Isolating myself from the world

It’s been awhile where I felt everything around me seems to be noise. Noise of people talking loud, noise of people playing music and video on their phone in the public, noise from buses and trains I ride daily, noise from everywhere, anywhere…

“I had enough!”

That’s exactly my thought, and perhaps is time to look for ways to relief myself from all the noise. Wireless noise cancelling headphone seems to be the only choice to me as they offer great active noise cancellation, passive isolation with over-ear ear cup design, and long lasting battery life that can last me throughout the day.

Few months ago I had been searching high and low for a pair that fits my needs. Beats Studio Wireless 3 seems to be a no brainer choice due to its W1 chip that paired easily with any Apple devices that I owned. I know a lot of people complaint about its sound quality, but I’m actually okay with it. But the comfort and build quality seems really subpar.

Bose offers Quiet Comfort 35 II which is the most comfortable headphone I had ever tested, but it’s sound quality is just… not great, or should I say doesn’t suit my taste. Sony WH-1000XM2 is the closest rival to the Bose, although sound quality and noise cancellation does perform better than the Bose, but it’s not comfortable to wear, especially for people who wear spectacles like me. Other wireless earbud that offers noise cancellation simply has very short battery life for me to even begin to consider them. In the end, I stopped my search and declared that I shall live with the noise pollution… and then came the Sony WH-1000XM3.

Sony WH-1000XM3 was released awhile ago and soon demo unit came in the store. I quickly pay a visit to the nearest shop and gave it a test run. I was generally impressed with the improvement and hence pre-ordered one. Since then, I had been using it almost daily here in the hot and humid tropical country of Singapore, and here’s my humble impression on using this headphone together with my other gears such as iPhone, iPad Pro and iMac.

Disclaimer:

  • I am not audiophile. My daily driver prior to this was Apple’s AirPod.
  • I have not use headphone in long term before as I had never been able to find one that fits me.
  • I spend half of my time working in the office, while another half of my time visiting site and meeting customers.
  • I commute on daily basis via bus and train, walking on the streets and occasionally travelling overseas on plane.

With that aside, let’s dive into my experience of using it. Connectivity is key for wireless headphone, but this headphone only rocks Bluetooth 4.2. Despite that, the connection has been fairly stable and I had not experience much interference and zero drop off. Of course it would be good if Sony includes Bluetooth 5.0 here, oh well. One issue with the headphone is the lack of multi devices support, basically you will need to manually disconnect from one device before you can connect to another one. Hot swapping is not available, hence I am using this headphone on my iPhone only at the moment. A big step down from my AirPod but I think I can live with it for now.

Another important aspect for wireless headphone is battery life, and I can assure you that you need not to worry about it for this headphone. Solid battery life as advertised, perhaps the best in its class. Quick charge via USB C port is also available if you need emergency top up.

The overall build quality of the headphone is very solid and nice. It does look like it will last me for awhile, but the smooth plastic surface on the ear cup can attract quite some fingerprints from my sweaty palm, and I can foresee minor scratches will develop as time goes by. I would much prefer the older design with rough leather-like texture on the ear cup. Another concern is the faux leather headband, not sure how well will it hold up against abrasion in long run. Overall, there isn’t much of plasticky and “screeching” sound when you move it around, which gives an overall more premium and satisfying feel to it.

Currently there isn’t any waterproof feature on this headphone, it would be good to at least have splash proof design as often I will commute in the rain, it’s good to have a peace of mind that my headphone will survive some drizzle. The overall weight of the headphone is okay, of course if Sony can shave another few grams off would be even better.

The fit and comfort is miles ahead of the previous generation. I managed to get a pretty good fit and it doesn’t clamp on my face, ears and spectacles too much until discomfort arise, although I do need to make sure it is put on at the exact sweet spot to avoid adjustment later on. However, in the humid climate of Singapore, I still sweat around the ear-cup area when I’m not using it in air-conditioned environment. I believe Bose has better overall comfort, but this headphone is very closely match indeed. The inner ear cup does heat up a little after long period of use, but it’s not causing discomfort to me. The touch control also work as advertised, and I do not have much problem with it at all.

This headphone is certainly not as portable as the AirPod, but it does allow me to rest it over my neck at times, where AirPod will require me to put them back into the case to avoid dropping them. Being a headphone, it has the bulk that I need to get used to. For instance, I need to be more aware of my surroundings before turning my head around to avoid bumping into something. Also, compared to AirPod, this headphone does not have the feature of auto pause music when you are not wearing it, which I kinda miss.

In terms of audio quality, my first impression was: “Gosh… I finally managed to hear all the notes and rhythm from my song collections!”. Out of the box the audio quality was okay, but after tweaking the equalizer a little, you will get pretty much an amazing sounding headphone for most genres of music. However, that’s not the case for video. There’s latency when watching video, voice will came across a tiny fraction of second delayed from your video. Argh… this is where the AirPod really shine with it’s W1 chip. This headphone support LDAC codec, which is Sony’s high quality music file transfer protocol via bluetooth. But as Apple user, this is meaningless as we can only transmit AAC codec via bluetooth.

And last but not least, the noise cancellation performed superbly. I managed to listen clearly to my music at volume of around 15-20% as opposed to 50-60% when I’m using my AirPod. Thanks to the noise cancellation, most of the noise pollution has been blocked off from my ears. Impressive, or perhaps magical. But just to be clear, it doesn’t completely silent the world around you like you would have imagined, it’s more like suppressing them in order for you to listen to your music. So once noise cancellation is on and music playing… you will hardly hear noise from the outside world. There are a lot of customizations that you can do on the noise cancellation, but I just leave it at maximum cancellation most of the time.

All in all, the Sony WH-1000XM3 is a great pair of wireless noise cancelling headphone that really worth the price. Hopefully I can get used to or work around some of the quirks of this headphone and make full use of it. But honestly, deep in my heart I’m still waiting for technology advancement on noise cancelling earbud. If the day of long battery life, true wireless noise cancelling earbud arrive, I will probably go with that instead of a headphone. Till then.