I was the lone holdout in the business traveler class to buy a pair of premium noise canceling headphones. I know, I know. I’m a terrible Business Guy on Business Trips.

Now, I had no intention of buying a pair of $350 (or in my case €324) noise canceling cans while on a work trip in Europe, but on my recent flight from ATL to BRU, I was not able to sleep overnight due to a combination of engine noise and cabin activity. Leading a 2-day workshop isn’t fun on a very limited amount of sleep, so I felt like the timing was finally right to pull the trigger.

Primary Research

I had been researching and debating between the Bose QC35 II and Sony WH-1000 M3 headphones, but what I really needed was a real life comparison. My recent work trip had me visiting Aachen, Germany, where I stayed near the historic city center, putting me a short walk from a lot of attractions – one of which was a mall with a Saturn electronics store.

Sony WH-1000X M3 headphones

Sony WH-1000X M3

I walked into Saturn and was able to try both the Bose QC35 II and Sony WH-1000 M3 in a pretty busy/noisy environment and try out the range of features for each. What I found kind of surprised me: the Sony headphones absolutely killed it with noise canceling, where the Bose were just awesome. Really, both would have been a great purchase in isolation, but having the ability to compare the two, it made it the purchase decision a lot easier.

I had a few other tallies in the Sony column for this investment:

  1. USB-C Charging. I am moving to a future in which I only carry USB-C cables for my MacBook Pro, iPad Pro 12”, and iPhone 11 Pro (USB-C to Lightning).
  2. Touch controls on the headphones. This may seem superfluous, but swiping up and down to change volume, or left and right to next-track/previous-track makes a lot of sense.
  3. 30 hours of battery life. Sony advertised 30 hours of battery life, where Bose boasted 20. I’ll probably not ever be on a 30 hour travel day if I can help it, but it’s nice to know that I can keep the headphones on for a day-plus if needed.
  4. Sony Headphones companion app. I like that I can tweak sound settings, customize the settings to my ear automatically, and change the EQ.

Drawbacks

I find myself switching between my iPhone and iPad a lot when I travel. Due to the way Sony implemented Bluetooth, I have to fully disconnect from one device before connecting to the other. It’s not automatic like AirPods (which I 100% adore), but it requires a lot of purpose interactions.

One of these days, iOS will allow me to access specific Bluetooth accessories and create shortcuts (“Siri, disconnect WH-1000 M3 Headphones”) for faster switching, but today is not that day. Until then, it’s going into Settings > Bluetooth > WH-1000 M3 > Disconnect, then going to connect in my other iOS device.

Not a deal-breaker, but it’s adding steps. And, from what I’ve read, the Bose QC35 II will allow you to connect to more than one source at a time for faster switching.

I’m hopeful that one of two events will play out:

  1. Apple will allow finer-grained controls in iOS for scripting via the Shortcuts App.
  2. Sony will push a firmware update (like what happened when I took them out of the box and paired them with my iPhone/Sony Headphones app

Conclusion

I’m writing this review on 4 hours of sleep, while listening to Bach’s B Minor Mass on an A350 flight in Delta Premium Select back to the United States from Detroit and couldn’t be more pleased with the sound quality and noise canceling.

Case in point: I got up to pee and took off the headphones. It went from serene to how in the world did I live without these headphones?!” in a matter of a few nanoseconds.

If you travel a lot, you probably have exposure to noise canceling headphones. If it’s been a while and you are looking for some next-level cans, look no further than the Sony WH-1000 M3 headphones.