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Published: Mar-10-2019, updated: Apr-10-2019

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NO SMOOTHING is applied to the shown plots. Most measurement sites have some smoothing applied which ‘irons flat’ sharp peaks and ‘wiggles’. I do not use smoothing because some info about sound quality is lost when plots are smoothed.

Aside from a small correction of the microphone itself also some correction in the lowest frequencies is applied to the plots to compensate for the perceived loss of bass when using headphones. This is described HERE in more detail.
A ‘horizontal‘ frequency response curve on the shown frequency response plots on this website thus indicates a perceived ‘flat’ tonal signature.

ALL measurements are made with a good SEAL on a flatbed measurement rig.
The shape of your head, bone structure, pad size, pad ‘softness,  (compliance), hair or no hair and or wearing glasses may (drastically) change the frequency response of some headphones, so… your personal experience may differ substantially from these plots.

Frequency response (tonal balance) is the most sound-determining aspect of headphones. A horizontal line shows audible neutral response in the plots on this website. Deviations in different severities at different frequency bands have an effect on the sound character.
The bigger the deviation the stronger the effect.

Below an aid to help determining the sound character of headphones with relation to the frequency response.


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Sony WH-1000X-M3

WH-1000X M3

The Sony WH-1000X-M3 is a closed over-ear wireless (Bluetooth) headset with Noise Cancelling. It retails between €350.- and €450.- and is avaliable in black and grey.
The bluetooth functionality includes operation of the phone/device it can communicate with like play/pause/skip and volume controls by swiping the right ear cup.
There is an NFC tag on the left cup.
One can also take phone calls with it as it has a mic. built in.
The WH-1000X-M3 is a luxurious looking and feeling headphone with an excellent and configurable (via the Sony app) Noise Cancelling.
There is no noise heard in quiet passages when active, something cheaper NC headphones tend to show.

It has Bluetooth® version 4.1 and an effective  range (free field so smaller inside the house) of around 10m. Profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP and it supports SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD and LDAC audio formats.

The firmware inside can be upgraded using the app on your phone.
With that app you also have a 5-band equalizer (+/- 10dB) and a lot of other functions within reach.

Charging is done via a USB-C port. It takes max. 3 hours to charge the battery and is specified to have 200hrs standby time (BT on, NC off) and max. 30-38 hours of playing time (BT and NC active).

The headphone can also be connected using a 3.5mm TRS jack. This is how this headphone is measured/tested/evaluated.
The cable is quite microphonic but when noise cancelling is on this is suppressed by quite a bit !

The headband feels comfortable and has quite an adjustable range. As the cups can swivel and tilt far enough this headphone will probably fit most head sizes.
The pads are very comfortable soft. The memory foam is soft and the pleather is thin. I have no clue of the longevity of these pads (when they will start to flake) but the pads are replaceable.
The pads do get a bit warm and ‘sweaty & sticky’ after some time.

The noise cancelling works extremely  well and does not hiss audible like some of the cheaper ones do.
Well suited for commuting or in a plane or when you want to drown out noises around you.
It works so well that some extra functions are added. When someone talks to you just put your hands on the right cup and you can hear what someone says without taking the headphones off. Don’t know how the one doing the talking will react though.
It als has an ‘ambient’ mode where sounds around you are still reaching you but attenuated.


Type: Over ear, closed, Noise Cancelling
Usage: Home, portable
Driver type: dynamic
Pads: pleather, regular foam.
Internal pad dimensions: Height 62mm , width 40mm (oval shaped) depth: 21mm front, 25mm rear side.
Collapsible: yes, and folds flat.
Headphone connector: 3.5mm TRS straight
Cable entry: single sided (left)
Cable: replaceable, 1.2m with angled 3.5mm TRS connector on the source side
Driver size: 34mm (slightly angled)
Nom. power rating: (assumed 50mW)
Max. voltage: (assumed 2V)
Max. current: (125mA passive, 40mA active)
Max. S.P.L.: (approx 124dB)
Impedance: 16Ω (when passive) and 47Ω (in active mode)
Efficiency: passive mode 101dB/1mW
Sensitivity: passive mode 119dB @ 1V, active mode: 118dB/1V
Weight: 255 g.
Colour: black or grey
Clamping force: low
Accessories: short USB-C cable, headphone cable, airplane adapter, very nice hardcase

Sound description:

Passive mode: In passive mode (thus switched off) the sound quality is dark and ‘cuppy’.
It sounds like the sound is coming from a plastic cup. Bass sounds a bit boomy and ‘loose’. It extends well enough. Bass and lower mids are somewhat accentuated. The mids thus are not very ‘articulated’ and lack ‘presence/clarity’ as well as being ‘cuppy’.
Also the highs are subdued but do sound ‘soft’ and ‘pleasant’. No shouty/bright/splashy treble nor is there any sibilance to be found. This headphone is clearly intended to be used powered on.

Active mode: How different can a sound signature be.
NOTE: One can use the EQ on the app to change the tonal balance/sound closer to your taste.
In active mode the headphone plays almost as loud but sound is radically different.
Bass and lower mids are still elevated/accentuated but in a tasteful way that will suit most pop music. The bass sounds ‘fat’ as in the opposite of ‘tight’ and elevated.
A bit too elevated for well recorded music but for most compressed to death mainstream pop music and rock recordings the elevated lows work very well in warming up the sound tastefully. Mids sound more ‘lively’ and clearer with a good presence. The upper mids don’t show a dip any more but are tastefully ‘softer’ compared to ‘better’ headphones.
The treble is not subdued and on the proper level. The treble quality is soft and refined. There is no sibilance and no harshness to the sound (when it is not in the recording) and stays of high quality even at higher listening levels.
Overall the sound quality when active is quite good be it a bit too ‘romantic’ and overly ‘bassy/warm’. The equalizer in the Sony app can make the tonal balance a bit better but does not ‘tighten’ the lows.
There is a difference in sound quality when noise cancelling is switched on and off.


The measurements below and the sound impression is done with EQ set to neutral.

Below the frequency response of the WH-1000X-M3 (Left channel only)passive mode, N.C. on, N.C. off
There are 3 ‘modes’. Above the differences in level between the active modes (N.C. on, N.C. off) and the passive mode (power off) are shown.

Below the same plot but without the passive mode. This shows the change in tonal balance between the Noise Cancelling mode being on and off a bit clearer.
In active mode there is 4dB less bass and 5dB more ‘presence’ in the mids.Noise Cancelling on versus off
Obviously some DSP equalization is used to correct for driver deficiencies.

Channel matching is quite good as it should be in this price range.
Below the frequency response in passive mode (switched off)  Left, Right.FR passive modeThe subbass starts to roll-off from 30Hz. The small ‘bump’ around 550Hz is responsible for the ‘cuppy’ and ‘hollow’ sound (see sound characterization on the top of this page).
The roll-off starting at 800Hz to 3kHz makes the sound ‘dull’ and lacking in ‘presence/clarity’. The treble is about 10dB lower on average and thus too subdued.

Below the frequency response in active mode (N.C. on)  Left, Right.FR NC on
Bass extension is exemplary. The bass is still a few dB elevated compared to the mids.
The upper mids are still a bit lower and is shown by the warmish and laid back sound.
Clarity/Presence is much better than in passive mode as the ‘dip’ is much less deep in active mode. The treble level is now just below the mids and are on the proper level.
The treble has a ‘soft’ character without any sharpness or sibilance.
The overall tonal balance is quite reminscend of a speaker-in-room curve (shown below)tonal balance
Below the frequency response in active mode (N.C. off)  Left, Right.FR ambient
Bass is way too elevated but from 200Hz to 18kHz the tonal balance is quite ‘correct’.
The tone control in the Sony app can certainly be of great value here.
Bassy but otherwise clear tonal balance and a bit more ‘forward’ than with N.C. on.


As the seal of this headphone is of importance some experiments were done showing the effect.
(lots of) hair between the headphone and ear, or an ear/head shape that does not allow a proper seal will affect the tonal balance.
Below: Perfect seal, a small seal breach by thin armed (reading) glasses just above the skin and a big seal breach.  Plots are shown for each of the 3 modes (passive mode, N.C. off (ambient mode) and N.C. on)sealIt is easy to see that the Noise Cancelling function can compensate for a seal loss quite well. Bass extension is not really affected with a moderate seal breach and the tonal balance remains almost the same. In passive mode a seal breach is quite obvious and roll-off can be seen from 200Hz already. In N.C. off mode there is still some loss in the (way too much) treble area but starts to drop off below 70Hz with a substantial seal loss.

output resistance / damping-factor

As this is a dynamic headphone its impedance can change the tonal balance of the headphone. This would only be the case when it is connected via the 3.5mm TRS plug to a high output R desktop amplifier. The usecase of this headphone almost rules this out. Driven from 0.5Ω and 120Ω amplifier. The traces are over-layed to show tonal balance differences but in reality via 120Ω it will play 11dB softer in active mode and 19dB softer in passive mode (due to its low impedance).

Below the active mode. The source impedance does not matter for the tonal balance. Only in level there is a difference (10.5dB). This is not really surprising as the input is purely resistive (ADC input)120 Ohm 10.5dB N.C. on

Below the passive mode There is a boost in the lower frequencies around 40Hz. This is a very low resonance frequency for a dynamic headphone driver so there may be something else in play here as well.120 Ohm passive mode 18.5dB

Below the distortion measurements of the WH-1000X-M3 (left channel) in all 3 modes.
Alternating: Passive mode, N.C. off and N.C. on.  (distortion in percentage)distortion
In passive mode the distortion level in the bass is typical for a small dynamic driver. The 2nd harmonic distortion remains below 1% (at 95dB SPL) which is quite good.
The 3rd harmonic distortion is almost 2% around 30Hz but drops below 1% at 50Hz already. At 5kHz the distortion peaks to 2% which is on the high side and may be audible in certain music.

When Noise Cancelling is switched on the effect of the feedback via a microphone in front of the speaker is quite noticeable. The distortion (2nd and 3rd) below 300Hz is greatly reduced and drops below 0.2% (the limit of my test rig). The distortionabove 2kHz increases a bit because the ‘dip’ in that area is ‘filled’ in.

When Noise Cancelling is switched off  the bass area is boosted quite a bit the distortion in the bass increases a bit compared to the passive mode. The upper mids and treble distortion is about on the same levels as with N.C. on. Not surprisingly as N.C. usually only works below a few hundred Hz.

Below the CSD of the WH-1000X-M3 in 3 modes. (Left and Right are superimposed)
Passive mode (switched off), active (N.C. off) and with N.C. on.CSD
IN passive mode the dip around 2.5kHz is a lot deeper. Also the resonance around 5kHz is longer and wider.
Around 12kHz there is a resonance in the driver which shows clearly but don’t feel it is very audible. It could be that the treble is ‘smeared’ a bit in that area which may explain the ‘softness’ of the treble.

Below the spectrum plot of the WH-1000X-M3. spectrumThe bass boost in the lows in active mode is what stands out the most. The area around 300Hz is somewhat improved by the N.C. operation but at 1.5kHz some lingering pops up in N.C. mode. Probably the highest frequency the noise cancelling does something.

The step response (passive, N.C.-off and N.C.-on) below shows the sub-bass is rolled-off in passive mode and substantially better extended in both active modes. step response 3 modesIn passive mode the rising edge is merely reaching -8dB opposite the lower mids (500μs) and shows the lack in ‘presence’ and ‘clarity’.
In the active mode the initial rise is only a few dB below the mids (<500μs) and it shows the bassy character as well (>1ms) including the enormous bass extension which rises 10dB above the initial rise of the step.
With N.C. on there is some ‘clarity’ lacking but not as much as in passive mode. Bass is just moderately elevated  compared to the mids though.


The WH-1000X-M3 is a good sounding wireless headphone with a very well implemented noise cancelling feature. This feature can be adjusted in various ways and ‘partly bypassed’ quickly with gestures on the right cup and in the Sony app.
Highly recommended for usage in airplanes, busses and other transports as well as in louder environments and offices for instance.
The sound is too warm and bassy when playing well made recordings which sound ‘muddy’ and ‘fat’ and lack definition in the lows.
With mainstream Pop music and rock this boost in the lows could be very welcome though. Certainly when travelling some extra lows seem welcome for one reason or the other.
The fact that one can tune the sound using the equalizer in the app on your phone/tablet makes it more versatile and the too high bass levels can easily be corrected.

It has a decent build and excellent comfort. Battery life is long enough for most travels and is recharged quickly from a USB-C port.
The sound quality is good to very good, certainly on lower listening levels (elevated lows are great at low levels)
At higher SPL levels the bass becomes a bit overwhelming but the sound quality remains very good.
An alternative for this headphone could be the more expensive Bose QC series.

A very good sounding headphone with an emphasis on the lows. The lows can sound muddy and not well defined (thick and muddy). Treble is soft and perfect in level.

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  1. Neil says:

    Also noticed huge difference in sound quality between wired and BT. Guess the wire is not directly connected to the drivers, it went through A/D then D/A so noise cancelling can still be applied when plug in. The headphone is very sweat when it’s used as intended, with BT in a noisy environment, but I wouldn’t listen to it at home. Anyway, super reviews and super nice work done!

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