Sony WH-1000XM3

FOR Su­perb sound qual­ity; best noise-can­celling; com­fort AGAINST Fid­dly touch con­trol; ex­pose weaker record­ings

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

It’s hard to imag­ine now but, pre-sum­mer 2016, Sony didn’t have a premium pair of noise-can­celling head­phones in its arse­nal. Then out of nowhere, the WH-1000X pair ap­peared, chal­lenged noise-can­celling supremo Bose, and ran off with one of our cov­eted Awards.

A year later, a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion model brought with it tweaks that so­lid­i­fied Sony’s new-found noise-can­celling rep­u­ta­tion. But in­creased com­pe­ti­tion, no­tably from Bow­ers & Wilkins, meant it didn’t pick up an Award.

Lengthy ges­ta­tion

But even at the time of the WH-1000XM2S’ re­lease, their suc­ces­sor was al­ready in de­vel­op­ment. The lengthy ges­ta­tion pe­riod of the WH-1000XM3S is the re­sult of a move to ana­logue am­pli­fi­ca­tion, re­sult­ing in a sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved au­dio per­for­mance over their pre­de­ces­sors, ac­cord­ing to Sony.

At first glance, the de­sign of the XM3S is sim­i­lar to that of the XM2S, but the dif­fer­ences are al­most en­tirely pos­i­tive. Our only mi­nor com­plaint is that the move from metal to plas­tic in the head­band makes the new pair look slightly less premium than the out­go­ing model.

But that also con­trib­utes to an over­all weight sav­ing of 20g over last year’s pair. Com­bined with a new, thicker, softer cush­ion, it feels as though there’s al­most no weight rest­ing on the top of your head. With wider earpads that sur­round the ear, these are one of the most com­fort­able pairs of on-ears we’ve tested.

Mean­while, the XM3S look less awk­ward too, thanks to the head­band leav­ing less of a gap to your head. It’s a straighter, less bal­loon-like ap­pear­ance.

The fin­ishes have changed slightly, too. The black pair gains cop­per high­lights that we’re rather fond of, while last year’s Cham­pagne Gold fin­ish has been re­placed by Plat­inum Sil­ver with brass high­lights.

The mot­tled tex­ture on the earcups of last year’s model has also gone, re­placed by a smooth, matte sur­face. The right earcup fea­tures a touch-sen­si­tive panel rather than phys­i­cal but­tons. Dou­ble-tap the cup for play/pause or to an­swer a call, swipe up or down to change vol­ume, and for­ward or back to skip tracks.

Hold your hand over the cup to ac­ti­vate the ‘Quick At­ten­tion’ mode, which re­duces your mu­sic to a whis­per and lets in out­side noise. It’s use­ful if some­one is talk­ing to you, though we doubt that leav­ing your head­phones on and cup­ping your hand over your ear is the uni­ver­sal sign for ‘you have my full at­ten­tion’.

This ges­ture also al­lows you to com­mu­ni­cate with your voice as­sis­tant: Siri is avail­able if you’re con­nected to an iphone, and Google As­sis­tant and Ama­zon Alexa if not.

Skip a beat

The gen­eral touch con­trols are pretty ac­cu­rate, but they do take some get­ting used to. That first day or two of lis­ten­ing you’ll likely change vol­ume a few times when you’re at­tempt­ing to skip tracks.

Sony has im­proved the qual­ity and in­creased the quan­tity of mi­cro­phones used for voice calls, so who­ever you’re talk­ing to should hear you more clearly. But if you’re more con­cerned with keep­ing the out­side world at bay, Sony has also im­proved its al­ready su­perb noise­can­celling. You can now set the func­tion to be per­ma­nently on, even when not play­ing any­thing, mean­ing that you can use the noise-can­celling to qui­eten ev­ery­thing down for a peace­ful nap.

Fre­quent fly­ers may also want to take ad­van­tage of the re­turn­ing At­mo­spheric Pres­sure Op­ti­miser, which tweaks the fre­quency re­sponse and mi­cro­phone sen­si­tiv­ity of the head­phones for im­proved per­for­mance at high alti­tude. Just re­mem­ber to run the Op­ti­miser again when you’re back on terra firma.

Fur­ther con­trols and cus­tomi­sa­tion op­tions are avail­able via the Head­phones Con­nect app, avail­able for An­droid and IOS.

The right earcup has a touch­sen­si­tive panel in­stead of but­tons

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