In the modern day of air travel, one of the things I like the most about my airplane routine is when I settle in and kick the noise cancelling headphones into gear. Engine noise, loud-guy-shouting-on-the-phone, dog barking (yes, I had this), and more all fade way into the background. Here is my review of the Sony WF-1000XM3 noise cancelling earbuds!
Review: Sony WF-1000XM3 Noise Cancelling Earbuds
Link: Sony WF-1000XM3 – $229 (this is an affiliate link that supports the site – thank you!)
To get this noise cancelling performance, it normally requires something like the famous Bose QC headphones or Sony’s noise cancelling headphones (there are others as well, but these are the most popular). The only thing is that I am not a huge fan of headphones. I like to keep that noise cancelling going as I am on a subway or to have a phone conversation while walking but not have both ears covered.
Enter the Sony WF-1000XM3 earbuds! These were announced over the summer and I just got done putting them through a month of testing on planes, trains, automobiles, and busy streets. How did they do? In short, for earbuds, they did a tremendous job and the Sony app helps to meet your needs on the go. But, there were some negatives as well.
Earbuds as Noise Cancelling Devices
Bose QuietComfort 20 Earbuds?
Before I jump into the review part, I did want to touch on the part about earbuds for noise cancelling. I have owned the Bose QuietComfort 20i noise cancelling earbuds before and really loved them. The only reason I moved away from them was that phone manufacturers and tablet manufacturers insisted on removing the 3.5mm headphone jack and Bluetooth was more important. Sure, Bose has a Bluetooth upgrade model but I used the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones for a while and loved the Sony performance so went with the Sony earbuds.
Earbuds as Noise Cancelling Devices
So, with earbuds, it is a much harder thing to deliver noise cancellation. With headphones, you gain the benefit of covering the ear so the headphones are already helping out with blocking sound. It makes it that much easier (and gives a larger area) for the active noise cancellation to take it from there.
With earbuds, they need to have a tight fit to gain that blocking needed before using the active noise cancellation. It is a harder job since they are smaller and not all ears are alike. Keep this in mind before jumping from the headphone to the earbud camp.
Benefit of Earbuds
But, there are some benefits to using earbuds. They can be more multi-purpose since headphones cannot be easily used everywhere. They are also much smaller so they can even go into a pocket. Also, they can be used as just one ear if are out and don’t want to have both ears covered. In short, their negative of being smaller can also work as a positive for the overall user experience.
Noise Cancellation of the Sony WF-1000XM3
In a word, the noise cancellation of the Sony WF-1000XM3 is great! It is much better than I had anticipated and actually made me a bit disappointed when I tried on headphones again simply because I would have though the headphones would have been a good deal better (and they weren’t).
The importance of achieving that noise cancellation performance, however, will rely on you getting a good fit. Fortunately, the earbuds come with 6 separate sizes of ear tips, in addition to the default ones it ships with. You are going to need to play around and maybe even mix and match to get optimal performance but you can find it.
Once you get a good fit, kicking on that noise cancellation (which can be done by tapping whichever earbud you set for this or through the app) will result in a beautiful quiet around you!
How well did this work? Well, I wore them onboard the SAAB airplane with Silver Airways and it totally killed the engine noise for me! On another flight, I had a passenger across a narrow aisle from me with a dog. This dog did not like the feeling of flight and was barking non-stop for take-off and even after we leveled out. With the Sony earbuds in, it blocked out the majority of that dog noise very well. I still heard some of it but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it would have been without them!
It also helped with crying babies that were near me and the business man who thought he needed to yell on take-off about the huge deal he was making (yes, on the phone during takeoff). It knocked that noise right out. I still could hear some of the baby’s noises but it dropped away like it was way off in the distance.
For engine noise, it just wipes it right out. It was quite peaceful with the noise cancellation on.
If you need to hear someone while the noise cancellation is active, you can always long hold one earbud that you have set to sound control to let the voices through.
Noise Cancellation Worked Better Than I Had Expected!
Sony advertised these that they would have better Bluetooth connectivity than other devices and they were right. It was common for me to drop a signal on one ear or another with even Apple AirPods connected to my devices. These earbuds kept the signal better and I only had a couple of drops from one side or another but never both.
One improvement with the Sony WF-1000XM3 that I had an issue with in the WH models was that it will hot swap between devices that you have already connected to. Before, you would have to go in and connect it if you wanted to connect to a different device. But now, it will connect to the closest one without having to go in and disconnect/connect. Definitely a plus if you switch between a phone and a tablet!
In the app, you can select if you want to have better quality or better connectivity if you are in an area where you may drop the connection more frequently.
Great Bluetooth connectivity!
Sony Connect App
Speaking of the app, this is where a lot of the magic for these earbuds happen. Thanks to something called “Adaptive Control”, the app can use your location and movement to deliver the degree of sound control to the earbuds.
For example, it has Staying, Walking, Running, or Transport. You can select varying degrees Ambient Sound Control and whether to focus on voice in each mode. This is helpful as you go from the airplane and through the airport as it will shut off noise cancellation and allow sound in while still blocking some of the ambient sound as you make your way out of the airport. It does all of this without you doing a thing!
There have been some misidentifications of motion at times but it largely worked as it should. I loved it when on the subway or on the plane that it would just switch over and kick in the noise cancellation.
You also have an equalizer to make sure you are listening to your audio the way you want it. This also worked very well though I am not an audiophile that can discern everything exactly right so if that is you, I cannot give a better idea with this review!
Finally, you can setup the controls on the earbuds. You can set for things like the sound control, pause/play, and more for each earbud. You can also turn on the capability to pause whatever you are listening to when you remove an earbud from your ear – and this works very quickly!
The Sony Connect App gives the user a lot of control over how you want the earbuds to act.
Battery Life on the Sony WF-1000XM3
The Sony earbuds are rated for 6 hours of noise cancellation and 8 hours with just the Bluetooth activated. In Bluetooth earbud world, that is actually pretty good. When you slip them into their charging case, you can quickly get them charged up again and the case will charge them fully a total of 3 times between charges for the case. In fact, with just a 10 minute charge, you will get an extra 90 minutes of us!
Speaking of the case, it has USB C (thank you so much!!!) which is great since many devices are turning to USB C for charging so it eliminates one more cable when traveling.
I found the battery life to be pretty accurate. It was about 5:50-6:10 when they finally died with noise cancellation on. This has continued to be fairly close in subsequent tests but, in reality, I am often popping them back in to the case for a while here and there. The only time I found myself wearing them the whole 6 hours was on flights.
With the fast charge capability, I can get another 3 hours or so just while charging them for about 20 minutes. If you want to go to the bathroom and change for freshen up, you could drop them in the charging case and come back with about another 90 minutes of use. Not bad!
The downside is that it is only 6 hours. Most travelers from the US traveling internationally are going to have flights longer than that. If you want to experience noise cancellation for every minute of that flight, these are not for you. For me, I don’t mind charging them up for 30 minutes mid-flight, especially if I am sleeping and don’t want to wear them.
Battery Life Review: It is Accurate at the 6 Hours for Noise Cancellation.
No Connecting to In-Flight Entertainment
Ok, here is the part about what I didn’t like! First of all, there is one issue with noise cancellation earbuds like this when you are traveling on airplanes – there are no cables to attach to the entertainment unit on the plane! That means that you will not be able to use these if you want to watch entertainment that the airline provides. It also means that you need to bring another headphone/earbud device if you do want to this.
This is not something that is just about the Sony earbuds, however. The same is true with things like the Apple AirPods but it is just more disappointing since these handle noise cancellation duties so well!
Using One Earbud
I often will just use one earbud/AirPod as I walk around. While it is nice that you can use either one, you will miss out if you are listening to anything that provides stereo sound. So, you can do it, but you may end up just hearing a single track of a music album. No problems with things like video for me, though.
This is something that users may have an issue with. I believe I have finally found the best fit that is available to me – but there are instances where the earbud may still fall out (if I am moving my jaw a lot during eating, for example). This is going to vary by person but you will need to spend some time in trial and error to get the best possible fit to stay in and give you the noise cancellation you want.
I wish they would have included some kind of wing tip that would have fit inside the ear like I have on the Bose SoundSport Free workout headphones. That would have ensured they would stay in much better.
Not Good for Sweat
While a little rain is not going to mess these up, they were not built to be workout earbuds and to handle the moisture and salt of sweat. It would have been nice to have a single pair of earbuds that could be used for all my activities but these are not it (in fairness, there are none that do it all).
If you can deal with no cable for in-flight entertainment and a much lower battery life than the Bose or Sony headphones, the Sony WF-1000XM3 are some great earbuds for noise cancellation! They handled all of my travel very well while delivering some really good sound along the way.
Will I keep them? For now but Apple is rumored to be coming out with their own AirPods that offer active noise cancellation so I will want to see what those are like – simply because they switch between Apple devices so much easier. But, these are definitely the first noise cancelling devices that I find myself using on a daily basis (they work great when mowing the lawn as well!).