One of the best investments you can make if you enjoy both music and tranquility is a pair of seriously good noise-cancelling headphones and none are better than Sony WH1000XM3. As we try to resolve our software issues with the spanking new Bose NC700 – another excellent (when they're working) pair of ANC ('active' noise cancelling) headphones, it's well worth revisiting the current holder of the Best noise cancelling headphones crown. WH1000XM3 are the third version of Sony's over-ear, wireless, flagship noise cancellers, as are the Bose NC700, so it's a fair fight.
Sony WH-1000XM3: build quality and design
Available in black or a grey putty colour that reminds me of the Oculus Go, they’re perhaps not the prettiest headphones in the world, but the WH-1000XM3 look (and are) well made and serious, without being boring. The WH-1000XM3 is no style statement in the way that the Bowers & Wilkins PX or Beats Studio 3 or even the Bose 700 are, but they don’t look bad in any way, either. They also happen to keep a profile fairly close to the head, so if you don’t like things ostentatious, they’ll suit.
More importantly, though, they’re supremely comfortable. At 255g, they’re around 25% lighter than the B&W PX (my previous favourite), and you can feel it. It means less pressure on the super-soft headband and earcup padding, so they feel pleasant for a long time, though your ears will get warm, as with most over-ear gear.
We tested them on someone who finds a lot of headphones too uncomfortable to wear for long periods, these they could actually live with. They also fold up very neatly (unlike the new Bose NC700) , and come with a smart fabric case for travelling.
Like the Bose 700, the WH1000XM3 uses touch panels on the earcups to control play, pause, skip and volume. Buttons and sliders would be an easier means of control, perhaps, but less elegant design-wise. Take a bit of time to get used to the touch controls and you'll probably end up liking them, despite the occasional missed or misinterpreted tap.
Your choice of voice assistant (Google, Siri, Alexa) is activated with a long press on the earcup. Being able to place a hand over the earcup to let in outside sounds (for a quick conversation in a coffee shop, for example) is handy, though you do look like a lemon doing it.
Sony WH1000XM3: sound and noise cancelling
Better than the smart design, and more significant, is that the WH-1000XM3 both sound excellent, and kill noise brilliantly. The noise cancellation was best-in-class at launch, easily, and even the new Bose doesn't seem significantly better. Even with no music playing, the moment you put them on, it’s like entering another world.
We walked past a road cleaning crew with a loud pump, spray going, and traffic everywhere around – you couldn’t even have a conversation, but it totally cut it out. It was wizardry.
The WH1000XM3 also adapts noise cancellation automatically for your current activity, cleverly, and this is genuinely useful – it lets in a little bit of nearby traffic noise when you’re walking in town, or chatter directed at you when in an office. You can tweak each one for preference, or turn it off.
Their audio skills are hugely impressive, too. These Sonys are wonderfully rich, thanks to bass performance that's full, but not overwhelming by any means, along with meticulous attention to sonic detail. There is an EQ available in Sony's app if you want to tweak things, but I am not sure it's needed.
By comparison, the B&W PX produce thinner bass, though they do offer a slightly punchier top-end while the Bose noise cancellers have a sound that's 'smoother' for want of a better word, and so perhaps more suitable for long-term listening, but less involving at key moments. Which you prefer will be more about preference than a difference in quality, to be honest. You could also throw Beats Studio 3 in to the mix if you don't mind their styling – they are an excellent and sadly underrated pair of ANC headphones.
Sony WH1000XM3 review: verdict
The Sony WH1000XM3 deservedly won a 2019 T3 Award and have stood as narrowly the best choice of ANC headphones since their launch. If the Bose Noise Cancelling 700 is as good as it appeared (before our review sample stopped working), maybe Sony's reign will come to an end but these are still absolutely stellar headphones. Being a little older, you are more likely to find them discounted, as well. You will not be disappointed.