SONY WH-1000XM4

Design & Construction

The Sony WH-1000XM4 is the next upgrade to Sony's wildly popular, noise-canceling headphone, the WH-1000XM3 and this time, we aren’t looking at a fully refreshed design. But more of an improvement to its very successful predecessor. Let’s start with the controls. On the left earcup, there is the (From Front-Back): 3.5mm input, Power button, Custom button while under the right earcup, we have the USB-C port. Controlling the rest of the playback functions are on the right earcup itself. Swipe down for Vol-, swipe up for Vol+ swipe towards the front for next track, swipe backward for previous track, double-tap to play/pause and cover the whole right earcup to activate Quick Attention. Quick Attention is a feature that allows users to instantly pause the music and deactivate noise-canceling to hear others when people want to interact with you. After you are done, release your hand from the earcup and everything retracts to normal. Now, this feature is further improved with a speak-to-chat function that tracks and learns your voice in real-time to pause your music immediately when you start talking. This can be really handy for those times where you don't have a spare hand to hold the side of your right earcup. You may change certain settings like the voice detect sensitivity, focus on voice, and the time until the mode closes. Alternatively, you can also do the traditional way of removing your headphones from your headphone and there will be a proximity sensor to track that you did and pause the music automatically. A red LED will light up when it is left to charge. It takes about 3 hours to charge from a dead battery. Pairing via both NFC and Bluetooth is simple and quick. The power button allows you to check for battery status by pressing once. It is also worth noting that the headphones only require 10 minutes of charging for 5 hours of playback. The Custom button can be used to switch on/off the noise-canceling and toggle ambient sound mode or bring up Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. Both earcup pivots bear the Sony logo and the left earcup has the NFC embossed. The headphones have slightly thicker and deeper cushions which is meant for providing a comfortable experience with the headband being light and well-padded to not cause discomfort for users who wear spectacles like myself. On the headband, there is also thick cushioned headrest which provides for a very comfortable experience. The exterior of the headphones gives off this luxurious feel while the earcups have a matte-like finish. The headphones, however, picked up fingerprint smudges quite easily. On the top, the headband holding the structure is made of metal and the earcups pivot left and right and folds flat for easy storage.

Sound Quality

The 40mm High-Resolution headphone drivers certainly live up to its name. They produce an extremely clear sound signature to provide for a very immersive experience. Based on user experience, the noise-canceling is still the best in the industry. I could not hear my surroundings at all when there was no music on. Sony uses the same existing HD Noise-Cancelling processor QN1, similar to the previous model, the WH-1000XM3. Some other features include Adaptive Noise-Cancelling, Ambient Sound Control, Speak-to-Chat, Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing, an equalizer, 360-degree Audio, DSEE Extreme, LDAC Codecs. Definitely a plethora of features and functions to satisfy the pickiest of users. All these functions can only be controlled via Sony's Headphones Connect App available for download on the App Store and Play Store. Adaptive Sound Control allows for the toggling of different noise-canceling modes like Walking, Staying, Transport, and Running. Each has different levels of noise-canceling and ambient sound mode. These are all automatically detected by the headphone itself through its smart Sense Engine technology built-in. Of course, users can toggle the amount of ambient sound let in, focus on voice-only, or just turn it off completely. This time, the feature has improved so much to be faster and responsive. It can also track your frequently visited locations to help kick in the right amount of ambient sound control when you are there so you don't have to physically switch each time. Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing is another feature that helps to optimize the noise-canceling to fit different environments such as in an airplane or on the ground. Users can access this feature via the app or just by holding down the Custom button. It is also good to know that the app has an internal equalizer to enable the best output of music. With a large category ranging from Bright, Excited, Mellow, Bass Boost, Treble Boost, Speech Etc. You can also choose to customize your own too! This makes the headphones great for all genres of music ranging from soothing jazz to bass-heavy EDM tracks. Highs are crisp and clear. Mids come off as balanced and forward, and bass is slightly boosted which gives off a nice thump in your ear. When comparing the sound to the WH-1000XM3, the sound signature of the WH-1000XM4 is much cleaner and tighter.  The bass of the WH-1000XM3 tends to bottom out and turn muddy when you blast the volume at around maximum volume but with the new version, none of that would actually happen. The mids do also sound much more forward and the highs had a little better definition. The soundstage is decent but definitely not near the levels of the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless. The instrument separation and left and right channels were well-defined though. Next, 360 Reality Audio is Sony’s object-based spatial audio technology that enables users to be immersed in music as intended by artists. However, this feature is currently only available to users of Deezer, nugs.net, and TIDAL. There is no support for mainstream music streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, or Youtube Premium as of yet. There was only a little sound leakage even at full volume and no high-volume distortion. Call quality was slightly improved since the WH-1000XM4 as the caller manages to hear me on the other end and the mics on the headphone pick up much lesser surrounding noises.

Connectivity & Portability

The headphone operates both passively and wirelessly. In wireless mode, it supports LDAC, AAC & SBC codecs with Bluetooth Version 5.0. This time, you may connect up to 2 devices to listen to music and take calls on the other. However, do note that when this is enabled, the LDAC codec would have to be disabled. You may enable or disable the touchpad control panel or allow for the headphones to automatically power on or off after a certain period of time. The mic and controls on the earcups are disabled in wired mode and users cannot charge the headphone and use it at the same time. However, the volume remains similar in both wireless and wired mode. Listening via the USB Type-C cable is also unavailable. Users can put the headphone in Bluetooth pairing mode by holding down the power button for 7 seconds when it switched off. The battery life peaks at 30 hours. The headphones' connectivity to the app is perfect as I do not experience any hiccups in Bluetooth connectivity. The headphones stow flat and fold up into a more compact profile. It also comes with a USB-C cable for charging, a 3.5mm cable for wired use, and an airplane adapter to tap into in-flight entertainment. A hard shell carrying case is also included to protect the headphone from drops and scratches. The hard shell carrying case has a slightly soft and smoother texture when compared to the WH-1000XM3 case but they have similar durability qualities.

PROS

  • Clear, Bright Sound Signature

  • Snug & Comfortable

  • Long Battery Life

  • Easy Controls For Music Play & Calls

  • Adaptive Sound Control

  • Ambient Sound Control

  • Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing

  • In-App Equalizer

  • LDAC Codecs Supported

  • 360 Reality Audio

  • Multi-device Connection

  • Bluetooth 5.0

  • Quick Attention

  • Speak-to-Chat

  • Folds Up into a Smaller Profile

  • Hard Carry Case

  • Airplane Adapter

  • USB-C Fast Charging

CONS​​​

  • Fingerprint-prone Surfaces

  • Mic and Controls Not Available In Wired Mode

The Bottom Line

In all, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is an improved top of the line noise-canceling headphone housing comfortable ear cushions, customizable noise-canceling, 40mm Hi-Res drivers, long 30 hours battery life, and easy to use controls. Up to date, it still holds its position as the best in the noise-canceling market. It is highly recommended for daily commutes and long flights. Two colors are available to fit users of different genders.

WE RATE IT!

9.5/10

Other Notable Competitors

BOSE NOISE-CANCELLING HEADPHONES 700 Sid
BOWERS & WILKINS PX7
SENNHEISER MOMENTUM WIRELESS
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