On the week of the Singapore launch, I headed to the Sony Store to get a quick review on the WF-1000XM3. Thereafter, Sony Singapore sent over a unit for a 2-week review. On 28 November, Sony sent me the review unit again to update this article as the latest firmware 2.0.2 now supports volume control, Amazon Alexa, and checking battery level of the charging case.
Here’s what I uncovered.
Sony is generous with the ear tip sizes. It comes with both silicon and non-stick foam. The ingenious thing about the Sony ear tips is that there are indicators of the size. The larger the size, the more dots are imprinted on the tips.
Undoubtedly, the WF-1000XM3 earbuds are huge, since it contains some of the most advanced noise-cancelling tech. There is a small area that is rubber-coated, but without ear stabilizers, it would not be advisable to wear them for workouts, especially if your ears sweat a lot.
While most parts of the earbuds are matt, the touch sensor is glossy, and when I unboxed them, I mistook them for a protective sticker.
Facing inside, there is also a sizable gloss panel which houses the infrared sensor. This is how the earbuds detect proximity, so it will auto-pause the music when you remove the earbud from the ears. However, it is not so intelligent, for as long as you cover the sensor, the music will start playing again, for example, when you are holding the earbud in your palm. You can turn this off on the Sony Headphones|Connect app.
Pairing the earbuds from a fresh retail box is easy, as the Bluetooth pairing mode is automatically enabled. If you want to pair to another device, you can try to use the NFC to pair. If it fails (which happened to me), you can manually activate Bluetooth pairing mode by first wear the earbuds in both ears, then hold your fingers to the touch sensor on both earbuds for 7 seconds. You will then hear a voice prompt “Bluetooth pairing” from the left earbud. For more details, check out the online help guide.
I tested on the Samsung Galaxy S10 and found that both earbuds receive audio data directly from the audio device. There is no master or slave, so you can just pick up any earbud from the charging case and it will connect and play music. It also mean that the earbud will only receive one audio channel and does not switch to mono if only one earbud is detected.
Touch Sensor Function
With the latest firmware 2.0.2, owners can customise the earbud touch sensors to their preference. Each earbud can select one of the following:
- Volume control
- Playback control
- Ambient Sound control
- Google Assistant
- Amazon Alexa
I like that adjusting volume does not emit annoying beeps. However, I can only pick one function on each earbud. If I were to take it further, I hope they allow a feature to choose-and-pick the function for each action.
Audio Quality and ANC
The WF-1000XM3 is probably the most versatile true wireless earbuds. Not only does it deliver true wireless audio capability, listeners can also adjust the EQ to their liking, including selection of preset sound modes through the Headphones Connect app. With flat EQ setting, the sound is sparkling, roomy, and somewhat clinical, without annoying sibilant. The bass does not bloat out of control, but delivers the deep feel respectfully. Sound stage and instrumental positioning are spacious.
If there is any area that you do not like, you can simply customise the ambient sound level, from level 1 to 20, as well as the option to boost speech.
But the most important feature that you want out of WF-1000XM3 is the digital noise cancelling. For that, it delivers extremely well, for a TWS, since there aren’t many competition in the market. The lows and the mids are eliminated with ease, but the higher frequencies are not quite reduced. However, once music is played, they are barely audible. Wearing them on trains are a bliss: you can immerse yourself in musical details no matter the kind of ambient noise – except high pitched utensils or heavy chatter. Turning on ambient sound on train rides sound quite natural, as if you are wearing open-back headphones, and does not give you the direct-mic kind of hissy output.
The headphone version, WH-1000XM3, is definitely better in noise cancelling, but given the size difference, the WF-1000XM3 is an acceptably hairline compromise. However, if you prefer the headphone fit and have no concern with the size, the headphone would be my preferred choice.
Also, though the WF-1000XM3 inherits the Quick Attention feature, I find it rather redundant. Unlike the headphones where it is easier to keep them on during quick conversations, I find it easier and faster to quickly pull out the earbuds rather than trying to hold the small sensor button to activate the mode. The feature is just there to add to the list with little practical use, at least for me.
Sony’s proprietary 360 Reality Audio is also supported on the WF-1000XM3, although the audio content is only available on TIDAL, 360 by Deezer, and nugs.net, all of which requires subscription fees.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 is high up on my recommendation, provided you have an issue with the bulky case and the chunky earbuds, which are compromises for the amount of tech packed in them. If you need noise isolation from the unfortunate environmental circumstances, the WF-1000XM3 is worth it. What’s more, they retail only at S$349, making them a lot more value for money than a lot of other TWS, albeit less sexy-looking.