The Best Sony Headphones For 2020 -Buy Guide And Reviews
The Best Sony Headphones For 2020
Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones WH1000XM3
For the third year in a row, the 1000X are Sony’s flagship headphone. They’re feature-rich, as noted in the section above, and will sound like a premium pair of headphones should.
That said, because they have so many features, they’re going to be a bit more expensive than your average non-noise canceling headphone: $349 (£300, AU$499). That’s not cheap by any means, but it is comparable to the Sony WH-1000XM2 that was released last year.
Why, exactly, are they so expensive? A few reasons:
Sony put a lot of hardware inside these headphones, not to mention the four microphones that are located inside the headphone and on the outer earcups. Noise cancelation of this caliber also requires a lot of software running, which means the WH-1000XM2 has a processing chip inside that’s running calculations in real time called the NC1. Add to that a touch-capacitive earcup that reacts to your touch and the price begins make a bit of sense.
As for release date, the Sony WH-1000XM3 were announced at IFA 2018 went on sale in August 2018.
- Lighter than last year
- New padding along bridge
- USB Type-C port to charge
- Uses divisive touch controls
Arguably the biggest changes to the 1000X are found in the design of the headphones: they’re lighter than the previous model and more form-fitting as well.
Weight-wise, the headphones shed about 1 ounce (22 grams) off last year’s design. That might not seem like a big deal, but considering you’ll be wearing these for an extended period of time like, say, a transcontinental flight, every ounce helps.
The other design change is the new flush fit that changes out the old padding on the bridge for something a bit more cushiony. This makes the headphones more comfortable but also significantly less dorky when they’re on your head. Sony’s also deepened the earcup and changed out the silver accents on the side of the headphones for a copper tone instead.
Finally, the last change Sony made is swapping out the microUSB port on the right earcup for a USB Type-C that could either reduce or increase the amount of cables you need to carry around with you depending on which other gadgets you carry around in your bag.
Outside of the minor tweaks, these are still relatively minimalist headphones – which really appeals to the business-class customer Sony is targeting.
The 1000XM3 comes in only two colors – an all-black or grey-silver – and beyond an engraved Sony logo above each earcup, are totally nondescript. These are designed to sound good and feel comfortable to wear – they’re not flashy like Beats headphones.
Around the left earcup, you’ll find the only two buttons on the headset. There’s one for Power/Bluetooth and another to cycle the noise cancelation between its three settings: On, Ambient Mode and Off. Down below the buttons you’ll find an auxiliary jack, which is mirrored on the other earcup by a USB Type-C port that’s used to charge the headphones. (You’ll find a USB-to-USB Type-C cable inside the box, alongside a 3.5mm aux cable, two-pronged aux adapter and a hard carrying case.)
It’s a system that takes some getting used to, but once you use it for a week it becomes second nature.
- Strong noise cancelation
- Quick Attention Mode
- aptX and aptX HD support
- Little difference in audio performance
- Google Assistant integration
- Better call quality – but not great
Of course, what you’re buying a pair of noise-cancelling headphones for is their ability to effectively block out noise. In that arena, there are none better than the 1000XM3.
According to tests done by Sony, the 1000XM3 are four times more effective at canceling noise than the 1000XM2 – an impressive feat considering how well the M2 performed this time last year.
In practice, that claim definitely held true when confronted with both low-frequencies, like the kind you’d find while riding a train or flying in a plane and in workplace environments where there’s higher frequency noises like people talking or music playing. In nearly every scenario the WH-1000XM3 performed admirably, often reducing noise from a disturbingly loud hum to a more manageable buzz – and sometimes eliminating exterior noise entirely.
Like last year, the 1000XM3 are able to selectively allow some noises into the headphones as well. With Ambient Noise mode selected, announcements made over train station PA systems can be heard, while Quick Attention Mode allows you to quickly pipe in external audio without taking off the headphones by reducing the volume of the music and using the microphones located on the outside of each earcup. It’s a feature you won’t find on a Bose-branded pair of headphones and one that sets Sony apart from the crowd.
While noise cancelation has enjoyed some solid improvements, audio quality remains similar to what we heard on the 1000XM2… which might have been more of a disappointment if the M2 weren’t such an impressive pair of headphones in their own right.
Like we said last year, these headphones will sound a bit better while using an Android device that supports the aptX HD standard, but even on an iPhone they’re surprisingly great. Mids are straightforward, highs come through crystal clear and bass is weighty and can have some real slam to it. They really shine on a device that supports the LDAC codec – like, for instance, a Sony Walkman – but they’re by no means limited to those devices.
That said, while these headphones are fine for the occasional call or two they’re probably not what you’d want to use if you frequently make phone calls in an office setting – call quality isn’t as pristine on the 1000XM3 as it is on other business-ready headsets.
- 30-hour battery life
- Quick Charge mode
- Auto-off mode through the app
So how long will these headphones last on a charge? There are a lot of factors but, after a few days of testing, we found a good benchmark to be around 30 hours or so. Over a period of four days while the headphones were being tested (five hours a day x four days) they didn’t need to be recharged at all, ending the final night at around 30% battery life remaining.
For comparison, that’s about 10 hours more than the Bose QuietComfort 35 when used wirelessly and 10 hours less than the Bose if used in wired mode. However you slice it, it’s still more than enough juice to get you across the Atlantic and back if you’re coming from the West Coast of the United States.
Should you find yourself running low, there’s no need to worry – the 1000XM3 has a “Quick Charge” feature that allows you to get around 5 hours of playback after only 10 minutes of charging. In putting that claim to the test, we went from around 30% battery life to 50% after exactly 10 minutes connected to the wall. Claim verified.
Should you want your headphones to last a bit longer, you can use the Sony Headphones Connect app to shorten the time it takes for the headphones to go to sleep. The default is 15 minutes, but you can reduce that number down to five minutes if you really want to wring every second of life out of them.
Another year, another impressive pair of noise-canceling headphones from Sony. To wit, the Sony WH-1000XM3 are exactly the headphones we’ve come to expect from the new leader in noise-canceling headphones… and even if they’re a bit too close to last year for comfort, they’re still the best headphones you can buy two years after they were released.
If you want the best-looking and most comfortable headphones, and you’re all about audio quality, these are the best headphones you can buy right now.
That being said, you could save some money by picking up the Sony WH-1000XM2 – they’re nearly as good and now even less than they were before thanks to a recent price drop.
Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones WHCH710N
On paper, the Sony WH-CH710N Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones make a lot of sense: They’re supposed to be a more affordable version of the popular Sony WH-1000XM3 that come in at half the price.
The trade-off here is that the brand-new WH-CH710N use a mostly plastic build to reduce cost, cut out the Hi-Res Audio support completely and don’t exactly live up to the 1000XM3’s level of jaw-dropping noise cancellation that, when we last tested them, did a stellar job of keeping the room dead-silent.
There aren’t many headphones out there that offer active noise-cancellation at this price point – which is a testament to Sony’s engineering team – but after testing them we can’t help but feel Sony made too many deep cuts in too many places, making these earbuds a middling contender that faces steep competition on all sides.
Price and release date
The Sony WH-CH710N were released alongside the Sony WF-XB800 True Wireless Earbuds in April 2020… which turns out to be a decent time to release noise-cancelling headphones now that everyone is working from home.
In terms of pricing, the Sony WH-CH710N are in the mid-range for a pair of over-ear headphones at $199 (£130, around AU$300), but are actually one of the more affordable pairs of noise-cancelling headphones on the market, especially coming from a large, well-known company like Sony.
Now, some folks might be disappointed that these aren’t the Sony WH-1000XM4 – and will of course be curious as to when those will arrive. Unfortunately, Sony hasn’t given us any information yet as to when we can expect them, but our money is on a late 2020 release date (October or November).
In terms of aesthetics, there’s a lot to like about the WH-CH710N – they’re relatively slim for a pair of over-ear headphones and the all-matte-black exterior looks pretty classy. They’re the kind of headphones you could wear on public transportation without drawing attention and while they certainly could be a bit more form-fitting, they’re certainly not the bulkiest cans on our test bench.
Put them on and you’ll be surprised at how light they are. Weighing in at 223g/7.87oz, they don’t put a ton of pressure on your head when wearing them however the drawback is that they’re mostly plastic and the padding is minimal.
The headphones don’t come with a hard case – which makes them less ideal for frequent travelers – nor do they come with a charging brick; inside the box the only accessories you’ll find are a super-short USB-to-USB C cable and an auxiliary cable.
Most folks will likely pair them using the power button when they first turn them on, but the Sony WH-CH710N does support NFC, too – which is great for newer Android devices – and the headphones use Bluetooth 5.0 with support for SBC and AAC codecs. Disappointingly they don’t seem to support LDAC or aptX – which means you don’t get Hi-Res Audio support.
So what, then, do they actually sound like? Well, our first impression of the Sony WH-CH710N’s sound quality was that it sounded energetic and easy-to-listen to. They didn’t overwhelm us with bass (they’re not part of Sony’s Extra Bass series) and we thought we heard a clear midrange and rolled off highs.
After spending eight hours a day listening to them for three straight days, though, that opinion began to shift. Music that sounded energetic and easy-to-listen to slowly began to lose its shimmer. Actually listening critically to them revealed some huge disparities in its sound – they don’t offer the ultra-wide soundstage that, say, an open-back pair of cans would offer, and just generally lacked clarity.
That’s probably because these aren’t Hi-Res Audio headphones, and they don’t support many HD codecs – the exception, of course, being AAC. If you don’t need exceptional clarity you probably won’t mind their sound, but if you’re a big audiophile you’ll definitely hear the shortcomings.
We used the headphones to make several calls to friends and family over the course of our testing and most seemed to agree that while they could clearly hear us, the microphone on the headphones didn’t sound as good as speakerphone or holding the phone directly to our ear.
Just as disappointing was the fact that their actual noise cancellation isn’t the best we’ve ever heard… or, er, not heard. It’s actually more like noise reduction than outright cancellation, and is nowhere near class-leaders like the Sony WH-1000XM3 or Bose 700. That’s sort of expected at this price range – but if you need total silence, the WH-CH710N aren’t going to give you that.
The cool thing about them, though, is that they do adapt to changing conditions – one minute they can block out the dull roar of a lawnmower and the next they can focus on the vocal range of a high-energy 10-year-old without needing to be recalibrated. So that’s pretty neat.
The last thing we have to talk about is battery life, which is actually a pretty big highlight for the headphones: they should last about 35 hours on a single charge with noise cancelling turned on and up to 200 hours in standby mode. In fact, listening to them for three days straight at eight hours a day, we didn’t even hear the low battery warning. That battery life will likely degrade as time goes on – like all electronics – but out of the box expect these to last you a few days, maybe even a week, between charges.
Sony says they’ll have one hour of charge after just 10 minutes of being connected to a power source, but that was hard to measure because the headphones don’t exactly give you the most precise battery indications. Even weirder, the specs on the packaging say it takes about seven hours to completely charge… which is excessive. Without having an exact measure of how long it takes our recommendation is to simply leave them charging overnight so they’re ready for the next day.
The Sony WH-CH710N has all the components that make the Sony WH-1000XM3 so successful – they offer noise-cancellation and good sound quality while looking pretty professional. Unfortunately, when put to the test, they feel a bit lacking in terms of noise cancelling power and build quality.
That said, they’re about half the price of Sony’s flagship headphones and while we didn’t love the sound during our critical listening tests, they aren’t any worse than many other non-HD headphones out there. Their long battery life was a huge boon that allowed us to go several days without needing to recharge them, which is definitely a selling point for people that can never remember to charge their cans.
While these might not live up to the incredibly high bar set by the WH-1000XM3, their lower price, convenient adaptive cancellation tech, fun sound and long battery life could be enough to make them worth a purchase for folks who don’t want to drop $350 on headphones.
Of course, you can find even better headphones for a bit less – like the JBL Tune 750BTNC, which we highly recommend – or drop a bit more to get a more premium experience.