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Sony WH-1000XM4 overview: one of the best headphones get even higher

“Same price, even better functions. It looks perfect with Sony’s WH-1000XM4. ”

Very convenient

Excellent sound quality

Excellent noise cancellation

Very good call quality

Very good battery life

Bluetooth coupling of several devices

Handy, customizable functions

When Sony unveiled its latest flagship wireless noise-canceling headphones in 2018, which were given the nasty name WH-1000XM3 in a true Sony way, they immediately topped our list of the best headphones. One of our reviewers even called it his gadget of the decade.

If you are curious why, I recommend reading our in-depth review before reading this review as I will be referring to it a lot.

Convenience, sound quality, noise cancellation, battery life … the $ 350 XM3 simply destroyed the competition. Almost two years later, we have yet to find another wireless headphone that we prefer overall.

But resting on your laurels is a recipe for disaster, especially in the ultra-competitive personal audio space. That’s why Sony is back with the successor to the XM3, the WH-1000XM4 for $ 350 (you guessed it).

How can you improve near perfection without increasing the price? Let’s get into that.

What’s in the box?

Riley Young / Digital Trends

Your first clue that Sony has decided not to gamble big with its time-tested formula comes when you open the box. Inside you will find exactly the same hard-shell carrying bag as the WH-1000XM3 – right down to the elastic mesh pocket on the back and the copper-colored zipper.

Open the case and the subject continues. The XM4’s are arranged in exactly the same half-folded layout and are accompanied by the same three accessories: a very short USB-C charging cable, an analog cable for headphone jacks, and an airplane travel adapter.

I wish the USB-C cable was longer, but that’s exactly what Amazon is designed for.

design

Sony WH-1000XM4 Riley Young / Digital Trends

Sony WH-1000XM4 Riley Young / Digital Trends

Sony WH-1000XM4 Riley Young / Digital Trends

Sony WH-1000XM4 Riley Young / Digital Trends

If you’ve been a fan of the XM3’s understated yet sleek design, you’ll be glad to know that the WH-1000XM4 are so similar that it’s impossible to tell at a glance.

The XM4 offers the same level of comfort and stability as the XM3 while putting a little less pressure on your head.

Not that Sony hasn’t made a few changes here and there, but they’re all small tweaks. After all, “if it’s not broken …”

These improvements are aimed at further enhancing the comfort of an already exceptionally comfortable shape. The bow of the headband has been further refined and the top pillow is a little thinner. And while it can’t be seen without a ruler and magnifying glass, Sony claims that the ear pads now have 10% more area of ​​contact with the sides of your head.

The proof lies in the carrying. The XM4 offers the same level of comfort and stability as the XM3 while putting a little less pressure on your head. They’re just more convenient.

They feel lighter somehow, although I know there is no way I can feel that the XM4 weighs a tiny gram less than the XM3.

There are also tiny cosmetic changes.

The finish Sony has chosen for the XM4 is a bit more matte and borders on rubber. The result is a reduction in gloss, and therefore fingerprints are a little more visible on the black version. This is less of a concern with the Tan model.

The NFC logo on the left ear cup is now embossed instead of printed, and the model number on the headband caps is more reserved.

Battery life

The XM4’s battery life and charging remain unchanged – a surprise given the huge performance improvements Sony has made with its true wireless WF-SP800N over a similar period of time.

You get 30 hours of life with noise cancellation enabled and 38 hours with the device turned off, which is still very good for wireless headphones – considerably better than the XM4’s main competitor, the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700, which only die 20 hours afterwards.

Ten minutes of plug time gives you an additional five hours.

What remains is the inability to use the XM4’s powered features like ANC or wireless audio while charging – although the analog cable will also work for unpowered audio.

Smarter controls

Sony WH-1000XM4Riley Young / Digital Trends

The control of pieces of music and calls on the WH-1000XM4 takes place via the touch-sensitive pad on the right auricle with a series of swiping and finger taps – just like with the XM3. But now the headphones are smarter. Instead of removing them from your head or pausing the music and switching to ambient mode to have a conversation, you can just start speaking.

The biggest improvement Sony has added to everyday comfort is a wear sensor.

Sony calls it speak-to-chat, and the XM4’s built-in sensors automatically detect that you’re trying to speak to someone and respond by letting in sound and pausing your media at the same time.

You can double-tap the right ear cup to resume playback immediately, or you can just wait. 30 seconds after the headphones determine that you are done with the Yakken, the tunes will crank again.

It’s extremely effective, and I’ve found that if Sensitivity was turned on, even Sneezing would trigger the feature. Fortunately, the headphones app gives you a ton of customization, including a high / low sensitivity toggle switch and a focus-on-speech mode that is designed to only let in nearby voices with no background noise in them Environment.

But perhaps the biggest improvement Sony has added to everyday comfort is a wear sensor located in the left auricle. Now when you remove the XM4 from your head, your tunes can automatically pause. This has become a standard feature on high-end wireless headphones and true wireless earbuds, and it’s nice to see Sony hasn’t ignored it.

I have noticed a few occasions where my music will start again on its own with the headphones slung around my neck, but for the most part the feature works fine and is very responsive when you put the XM4 on or off.

Bluetooth multipoint

Sony WH-1000XM4Riley Young / Digital Trends

When we tested the WH-1000XM3, the only real criticism we could make of these headphones was the lack of Bluetooth multipoint pairing. In other words, you can only pair them with one device at a time.

For those of us who live our lives on a wide variety of machines, the XM4 is worth the upgrade just because of the Bluetooth multipoint alone.

The XM4 addresses that criticism, and you can now set it up to pair with, for example, your phone and laptop, or your phone and a bluetooth device like a TV.

You activate the function via the Sony Headphones app (deactivated by default).

Once you’ve paired the XM4 with a number of Bluetooth sources, simply pause the sound on one device and then start playing on the other. In my testing between an iPhone 11 and an iMac, the transition was almost instantaneous. If I heard the Mac when a call came in on the iPhone, I could answer the call and then return to the Mac without ever touching the phone or desktop.

Even better, the headphones app remembers all previously paired devices, so you can quickly swap the two devices you want to use at the same time through a single interface.

For those of us who live our lives on a wide variety of machines, with this feature the XM4 is well worth the upgrade.

Sound quality

Sony WH-1000XM4Riley Young / Digital Trends

Given the good sound quality of the WH-1000XM3, it’s probably not realistic to expect a significant increase in audio quality from the XM4, which doesn’t mean Sony will stop in that department.

The XM4 features the latest and greatest in Sony’s digital music upscaling technology, DSEE Extreme. The goal of DSEE technology is to partially compensate for the loss of quality that occurs when music is heavily compressed using lossy codecs like MP3 or AAC.

Being able to extract musicality from the low end of a song is, in my opinion, the XM4’s greatest strength.

Sony claims that DSEE Extreme – which uses artificial intelligence on board – is trained to analyze music in real time through a partnership with the company’s SonyMusic division. In practice it is said to be better to restore certain frequencies like the tsss-tsss-tsss of high hat cymbals than its predecessor. You can tell with scientific instruments, but to my ears it made no significant difference.

But in the end it doesn’t matter. The XM4 has such a good balance between the various frequencies – accompanied by a wonderfully wide and well-defined soundstage – that it is excellent to have a rich and satisfying listening experience no matter which genre you choose.

The XM4 continues the XM3’s tradition of presenting bass as more than just a low-end boom. On tracks like Hans Zimmer’s Time, which use complex low-frequency instruments, the XM4 creates a deep floor that spans the line between hearing and feeling. But it can also cover that floor with many layers of recognizable bass notes that provide both warmth and precision.

Mids and highs aren’t any less fun, but the ability to bring musicality out of the low end of a song is the XM4’s greatest strength in my opinion.

There is one limitation to the sound quality of the XM4, but it mainly affects Android users: Sony has stopped supporting the aptX and aptX HD Bluetooth codecs that were included in the XM3 and now only supports SBC, AAC and the Sony’s own LDAC.

Is it important? I do not believe that. As of Android 8.0 Oreo, LDAC is a codec that phone manufacturers are free to incorporate, and the vast majority have chosen to do so. LDAC is also one of only two Bluetooth codecs that have been certified as Hi-Res compatible – even aptX HD cannot make this claim.

I’m sorry aptX is supported, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker.

Noise cancellation

Sony WH-1000XM4Riley Young / Digital Trends

The best ANC (Active Noise Canceling) technology from Sony can be seen again in the WH-1000XM4. This time around, the company claims to have improved both the software algorithms and hardware to achieve even better performance than the XM3.

Some low-frequency sounds like an aircraft engine drone, fans, and some traffic sounds can be almost completely canceled by ANC, while medium to high-frequency sounds like human conversation are reduced. According to Sony, the XM4 does a better job with this latter group of noises. In theory, you should be less aware of your surroundings when sitting in your local coffee shop or busy office.

I didn’t know of any significant difference in my time with the XM4, but our pandemic-based lifestyle didn’t offer many options for busy environments. DT Senior Editor Caleb Denison tried it too and saw only minor improvements. If you’re wondering if they’re better than Bose’s excellent Noise Canceling Headphones 700, it’s really too close to call.

Another small improvement: you can now enable Sony’s personalized ANC calibration on the headphones themselves by long-pressing the Custom button instead of relying on the headphones app.

Call quality

Sony WH-1000XM4Riley Young / Digital Trends

Overall call quality is another strength area for Sony products and the WH-1000XM4 is no exception. The calls were consistently very good in a variety of conditions, even when I passed an extremely noisy construction site.

I was apparently much more conscious of the noise than the caller. This appears to be evidence that Sony’s claim that the XM4’s improved call quality due to improved noise cancellation is more than just marketing.

Our opinion

For the same price as its previous flagship, Sony has made small but very useful improvements to the WH-1000XM4 that are enough to crown it as the new king of personal audio.

Is there a better alternative?

No That is what happens when you are the best. However, if you’re looking to save some cash, you can bet that the older WH-1000XM3 will have some special offers until Sony cleans up the remaining inventory. If you’re satisfied with foregoing a wear sensor and Bluetooth multipoint, and can get the XM3 for $ 50 to $ 100 off the regular price, then I think you should.

How long will they last?

The WH-1000XM4 comes with a one-year warranty from Sony. The build quality is excellent, and Sony headphones have a reputation for reliability. Battery life will degrade over time, but you can assume that it will be used for many years before this becomes a serious problem. You can assume that the ear cushions will need to be replaced occasionally throughout the life of the headphones. These can easily be bought online.

Should you buy it?

Absolutely. While the WH-1000XM4 isn’t exactly affordable, it is at the forefront of the wireless headphone market and is worth every penny.

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