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The Sony WH-1000x Mark 3 sets a new benchmark when it comes to consumer headphones. Its noise cancellation prowess drowns out jet engines and crying babies, the battery lasts more than a day of continuous playback over Bluetooth and the sound signature is highly tweakable through the companion app. This is the best noise cancelling headphone you can buy right now.
Sony has had a very interesting image when it comes to audio products. Once known for its Walkman products, the company recently has been more popular for the Extra Bass series of earphones and headphones. Lately, the company has also been trying to cater to the audiophile crowd, and one product that had quickly gained plenty of appreciation was the WH-1000x, the company’s wireless headphones with Active Noise Cancellation. The 1000x Mark 2 brought significant upgrades to the original, with a longer lasting battery life and better noise cancellation. Sony has now released the WH-1000x Mark 3, a headphone that seems to bring very little in the way of upgrades. We tested the headphone for over 50 hours, 20 of which was spent on-board aircrafts. If you’re wondering whether the new headphone is worth the spend, you are going to find your answers in the sections below.
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The Sony WH-1000x Mark 3 is definitely designed keeping the traveller in mind. Along with the headphone, the retail box also includes a travel case, within which you will find a 3.5mm balanced cable, a USB Type-C cable for charging the headphone and a converter that will allow you to plug the headphones into the audio output found on-board most aeroplanes.
The Sony WH-1000x Mark 3 is visually different in comparison to its predecessors. The black pair we received for review had the logo and microphone cut-outs using a deep copper trim to distinguish them from the body while giving it a very premium look. The headband itself has also changed in two ways, but you will only notice one of them. The one you would notice is the considerably plush padding around the top band which adds a lot of comfort when it’s on your head for long hours. The second design change is something others will notice when you’re wearing this pair of headphones. The headband now wraps a lot closer to the side of the wearer’s face than the Mark 2, which had a more rotund around the sides, creating an unpleasant bulge. The WH-1000x Mark 3 sit more flush with the head, both on top and on the sides, eliminating the weird gap.
Other design and build aspects remain more or less the same. The power button, noise cancellation/ambient button and the 3.5mm headphone jack rest on one earcup while the USB-C charging port sits on the bottom of the other. The charging port is completely exposed, which makes me a little nervous. For example, during my recent flight to London, I had removed the headphone from my had and placed it on the tray. At some point, the passenger next to me knocked my glass of water over, causing a spill would could have also made its way inside the exposed port.
One thing about using the WH-1000x Mark 3 that has become very clear is that this is an extremely comfortable pair of headphones to use. I wore the headphones throughout the entirety of my flight from Delhi to London, for a few hours listening to music and watching movies, and for some time, just to cancel out the noise of the one crying baby who magically happened to be one row over. Throughout the time, the headphones felt like a very comfortable accessory around my head. My ears didn’t get too hot either, but that could be more to do with the air conditioning on the aircraft. Bottom line is, this is an insanely comfortable pair of headphones for everyday and extended hour use.
You wouldn’t want to wear a pair of headphones if they didn’t sound good. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even buy one for that matter. So for Rs 30,000, does the Sony WH-1000x Mark 3 live up to the price tag? In short, yes, but there are a few caveats. We tested the headphone with an iPhone XS and a Samsung Galaxy Note 9, both over Bluetooth and using the included 3.5mm cable. Here’s what we concluded.
Over Bluetooth with the iPhone XS and the Galaxy Note 9, the WH-1000x Mark 3 had an identical sound signature. The minute the music starts to play, you can feel the bass-heavy bias of the headphones. But this isn’t the boomy, loose, out of control bass that appeals to bass-heads. The bass has a tight response, with the low frequencies not bleeding into the mids or the highs. My playlist for testing the 1000x Mark 3 included plenty of music spanning the spectrum of electronic, psy-trance, rock, metal, rap and even some pop (Bollywood included). For those who love music that would generally be classified as “electronic,” you’re going to love the bass-biased tuning. If a track has that deep, guttural bass that dubstep is infamous for (such as Rutten by Skream), expect to have your eardrums rattled from the inside out. If the bass gets too out of control, you can always tune things down using Sony’s Headphone Connect app. For those with a love for rock and all things rebellious, the WH-1000x Mark 3 offer an above average experience out of the box, but a quick tweak to the EQ using the headphone connect app and you will once again find yourself basking in the brightness of the cymbals and high-hats of the drums. This was particularly true for Metallica’s rendition of Saint Anger and King Nothing. Similarly for those who love pop music or more string-instrument heavy tunes, the EQ will help you achieve the right balance of sound. While it has several presets, you also get to save two custom presets as well, allowing for incredible flexibility with sound. It also offers wonderful stereo separation and allows each instrument (or tone) to express its individuality, provided you tweak the EQ to your liking.
Let’s go back to the trip to London. Seated on a seat which would be considered “on the wing” and an extremely distressed infant on one side, the Sony WH-1000x Mark 3 really had its work cut out for it. As someone who cannot fall asleep with noise around, I was really hoping for the Sony to come through, and come through they did. Slipping those soft earcups onto my earlobes and there’s a sudden sense of vacuum being created around the ear. If you’ve never used a noise cancelling headphone before, the sensation might strike you as…odd, but you do get used to it pretty quick. Four hours of practically no auditory input later, when the headphones came off for a brief amount of time, it almost felt like the noise was unbearable. I wanted to sink back into the soft sound-free world that I had become cocooned in. It felt wonderful and I didn’t want to leave.
The Sony WH-1000x Mark 3 could have just stopped at the incredible noise cancellation, but it doesn’t. The Active Noise Cancellation can be tuned through 20 intensity points, allowing the use of the headphones to extend beyond situations where you need to block all sounds out. For example, if you’re riding on the metro and don’t want to miss the announcements, you can tune the noise-cancellation to a lower level. There’s also an Ambient Sound Control mode which detects your body position (sitting vs. walking) and accordingly adjusts the noise cancellation level.
Sony says that the WH-1000x Mark 3 should give 30 hours of playback with all the bells and whistles. In my use, I was able to comfortably get about 24 hours of music playback over Bluetooth. The charge time is roughly 3 hours, which isn’t too big a deal. It’s not a full 30 hours, but it is very damn close.
The right earcup of the Sony WH-1000x Mark 3 has a touch-sensitive surface that allows for a variety of essential functions. Swiping right or left changes tracks while swiping up and down changes the volume. The gestures are not as fluid as we've all become to used to thanks to our smartphones, but when done with deliberation, they get the results. Probably the most useful feature is that if you place your palm on the right earcup, the headphone turns off the noise cancellation and pauses the music. This is extremely helpful if you're using these at work and a colleague suddenly comes up to you to have a conversation. This feature works flawlessly, and you'd be glad to have it.
The Sony WH-1000x Mark 3 is a very minute refinement of its predecessor, which is no longer available. In that regard, the WH-1000x Mark 3 delivers on the promise of exceptional audio quality, one that will wow an average user and impress even the audiophile. The noise cancellation works wonders and is by far one the best there is in the market right now, and yes, that is also accounting for what the Bose QC-35 can do. For the longest time, Bose’s QC series has held the coveted status of being a traveller’s best companion. Well, the Sony WH-1000x Mark 3 is definitely gunning for that title and in all honesty, is a better option of the two.