There’s an enthusiastic “It’s a Sony” sticker on a kitchen wall in my childhood home. I put it there more than 20 years ago when my parents brought home a big-screen Sony TV and an accompanying Sony VCR. Since that day, I’ve owned a Walkman cassette player and a Walkman phone, a PlayStation, a NEX mirrorless camera, and an illogical desire for VAIO laptops. Like any child of the ‘90s, I grew up with Sony’s name being synonymous with the most desirable technology. This is why it’s such a nostalgic pleasure for me to today be reviewing a new Sony product that is the undeniable best in its category.
The Sony 1000X M3 over-ear, noise-canceling headphones are the third iteration of Sony’s already great 1000X series. The original 1000Xs cost a cent under $400 and were instantly among the best in their class. Sony seemed to find little room for improvement with its second-gen 1000X M2s, so it chopped $100 off the price and polished up a couple of technical aspects — though that came at the cost of some excitement in their sound. Just as it seemed as though Sony would slip behind the rapidly improving competition, however, the 1000X M3s arrive and rectify almost every issue the series has had so far, while splitting the cost difference between its predecessors with a sensible $349 price.
Sony got two things very right with its first-gen 1000X headphones: the noise canceling and the fit. That’s why I find it surprising that the company has gone for a major redesign with its M3 generation: the physical design didn’t seem in need of much tweaking. But everything that Sony has changed has been for the better. It takes courage to tinker with a popular design and skill to actually improve on it.
When I reviewed the 1000X M2s, I noted that I wore them without a hint of discomfort for a full five-hour trip, and the M3s are even less intrusive. Sony has made the space for your ear inside the M3 pad a little deeper, and the pads themselves are designed to distribute pressure evenly. I’ve used these headphones across three different two-hour flights in the past week, and my colleague Chaim Gartenberg (who wears glasses) also found them exceedingly comfortable on the eight-hour journey from New York to Berlin. In fact, there’s not a member of theVergestaff that’s tried these headphones without falling in love with their fit and feel.
Design critiques are hard to find, but I still have a few to offer. One is that the headband’s sizing adjustment slips out of position easily. If you’re super pedantic about setting your ideal fitting and never wanting it to change, that might irritate you. You don’t, however, have to be punctilious to be annoyed by the blue status LED on the left ear cup: this is a remnant of Bluetooth headphones of yore, and I’ve no idea why Sony keeps putting it on its latest headphones. Beyerdynamic recently showed off a much smarter design that put the LEDs on the inside of the ear cups. And the final issue I came up against with the 1000X M3s is that they do heat up and get sweaty on a warm summer’s day. This is the one aspect where I think Bose’s more airy QC35s have the edge over Sony and most of the rest of the competition.
The Bowers & Wilkins PX is an intriguing rival to the Sony 1000X M3, because, in my estimation, it still has a more incisive and exciting sound. But a pair of PX cans costs $390, weighs significantly more, doesn’t fit everyone as well as Sony’s alternative, and doesn’t collapse down. The things that were forgivable about the PX last year are less so now that Sony’s updated 1000Xs are out. This is a general theme when comparing the M3s against their most direct rivals: Sony’s fast rate of updates is keeping it on the cutting edge of a fast-moving market, and companies like Bose are starting to fall behind.
There’s great synergy between Sony’s unmatched noise canceling, thoroughly optimized physical design, and friendly audio tuning. Because of the powerful noise isolation, I don’t ever need to turn the volume up to high levels, and the blank canvas of background silence renders all music more realistic, nuanced, and detailed. Sony complements this by doing some digital processing to artificially expand the soundstage of its headphones. It seems like the 1000X M3s detect where in the mix each sound and instrument belongs, and if it’s on the left or right side, the headphones push it out a little bit further to give the impression of depth and expanse. It’s a neat trick. Combining the comfortable listening experience with the comfortable fit just makes these headphones extremely inviting.
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