Sony assails AirPods, Powerbeats Pro with 5-star, noise cancelling WF-1000XM3 true wireless buds

The convenient size of AirPods with the audio excellence of Powerbeats Pro nets 5 stars from us

Sony WF-1000XM3
(Image credit: Sony)

Sony WF-1000XM3 headphones are here and if you are not looking for running and workout buds (they aren't water- or sweat-proof) they are probably the best true wireless buds you can buy. The whole genre of true wireless has improved immeasurably in the last 6 months, driven by the likes of Sennheiser, Beats by Dr Dre, Jabra and Bose. But this tops the lot for pure audio quality, along with very decent battery life (most older true wireless were very short-lived).

• Read our 5-star WF-1000XM3 review now

Sony WH-1000XM4 review – the over-ear sibling

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 or the incoming Bose Noise Cancelling 700. According to Sony, it's not just noise cancellation, it's Industry-leading Noise Cancellation, based on that found in its fantastic WH-1000XM3 over-ear noise cancelling headphones.

Gosh, that was exciting. 

These are the long overdue successor to the WF-1000X, which were among the best true wireless buds you could get at the time, 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. 

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 absolutely everything, and sorted out some terrible battery and connectivity issues that plagued the original WF-1000X.

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.

Not only are these battery life improvements but it seems Sony has fixed the connectivity issues that plagued the first version of these buds. 

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.' This sounds alright, to be fair, although it adds a slightly synthetic edge to the music when turned on, to my ears.

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 are a truly excellent pair of truly wireless buds, even if they do look a bit ugly, and have a less rock-solid fit than the gym-friendly likes of Powerbeats Pro.

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-1000X are available now, RRP is £219.

• Buy Sony WF-1000XM3 now, priced £219 at Currys (opens in new tab)

Duncan has been writing about tech for almost 15 years, during which time he has attended every event going, apart from Apple ones, as he mysteriously doesn't get invited to them. He has covered everything from smartphones to headphones, TV to AC and air fryers to the movies of James Bond and obscure anime. 

Duncan's current brief is everything to do with the home and kitchen, which is good because he is an excellent cook, if he says so himself. He also covers cycling and ebikes – like over-using italics, this is another passion of his. Duncan also edits T3's golf section because fuck it, someone has to. Dave Usher does all the real work on that bit, though. In his long and varied lifestyle-tech career he is one of the few people to have been a fitness editor despite being unfit and a cars editor for not one but two websites, despite being unable to drive. He also has about 400 vacuum cleaners, and is possibly the UK's leading expert on cordless vacuum cleaners, despite being decidedly messy.

Before T3, Duncan was a music and film reviewer, worked for a magazine about gambling that employed a surprisingly large number of convicted criminals, and then a magazine called Bizarre that was essentially Reddit before the invention of Reddit. There was a lengthy period where he essentially wrote all of T3 magazine every month for about 3 years. 

A broadcaster, raconteur and public speaker, Duncan used to be on telly loads, but an unfortunate incident put a stop to that, so he now largely contents himself with telling people, "I used to be on the TV, you know."