Sony WH1000XM3 vs. Sony WH1000XM2: Should you upgrade?

Sony WH1000XM3 and WH1000XM2
Sony WH1000XM3 and WH1000XM2 (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Sony WH1000XM3

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The WH1000XM3 puts all of Sony's expertise on headphones to use, combining the best active noise canceling we've ever heard with excellent sound quality, great battery life, and convenient gesture controls.

Sony WH1000XM3

Cancel noise expertly

QN1 processor vastly improves noise canceling
32-bit audio processing
Charges over USB-C
Intuitive gesture controls
Bulkier than Bose QC35 II and 700
Assistant replaces Ambient Sound onboard control

Sony WH1000XM2

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Sony's previous generation of ANC headphones still sounds fantastic, with its noise-canceling rivaling that of the popular Bose QC35 II. If you don't mind using Micro-USB, these are still a great buy.

Sony WH1000XM2

Almost as good

Still has top-tier noise canceling
Can be found for cheaper on the used market
Can be folded down for easy travel
Same gesture controls
Still uses Micro-USB for charging
Retail pricing hasn't budged since its release

They're extremely similar

The 1000XM3 are the best ANC headphones around, but there wasn't much to improve on in the first place.

The WH1000XM3 is easily one of our favorite pairs of noise-canceling headphones on the market, but it's not as different from the previous model as you might think. If you already have the 1000XM2, there's not much reason to upgrade unless you want to have the latest and greatest.

From a hardware standpoint, the headphones look almost identical at first glance, but that doesn't mean the 1000XM3 is unchanged from last year's design. The cups are a bit slimmer this time around, and the inside of the earpads is more spacious, which translates to better sealing and improved comfort. The headband is also better padded on the M3, and there's some new accenting around the microphones at the top of each cup.

One of the most significant physical changes with the 1000XM3 is the move from Micro-USB to USB-C. This is hugely convenient if you already have other USB-C devices like a phone or laptop, and it allows the M3 to charge significantly faster than the M2 — you can get 5 hours of playback with just a 10-minute charge, where the same top-up on the M2 will only provide 70 minutes of playback.

USB-C and better noise canceling are the only reasons to upgrade if you already have the 1000XM2.

Both headphones feature the same convenient gesture controls on the right cup. You can swipe up or down to adjust volume, left or right to skip tracks, or tap to play or pause music, answer phone calls, and launch Google Assistant. You can also place your hand over the cup to quickly engage Ambient Sound mode on both headphones, then switch back to noise-canceling by merely taking your hand off. Of course, you can also turn on Ambient Sound using the dedicated button on the left cup if you'd rather leave it on for extended periods.

That noise canceling is the most significant area of improvement with the WH1000XM3. Sony has included its new QN1 processor this year, which allows for 32-bit audio processing and noise-canceling up to four times better than last year's model — though even with that in mind, the 1000XM2 still does a fantastic job at filtering out both high and low-end frequencies, which many other ANC headphones struggle with.

You can fine-tune that noise-canceling through Sony's Headphones Connect app on either headphone, along with how much sound Ambient Sound mode lets back in. You can also change the EQ on the headphones if you don't like the out-of-the-box sound profile.

Both headphones are among the best noise-canceling options on the market, but if you already have the WH1000XM2, there's not much reason to upgrade. USB-C charging is convenient, and with the improved noise-canceling, the 1000XM3 is an even better choice for frequent travelers, but most of what makes the M3 great is already present on the M2.

If, on the other hand, you don't own either pair of headphones yet, the 1000XM3 is the obvious choice. Sony hasn't lowered the retail pricing of the XM2 since its initial release, meaning it costs the same as its successor. Unless you find the XM2 used or on sale, buy the 1000XM3s and get more for your money.

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.