The 1000X series of headphones win awards year-on-year and that trend is likely to continue. The WH-1000XM4 wireless ANC over-ear headphones bring one word to mind – superb. With an enhanced feature set that makes many rivals look stone age, these over-ears provide excellent audio playback even with noise-cancelling turned up to the max. The best truly have got even better.
Read full verdict
- Superb music playback with noise-cancelling on or off
- Great battery life and fast-charge capabilities
- Packed full of useful features
- Very comfortable to wear
- Not worth upgrading if you already have the XM3
- No aptX or aptX HD support
When Sony presented its first – and as a matter of fact aggressive – pair of 1000X versatile clamor dropping remote earphones, it did as such into a market ruled by Bose and Sennheiser. What’s more, while the MDR-1000X won honors apparently in all cases, there was as yet an inquiry over the dynamic clamor dropping (ANC) tech itself.
Not all that nowadays. Sony has not just improved its ANC tech extraordinarily, it has ascended to the head of the mountain all the while – turning into the one to beat in the over-ear earphones class.
It’s anything but difficult to perceive any reason why – or, more direct, hear – with its fourth-age model. The WH-1000XM4 takes everything that has demonstrated to be class-driving in its progenitors, while including numerous fancy odds and ends of its own.
Build and design
Tweaked headband bend
Shut back structure
10% bigger earpads
Not that you’d notice looks insightful. Easygoing spectators would be hard pushed to see any tasteful contrasts between the XM4 and 2018’s XM3 earphones.
Sony WH-1000XM4 versus WH-1000XM3: Is it worth redesigning?
Both come in similar hues – dark with rose gold accents, or silver with gold – and have a similar shape and structure factor. In any case, minor plan changes imply that the new headset is more agreeable to wear for longer periods.
Obviously, thinking about worldwide conditions in 2020, it’s difficult to envision that these ‘telephones will be utilized for a basic role – air travel – for a long while. What’s more, being straightforward, it’s unimaginable for us to test them in that situation at present. Yet, we’ve tried a lot of remote earphones throughout the years to realize which could introduce issues when worn on a long stretch flight and we can securely assess that these will be among the most agreeable when worn for a long time at once.
The ear pads have been expanded in size and are excessively delicate. In addition, the headband is less constrictive than numerous others available. There have likewise been minor alterations made with the band and its snugness with the earcups to lessen clamor drain. Also, while the fundamental material utilized is plastic, these jars feel powerful enough to toss in a short-term pack – even without the included convey case.
Chips and plunges
QN1 NC handling, Bluetooth Audio SoC
Bluetooth 5.0 with multipoint network
Google Assistant/Amazon Alexa/Siri
DSEE Extreme upscaling
Versatile sound control
So while there are not many outer improvements, you will discover bounty within.
Best clamor dropping (ANC) earphones for shutting out commotion
The WH-1000XM4 over-ears run 40mm unique driver units – one in every ear – yet now accompany improved sound handling. Sony has selected the most recent DSEE motor – DSEE Extreme – which doesn’t generally add a lot to lossless high-res tracks, yet makes compacted document types sound better than anyone might have expected previously.
This is thanks to the Edge AI system it adopts, which finds missing frequencies and accurately guesstimates what should be there. In short, you get much cleaner, less damaged playback from low bitrate music – such as MP3s and other audio tracks streamed over a mobile connection.
In addition, the Sony headphones carry the same QN1 processor as the last generation, but now with Bluetooth Audio built-in. This allows for better noise-cancelling, with more ambient sounds to be negated than ever before.
It’s hard to judge the capability in real-world use to its fullest – as we’ve mainly been homebound in 2020 – but having worn these over-ears while a kid plays PlayStation loudly nearby, we imagine plane or train noises would be a cakewalk. We also tried to emulate London’s underground Tube station noises, through videos we found on YouTube, and the adaptive noise-cancelling worked admirably.
The best bit is it didn’t hamper our enjoyment of music. One of the early criticisms of active or adaptive noise-cancelling technology in general was that it affected audio playback – the same can be said for wireless Bluetooth connectivity. However, things have come on leaps and bounds since then and the 1000XM4’s audio talents are plentiful.
There is one caveat though: Sony has opted to omit aptX and aptX HD support this time around, favouring its own, proprietary LADC lossless streaming technology instead. It’s a strange move considering the XM3 did include aptX compatibility, although iPhone and other iOS device owners won’t give a jot as Apple has never supported the format. It’ll irk Android phone users though, of which they are many.
The final hardware inclusion worth noting is Bluetooth 5.0 and the newfound ability to hook up to two devices simultaneously. Called multipoint, the headphones can be connected to two separate devices, with switching between the two a doddle – you no longer have to disconnect and reconnect each time. Plus, when one (say, your phone) receives a call, the XM4 will prioritise it and switch over automatically. This a great time saver rather than essential feature but is very neat to have. As are Alexa and Google Assistant voice support, along with Siri for iPhone and iPad users.
- Touch controls on earcup
- Speak-to-chat mode
There are several other key new features too.
These include speak-to-chat, whereby music is paused and noise-cancelling switched off (to ambient sound mode) when you start to talk out loud. This effectively enables conversations without the need to remove the headphones. We can see this being really useful on, say, a flight when a steward comes to take a meal order or such like.
In addition, quick attention returns, where you just need to hold your hand over the right-hand earcup to turn the volume down and, again, switch ambient sound mode of for the duration. That way you can hear train announcements or other important information.
The noise-cancelling tech has an addition or two as well. Both atmospheric pressure optimising and the personal noise-cancellation optimiser return – which automatically adjust the ANC signature based on cabin pressure and any of your characteristics that might affect it (such as hair, glasses and head size). Added to those is now the ability to set different locations as favourites, with the headphones using your phone’s GPS to determine where you are and the best sound mode to suit.
Using Sony’s Headphones Connect app, you can have locations set as “work” or “home”, say, and the ANC mode will adjust to offer the best experience. The ambient sound control functionality will assess your circumstances accurately anyway, so it all works very well – always providing the best audio quality for the scenario (such as turning noise-cancelling off entirely when it’s not needed). This will also save battery life, which is something addressed further in the 1000XM4.
Battery and charging
- 30 hours battery life (claimed)
- Fast charge – 10 minutes for five hours playback
- Proximity sensor that turns off headphones when not worn
The battery life of the XM4 headphones is claimed to be 30 hours with noise-cancelling switched on, or 38 hours with ANC off. That much is fairly standard for wireless over-ears these days, including the last pair of Sony cans.
However, the XM4 also has fast-charge capabilities, which add five hours of playback time from just 10 minutes of charging. Plus, thanks to a proximity sensor found in the left earcup and the motion sensors inside both, playback will pause as soon as you remove these cans from your head, resuming when planted back in position again.
If you leave the XM4 off for 15 minutes then auto-off will ensure the battery doesn’t keep on draining. This should increase battery life even further – and we’d imagine a trip from the UK to LA and back would be possible without the need to plug in at all. We hope to test that out ourselves one day.
Indeed, we’ve only fully charged the XM4 once and have used these headphones often over the space of two weeks. Admittedly, we haven’t had to listen to anything at too high a volume, so that’s helped keep power usage down, but long gone are the days of having to recharge headphones while in transit, that’s for sure.
- 40mm dynamic driver units
- High-Res Audio
- 360 Reality Audio
- No aptX or aptX HD
Fancy features aside, it’s with sound performance where the WH-1000XM4 over-ears get the most right. Audio is simply superb.
You get plenty of grunt where needed when it comes to bass-heavy tracks, but there is a neutrality in tuning that makes the XM4 ideal for all musical tastes.
Sony’s own 360 Reality Audio tracks – as found on music services, such as Tidal and Deezer – also make for a great listen. Although all headphones are technically compatible, the Headphones Connect app even scans images of your ears to optimise the virtual surround sound format to you specifically.
Whether this works or not, we’re not so sure, but the 360 experience is quite magical and brilliant rendered by these ‘phones. Liam Gallagher’s MTV Unplugged gig is available in its entirety in 360 Reality Audio on Tidal and tracks such as Now That I’ve Found You sound like you are genuinely sitting in the venue during recording.
Another great track to test what these are made of is Kodaline’s Honest, recorded at Irving Plaza in New York. Each guitar strum can be heard clearly, while the vocals echo around your head as the crowd murmur and cheer.
The XM4 is great with stereo tracks too, of course. Nirvana’s Lithium makes great use of the aforementioned bass control, while the playback of Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees will send shivers up your spine.
Until normal replaces the new normal once more it’s hard to fully experience the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones at their very best – in circumstances for which they were designed. But regardless, it is plain to see and hear just how good these headphones are.
Yes, the XM4 looks identical to the last generation, but there are plenty of additions and tweaks that put the fourth-gen model on a higher level still.
Our only gripe is the odd absence of aptX support, but we can live without it, especially when the trade-off is so impressive. Sonically speaking the WH-1000XM4 delivers a premium result in every sense of the word.
Like with phones, however, you might not fancy spending another few hundred on an upgrade if you already own the XM3 – as there’s not really enough extra to justify that kind of spend. But, if you have the original 1000X, or perhaps are just desperate for some amazing new noise-cancelling headphones to drown out the madness of your household, it could very well be time to make a leap up in quality.
And if you don’t have any Sony ANC headphones lying around at all, there’s no excuse not to make that right.