Sony wants to wallop AirPods, Powerbeats Pro and Bose with noise cancelling WF-1000XM3 true wireless buds

The convenient size of AirPods with the audio excellence of Powerbeats Pro

Sony WF-1000XM3
(Image credit: Sony)

Sony WF-1000XM3 headphones are the long overdue successor to the WF-1000X, which were among the best true wireless buds you could get, in some ways, and a massive pain in the butt in certain other ways. Interestingly, although this is 1000XM3, there was no 'M2' version – figure that one out. 

Clearly intended to take on the Beats Powerbeats Pro and Apple Airpods 2, WF-1000XM3 have one additional trick packed in their lavishly hand-tooled carry case: these are noise cancelling buds. So you could also see them as a rival to Bose's over-ear QC35 II. According to Sony, it's not just noise cancellation, it's Industry-leading Noise Cancellation. Boom!

Gosh, that was exciting. So, yes, the headline feature on the WF-1000XM3 headphones is Dual Noise Sensor technology – forward- and rear-facing mics that pick up "more" ambient sound. Paired with an HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1e, this cancels noise "so that all attention is on your music". 

As you probably know, noise cancelling involves using an inverted sound wave to offset background noise, with Sony promising great results on everything from aircraft cabin noise, to city 'hustle and bustle'.

Now the original Sony WF-1000X sounded remarkably good – only the much more recent likes of Sennheiser True Wireless and Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro have really overtaken them in that department. They also had pretty good noise cancelling, but for the WF-1000XM3 Sony has upgraded that in terms of both the tech and its positioning in the marketing material.

The problem with the original was that turning on the NC reduced the already short battery life to something like the duration of a football match.

Sony WF-1000XM3

With the battery case recharging the Sony WF-1000XM3 when not in use, you can get up to 32 hours music playback

(Image credit: Sony)

This time around, lower power consumption means you can run them with NC on for up to six hours. By recharging in their battery case, you get a total of 24 hours, while a Powerbeats-style quick-charge function means you get 90 minutes more play – enough for a football match! – from just 10 minutes of charging.

Turn off the noise cancelling and you get eight hours of playback – 32 hours in total with in-case recharges.

I'd expect the WF-1000XM3 to sound great. The originals did and they appeared when true wireless was in its infancy. The battery life improvements are a real bonus and surely Sony will by now have fixed the connectivity issues that plagued the first version of these buds. Sony says it has.

Again, like the Powerbeats, the Bluetooth connection is via the left and right bud simultaneously, rather than audio being pumped to your left bud only, and then relayed to the right bud from there. "Teamed with the new optimised antenna structure, this results in a highly stable connection," Sony assures us. Lower latency means you can use the WF-1000XM3 when watching films, too. That was very much not possible with the original."

Sony adds that the HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1e uses 24-bit audio signal processing, while a Digital Sound Enhancement Engine HX – DSEE HX, pur-lease! – upscales compressed digital music files including MP3, "to bring you closer to the quality of High-Resolution Audio.'

Gallery: Sony WF-1000XM3 from various angles

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Additional features include a Quick Attention mode – put your finger over the touch panel of the left earbud and music is lowered, and ambient sound allowed in, so you can listen and talk. Wearing Detection automatically pauses your music when you remove an earbud from your ear and resumes playing when you put it back. There's also Google Assistant support.

These should be a truly excellent pair of truly wireless buds. Getting review samples out of Sony is sometimes like trying to get blood out of a stone but hopefully I shall have the precious in my grasp soon, so I can bring you the verdict. Based on past performance and Sony's claims for the WF-1000XM3 it looks like a winner: the great sound of Powerbeats Pro, without the bulk and with noise cancelling layered on top, like delicious audio custard. They do look a bit ugly, though.

Sony WF-1000XM3

Sony WF-1000XM3: look a little weird in the ear, perhaps, but should sound splendid

(Image credit: Sony)

Sony WF-1000XM3: price and release date

Sony WF-1000XM3 goes on sale in mid-August. It will be be "approximately" £220 (€250 in Ireland), whatever that means.

• Find out more about WF-1000XM3 from our pals at Sony