Sony WH-1000XM3 vs Sony WH-XB900N (Which to Buy?)


Sony is known for producing some of the best headphones available in the market for both audiophiles as well as casual music listeners. The Sony WH-1000XM3 is the flagship headphone offered by Sony and it certainly lives up to its reputation. Not many wireless headphones can compete with this headphone in terms of features, ANC performance, and sound quality. However, many music lovers may find this product a bit out of their budget and consider the Sony WH-XB900N a good alternative.

The Sony WH-XB900N is a little more affordable than its flagship counterpart but it is still a premium product and certainly not cheap. So, which headphone should you buy? Is the extra cost of the Sony WH-1000XM3 justifiable when comparing its sound quality and range of features with other headphone models? Or would the Sony WH-XB900N pleasantly surprise most people and save a few bucks along the way? Let’s find out below.

Specifications and FeaturesSony WH-1000XM3Sony WH-XB900N
Headphone TypeClosed, dynamicClosed, dynamic
Impedance47 ohm50 ohm
Frequency Response4 Hz – 40,000 Hz2 Hz – 20,000 Hz
Sensitivity104.5 dB101 dB
Battery Performance3 hours Charge time, 30 hrs Playback, 38 hrs (ANC OFF)7 hours Charge time, 30 hours Playback, 32 hrs (ANC OFF)
Personalized Noise CancellationYesNo
EXTRA BASS™NoYes
Sense EngineYesNo
Headphones ConnectYesYes
Virtual surround soundYesNo
Sound Position ControlYesNo
PriceCheck price on AmazonCheck price on Amazon

A comparison of key specifications and features offered by the two headphone models

Simply looking at the specs of the two headphones won’t reveal their pros and cons. For that, we have to compare the different features of the two headphones in more detail. Let’s look at them below:

Design and Comfort

The Sony WH-XB900N has a simple but sleek design that looks sophisticated. It is made of lightweight plastic, weighing about 254 grams and is comfortable to wear for long listening sessions due to the soft, cushioned earpads. However, if you live in a warm climate, you may experience the padding getting a little warm after extended use. The noise isolation provided by the plush memory foam padding is good as well. Both the ear cups are foldable up to a 90-degree angle. The hinge of the headphone can be twisted on its axis for better adjustment.

There is a dedicated bass duct on these devices that are coated with a shiny layer. This enables the fine-tuning of bass and the overall audio. The left ear cup contains two raised controls buttons which consist of a power button and a custom button that can be mapped in the Sony Headphones Connect app. When you are done listening to them, you can fold them up and carry them in a bag quite easily.

The Sony WH-1000XM3 is comfortable to wear and provides a good fit due to its pressure-relieving super-soft ear pads that evenly distribute the pressure to increase ear pad contact. The lightweight design further improves comfort when using it for long listening sessions. The left ear cup contains a button for Power-Bluetooth and another that controls the noise cancellation settings (On, Ambient Mode, Off). 

Both the devices contain a USB Type-C port and the 3.5mm audio port on the left ear cup and support touch controls on the right ear cup.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3 

Sony WH-1000XM3

The design and comfort level of both the Sony WH-1000XM3 and the Sony WH-XB900N are great. However, if you have to compare the two, the Sony WH-1000XM3 has a more premium feel to it due to the copper tone used in the Sony logo, the quality of the cushion padding used on the headband/bridge, and the improved curvature of the band that looks better on the head.

Build Quality

The Sony WH-XB900N is quite flexible and lightweight but has a good build quality. Although both the headphone models are made with plastic, they don’t feel flimsy as the quality of plastic used is top-notch. One thing to note is that a few users have reported the touch controls of the flagship models being affected by extreme cold. However, it won’t be an issue for the majority of users.

The previous versions of the Sony WH-1000X suffered from cracking issues but the new version feels quite strong although there is no fake plastic leather over the ear cups anymore.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3

Both the devices are almost similar in weight and made with lightweight materials. However, the construction quality of the Sony WH-1000XM3 feels a bit better. That is to be expected as it is the flagship headphone offered by Sony. Also, the flagship model comes with a durable carry case along with a cable for wired listening.

Sound Quality

The Sony WH-XB900N is made for bass heads who like to jam to low-frequencies. That is not a surprise as it is part of the EXTRA BASS™ series offered by Sony which was created to produce exceptional bass by enhancing the low-end frequencies. The increased air-tightness between the eardrums and the driver units along with the dedicated bass duct on the headphone housing allows it to produce precise and punchy rhythms intended to lift every track. 

In the mid-range, the headphone retains good vocal clarity and also does a good job with instruments. The highs sound clear without being shrill. However, the presence of the strong bass can sometimes mask the overall sound which can force you to pay attention to the low-end frequencies. Despite this fact, the product offers a well-rounded listening experience.

The sound quality offered by the original M2s was great but the Sony WH-1000XM3 improves it even further with all the great features that it offers. The HD noise-canceling processor QN1 integrated with a built-in-amplifier allows it to produce the best-in-class signal-to-noise ratio, low distortion, and deliver exceptional sound quality.

The Digital Sound Enhancement Engine HX (DSEE HX™) allows you to enjoy compressed digital music files more by restoring their quality closer to High-Resolution Audio. It upscales compressed digital music files and produces them in more detail.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3

The Sony WH-1000XM3 has a very consumer-friendly sound by default. So, unless you prefer over-the-top low-end, the Sony WH-1000XM3 would appeal to your senses better. The vocals, instruments, and effects have room to breathe due to the open and spacious nature of the sound profile. The sound produced by the Sony WH-1000XM3 has an enhanced dynamic subtlety to it compared to the Sony WH-XB900N. 

The bass is satisfying but does not threaten to overpower or unbalance the music. The mids have a pleasant and natural richness to them and the highs sound soothing.

Microphone Performance

For many users, the microphone performance of a headphone is really important because they wear it while in the office or during gaming sessions. Unfortunately, Sony is not known for its mic quality. The microphone quality on both models are average and produce almost the same sound levels. Basically, all the frequencies of the human voice would have a fairly equal emphasis when recording audio or on a voice call. The problem is that they only work well in a quiet environment as they don’t do well with outside noise rejection.

To overcome this shortcoming, you have to test your audio with different recording programs and voice clients as they handle dynamic compression and recording bitrate differently and can affect the quality of the recorded audio. Another thing to note is that these headphones don’t handle the ‘proximity effect’ very well. So, people with a bassy voice may not like using these headphones for calls. 

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3

The Sony WH-1000XM3 comes with multiple microphones and primarily work in sync to improve the ANC performance. However, they also help to slightly improve the voice recording quality which gives it an advantage over the more affordable product.

ANC performance and Sound Leakage

If you want to listen to music with active noise cancellation (ANC) on a budget, the Sony WH-XB900N can be a good choice. The noise-canceling technology in these cans works well with the EXTRA BASS™ sound quality. The product works like a regular ANC supported headphone. The noise-canceling circuitry present inside the product analyzes the signal waveform (A) picked up by a small microphone present inside it. Then, it generates an inverted waveform that is like a negative replica of the ambient sound (B). In the final step, the inverted sound is overlayed with the original sound so that both the sounds neutralize each other. In the end, you only hear your music (C).

The Sony WH-1000XM3 allows you to enjoy the next level of silence with smart noise cancellation features. It comes with the most advanced noise technology Sony has ever produced with close-fitting earpads and HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1. The dedicated noise-canceling processor improves the noise cancellation performance while ensuring the quality of your music is never compromised. 

Aside from blocking vehicle noise while traveling, these cans are highly effective at blocking daily noise like background sounds and voices you might hear while walking in the streets. Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing allows it to deliver the optimal sound at high altitudes such as when flying on an airplane. The Personal NC Optimizer optimizes the sound that you hear by analyzing the sonic characteristics caused by head size, hair, and glasses.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3

While the Sony WH-XB900N offers decent ANC performance, it cannot hold a candle to the industry-leading ANC performance offered by the Sony WH-1000XM3. It offers the best ANC performance you can get in the market at the moment.

Battery Performance

Both the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Sony WH-XB900N have stellar battery life and would last a normal user multiple weeks without having to recharge the cans. According to Sony, the Sony WH-1000XM3 can be used for up to 30 hours with ANC on and for up to 38 hours with ANC off.

Similarly, the Sony WH-XB900N can last up to 30 hours with ANC on and up to 32 hours with ANC off.

On paper and in the real world, these two headphone models have similar battery life even though the Sony WH-XB900N has a better standby battery life of up to 50 hours with ANC on and up to 300 hours with ANC off compared to the Sony WH-1000XM3 which has a standby battery life of up to 30 hours with ANC on and up to 200 hours with ANC off. 

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3

The real noticeable difference strikes you when you have to recharge both the devices. While Sony WH-XB900N takes almost 7 hours to charge fully from zero percent, the Sony WH-1000XM3 needs only about 3 hours to reach full charge from zero. That’s not all, the quick-charge functionality of the premium model is better than the more affordable one as well.

Plugging in the optional AC adapter of 1.5 A into the Sony WH-1000XM3 gets you 5 hours play time with only 10 minutes of charge. On the other hand, the Sony WH-XB900N would give you 60 minutes of play time with 10 minutes of charge.

So, although both the products are great for multiple hours of continuous music listening sessions, the more premium model has an edge over its more affordable counterpart due to its quicker battery charge time.

Features

Both the headphones support features like Near Field Communication (NFC) and Bluetooth wireless technology that allows them to seamlessly connect with music streaming devices. Plus, they also support popular Bluetooth profiles such as A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP and audio formats (Bluetooth Codec) such as SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC. 

Other common notable features of both the headsets include:

  • Quick Attention – It allows users to turn the volume down just by placing the hand over the housing. Thus, it helps to communicate at a touch without having to take off the headphones.
  • Touch Panel Control – Users can touch or swipe the touch panel to control volume levels, change the track, and make or receive calls.
  • Support for Sony | Headphones Connect app – This app allows users to customize their listening experience and use features such as adaptive sound control to control the ambient sound settings.
  • Support for voice assistants – Voice assistants such as Google Assistant, Siri, and Amazon Alexa helps you to use the device more efficiently, connect with friends, set reminders, get information, etc.

Notable features that are present only in the Sony WH-1000XM3 include:

  • SENSE ENGINE – It enables the user to tune in and out of music at a touch. The support for this feature provides additional options when using the Headphones Connect app. These include automatic ambient sound control, virtual surround sound, equalizer, and sound position control.
  • Support for Hands-free calling – The device contains several microphones and one of them is dedicated to providing clear call quality.
  • Specialized ANC hardware – The inclusion of the HD noise-canceling processor QN1 allows it to offer unmatched ANC performance along with special features such as Personal NC Optimizer and Atmospheric Optimizing.
  • Support for Hi-Res Audio -The Digital Sound Enhancement Engine HX (DSEE HX™) restores compressed files to the best possible quality and the built-in amplifier with the QN1 processor provides the best-in-class signal-to-noise ratio. The result is an accurate reproduction of the sound in the highest quality.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM3

The Sony WH-1000XM3 is the obvious winner when you compare all the features it supports with the more budget-friendly headphone model offered by Sony. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to most people as a flagship headphone is supposed to support the best features.

Which headphone to buy? (Conclusion)

No matter which headphone you buy, it is important to note that new ANC headsets receive software updates over Bluetooth. This is intended to improve the ANC performance of the device among other things. However, the updates can sometimes fail due to the low bandwidth of the Bluetooth connection. If you ever run into this problem, there is no need to panic. A simple reinstall of the update would fix the issue in most headphone models offered by popular manufacturers such as Bose or Sony.

The Sony WH-1000XM3 has an edge over its more affordable cousin in almost every respect. It is suitable for casual listeners and commuters who prefer good sound quality, the features of a premium headphone, and best in class ANC performance. Plus, the neutral sound signature and good quality microphone would appeal to most users. So, for most people, this would be the best choice. 

However, that doesn’t mean that the Sony WH-XB900N is not a good value for money. It is the ideal choice for bass lovers who like their music to have a more low-end emphasis but need an alternative to Beats headphones that offer better features like NFC pairing, good ANC, support for high-quality codecs, etc. So, if you are on a budget and you can get a good deal on these cans, they can be a good buy.

Rune Bearson

As you can see, I love my headphones! I use them every day when commuting, watching YouTube videos, playing guitar/piano and doing chores. I'm a podcast addict and I like all kinds of music from metal to chillout ambient.

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