Sony earbuds and holder with coffee mug in background
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I’ve now had a few days to play around with Sony’s WF-1000XM3 in-ear headphones and my initial impressions are very favorable. These are truly wireless headphones, which is the generic name given to Airpod clones. This means that they are earbuds with no wire that connects back to your phone or computer and there is no wire between the left and right buds. These headphones fit into the upper level of the new market that the Airpods’ success has created. The question is, how do they stack against the original and all the competitors who now have similar products for sale.

Since the Airpods’ success, the sector has been flooded with similar products that really fall into two categories – First there are headphones that aim to bring the Airpod experience to anyone but at a much better deal than the Airpods $150 price tag. The other category includes products that have attempted to outdo the Airpods with additional features and improved sound quality. The WF-1000XM3 falls into the latter category.

With a price of around $230, the Sony needs to really deliver the goods to justify it as a worthy Airpods upgrade. The principal weapon used to do this is Sony’s outstanding ANC (active noise cancelling) technology. Sony codenamed their approach to noise cancelling QN1. This is the same tech used on the larger and more expensive WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones. See what they did with the product naming there? Anyway, the noise canceling on the big brother is other-worldly. I have tried several noise-cancelling headphones in the past, but nothing prepared me for the intense silence you get with the $350 WH cans. Is it possible to get this same level of noise-canceling in such a small package?

Well, yes and no. As with all earbuds, including those with wires, fit is key. The WF comes with a medium pad and six other pads you can try. My narrow ear opening makes a lot of earbuds uncomfortable. I had to go through trial and error to pick a pad that worked for me, and when I got that good seal, there was a great improvement. But even with that proper fit, there is still a big difference between cans that cover your whole ear and buds that need to stick into you ear hole. So the noise cancelling is better than what I get with my Airpods, but it’s nowhere near the quality you get with the over-ear WH.

I can be less tempered in my praise for the sound quality. It is so much better than the Airpods, that the price increase is justified even if you never use the ANC. The bass is tight but also dramatic. There is better clarity than the Airpods and a much stronger and demonstrative overall sound.

I also like some of the other bells and whistles. Unlike the touch sensor on the Airpods, the touch sensor on the Sony provides more functionality, including stop and start, call answer and the “quick attention”, which lets me hold my finger on the touchpad and reduce volume so I can order that latte without having to take either one of the buds out.

The charging case is smart-looking and gives a lot of extra charging power. Plus, it uses USB-C which is really helpful. There is some artificial intelligence to try and adapt sound quality based on whether you are walking, sitting or travelling.

In summary, the noise cancelling is not in the same league as what you get with the big cans, but there is a noticeable difference and improvement with the Sony’s ANC engaged. But everything else about these headphones exceeds expectations, especially with regard to sound quality. I heartily recommend.

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