Truly, the worst part about Sony’s noise-canceling earbuds is their name. As with the names Sony gives to most of its personal electronics, you might as well be reciting a serial number.
We love the company’s audio products. We recommended Sony’s over-ear noise-canceling cans, the WH1000XM3, as both our best noise-canceling headphones and our best wireless headphones. But in person, I can’t remember what they’re called. I say, “Yes, we love the Sonys! You know … those ones.”
Same with the company’s new noise-canceling wireless earbuds, the WF-1000XM3. I wanted to recommend them to everyone I met while I was testing them, but I couldn’t remember the model number.
No matter. The WF-1000XM3 sound fantastic, fit securely and comfortably, and have some fun, touch-based features that make them easy to use. And their active noise canceling is so effective that it’s starting to scare my family. Last night, I blocked out an episode of Paw Patrol, then removed a bud when I saw my preschooler’s lips moving. She asked, “Mommy? Are you wearing the things you wear when you don’t want to hear us?”
If you’ve been looking for a premium, pocket-size pair of noise-canceling buds, I have found them for you.
The WF-1000XM3 come in an attractive, palm-size case with a brassy flip-top cover. You get seven pairs of silicone earbud tips in the box, ranging from soft to firm. The smallest soft tips fit me perfectly.
I’ve always thought of mobile apps that control headphones as overkill, but I found Sony’s to be useful. The app’s dashboard showed the battery levels for the left and right buds, the adaptive sound control, and the equalizer. And it lets you toggle on features like pausing the headphones when you take them off, or changing the functions of the left or right side buttons.
The Sonys have a dedicated processor to control the noise canceling that the company calls the QN1e. It works like any other active NC system: by utilizing two separate microphones to capture ambient sounds, then creating inverted sound waves to cancel the noise out. However, it’s also the most effective noise-canceling system that I’ve heard. It can be a little dangerous if you’re a pedestrian moving around in a world full of large, fast things that are quite a lot bigger than you are.
The Sony’s adaptive sound control means that the headphones can detect if you’re sitting, walking, running, or commuting, and they adjust your noise-canceling needs accordingly. If you stand up or sit down repeatedly, in quick succession, it assumes you’re in transport mode and jacks up the noise canceling.
Unfortunately, I’m very restless, and I didn’t know that my frequent changes of posture make the earbuds think I’m commuting every 10 seconds. For example, I didn’t realize I was in full NC mode when I went out for a walk. It wasn’t until I noted the clouds of flying dust around me that I learned my highly skeptical dog and I were about 5 feet away from a roaring tractor-sized lawn mower in a nearby park.
It’s pretty easy to turn noise canceling off. Just tap the left bud lightly on its small touch panel, or hold it longer if you want to pause your music briefly and say hi to someone walking past. When you do that, the outside sounds get piped in, so you don’t have to take the buds out to speak if you don’t want to. The microphones are also pretty great at capturing ambient sound—I whirled around a few times in my living room, looking for a car, until I realized that they were picking up the sound of vehicles on the street outside, through an open window.
In the app, you can enable a feature that turns the buds off automatically when you take them out of your ears. Normally, you’d have to put them in the case to power them down.
One thing that’s missing: quick volume controls. They’re optimized for Google Assistant, so I suppose you could use voice controls to make them quieter and louder. But Google’s assistant is not the assistant I use, so I pulled out my phone to control the volume instead.
Turn the Beat Around
Including the battery re-ups you can get out of the charging case, Sony promises up to 24 hours of listening time. I didn’t get that far, but I’ve been using them for a few hours every day for a week, and I haven’t had to recharge the case yet. They fare well between trips to the case too. It took a four-hour span of straight listening to drain the left earbud’s battery to 50 percent. The right stayed at 70 percent.
The controls on each bud differ, and the left and right buds receive audio content from the source independently, instead of being connected left to right like many Bluetooth buds. This means that the battery life can fluctuate from bud to bud. On phone calls, I also sometimes got echoes, but these were brief and negligible.
The buds are part of Sony’s 1000 series, which is designed to be used for flights and commuting. There is a running setting on the adaptive sound controls, if you want to use them for working out, but they’re not technically water-resistant or sweat-proof. They’re also a little too bulky to feel comfortable exercising in them.
But most important, the buds sound amazing. You can fiddle around with the EQ in the app—I mostly switched between bass boost and speech settings, but I didn’t need to. Most things sounded great without my interference. The swelling drums and complex choral arrangements of Beyoncé’s “Spirit” were rich and layered, as were the driving guitars and Scottish shouting of We Were Promised Jetpacks.
And crucially, I couldn’t hear myself making up nonsense lyrics to Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Goin Down” while walking my dog, which is pretty much all that I ask of any noise-canceling buds (passersby might have different preferences). I did end up using my regular workout buds instead of these for running. But for everything else, and especially traveling, the WF-1000XM3 are a very solid choice.