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Sony’s 1000X M3 headphones have a big problem: cold weather

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The best noise-canceling headphones can be unpredictable when the temperature drops

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Sony’s 1000X M3 noise-canceling headphones are a terrific product: they’re comfortable, they deliver pleasing sound, eliminate outside noise, and they charge by USB-C. I don’t feel any regrets for dropping $350 on them. But as we’ve moved into winter, I have come across one significant frustration: these headphones aren’t very good at handling cold weather. A usually superb listening experience can be interrupted — and in some cases, ruined — when the temperature drops and the headphones register touch inputs or volume changes for seemingly no reason.

Instead of physical buttons for volume and track controls, these headphones use tap and swipe gestures on the exterior of the right cup to perform those actions. In recent weeks, I’ve noticed the M3s performing erratically outdoors in cold temperatures, and I’m not just talking about freezing conditions here. I’ve noticed days in the high 30s or mid-40s (Fahrenheit) are enough to produce phantom Siri activations and interrupt whatever I was listening to. At other times, the headphones ramp the volume up or down all on their own when my hands are at my sides and nowhere near the touch sensors on the right cup. The headphones still respond to my actual taps and swipes in cold conditions, but they seem to be receiving false commands from somewhere.

Wind can seemingly worsen these glitches. My colleague Cameron Faulkner tells me he’s noticed Google Assistant can be triggered on the M3s with a strong gust. Once back indoors where things are warmer and calmer, the headphones work normally and don’t show any unusual behavior. But people use headphones outside a lot, especially noise-canceling headphones, so this has the potential to be extremely frustrating for anyone in cold climates. I feel for you, Canada.

There are numerous posts across social media, Reddit, and on Sony’s support forums detailing the issue, with additional users chiming in to say that yes, they’ve also experienced it:

A pair of $350 headphones should be able to endure colder seasons a little better than this. Sony says the M3s are designed to function “optimally” starting at 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) on the low end, but I’m certain that I’ve dealt with some of these glitches at temperatures above that.

A photo of the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones, the best noise-canceling headphones for most people.

I’m not sure what the culprit is, but I’ve reached out to Sony for more information on how it plans to fix this annoyance. The ear cups on the M3s have a smooth finish compared to the textured feel on Sony’s prior model, so that might have something to do with it. Or perhaps the mic inlets are letting in too much cold air for the electronics to handle. But we’ll have to wait for the full story. The company has already confirmed that it’s investigating and has instructed customers on Twitter to power down the headphones and switch them back on to “recalibrate the touch sensor” whenever they notice odd behavior.

Assuming that this is merely a bug with the exterior touch sensor, a simple on / off toggle in Sony’s companion app for the headphones would be one solution. Having to enable and disable the gesture controls frequently wouldn’t be ideal, but it’d still be better than the unpredictable performance these headphones currently exhibit in the cold. But if the problem is something deeper than that, well, it’s probably time that Sony tells us as much. I still think the 1000X M3s are the best noise-canceling headphones around when they’re working properly, but we need some answers. If you own them and care to share your first-hand experiences, please do so in the comments.