It used to be that if you wanted the top-of-the-line active noise cancelling headphones, there was only one brand to consider, Bose. But once Sony released its WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones, it blew everyone away with the sound quality and active noise cancellation (ANC).
How does its successor, the WH-1000XM4 carry on the tradition? Sony sent us out a pair to find out for ourselves.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 design doesn’t stray far from the previous model. I guess the approach was, if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it. Although, for a premium pair of headphones, the WH-1000XM4 sure use a lot of plastic. On the bright side, they feel solid and durable.
However, to keep your investment protected, Sony also includes a hardshell carrying case in the box. There is also an airplane adapter, a 3.5mm cable, and a laughably short USB-C charging cable.
As far as ports and buttons go, there is a USB-C port on the left for charging and a 3.5mm port on the right along with the power button and button that can be used for Google Assistant.
Supplementing the physical buttons are touchpads on the left and right ear cup. These work with a series of taps and swipes making it easy to control the playback and volume of your music. I haven’t always been the biggest fan of touch controls, but these work wonderfully and I never found myself accidentally triggering actions.
The WH-1000XM4 headphones make use of synthetic leather on the ear cups and headband with urethane foam. I found the padding to be more than sufficient on the headband and never felt any discomfort on the top of my head while using the headphones.
Although, the padding on the ear cups came up a little short. I could feel the interior of the ear cup lightly against my ear while wearing the Sony WH-1000XM4. Thankfully, it barely grazed my ear, and there is a little empty space behind the material which prevented any irritation even when wearing for long periods of time.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 sets itself apart with a fantastic user experience. For starters, it uses Google Fast Pair, which as the name suggests, makes it quick and easy to pair your headphones with your phone.
Next, the WH-1000XM4 is host to a ton of features. It has Google Assistant support built-in and will read your notifications to you, as well as allow you to reply using your voice. There’s also Alexa support if that’s more your style.
Besides the digital assistant support, the Sony WH-1000XM4 has a lot of smarts built into them. For starters, there’s a speak-to-chat function that will pause your music and let ambient noise in, allowing you to have a conversation without removing the headphones or triggering it manually.
If you prefer to control this manually, speak-to-chat can be disabled and you can enable it by placing your hand on the right ear cup. The WH-1000XM4 also automatically pauses and resumes playback with a sensor that detects when you remove or place the headphones back on.
When listening to music, the Sony WH-1000XM4 also has the ability to enhance it by upscaling compressed digital files for higher quality. Plus, the adaptive sound control automatically adjusts the sound based on your location and changes depending on whether you’re moving or standing still. Noise cancellation is also customized depending on your location and activity.
In short, the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones constantly work to ensure you have the best sound quality and noise cancellation possible, while also giving you convenient features that allow you to carry on with your day while enjoying your favorite music.
Behind all these smarts in the WH-1000XM4 is the Sony Headphones app. It’s here where you can change several options, take control of the noise cancellation levels, adjust the equalizer, update the firmware, and more.
The app is an essential part of the WH-1000XM4 experience and I highly recommend you install it immediately, if for no other reason than to make sure you have the latest firmware. Although, I found myself digging through the options and personalizing the headphones to my liking and it really enriches the overall experience.
When I reviewed the WF-1000XM3 earbuds from Sony my only criticism was that I found them a little light on bass, which I fixed easily with the built-in equalizer in the app. So when I first tried out the WH-1000XM4s I was surprised how bass-forward they were right out of the box.
If you’re a fan of bass, like I am, then you’ll be very pleased with the sound of the WH-1000XM4; however, if you’re not, then you can easily make some tweaks with the app. In my case, I had to add a little to the high-end to give them more of a V-shaped sound signature. After these little tweaks, I found they sounded perfect and one of the best-sounding pairs of Bluetooth headphones I’ve heard.
Additionally, the Sony WH-1000XM4s support the LDAC codec which transmits music over Bluetooth at 990kbps for near CD-quality sound. In comparison, its closest competitor is aptX HD from Qualcomm which is about half of what LDAC offers. The only drawback is that LDAC usually consumes more battery power.
Probably one of the most impressive feats of the WH-1000XM4 headphones is the ability to block out distracting sounds while providing fantastic sound quality. If you truly want to block out all the racket to enjoy your music then it’s hard to beat the capability of Sony’s ANC in the WH-1000XM4.
Now that it’s summertime I’m often bombarded by sounds of mowers, blowers, and cicadas. The WH-1000XM4 were able to drown out all of these nearly silencing or completely blocking them on most occasions, even without music playing. In the instances where it didn’t completely silence background noise, it became masked entirely once I began playing music.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones include four microphones with advanced audio signal processing. In my testing, I found that my voice sounded clear but I needed to speak with a little more volume than usual. My friend also remarked that there was some static in the background when I ran my overhead fan, but overall it works well and should get you through those Zoom work calls.
Sony rates the WH-1000XM4’s battery life at 30 hours, and in my experience, it’s the battery that just keeps going. After putting in 10 hours of listening time this past week the battery is at 70%, and for most of that, I was using the LDAC codec, on top of the headphones installing a firmware update.
To say I’m impressed is an understatement. Being able to stream with LDAC usually kills other headphones I’ve used much more quickly, not to mention upgrades often take a chunk out as well.
There’s really not much else left to say. I’ve spent this entire review praising every aspect of the Sony WH-1000XM4 ANC Headphones. To put it simply, these are one of the best, if not the best active noise cancelling headphones you can buy today.
Between the smart features, the sound quality, battery life, and class-leading ANC technology you just can’t go wrong by purchasing these. You can pick up the Sony WH-1000XM4 ANC headphones from Amazon, Best Buy, or other retailers for $280 at the time of writing.