It was a bit of a coup last year, when Sony released the second generation of its noise-cancelling headphones, and reviewers (me) claimed that Bose had been beaten. I’ll be damned if Sony didn’t turn around and make those headphones better. They cancel more even more noise now, and they’re more comfortable.
The new Sony WH-1000XM3 wireless headphones look a lot like the last ones, except for two key design tweaks. The most noticeable one deals with comfort. While the original and second generation wireless had this metal band that wrapped around your head, the new model is a three-piece design that’s meant to stay close to your skull. This looks less nerdy, but thanks to a cushy new top part, it also felt remarkably cozy in initial testing with the product. On top of that, the ear cups are bigger on the inside. That might mean less ear sweat.
The other meaningful design tweak involves the material used on the outside of the ear cups. This has been a weirdly contentious thing about these otherwise very approachable headphones. The first generation Sony 1000X headphones had a faux leather exterior that made it seem like the touch controls on headphones—you could swipe forward to skip a track, tap to pause, etc.—were too sensitive. The second generation featured a gravely texture that seemed like it wasn’t sensitive enough. With the latest version of the 1000X, Sony is going with a smoother, coated plastic feel that seems surprisingly approachable.
What’s most exciting about the new 1000X headphones, though, is the new noise-cancelling oomph. It might seem redundant to say it at this point, but the new noise-cancelling headphones simply cancel more noise. In a Sony demo, I wore the second generation in a noisy environment, and then, immediately after, wore the third generation in the same environment. The new ones cancelled more noise! These initial impressions will need to be backed up with a more rigorous review, but for now, the idea that Sony made a good thing better is encouraging.
Most encouraging is the fact that Sony didn’t raise the price. The WH-1000XM3 headphones, like the previous generation, will retail for $350. Sony also says that it will discontinue previous generations, which means that those headsets still available will get even cheaper. Thing is, unfortunately for Bose, the Sony headphones are all pretty damn good.