It says a great deal about a product when, for £300, you still have misgivings about the fit, feel and function of it! I am referring to the WH-1000XM3 headphones by Sony, a delightfully premium, delightfully expensive set of noise cancelling headphones…
I’ve been using the Sony h.ear on (MDR-100ABN)’s since August 2016, I nabbed them for a stellar price because I opted for a tennis ball-esque yellowy green instead of a more subtle colour like black. My use of those has been almost daily since the date of purchase – they have held up remarkably well (ignoring some cracking of the brittle plastic headband, which is a known fault). I wasn’t looking to replace them until the M3’s caught my eye, ever since that moment the money going into my Monzo ‘Coin Jar’ has been destined to be spent on a new set of deluxe headphones to replace my bright yellow companion!
I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for a reduction in price on the M3’s – it’s not a common occurrence – but it finally happened, yesterday (12th March ’19). I was able to pick these beauties up for £279.98 before the price hopped back up to £290 – a definite win!
I was eagerly awaiting delivery of the M3’s so it would be an understatement to say that I wasn’t a bit giddy at the sight of “your driver is a few stops away” on the tracking page. I quickly signed for them, took a photo of the box and tore into the shiny packaging. I was greeted with a lovely hard travel case, some accessories (charging cable, 3.5mm cable & aeroplane adaptor) and of course the headphones themselves.
After a long delay on the power button, they ‘booted’ and I carefully placed them over my ears… The world simply melted away and I was in my own land of peace and tranquillity – I couldn’t believe how incredibly effective Sony’s noise cancelling was, this is coming from somebody who already has a pair of Sony noise cancelling cans. I switched between the two sets of Sony headphones I owned and the difference truly was remarkable, the reviews I’d previously read were not exaggerating the NC one bit. I was blown away (but quietly 😜).
USB Type C is just wonderful, I can flip the connector around, use the same charger as my phone and although I’ve not broken a Micro-USB (yet) I know that the durability will be second to none. I’ve not yet needed to charge these as they shipped with 0% battery… Wait, what? Yep! They booted and said I needed to charge them, I then heard 10%, I saw 60% on my phone and 100% in the Sony management app 👀 I think it would be fair to say that the battery reporting was a bit all over the place. Never mind, I diligently installed the firmware update as instructed (taking the headphones from 2.0.0 to 4.1.1) and after a, seemingly endless, wait they were ready to go! I checked the battery life again and it had stabilised at the 60% mark and has only just gone down to 50% as I’m writing this very post.
Hearing music pumping through the M3’s was a delight, the punchy base and the crystal-clear mids & highs are utterly tremendous! I have played some super bass-heavy tracks, some run of the mill pop and I’ve got the ‘Captain Marvel (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)’ playing at the moment. All of my opinions are honest but these are honestly the loveliest headphones I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to music through. They don’t skip a beat 😉
Portability is good to have and I can say that the case is quite compact, more so the ABN’s I thought they would replace (more on that later). It’s a dark grey weave pattern (similar to some plain grey suits) with a copper accent on the zip, which matches perfectly with the copper accents on the exterior of the headphones themselves – a nice touch. It’s no Pelican case by any stretch of the imagination but I am pretty confident that this case could survive a drop or twelve before giving up and letting the precious insides receive a nasty blow.
The not so good
I am gutted that this section needs to exist but it’s the contents below which have caused me to submit a return request to Amazon for these commendable cans. Let’s get to the nitty-gritty!
The indecisive battery reporting glitch I can ignore but the poor quality of the robo-voice reading them to me? That’s got to change… The voice (Cortana) built into the Microsoft Surface Headphones sounds phenomenally crisp and, dare I say it, human! The £300 M3’s have somehow brought me a worse sounding battery assistant than the ABN’s from 3 years ago. I’m hoping that a firmware patch can resolve this in the future and that the M4’s come with something far more premium.
The interface, you may have noted that there was no mention of buttons or media controls in the “Good” section of this review – that was for a reason. The interface on the M3’s is awful, truly awful. If you’re wearing gloves (even ‘touch capable’ ones) you may leave, you cannot interact with your headphones, no pause, skip, volume control or cupping of the hand to quickly hear the outside world again, none of it! And if you don’t have gloves on? Well it doesn’t get much better, pausing media is hit and miss – maybe I’m doing it wrong? It works a good 80% of the time but that’s based on how quickly you tap, where about’s on the ear-cup you tap and whether the headphones feel like helping.
Then we look at volume controls and track skipping, I’m sure that Sony’s engineers built in some deadzone which determines whether a diagonal swipe means volume or track control but I’ve already done the opposite to what I want twice, I’m sure I’ll continue to hone in on the accuracy there but if I’m running at the gym with these on, I’m not going to be particularly delicate whilst trying to skip a track 😜. Call me old fashioned but I like physical buttons for some things, be that opening a train door or changing tracks on my headphones, Sony should do what B&O have done – incorporate both a physical button and touch controls! So even glove wearers can operate their headphones, we live in the UK, it gets pretty chilly sometimes ⛄.
Final mention for the interface, other than the media controls you have two buttons: Power & NC on/off. The power button takes an excessively long time to turn the headphones on or off – please shorten the delay, Sony. And the NC button has 3 modes, Noise Cancelling, Amplification mode and off all together (just regular headphone mode). The ‘super hearing’ mode, as I’m calling it, seems like a gimmick and I can’t see a use for it. The same button however can be used for a voice assistant… One dilemma, it’s either or, not both! Sony should’ve added a third button, I want the ability to talk to my assistant and also have the ability to turn NC back on (without going into the app) if the outside world is getting a bit rowdy 😜. Sony should really have another button on the next revision (or incorporate a long press somewhere, perhaps).
Sony’s app, it exists. I won’t say much more than “why?”, why does an app need to exist for headphones, firmware updates are great (though it would be cool if Android could handle that natively somehow) but besides performing those once in a blue moon, the app is excessive for my needs.
These are remarkable headphones, they look and sound the business but the “not so good” section is a deal-breaker for me, for you it might not be but I can’t sit here with those misgivings for years to come, if it was all fixable in software then I’d wait it out and start raising support tickets with Sony but as that’s not the case, I’ll have to send them back and hope that Sony ace it next time.
If you’re not bothered by the negatives I’ve laid out then by all means buy a pair right now! You won’t be disappointed, they sound quality is second to none (not that I’ve tried anyway) and the build quality is solid. They’re attractive, comfortable and I know that the battery life will live up to, if not exceed, the claimed 30 hours.
Let me know what you think in the comments below and while you’re on your way down there, check out my donation link courtesy of Monzo ❤