cancelling over-ear headphones will help solve those problems. For the longest time, Bose’s QuietComfort series of headphones have been the go-to tool for music lovers but in recent times Sony has risen to challenge the status quo with their WH1000X series.
Now in its third iteration, the Mark 3 (M3) has been receiving much praise internationally and it is profoundly humbling to know that the product is actually manufactured here in Malaysia. But does this new king of noise cancelling headphone truly live up to this bold claim? Let’s take a closer look at it.
Design and build
From the offset, the WH1000X M3 is remarkably similar to its predecessor, the Mark 2 or M2 that my colleague Edwin Yapp reviewed in April 2018. Indeed, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and Sony has kept to that mantra in this product.
Put the M3 with the M2 side-by-side and you will be hard pressed to tell them apart. But pick them up and it is obvious that Sony has made some subtle changes to the M3.
For one, it is actually lighter than last year’s model and while that may not seem like much, a lighter headphone is more comfortable to wear over long periods of time. Adding to that, the cushion around the ear cups are more flush than the older model and feel quite comfortable.
When it comes to build quality, I can safely say that the M3 feels extremely solid while keeping to its lightweight nature. Even when I tried to flex the headband in different directions it remained in shape, assuring me that it will be in one piece even if it was tossed into my bag.
Speaking of which, the included carrying case is handy to keep your pair of cans protected. It is also surprisingly compact and holds all the essentials including a 3.5mm wired cable, a nice option to have when you need to save on battery.
Another small yet significant change is the switch of the connection port on the right ear cup from microUSB to USB Type C. I appreciated the change as it meant I could use the same charging cable for my Android smartphone to charge the headphones.
Just like the M2, Sony has opted to stick to a conservative colour palette with either a black or grey option. Honestly, I was never one for loud colours and besides, the grey review unit is easy to match with any outfit.
Another thing that has remained constant on the M3 is the touch capacitive controls on the right ear cup. Double tapping plays or pauses the music while a swipe to the left or right switches the track. The volume is controlled by swiping up and down to increase or decrease it.
I found the controls to be quite intuitive and not that much different from gesture controls on my MacBook Air or smartphones.
I also liked the fact that the M3 pipes in ambient sound when I cupped my hand over the right ear cup. It is especially useful and a game changer when compared to Bose as I was able to freely walk around during my commute on the MRT and still hear the announcements, so I wouldn’t miss my stop.
Comfort wise, I enjoyed the fact that the M3 felt really comfortable even after several hours of music listening in the office. This certainly was an improvement over my other pair of in-ear wireless earbuds that I often needed to take out after one hour of listening.
The only downside to having over headphones is that my ears felt warm while walking around with the M3 outdoors, especially if its a hot day. It can be quite gross to find a very damp pair of ear cups when removing them, so yes, they shouldn’t be used for workouts.
But, if you primarily listen sitting down at your desk in an air-conditioned environment, you should be fine.
Battery and features
Now one of the concerns most people have when making the transition to wireless headphones is the battery life.
While I can’t say that I accurately kept count of how many hours I used the M3, Sony claims it can last up to 30 hours, I can confirm that I was able to comfortably listen to music with Noise Cancellation turned on for two to three days on a single charge.
That alone is a big selling point for frequent travellers as it is very likely that the M3 will last you through a 14-hour flight without having to scramble to charge it. One inherent benefit of USB Type C is that it has quick charge support so a short 10-minute charge should deliver five hours of music playback in wireless mode.
Even if you run out of battery, the M3 can still be used on its own by plugging it with a headphone jack, provided you have an older device.
Looking at the other features, I found the Sony Connect app to be handy for adjusting the noise cancellation profile. The degree of customisation is impressive as the Adaptive Sound Control takes in your environment and adjusts the noise cancellation accordingly. This is on top of all the usual virtual sound and equaliser settings that you can tweak to your heart’s content.
Sound quality is everything in headphones else all the prior fancy features would be for nothing. Fortunately, Sony has worked their audio magic on the M3 and it sounds terrific whether you are listening on your Android smartphone, iPhone or Nintendo Switch.
I personally have tried the M3 with all manner of content from music to videos and games. On all fronts, I am glad to say I enjoyed the listening experience. Voices in videos or TV shows sounded very clear while explosions in virtual battlefields were especially impactful.
The sound profile is pleasing enough with a great focus on mids and the highs are crystal clear. Bass is always subjective by taste I find, and the M3 manages to keep the bass balanced enough that it has sufficient weight but is not too heavy.
Thanks to the superb noise cancellation, I found it remarkable just how quiet things got when I slipped on the M3.
I often work in a coworking space and the air condition unit is very loud and that’s on top of people talking around me. Working while listening to some LoFi music has never been so satisfying.
After slipping on the M3, almost all noise was completely cut off and it was just me and my music. Admittedly, don’t expect it to sound like you are in the vacuum of space. True when music is playing almost all ambient sound is cut off but there is still a little bit of sound getting through. If someone is talking loudly or closing a door, you can still hear it.
Sony has certainly proven that it can go toe to toe with the best in the noise cancellation business with the M3. I constantly found myself bringing the M3 along with me on commutes and long walks as I enjoyed the quality of music it delivers and the superb noise cancellation that tunes the world out.
I also loved the fact that I had a choice between using wired or wireless mode to listen to music. This alleviated any fears of not being able to listen should the battery run out or when I needed to connect to an older device that had no wireless capabilities.
As good as the M3 is, however, it is an expensive pair of headphones with a retail price of US$384 (RM1,599). That is a bit much and if I was looking at these headphones I may consider the M2 as they are going for less now.
But if you are a frequent flyer who demands the very best in sound quality and silence during your flights, then there is no question that you should pick these headphones up.