I dislike a lot of things. Slow walkers, long lines, cyclists who don’t stop at red lights, conspiracy theorists, sambuca, rampant use of emojis, life-disrupting global pandemics. But one of my most hated things is noise — loud coworkers with no self-awareness, reprobates who’ve artificially enhanced the noise of their cheap car engines and loud neighbors. Sadly, I have to deal with the latter on a daily basis.
Thanks to COVID-19, my working days are spent at home, meaning I can't pop into the office to escape my noisy neighbors. And that’s why my Sony WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones with (what was) class-leading active noise cancellation are my most prized possession.
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While the newer Sony WH-1000XM4 cans have now succeeded my headphones, I bought them back at the start of 2019 as a pair of critically-acclaimed wireless headphones to counteract the surging aversion of Android phones towards the humble 3.5mm headphone jack. That was back when COVID-19 would have sounded like part of the model number of a Samsung TV or Asus laptop, not the name for a virus that would bring the world to its knees.
And little did I know that this rather indulgent splurge of ($349) £330 on a pair of headphones would be one of the best purchases I've ever made.
Now my neighbors aren't noisy in the traditional irritating way of playing loud music late at night or letting kids or dogs run around wildly. But they stomp and bang around like a herd of cows with hammers for hooves.
These constant yet random bangs and bumps range from vaguely distracting to shaking my flat and making me jump. This is not ideal when one’s picking through the latest iPhone 12 rumor or dealing with a major PS5 or Xbox Series X announcement. And one of them sneezes so loudly it would wake the dead with the echo reverberating strongly enough to send the reanimated straight to the grave.
I’ve politely and then directly asked my neighbors to be more aware of this, as the previous people above me weren’t into wearing what sounds like steel-clad shoes. But this hasn’t stopped their stomping. In short, if the premise of The Purge was real, they’d be the first on my list.
But as I can’t legally purge, the Sony WH-1000XM3 have been a stop-gap ... I mean savior. As I sit writing this my ears are cocooned in super-soft foamed urethane, keeping the irritating noises of the outside world at bay and filling my head with music selected by the poor Spotify algorithm that’s been abused by my eclectic and entropic musical taste.
Thanks to the lightweight yet sturdy construction and cushioning, I will wear the Sony WH-1000MX3 for hours upon hours, with only the battery-low warning prompting me to reluctantly take them off. Even when i’m not listening to music, the noise cancellation just makes sitting back and thinking about how to tackle a subject a joy, thanks to the effect of giving me a portable quiet spot. The passive noise isolation is also very impressive.
Being a tech journalist, I naturally have a fair amount of gadgets. If you’ll excuse the humble brag, these range from multiple generations of consoles, a 4K TV, DSLR, and gaming PC, to several laptops, an iPad, and so on (it’s a fiddly flat to access, so let that be a warning to any would-be burglars). But despite this bounty of tech, if I had to choose one device to save in the event of a fire, I’d grab the Sony WH-1000XM3.
Not only has my daily use of the headphones more than justified their once steep price tag. But the noise cancellation and sound quality has kept me ticking along at work and prevented me from losing my mind thanks to my neighbors and the rigors of life in a small one-bed London flat.
The newer Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones are out now, which offer some improvements. But if you want to aurally escape the chaos of the outside world, pandemic or otherwise, I can wholly-heartily recommend investing in some of the best noise cancelling headphones you can afford; I doubt you’ll regret it.