Back at IFA 2018 in Berlin I was given the chance to sample the new WH-1000XM3 Sony noise cancelling headphones. Now in their third generation Sony has set out to prove it really is a cut above the Bose QC35 II, a traditional foe. Over the last month I’ve had around 60 hours of international air travel to make my mind up, so here we go.

Silence in the Air.

At $499.95 they’d want to be good. Sony claim the onboard QN1 noise cancelling processor has four times greater performance than its predecessor. Technical stats aside I can honestly say I’ve never experienced an almost total block out of ambient noise that the 1000XM3 produce.

As soon as you power them on you become immersed in almost complete silence, as if the plane’s engines had suddenly shut down and every other passenger had evacuated. So well done is the noise cancelling technology one of our EFTM supporters said she momentarily felt dizzy, as if her inner ear balance had been shocked by the instant removal of outside noise.

Having said all that, there’s not a pair of noise cancelling headphones on the planet that can create a total vacuum between your ears. This is most noticeable with human speech, it still manages to leak in just a little. The technology to completely drown out that crying baby still hasn’t been invented.

All this is done via a Dual Noise Sensor that captures ambient noise via dual mics. It sends the sound data to the improved sound processor to try and kill off as much noise as possible.

As I mentioned my test lab was usually an A380 having travelled twice from Sydney to Europe and back over a month. An Atmospheric Pressure Optimising feature is able to adjust to the higher altitude, it literally reads the air pressure and adjusts accordingly. There were many hours where I simply sat there with no music at all, just to exist in my own silent cocoon.

The noise cancelling also has modes to adapt to your physical situation. During meal service on a plane it’s a bit rich to look at the hostess like they have two heads. An ambient noise mode allows in all the necessary noise for actual communication with others. All while you still sit back enjoying your playlist or latest Netflix download.

If you suddenly need to hear something important you can always place your right hand over the right housing to decrease sound instantly. Controlling sound level and tracking up and down is also done via the swipe touchpad on the right-hand side as well.

What About The Sound?

But of course, a decent set of headphones is also about the sound. I’m no audio connoisseur but they certainly deliver crystal clear audio with deep base that never distorts. The 1000XM3 use a 40mm driver and Liquid Crystal Polymer diaphragm able to produce frequencies up to 40kHz. The sound is probably on par still with what Bose offer, but both brands have their own ‘take’ on how audio should be replicated, it’s an individual thing I guess.

Are They Comfortable?

Considering the extended time I had them on for I never felt they were becoming uncomfortable. Although when sleeping I did resort to my Bose QuiteComfort 20 in-ear headphones. The new Sony set features a slimmer silhouette while being slightly lighter than the previous model at 255g. The ear cup is deeper, and the headband has thicker cushioning. However, I think when it comes to absolute luxurious comfort the Bose QC35 II just pips them.

The hardened fabric case is available in black or platinum silver and seems pretty sturdy to me. Inside you’ll find an airline adapter, charging cable and auxiliary cable.

Battery Life

Battery life is astounding at around 30 hours, I never seemed to dip below 70 percent despite my endless time in the air. They take just three hours to charge as well. That’s with full noise cancelling and Bluetooth connection on. I didn’t try voice calls but with multiple microphones you can be ensured of clear hands-free conversations.

The Verdict

Put simply the latest WH-1000XM3 noise cancelling headphones are the best I’ve encountered, by a significant margin.