Review
2019-03-14

Silent office - Reviewing my Sony WH-1000XM3

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Most software developers wear headphones while working and I'm not any different to that. For more than four months now I've got the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones - the most expensive headphones I've every owned. Let's talk about why I got them, why I fell in love with them and how they do on a daily basis.

Story telling time

Listening to music and getting rid of disturbing environmental sounds does indeed increase quality of life and your productivity. I've worked in offices with up to 8 people which can be a pretty noisy experience - people talking to each other, phones are ringing, the silent "wtf"s from people muttering to themselves while working with high quality source code from their coworkers, coffee machines, keyboard and mouse sounds and all kind of stuff which defines a software developers office.

To compensate for all this noise I started to wear the default in-ear headphones my former iPhone shipped with. Even though these headphones were far from being decent they already covered up many of the countless noises in my former office. But I could still hear lots of noises which I thought could be elimiated with a decent pair of headphones - so I tried out some in-ear noise cancelling headphones from TaoTronics. These seemed to be a good choice due to good reviews and an affordable price. This time even more noises disappeared, wearing comfort and overall sound and music quality increased as well.

Sometimes later I got myself a new pair of over-ear headphones for gaming, the Audio Technica ATH-M30X. Sound quality has become even better compared to my in-ear noise cancelling headphones. The only drawback here: ever since I got the ATH-M30X I used them for my desktop computer at home. Since they're cable-bound mobility is quite an issue. But since I really liked the comfort and sound of over-ear headphones I wanted to have something similar when I'm in the office which, ultimately, lead to the headphones of this review (after using some 40€ Sennheiser HD 201 for some time which are, honestly, also pretty good for this price headphones but don't have noise cancelling).

I just wanted to try them out...

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After I've watched and read lots of reviews about the Sony WH-1000XM3 I wanted to try them out. So I headed out to the next shop where they were available (which was Saturn in case you're curious) and wanted to try them out. I did know about noise cancelling from my TaoTronics and I did know about over-ear comfort and sound - so I was curious about how good a combination of these attributes would be and why the hell these headphones costs more than 350€.

After finally finding the headphone department I finally got to lay my hands on a pair of Sony WH-1000XM3. First impression was really good; relatively light headphones which still feels top quality (let's be honest: everything else would have been ridiculous for this price), very comfortable material and high wearing comfort in general. Absolutely nothing compared to the headphones I used to have. But the real HOLY SHIT! moment settled in when I turned them on. The shop where I tried them out was a pretty crowded area at this moment; a very noisy place with lots of people. But after I turned on these headphones everything went... a lot more silent. I could barely hear my girlfriend which stood right next to me curiously asking how well the noise cancelling is doing. I didn't even listen to music at this moment; it just went very silent the moment I turned them on. After turning on the music I knew: I had to buy these headphones, no matter the price. I knew that with these I'd finally achieve a silent office, getting rid of all the voices and noises while commuting and additionally have an absolutely insane audio quality. And until this very day they're doing a great job at at these things.

I bought these headphones in December 2018 and since then I'm heavily using them every day - in the office, while commuting and sometimes even at home for gaming. So let's talk about my thoughts about them.

Noise cancelling

One of the best things about these headphones is its insane noise cancelling. When I was at the shop where I got them I had the chance to test out the Bose QuietComfort 35 which are often mentioned in reviews and compared to the Sony. Fantastic headphones (even a bit cheaper than the XM3), but the noise cancelling of the XM3 was nevertheless better in my opinion.

Since I've never owned a pair of such high-quality headphones before I've read tons of reviews which often states that noise cancelling often comes with a noticable background noise. I was a bit worried about this, but the background noise of the Sony is barely hearable. After you turn them on the world just gets a lot more silent.

I can't hear others people conversations, door bells, typical office sounds (keyboards, printers, ...) or anything at all while additionally listening to music. I don't even hear people talking to me - but as of now everyone in the office knows that my headphones puts me in a different audio world and simply wait for me to either put the headphones down or wait for me to place my right hand on my headphones; this gesture disables noise cancelling, lowers the music volume and makes it really easy to leave your own audio world again without having to put the headphones down.

In short: without doubt this is the best noise cancelling I've ever experienced.

Sound quality

At this point a headphones review should probably tell you about the highs, the mids and the bass (at least all other reviews I read about these headphones did this!). But let me be honest here: I'm no musician, I'm not audio engineer nor do I have reviewed tons of headphones. This makes my version "the bass is voluminous" or "the highs are not too high, the mids really enjoyable" probably not the most valuable statement here.

But what I can do is compare them to all the headphones I had so far (which is probably an irrationality higher amount than most other non-audio people) in terms of music quality and personal experience.

And to keep this as simple and easy as possible: audio quality is really great. In my opinion it's even better than the audio quality of my Audio Technica headphones which are already really good.

Comfort

I wear my XM3 headphones for around seven hours while in I'm in the office, an hour while travelling home by train and sometimes even in the afternoon at home. I've had headphones which start to hurt a bit after a certain amount of wearing time but the XM3 clearly are superior in this regards. It would be wrong to say I don't feel them after a certain amount of time (again, keep in mind that I wear these headphones for 10 hours on a good day), but slightly re-adjusting them makes everything good again.

When it comes to wireless headphones I've always been a bit afraid of weight. But, compared to my ATH-M30X with 220g which are cable-bound, the XM3 are at around 255g which I'm totally fine with. There's a noticable difference in weight while wearing them - but definitely far from being annoying.

Battery

Battery life was a relevant factor when I first took a glance at the XM3. I've always owned cable-bound headphones since I don't want to run into a "I can't hear to music for an hour since my headphones need to recharge."-situation. In general I definitely prefer cable-bound peripherals due to this very reason.

The official statement on battery life is 30 hours. Knowing that I could listen to music for a day without having to recharge sounded like a good deal. Furthermore charging is done via an USB-C port which harmonizes with the USB cable from my phone - so I can perfectly avoid a "where did I put my charging cable!" dilemma.

In reality I could listen to music for around two days, which equals around 20-25 hours. Somewhere at this point around the headphones start to suggest to be recharged or I'm like "hey, when did I recharge the last time?" and simply re-charge. Most of the time I simply recharge them during meetings or lunch breaks and I've never ran into a battery problem so far.

Additionally these headphones do have a fastcharge feature which allows several hours of playback with just several minutes of charging - so in case I mess up I'm still kinda covered.

Features

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The XM3 do only have two buttons; one power button and one for the noise cancelling. Everything else is controlled via a touch sensor in the housing.

Touch gestures are a nice feature which I mainly use to skip tracks on my Spotify playlist without having to switch to the Spotify window while working. But, honestly, I often forget about this feature and still switch windows.

Another really handy feature is being able to disable noise cancelling and lowering music by simply putting your hand on the right ear pad. But since most conversations take more than just a few seconds and I'd feel pretty dumb standing there with my right hand on my ear I just put them down most of the time.

These are the main features I mostly use. There's even more with having a Google Assistant or Alexa, it does offer decent phone abilities (there's even a mic inside these headphones which is pretty decent!), it offers different modes, etc.. But I don't use these features regularly, so I can't say much about them.

Field test: in the office

I'm currently working in a room with a total of three people inside - and pretty much always listening to music while working. Occasionally there are even more people inside this room, but as long as I don't pause the music I can't hear anyone talking, their keyboards or anything at all. The office could probably catch fire and I'd be the last one to recognize it.

These headphones have, without exaggeration, increased my productivity when it comes to work. I'm not distracted by any noises and can focus purely on my work. The only downside at this point is that if someone wants to talk to you it might gets a bit weird if someone waves at you within three meters of range - but that's something I'm totally okay with.

Field test: Commuting

I commute a lot by train. Travelling by train can be either kinda comfortable or a very noisy place, especially since the train I'm taking is often filled with school children or people who have forgotten that they're in a public place. Half of the time I spent in train I'm usually spending on doing some work on my notebook; but hearing the latest "Why I lost the love of my life at the age of 13", "How a 70 year old woman managed to enter a pin on her new iPhone after rebooting" or the classic "Jakob, please be quiet." followed by a vociferous performance of singing the title song of the Bob the builder is actually not very helpful when you're trying to work (or sleep. Or relax. Or whatever else you're trying to do - it doesn't help at all).

The XM3 made this better. Way better. Actually, it really made commuting way more enjoyable. As of now I have no idea what people are talking while on the train when wearing my headphones. Not just the noises a train (which was probably build shortly after the industrial revolution...) makes by itself are gone, I - again - can't hear anything at all except my music.

Field test: at home

I still do use my Audio Technica at home. Since my XM3 are in my bag most of the time I'm just too lazy to take them out there, especially since my Audio Technica headphones are pretty good headphones too. The main differences at this point are the lack of noise cancelling capabilities, the cable and wearing comfort is a bit lower compared to the XM3. But seriously, we're talking about first world problems here.

Nevertheless I sometimes use my XM3 at home. I tried them for gaming and, as expected, they were a doing a great job. They're additionally really great when I need serious noise cancelling (e.g. when my girlfriend is watching tv right behind me or one of my neighbours is escalting (which happens way more often than you'd think...)).

Disadvantages

Let's come to the disadvantages.

The XM3 are undoubtedly the best headphones I've ever had (as you might have guessed while reading this post). Great sound, great noise cancelling, great wearing comfort and everything. But the XM3 are also the most expensive headphones I've ever had. I bought them for 370€ which is - at least for me - a very high amount of money for headphones. Most of my computer components are cheaper (except the GPU, which was - back then - around 30€ higher) - and we're talking about headphones here. My Audio Technica headphones are really good too - and they cost just a fifth of the XM3. Don't get me wrong here: the XM3 are, without doubt, generally the better headphones - but we're talking about a fifth of the price here.

So, would I buy them again despite the high price? Yes. I have lots of use cases for such headphones. I really love the noise cancelling, the wireless experience, the wearing comfort and everything. But would I buy these headphones just for gaming? Or when having an individual office room - without having to commute? Probably not (except I'd be at a point were money wouldn't matter at all - then I'd definitely get them without hesitation). The things I use these headphones for are the reason why such headphones are built (I travel by train, not by plane, but who cares) - hence for me these headphones were a good choice, despite the price.

Another - kind of a - disadvantage is the fact that it gets a bit warm beneath the ear pads when wearing them several hours. But that's nothing I'd say is too much of an issue - it became pretty warm beneath all the headphones I've ever had. And simply putting them down for a few minutes perfectly solves this problem for me.

Conclusion

I guess it's pretty clear what I think about the Sony WH-1000XM3: I love them. I needed headphones for a crowded office and commuting - and they're insanely good at these things. They're even great for playing games, just listening to music, watching videos or whatever else you could use headphones for.

The last remaining question at this point is probably: Should you get the Sony WH-1000XM3? To answer this as simple as possible: if you do wear headphones a lot, want a really good pair of headphones and have some money to spare: Yes, definitely.

Disclaimer: This post was written while wearing my Audio Technica ATH-M30X. Pretty ironic, I know.