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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones Review

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Goh Beng Yeow
Goh Beng Yeow, the Founder / Editor at Porta-Fi™, is a recipient of the IT Youth Award in Singapore. Twice nominated for EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, Beng Yeow has previously founded startups such as PDALive.com, Coded Pixels Consultants and was a Tech writer for TODAY, a national daily newspaper under MediaCorp. Since 2017, he has been writing, editing and producing commentaries, interviews, news and reviews on Porta-Fi™. In 2019, Beng Yeow was appointed Advisor to LHDC™, the industry's latest low latency and high-definition Bluetooth audio codec.

Sound Quality

Embedded within each earbud, is a Sony QN1e HD noise-cancelling processor. Designed to handle Digital Noise Cancelling, Audio Signal Processing, Digital-to-Analog conversion as well as signal amplification. The QN1e is said to be an enhanced version of the QN1 implemented in the WH-1000XM3. Nevermind that it does only 24-bit Audio Signal Processing unlike the QN1 which handled 32-bit in Stereo, the QN1e is also designed to handle audio signal in mono. In what way is this an enhanced version? One might ask.

Sony QN1e HD noise-cancelling processor

Firstly, the design of the QN1e as a processor handling mono audio signal allowed the chip to be small enough to fit into the earbud, weighing-in at just 8.5g. Secondly, the implementation of a new Bluetooth chip which transmits sound to the left and right earbuds simultaneously allow Sony to implement a dual-mono setup with the left and right channels completely separated from each other coupled with separate power supplies from the batteries of individual earbuds as well as separate amplifier stages from the independent QN1e found on each earbud to power the 6mm Dynamic Driver. Incorporated in the QN1e is Sony’s Digital Sound Enhancement Engine HX (DSEE HX), a software technology which upscales compressed sound sources data such as MP3, bringing them closer to the quality of High-Resolution Audio. I have experimented toggling between playback with and without DSEE HX, it is without a doubt that I enjoy the playback of music with additional details and sparkle when DSEE HX is enabled.

Bluetooth stability was one of the Achilles heels of the WF-1000X. The Bluetooth stability of the WF-1000XM3 is greatly improved, attributable to the implementation of a new Bluetooth chip which transmits sound to the left and right earbuds simultaneously, coupled with a new Bluetooth antenna structure. It also reduces latency, I tried the earbuds with a mixture of content from NetFlix and YouTube and did not have any noticeable lip-sync or audio delay issues. In fact, the Bluetooth connection is so stable on the WF-1000XM3 that I recommend that you ensure that the Sound Quality Mode is set to “Priority on Sound Quality” to achieve the best sound quality you can get from the earbuds.

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones - New Bluetooth Antenna Structure

Dynamics are impressive with the WF-1000XM3 generating a good amount of Bass when required. Evident when I play Bruce Springsteen’s rockier retake of The Ghost Of Tom Joad. Weighty but punchy, the earbuds provided a good amount of engagement as providing a balance contributing to an experience of musicality. One thing I really like about the WF-1000XM3 is the amount of depth the earbuds exhibits, an airiness which I have yet to experience on other true-wireless offerings in the market.

On the aspect of noise-cancelling, Sony implemented the Dual Noise Sensor technology which features a pair of microphones comprising of one feed-forward microphone and one feedback microphone on the surface of the headphones to capture the ambient sound which the QN1e cleverly uses to create an inverted sound wave to offset bothersome background noise. When I first tried the WF-1000XM3 in Tokyo, to be able to hear the earbuds cancelling out background noise even when no music was playing was when it impressed upon me that Sony has a winner here. Compared to the WF-1000X, the improvement in the noise-cancelling implementation on the WF-1000XM3 is definitely noticeable. While it is fair to say that the WF-1000XM3 is not on par with the WH-1000XM3, I would attribute it to the limitations of the form factor of the earbuds. What Sony has delivered will make a difference to many who travels on a noisy everyday public commune or anyone who would like their own “space” without the nearby chatter or the clicking sounds of a keyboard, be it in the office, at school or anywhere else. For flights, however, I would still recommend the WH-1000XM3, lacking the Noise Canceling Optimizer which includes the Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing, the aeroplane cabin noise proved to be too much of a challenge for the noise-cancelling earbuds.

WF-1000XM3 missing Noise Canceling Optimizer

Running on Bluetooth 5.0, the WF-1000XM3 supports only SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs. Not that it matters as the earbuds remain one of the best sounding True Wireless offerings in the market today, alongside Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless and Master & Dynamic MW07. While the WF-1000XM3 might not exhibit a soundstage that is as wide or engaging, its ability in active noise cancellation might just provide an edge over its competitors with a soundstage that is engrossing with its own merits.

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones - Transparent View of the 6mm Dynamic Driver

Considering that Sony used the same driver as the one used in its predecessor, it speaks volume what Sony has achieved with the WF-1000XM3. Compared to the WF-1000X, there are significant improvements in clarity and dynamism with increased detail and airiness.

Part 1: Introduction, Design and Build
Part 2: Usability
Part 3: Sound Quality
Part 4: Product Specifications
Part 5: Review Ratings, Summary

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