Sony's new headphones are great if you like AirPods but also want noise-canceling

Key Points
  • The Sony WF-1000XM3s are an attempt to pair the benefits of wireless earbuds like AirPods with Sony’s noise-canceling technology
  • They sound fantastic and block out a ton of noise.
  • They don’t beat AirPods or the WH-1000XM3 headphones in every category, but they’re an amazing all-around option.
Sony WF-1000XM3 headphones
Mack Hogan | CNBC

For the past year, I've alternated between using Apple's AirPods for daily walks to the store and Sony's larger on-ear noise-canceling headphones for longer journeys in loud environments. I love the convenience of AirPods, but once you get used to noise-canceling headphones it's hard to live without them. Until now, I didn't have something that combined both. That's where Sony's new WF-1000XM3 buds come in.

They're wireless earbuds with a charging case like AirPods that also come with Sony's industry-leading noise-cancelation technology.

They're not perfect, but in testing I found them to be my favorite earbuds for day-to-day usage.

The Good

Sony WF-1000XM3 headphones
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Since I've started testing the WF-1000XM3s, I haven't touched my AirPods. I find the Sonys more comfortable, with a variety of ear tips to fit all ears without the discomfort of Apple's hard plastic.

More importantly, they sound significantly better and offer noise cancellation. While Sony's first-generation noise-canceling earbuds weren't particularly impressive, the WF-1000XM3s are seriously great. In a crowded airport, the Sonys easily blocked out the background roar and isolated the music.

Sony WF-1000XM3 headphone vs and AirPod
Mack Hogan | CNBC

But considering the $230 price tag, the WF-1000XM3s should be better than the $159 AirPods. What's impressive is how well they stack up against the $350 Sony WH-1000XM3s or $400 Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones 700. On a recent flight, despite bringing my trusty WH-1000XM3s with their even-stronger noise cancellation, I never felt the need to use them.

The WF-1000XM3s were more comfortable, less bulky and it was easier for me to sleep or rest my head with them on. They still had fantastic sound quality and powerful noise cancelation, with touch-sensitive controls to pause, skip, rewind, toggle noise cancellation or activate your digital assistant. The WF-1000XM3s support Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant access via a long press on the right earbud, which is convenient if you want to ask your digital assistant the weather or to play a song without pulling out your phone.

Sony WF-1000XM3 headphones
Mack Hogan | CNBC

They also offer Sony's Quick Attention Mode which disables noise cancellation and pipes in external sound when you hold down on the left earbud's touchpad. That's useful for hearing a quick airport announcement, but you can also just take out one of the buds and the music will automatically pause.

Sony WF-1000XM3 headphones
Mack Hogan | CNBC

Battery life is another strong point. The buds themselves are good for six hours of continuous playback with noise canceling enabled (eight without), while the charging case provides enough power for an extra 24 hours of listening with noise cancellation (32 without).

The Bad

The case charges the buds like the AirPods case.
Mack Hogan | CNBC

You will notice, though, that the charging case is bulkier than the AirPods case. It's about twice as wide and flat on the top, making it significantly harder to comfortably fit it in a pocket.

Also, while all totally wireless headphones look a bit silly, AirPods are now popular enough that they aren't embarrassing to wear. The Sonys, with their understated black design and their occasional blue flickering lights, look techier and less premium.

Sony's case is bigger than an AirPods case.
Mack Hogan | CNBC

They're also not as seamless as AirPods. Nothing else really beats AirPods when it comes to ease of pairing and use. The Sonys don't take long to initially pair and are usually good at reconnecting, but I've had to pop them back in the case to restart the connection process more than once.

And much like their WH-1000XM3 bigger brother (the on-ear model), they don't support connecting to more than one device at a time. That means you can't be working on your laptop and accept a call on your phone, which is disappointing.

Finally, the WF-1000XM3s do not have any official water or sweat resistance. That's true of AirPods as well, but competitors like the Samsung Galaxy Buds and the PowerBeats Pro do offer some water resistance.

Final Thoughts

Sony WF-1000XM3 headphones
Mack Hogan | CNBC

The $230 Sony WF-1000XM3s are priced in between AirPods and traditional noise-canceling over-ear headphones.

They're not quite as isolating as Bose or Sony over-the-ear headphones and not quite as seamless as AirPods, but I found myself using them way more than either other option.

Despite the chunky case and the occasional need to re-pair with a phone, they're my favorite headphones to use every day.

Apple announces new AirPods with wireless charging and voice control