Over the past month, I’ve used the Sony’s poorly-named but pretty incredible WF-1000XM3 wireless earbuds for gym workouts (recommended) and bike rides (at your own risk). These $228 earbuds fall between Apple’s $159 AirPods and $259 PowerBeats Pro but offer something both don’t: active noise cancellation.

In fact, I reviewed the PowerBeats Pro last month and thought I was done with my search for the perfect wireless earbuds. Turns out I was wrong…

WF-1000XM3 pros

  • Amazing battery life w/charging case. One charge lasted a month, or about 20 one-hour workouts
  • Snug fit in ears, light weight means they disappear
  • Highest level in-ear sound, very good noise cancellation
  • Easy to get in and out of ears and case

WF-1000XM3 cons

  • Minor Bluetooth radio quibbles
  • No IPX waterproofing (sweat seems fine)
  • The painful name (will call them WFs from here)
  • Little pricey at $220,

Background

I typically use over-ear headphones at my desk that are currently Bose Quiet Comfort 35 II (QC35s) wireless or Audio-Technica wired headphones. Both deliver great sound, but they are bulky, slip off during physical activities, and tend to get hot outdoors or during exercise.

A month ago, I was smitten with my PowerBeats Pros for active use. They sounded good, and unlike Apple’s AirPods, they actually stayed in my ears throughout a workout or even on a bike ride or while mowing the lawn. Before you mention the Airpod silicone tips or ear hooks or the straps, I’ve tried everything with AirPods. Look at these things, FFS.

So Sony came calling with their WFs that promised a better sound, lighter size/weight, and that noise canceling that I miss from my Bose… at a lower price than the Powerbeats Pro.

Experience

The WFs come in a Black/Gold (or silver-ish) case and are about halfway between AirPods and PowerBeats Pro in size. It contains a battery and will give the headset three extra full charges, meaning that you can get up to 24 hours of noise-canceling listening.

The WFs are light and slip out of the magnetic case easily and into your ears with an upward 1/8th rotation twist. This is a big advantage compared to the Powerbeats Pro, which you have to wrap around your ears while rotating. Putting them in the battery case is also much easier.

The battery case charges quickly (about 1.5 hours) via included black USB-C cable.

Buttons

Each earbud is a seperate Bluetooth connection and each has a capacitive button on the side. Sony allows you some flexibility when mapping these buttons but most people will likely use the default. Putting your finger over the right button turns off the sound and noise cancelling. Tap on the left earbud to change from Noise Canceling to Ambient Sound, or double tap on the right to skip to the next track.

Android Users can map a double click left button to Google Assistant through the Sony Headphones Connect App

Sound

This is the biggie for me. Apple’s Powerbeats sounded very good. But once I put in the WFs, there was no going back. Sony built a deeper, richer feel and combined with the ANC drowning out the background noise, you get a much more immersive sound.

Sony also offers an app that lets you fine-tune the sound and noise cancellation more precisely than Beats. When you really want to hear all of the nuances of a song without blasting a hole in your eardrum, you kind of have to use a headset like this. I fine-tuned it to my tastes that were a little more bass-heavy than default.

Mic Quality

This is one area where the Powerbeats Pro and the WFs are about even. Both can be used to easily make and receive calls where the receiver will hear you clearly, if not loudly. Both sound good but a little distant owing to the mics far placement from the mouth.  If you are going to make a lot of calls or use your headphones for gaming or podcasting, you should definitely find something with a better mic  Most mic applications will work fine however.

Active noise canceling

Probably the biggest feature of Sony’s WF-1000XM3 is the noise cancellation, which works admirably for a true wireless earbud. I took them for my first flight this week (a place where I normally bring the Bose over-ears) and frankly, they did the job. All things being equal, I’d probably still opt for the QC35s, but Sony really did do remarkable things with the WFs.

One thing I like is that the app has an adjustable slide so you can choose how much and which noise you want to cancel. You can cancel just voice noises, for instance. This is great if you are bike riding.

Downsides

The big unadvertised downside is that they aren’t waterproof by any standard measure. Sony did tell me that they had done lots of sweat testing and never had a problem. Anecdotally, I can say that I spent about 22 days of usage during a New York July without any sort of water-related issues. They even managed to stay in my ears all but once.

That’s another downside. They stay in my ears 1,000 times better than AirPods, but I still don’t feel comfortable riding a bike with these. One quick turn of the head, and it feels like these could slip out, likely resulting in a $200 loss.

I also had some issues with Bluetooth 5 connection to my iPhone and Pixel 3X. Clearly Apple owns the connectivity game with its H1 helper chip, but I feel like Sony could still do some reliability enhancements here. That’s not to take anything away from the range on the Sonys, which are phenomenal. I actually left my phone in my locker at the gym and was able to do a full workout with just the buttons to navigate my music.

Still, on Bluetooth, the mapping could use more thought. For instance, I had enabled Google Assistant mapping, which is a double tap on the left earbud. But then I wanted to attach my Mac. However, pairing requires a double tap on both earpieces so you can’t pair a new device while Google assistant is running.

These are all minor inconveniences and didn’t at all take away from the overall experience.

Conclusion

If you have around $220 to spend and want to grab a set of true wireless workout earbuds, you are going to really love these Sonys. This is Sony’s first product in this area, but they’ve taken what they know from over-the-ear active noise canceling headsets and put a lot of that greatness in here. Sure there are some small issues, but overall, these melt away and just give you the best sound and experience I’ve heard from wireless earbuds.

If you want to go in the water or on a bike, you might want to consider a PowerBeats Pro upgrade. If they stay in your ears, you might also consider AirPods. It feels like 50% of the people at my gym wear these so my ears must be weird.

Me? I’m sticking with the Sony WF-1000XM3s… for now.

$228 Amazon$229.99 Crutchfield$229.99 Best Buy 

Other competitors to consider besides AirPods and Beats: Jaybird Vista Waterproof Review at 9to5toys ($180). Jabra Elite Active 65t: $176

Specs

  • Industry-leading noise canceling with HD Noise Canceling Processor QN1e
  • 24bit audio signal processing delivers dramatically improved sound quality
  • Battery life up to 24 hours with carrying case (with 10min quick charge for 90min of play time
  • Truly wireless design with uninterrupted L/R simultaneous Bluetooth transmission
  • Smart Listening by Adaptive Sound Control automatically switches to ambient sound mode based on your activity
  • Quick Attention Mode and Wearing Detection make conversations effortless
  • Sony | Headphones Connect app for Android /iOS to use Smart Listening technology to control your ambient sound settings
  • Easy and clear hands-free calling. Leave your phone where it is, just speak with a double tap to the earbud.
  • Activate your smartphone’s voice assistant with a simple touch
  • In the box: Charging Case, Triple Comfort Earbuds (S, M, L × 2) Long Hybrid silicone rubber earbuds (SS, S, M, L × 2), Card, Operating Instruction, Reference Guide, USB Type-C cable (Approx. 20cm

Size & Weight

Approx. 0.3 oz x 2

General features

HEADPHONE TYPE

Closed, dynamic

DRIVER UNIT

0.24 inches, dome type (CCAW Voice coil)

MAGNET

Neodymium

FREQUENCY RESPONSE (ACTIVE OPERATION)

FREQUENCY RESPONSE (BLUETOOTH® COMMUNICATION)

20 Hz–20,000 Hz (44.1 kHz Sampling)

NFC

Yes (Case)

DSEE HX

Yes

PASSIVE OPERATION

Battery

BATTERY CHARGE TIME

Approx. 1.5 hrs

BATTERY CHARGE METHOD

USB charging (with case)

BATTERY LIFE (CONTINUOUS MUSIC PLAYBACK TIME)

Max. 6 hours (NC ON)/Max. 8 hours (NC OFF)

BATTERY LIFE (CONTINUOUS COMMUNICATION TIME)

Max. 4 hours (NC ON)/Max. 4.5 hours (NC OFF)

BATTERY LIFE (WAITING TIME)

Max. 9 hours (NC ON)/Max. 15 hours (NC OFF)

Bluetooth® specification

BLUETOOTH® VERSION

Bluetooth Specification Version 5.0

EFFECTIVE RANGE

Line of sight approx. 30 feet (10 m)

FREQUENCY RANGE

2.4 GHz band (2.4000–2.4835 GHz)

PROFILE

A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP

SUPPORTED AUDIO FORMAT(S)

SBC, AAC

SUPPORTED CONTENT PROTECTION

SCMS-T

Noise canceling

NOISE CANCELING ON/OFF SWITCH

Yes

AUTOMATIC AI NOISE CANCELING

Charging case

BATTERY CHARGE TIME

Approx. 3.5 hours

WEIGHT

Approx. 2.8 ounces

Color options

Silver/black

What’s in the box

USB cable: USB Type-C (Approx. 7.87 inches)

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About the Author

Seth Weintraub's favorite gear