A good set of noise-cancelling headphones is an essential item in any business traveller’s bag, and Sony’s WH-1000X M3 Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones may just be the best I’ve used yet.
In the past, offerings from Bose and Sennheiser have usually pipped other competitors but Sony’s new 1000X M3 Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones (A$550 RRP) improve on the fantastic M2 model in a number of ways and make this one of the top devices on the market today.
First up, the 1000X M3 headphones add more battery life while shedding some weight compared to last year’s M2 model. They’re also more comfortable than before, thanks to a deeper cup and an improved headband.
This all adds up to a set of headphones that are suitable for long bouts of use – perfect for longhaul flying or even working in noisy environments for extended periods of time.
The M3s also retain the 3.5mm jack, which allows you to use them as wired headphones if necessary. Sony provides an auxiliary cable (as well as a two-pronged adapter for ports typically seen on planes) out of the box.
The new M3s make the switch to USB Type-C for charging, but Sony also includes an adapter to use for standard USB charging, which is another nice touch.
Speaking of charging, the battery life lived up to Sony’s claims of around 30 hours. I used the M3s on two back-to-back longhaul flights and still had plenty of juice left throughout the week for occasional use.
When it comes to actually using the M3s, there are only two physical buttons on the headphones, one for controlling the Power and Bluetooth connection, and the other for switching between noise-cancelling modes.
The actual playback control is done through a touch mechanism, which allows you to essentially use the cup as a touch pad. To use it, simply swipe right or left to skip back and forth between tracks, or swipe up and down to adjust the volume. Initially I was sceptical about how well this would work, but it’s actually amazingly well done and sets the new standard for playback control.
You can also place your entire hand on the cup to instantly bring the volume down when you need to converse, which comes in very handy on flights when interacting with cabin crew and colleagues.
Aside from ergonomics and battery life, the new WH-1000X M3 headphones also feature an all-new processor that delivers outstanding noise cancelling.
The processor works in concert with an app so that you can tune the headphones settings and how it processes noise. For example, if you need to preserve as much battery life as possible you can use the Sony Connect app to tweak how long it takes the headphones to automatically sleep when not in use.
Like last year’s M2s, the M3s also offer ‘Unique Atmospheric Pressure Optimisation’ that helps to improve the noise-cancelling functionality when you’re in the air. There have been mixed reports from users on this feature’s effectiveness, but in my testing I found it to be helpful in alleviating some of those ear pressure differences you get when flying.
Sony’s also got a host of technology designed to make using the M3s seamless – from a ‘Unique Personal Optimisation’ system that takes into account your head shape, hair, glasses and other personal features, to a ‘Sense Engine’ that detects the type of activity you’re doing (walking on the street, travelling, waiting in a noisy room) and adjusts the noise cancellation for that situation.
In practice, the noise cancellation is very effective, with different modes for when you want to allow conversation through but reduce background noise, or just completely shut out all noise. The Sony Connect app allows you to personalise all of these functions, so that you can make the M3s perform how you want.
The M3s also deliver superb audio quality – the default settings can be a little bass-heavy, but with some tweaking in the app it’s easy to customise the audio delivery to your liking. There’s good dynamic range, and the audio is clear whether you’re listening to jazz, rock, or a podcast.
Sony’s new WH-1000X M3 noise-cancelling headphones are the best we’ve tried this year, but the competition from Bose and Sennheiser is not far off (and indeed, other frequent travellers have their own preferences between the three).
Personally, I find the M3s to be the pick of the bunch thanks to the newly improved design and just how effective the noise-cancelling is in the real world.