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Sony WH-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.

Noise Cancelling Performance

Integral to the highly successful MDR-1000X, the Sense Engine and Personal NC (Noise-Cancelling) Optimiser coupled with the Atmospheric Pressure Optimiser which was added to the WH-1000XM2. The WH-1000XM3 retains all that and sport a new HD Noise Cancelling Processor, the QN1 which Sony claims offers around four times greater noise cancelling capabilities than the NC1 found in the predecessor.

Sony WH-1000XM3

Similar to the WH-1000XM2, the implementation of the Atmospheric Pressure Optimiser which detects changes in atmospheric pressure and applies the necessary compensation to the WH-1000XM3, re-calibration of the headphones is necessary when the captain informs you that the flight has reached flying attitude and similarly when you are using it on the ground. Having experienced the WH-1000XM3 on a flight from Singapore to Guangzhou, I can attest that the optimiser is more than just a fancy term with the optimiser reading 1.0 atm (standard atmosphere) at the boarding gate and 0.8 atm when the flight was at an altitude of 35,000ft.

Noise Cancelling Optimiser

Using readings from an integrated pressure sensor that is built into the left earpiece, the sensor detects any shift in atmospheric pressure that could not only upset the frequency balance of the headphones but also the sensitivity of the four microphones used for noise-cancelling which are located on the inside of the headphones and at the top of the outer earpiece covers, an implementation that remained unchanged from WH-1000XM2.

Noise-cancelling headphones are often typically good only at cancelling out low frequencies noises, like transport noises and faces more challenges dealing with mid to high-frequency sounds, like street noise and human voices. Sony’s claim that the new QN1 processor is more effective in dealing with transport noise while also designed to better deal with street noise and voices is not exaggerated.

On my flight from Singapore to Guangzhou, I was unfortunately assigned a seat near the engines of the plane and in front of two screaming siblings although it was a real test for the WH-1000XM3. Activating the NC, the WH-1000XM3 not only diminished the noise from the roaring plane engines but also the voice of the kids behind me. All aspects being the same, the new QN1 processor definitely brings NC on the WH-1000XM3 to another level.

One thing I ought to mention is that if you intend to use Sony’s Headphones Connect app in-flight and have just installed it as I did on my new iPhone XS Max prior to the flight, do agree with the “End user license agreement” before boarding the flight, unless you have access to WiFi in-flight. Fortunately for me, I still have my other phone which I have previously agreed to the “End user license agreement”.

End User License Agreement - Headphones Connect

After impressively demonstrating its capabilities in-flight, the subsequent tests on the high-speed rail rides to three cities was hardly a challenge to the WH-1000XM3. The headphone effectively reduces the engine/wheel noise to an almost inaudible level.

Deciding that I should put the WH-1000XM3 to a final test, I chose to bring it for a walk on a Friday evening along Nanjing Road in Shanghai, arguably the busiest street in the World. The street performers, product peddlers, nothing managed to interrupt my music, with the exception of wind noise which affects all the noise cancelling headphones I have tested so far including the WH-1000XM2, although not enough to cause any concern.

Sony’s Quick Attention function was also retained for the WH-1000XM3, allowing one to mute the headphones and disable the noise cancellation for a quick conversation by simply holding your palm over the right ear cup. Move your palm away and the noise cancellation re-enables with the music resuming to its previous volume.

Additionally, the Adaptive Sound Control function on the Headphones Connect app allows one to set the preferred level of noise cancellation based on activities – ranging from full noise cancellation to letting through different levels of ambient noise as well as the ability to specify a focus on voice. For example, one can set ambient noise at 10 (50%) when “Walking” so that one can better hear oncoming traffic, or set ambient noise to zero when “Commuting” which activates full NC if one is commuting on a transport.

Part 1: Introduction, Design and Build
Part 2: Noise Cancelling Performance
Part 3: Sound Quality
Part 3: Product Specifications
Part 4: Review Ratings, Summary

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