Years of speculation, anticipation, and curiosity about what was next for Sony’s Mark series of headphones came to an end with the announcement of the Sony WH-1000XM4. The response to those rumors turned out to be Sony’s best headphones to date, and they still rate high on our best headphones and best noise-canceling headphones lists.
Not poor given they’re up against top-tier contenders like the Bose 700 and Apple AirPods Max. Though it helps that the WH-1000XM4 is based on the Sony WH-1000XM3, a decent pair of ANC headphones. As a result, it will be able to improve noise cancellation, improve sound clarity, and have still more customizable options.
Sony’s new flagship headphones aren’t perfect, and they’re not the big update that plenty of us were hoping for. The WH-1000XM4, on the other hand, is a fine-tuned upgrade that stands out as the best in the series and also outperforms the best-in-class Bose 700 in certain main regions.
Sony WH-1000XM4: Price
Sony WH-1000XM4: Design
When shopping for the Sony WH-1000XM4, I highly urge you to check the packaging carefully because you might end up purchasing the WH-1000XM3 instead. Both pairs of headphones seem to be similar. Is this a negative thing? Not completely, at least. The WH-1000XM2 is still the most expensive model in the lineup, but the WH-1000XM4 has a few new features that improve its appearance.
The headband’s cushioning has been slimmed down, and the ear pads have been revamped to have a 10% larger surface area for more interaction with your head. Sony also says that the headband’s curve has been “fine-tuned,” but it’s unclear how this was accomplished. For smart power, a motion sensor has been built into the left ear cup as well.
The texture of the WH-1000XM4 is one of the most noticeable differences, as it has a soft rubberized coating that gives the headphones a more rugged and premium feel than its predecessor’s plastic chassis. This also means the cans would be less susceptible to stains and cracks, which was a concern I found early on in my research of the WH-1000XM3.
What has stayed the same? Copper accents, colorways, embossed Sony logos, ports, silhouette, and swivel mechanisms that allow you to store the ear pads sideways. The number of buttons on the left earcup and their placement, as well as the NFC chip on the right earcup, remain unchanged.
Sony WH-1000XM4 review: Comfort and fit
Every new release in the series has increased comfort and fit, and the trend continues. Despite having the same weight, the WH-1000XM4 is not only smaller and thinner than the WH-1000XM3, but it still sounds lighter than the Bose 700. While Sony’s cans are wider, this has no bearing on their level of comfort.
During my three-day weekend, I wore these headphones for three hours per day with no issues. The headband was gentle on my head and had a light clamping force. The headphones stayed secure when the extenders were adjusted to the correct duration, though moving a stage or two higher induced some looseness when head-nodding to jams. The earpads’ fluffy cushioning was as relaxing as leaning your head on a comfortable pillow, and the broader cutouts make for further airflow during long listening sessions, preventing moisture accumulation.
Sony WH-1000XM4: Features
Sony didn’t want to ruin a good thing, so it left the touch panels and movements the same. Play/pause (single tap), skip track (swipe left), previous track (swipe right), volume up (swipe up), volume down (swipe down), answer/end call (double tap), and digital assistant remain easy to use (tap and hold). The only thing you need to remember is that each motion is seamless.
One little thing I noticed was the opportunity to fast-forward or play a song backward by using the appropriate swipe motion while keeping your finger on the touch pad. It’s a testament to how sensitive and intuitive these cans’ touch controls are.
The smart controls on the WH-1000XM4 don’t stop there. When you remove or wear the headphones, on-ear monitoring enables you to stop or restart playback. When you put your hand on the right earcup, the Quick Attention feature does the same, while the talk-to-chat feature recognises your voice and pauses music while you speak, thanks to the built-in mics and improved signal processing. With very little lag, all three perform amazingly well.
When you turn on the digital assistant, Sony’s “Precise Voice Pickup” technology is instantly noticeable. The WH-1000XM4 has a better direction to understand voice commands thanks to the combination of five microphones and improved audio signal processing. The microphones pick up every syllable, ensuring that speech recognition is flawless. Verbal questions were immediately acknowledged and responded to. Sony provided Alexa and Google Assistant integration in the headphones, but they can also be used for Siri.
Sony WH-1000XM4: ANC & Sound Quality
Sony went to great lengths to improve the ANC technology. The WH-1000XM4 has two feedforward mics and the company’s patented Dual Noise Sensor technology, which analyses ambient noise and filters it out with the HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1 chip. To be honest, I didn’t see much of a difference in noise neutralisation between the WH-1000XM4 and the WH-1000XM3, which is good because the findings are still impressive.
Sony included an NC Optimizer that scales the ears and creates the best listening experience possible depending on head size to improve results. Along with this, there’s an Atmospheric Pressure Optimization function that changes pressure depending on altitude, but it’s best used on an aeroplane or when relaxing at a high-altitude ski resort. Given the ongoing pandemic, no situation is feasible for testing noise cancellation at this time, so I made do with what I had.
While some sounds are more apparent on Sony’s headphones, I considered the ANC output of the WH-1000XM4 to be as powerful as the Bose 700’s. The WH-1000XM4 filtered out living room sounds like cat meows and NBA games played in the background while set to low volume. The copier and fax machines remained silent as I walked past my future mother-in-office law’s several times during the day. I couldn’t hear the sports cars whizzing by the house except though I was outside on the porch. The Bose 700 provided me with the same level of quiet.
Humming sounds, similar to those made by an air conditioner or a car engine, were audible, but they sounded very faint. It needs a combination of noisy ambient noises to distract you from whatever is playing on your headphones. Based on my previous experience, I believe the Bose 700 does the greatest job of any noise-cancelling device at reducing these forms of background noises.
The WH-1000XM4 doesn’t have the same 10 levels of noise cancellation as the Bose 700, but it does have 20 levels of ambient sound, allowing you to hear your surroundings more easily without taking off the headphones. That’s quite a feat, particularly given the feature is still being perfected, at least on headphones. Much of the sounds around me were recognizable, whether it was the dishwasher timer or my fiancée yelling a favor request from another room. Adjusting the levels amplifies noise, which can be annoying when making a smoothie in a blender, but it also goes to illustrate how useful the function is.
Sony WH-1000XM4: Conclusion
The Sony WH-1000XM4 is a good candidate for the best noise-cancelling headphones you can find, offering minor but major improvements in a familiar box. Sony took two years to correct some of the bugs in the previous iteration that worried us, but it was well worth the wait. These headphones sound awesome, have noise cancellation that rivals Bose, and a feature set that allows for playback through a range of video formats and channels.
Is this enough to justify upgrading from the WH-1000XM3? Yes, if you like more comprehensive headphones and have the financial means to do so. WH-1000XM3 headphones, on the other hand, are outstanding headphones that, if found for less than $250, are a bargain.
The WH-1000XM4 is Sony’s best effort yet to dethrone the Bose 700, though Bose’s headphones still outperform Sony in certain ways, such as call quality. Sony’s new headphones, on the other hand, improve on near-perfection and are among the finest headphones available right now.