Wireless headphones for quiet time

The Sony WF-1000MX3 true wireless in-ear headphones come with active noise cancelling (ANC) capability - a rare feature in this genre.

This is made possible by Sony's Dual Noise Sensor (DNS) technology and QN1e noise-cancelling processor. DNS uses two microphones to capture ambient sound, which is fed to the QN1e to create an inverted sound wave that cancels out the background noise.

While the ANC here might not be as effective as the ANC with over-ear headphones, like my own Bose QuietComfort 25, which further blocks out noise by covering the ears, it works really well for such a small form factor. I found most of the ambient noise filtered out while wearing the headphones in my office, apart from that of colleagues who were talking near my desk.

You can connect the WF-1000MX3 to the Sony Headphones Connect app (available on Android and iOS), which has the Adaptive Sound Control feature that automatically turns on and off the ANC, depending on the environment you are in. I found this feature to be iffy though, as it sometimes changed modes even though I did not move around and was just sitting in the office.

More useful is the app's Ambient Sound Control feature, which lets you choose the amount of ambient noise to let into the earbuds.

Each earbud of WF-1000MX3 has a direct Bluetooth connection to your mobile device, which means both the left and right earbuds receive audio content simultaneously.

This is different from many true wireless in-ear headphones that use one earbud to connect to the device and the other earbud to relay the audio content from the connected earbud. This connectivity scheme can lead to lag or spotty connection at times. With the Sony, I did not encounter any lag during the review.

I like that the earbuds automatically turn on and connect to the paired device when you wear them. Furthermore, it automatically stops playing music when you remove any one of the earbuds from your ear.

Design-wise, the WF-1000MX might not be as sleek-looking as Apple's AirPods 2. In fact, it is a tad large, with each earbud about 3.5cm long. However, it is not heavy and feels absolutely comfortable to wear.

The accompanying charging case is quite bulky though - about as tall as the AirPods charging case but twice as wide. It has a USB-C port for charging both case and earbuds. The case has the Near Field Communications (NFC) function for quick pairing with Android smartphones. But it does not support wireless charging.

More importantly, the WF-1000MX3 delivers the best audio quality among the true wireless in-ear headphones I have tried thus far. It offers bass with plenty of punch while the mids and highs are crisp and detailed.

Its battery life rating is also impressive: up to six hours with ANC on and up to eight hours with ANC off. The charging case adds another 18 hours. Most of its peers last only around two to three hours.

On the downside, there is no sweat or water resistance. So you take a risk each time you take them out for a run. Also, at $349, the WF-1000MX3 is more expensive than the Apple AirPods 2 and many true wireless in-ear headphones.

But I don't think any of its peers offers ANC or can top its superb audio quality.

  • FOR 

    • Excellent sound quality 

    • Noise cancellation in small form factor 

    • Long battery life

  • AGAINST

    • Not sweat or water resistant 

    • Charging case does not support wireless charging

  • TECH SPECS

    PRICE: $349

    DRIVERS: 6mm neodymium

    CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth

    WEIGHT: 8.5g (each earbud), 77g (charging case)

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 5/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4.5/5

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2019, with the headline 'Wireless headphones for quiet time'. Print Edition | Subscribe