Let’s just put it out there: If cost is no issue and you’re just looking for the best active noise cancelling headphones with great sound, the Sony WH-1000XM3 is probably the first one you’d want to consider.
It’s a pricey pair of headphones, yes, but in the world of audio, you really do get what you pay for. Ringing in at S$549, these are not for everyone. The cost alone is prohibitive, but the headphones are truly amazing.
First off, anything that runs off a Bluetooth connection means lower fidelity than a wired connection. But at least with these headphones, you have the ability to play SBC (which is your regular mp3 format), the higher quality AAC, aptX and aptX HD, as well as Sony’s LDAC format. While LDAC isn’t lossless, it’s a high-res format that allows devices to play at a 990kbps bit-rate.
Using Bluetooth also means occasional cutting out, skips and irritating stuff like that, but thankfully, the signal is strong enough to be received through a wall when the headset is around 10m away from the phone. There’s still latency for things like watching videos and playing games though, so wired is still the way to go for those.
Sound quality is great on these, particularly if you play higher-res music. Mids are beautiful, with a warmer sound signature and a good amount of bass. This might not be nice for audiophiles who prefer a more neutral sound, but it gives it a more fun-sounding sound signature. There’s an equaliser available in Sony’s companion app, in any case, so the sound can be tweaked.
Battery life is great. The advertised battery life is 30 hours with ANC on, but I found it was closer to around 26 hours for my listening levels. It is also fast charging, giving you 5 hours of listening time with just 15 minutes of charge. But I’ve never had to worry about the headset running out of battery, and I’ve been using it on and off for two weeks, with two 7 hour flights in between.
The comfort is absolutely amazing. These feel like light fluffy clouds on the head. I wore them for over seven hours on a flight and had no head fatigue at all. The earpads are super plush and comfortable but they do heat up my ears a little, as with most closed back over-ear headphones.
But the top reason to buy these is for noise cancelling, and boy, are they fantastic. Once you turn ANC on, it’s like the whole world fades out. If you’ve had a different experience, check to see whether ANC has been optimised for your environment yet or not (through the app or by holding down the button to switch between ANC and ambient sound). There was a couple moments when I felt that the ANC wasn’t working as well, but once I realised it wasn’t optimised, I corrected that and it performed perfectly.
There’s variable noise cancelling, so you can choose the amount of ambient sound to let in. I typically just set the ANC all the way, since ambient sound doesn’t really work with the music levels I use. But I absolutely love the feature that allows me to simply press a hand to the right earcup so that the music levels will be reduced all the way and ambient sound will be turned on.
This is great when a colleague suddenly speaks to me, or when a flight attendant asks what meal I’d like on the plane, since I don’t have to remove the headphones at all. Everybody I’ve spoken to thinks this feature is amazing as well, so that really does attest to how useful it is. Touch controls are also available on the right earcup for skipping tracks, volume control and playback.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 is an exceptional pair of ANC headphones, hindered only by the fact that consumers might be put off by the pricetag. But like I said, for audio products, you get what you pay for. And this pair of headphones is well worth the price.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 (S$549) is available at Sony stores and authorised distributors.