When it comes to noise-canceling audio technologies, Sony makes some of the best high-quality NC headphones in the market. The company had recently released its fourth iteration of the WH-1000X series of headphones and we got a chance to review the premium Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones.
It’s become four years since the first MDR-1000X noise-canceling headphone was announced to take on the likes of Bose and other headphone brands. And since then Sony has considerably improved the NC performance on every generation, along with retaining the same kind of audio features and design aesthetics. Sony ensured that the WH-1000XM4 not only gets an improvement on the NC capability but also on the aesthetics to provide the look and feel of a premium product. The new Sony headphone looks very similar to the previous WH-1000XM3 headphones. Both the headphones weigh more or less the same with a difference of just a gram favoring the WH-1000XM4. In fact, you would need to look at the model number indication located near the headband to see if it’s the third or fourth generation. The device weighs 254g.
The headphone overall features a matte and high-quality plastic construction around its outer sides of the earcups. The WH-1000XM4 comes in both black and silver colors, and as you noticed, we got the black model for review. However, the surface of the headphone could attract smudges. The headband itself features a smooth texture, along with two golden-colored Sony logos located near the earcup holders on either side of the headphone. There are a pair of microphones with gold rims located on each earcup, that are meant to capture the ambient noises for the noise canceling function. It’s again the same design as seen on the previous WH-1000XM3.
The left earcup is where most of the physical buttons are located. As you can see, there is the power button, a power/charging LED indicator, the CUSTOM button, and the headphone input jack. I’m sure some of you who have already owned the previous WH-1000X series headphones would be wondering about the CUSTOM button. It’s just the same but a renamed version of the “Noise-canceling/ Ambient” button. You can hear the same voice and dialogues as the previous models, and that includes “Noise-canceling on/off”, or “Ambient Sound on/off”, etc. Honestly, Sony should have just left it as the old name. There is also the NFC marking on the left-sided earcup that lets you pair with NFC devices or smartphones with a single tap, saving you the time to go through the manual and boring process to connect the headphones to any Bluetooth device. The right-sided earcup only has the USB Type-C port and the famous touch-sensor control panel that you simply swap each direction to control the playback and other headphone operations.
The earcups are very comfortable to wear, thanks to its super-soft earpads made of foamed urethane. Sony mentions that the earpads evenly distribute the pressure and increases the contact between our ears and the pad for the best stable fit. The earpads are also slightly wider than the ones seen on the previous models. We loved the comfort level of the headphones while using the Sony WH-1000XM4. Sony has also included a proximity sensor inside the left earcup to detect if the headphones are taken off to pause the music/audio playback. It’s impressive that Sony managed to insert this sensor along with improved earpads and still managed to keep the weight the same as before.
The headphones also can be carried easily and comes with a durable carrying case. Like the previous models, the Sony WH-1000XM4 can swivel inwards and can be packed easily in less time. Along with the carrying case, Sony will also provide the flight plug adaptor, a headphone cable, and a USB Type-C cable. It’s disappointing that one would not be able to use the USB Type-C port and cable for transmitting audio signals. But hey, at least they kept the classic 3.5mm headphone jack.
Specifications, Features, and Performance
The Sony WH-1000XM4 noise-canceling wireless headphones feature 1.57-inch dome-type sound driver units with the support of Liquid Crystal Polymer diaphragms and Neodymium magnets. The driver units are backed by Sony’s HD Noise Canceling Processor called the QN1. The chip features its own integrated analog amplifier that, according to Sony, produces a great signal-to-noise ratio for low-distortions and stellar audio quality. The dual microphones we mentioned earlier for noise canceling is a part of Sony’s Dual noise sensor technology. With the QN1 chip and with the use of a new algorithm, noise-canceling is done in real-time for different acoustic environments. You also got Sony’s fancy DSEE Extreme (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) which helps to restore the high-range audio details of compressed audio files in real-time.
The headphone is capable of handling audio frequencies between 4Hz to 40,000 Hz in active operation. This should be able to help you listen to all the words and tone of a music track, ensuring you hear most of the details while you enjoy your favorite hitlist. In the case of Bluetooth connectivity, the frequency response changes to 20Hz – 20,000 Hz. While Bluetooth connectivity does not provide the same results as using a cable, Sony has its own Hi-Res LDAC codecs that feature a frequency response between 20Hz to 40,000 Hz, creating the best of both worlds. The drivers are able to handle sensitivities up to 105db/mW. In terms of connectivity, the Sony WH-1000XM4 wireless headphones feature Bluetooth 5.0 that provides a range for up to 30 feet of space.
During my time with the headphone. the Sony WH-1000XM4 rarely faced any drops with respect to signal transmission while my smartphone or my music player remained in my pocket. There are headphones that face signal drops in the same situation, resulting in the disruption of the music playback. And then comes the NFC feature that lets you connect with any NFC enabled device easily in just a tap. Sony also mentions that WH-1000XM4 can remain connected to multiple devices at the same time. If the headphone is connected to a smartphone and another Bluetooth player, and when you receive a call, the headphones will automatically switch to the smartphone so you can attend the call. Multipoint connections have been a part of most of the Sony headphones released in the past several years.
You can also enhance the experience of the headphones with the help of the Sony Headphones Connect app. The app also features its own sound equalizer with predefined sound profiles and the option to customize your own settings. This is an important feature for all those audiophiles who would like to tune the sound as they see fit. Even before using the Sony Connect application, I was really impressed with the sound quality of the headphones. You can also update your headphone firmware with the application and also control a range of features and settings that suits your listening experience. The Sony Headphones Connect app allows users to optimize the noise-canceling performance in two varieties: The Personal Noise-Canceling Optimizer is meant for the way how you want the noise-canceling to behave, and Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing that is meant for those who frequently travel by air.
The optimization feature tells the user to wear the headphone so the app and the headphone can perform a series of scans and tests to determine the best settings. Sony also included the 360 Reality Audio that helps users experience object-based spatial audio. (Yes, the PS5 also has a similar technology called the 3D Tempest Audio Tech). The 360 Reality Audio feature makes individual sounds such as the vocals of the music, the guitar notes, the bass, and any other sound effects circulate around you in a 360-degree fashion for an immersive audio experience. However, this feature will work only with supporting premium music streaming services such as Deezer, nugs.net, Tidal, etc.
When it comes to noise-canceling, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is simply one of the best headphones you can buy. The noise-canceling performance kills most of the unwanted noise, whether you’re in a busy street, in the Dubai Metro, inside a taxi, in the office premise, and more. While traveling through the metro or a taxi, the headphones were able to block out most of the sound of the vehicle or the voice of another person speaking. It makes everything almost dead quiet if you aren’t playing anything, giving you a peaceful environment. On the other hand, the Ambient Sound mode allows hearing some of the sounds so you are aware of your surroundings.
Sony has implemented a smart feature called the Adaptive Sound Control that is responsible for recognizing the type of place where you are and automatically adjusting the ambient settings. For instance, when walking down the streets with Ambient mode on, the headphone knows that you are in such a busy place and automatically adjusts the ambient settings so you will be able to enjoy your music and also hear some of the essentials sounds around you while the headphone blocks out unwanted noise. The same goes for situations like waiting in an airport where the ambient mode lets you hear the announcements while it cancels out other background sounds. The headphone also takes a note of all your favorite places to automatically tune the ambient settings.
Since the first iteration of the 1000X series of headphones, we have seen the Quick Attention feature that lets you talk to anyone while you hear your tracks, without the need to take them off. By simply placing your hand over the earcup, the headphones reduce the volume and activates the Ambient mode to let you hear what the other person is saying. But what if you’re hands are full like in situations on a plane where you are having your lunch and hearing music at the same time, not able to cover the earcups for activating the ambient mode. To solve this, Sony has introduced another smart feature called Speak-to-Chat that simply pauses the music playback by simply talking. With the help of five built-in microphones as a part of the Precise Voice Pickup Technology, the headphones will recognize your voice and pauses the music, letting you have the conversation with the other person. The Speak-to-Chat can be activated by simply holding two fingers on the touch panel of the headphone. Once the conversation is over, the headphones will resume your music playback within 30 seconds, which is the default time duration. You will be able to change that with the Sony Connect application. And just so you know, the WH-1000XM4 has support for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
One of the most important factors that need to be checked is none other than the battery life of wireless headphones. Sony claims that the WH-1000XM4 can go on up to 30 hours with noise-canceling turned on for continuous music playback. And when NC is turned off, you should get up to 38 hours of use. That said, the headphone in its idle state and with NC turned on, still gives you similar results as mentioned before, but when NC is turned off, you should be able to get up to 200 hours of standby time. You get to use USB Type-C to charge the device and it will take a total of three hours to get a full charge. And if you’re in a hurry, you will be able to get 5 hours of playback in just 10 minutes of charge. Sony specifically mentions that you will need to use a 1.5A or more AC adaptor. While we had limited one week’s of time to use the headphone, I was able to use the WH-1000XM4 without charging it often for days without the need to charge. My daily usage included wireless music playback for a few hours daily when I traveled to and from work. And during office hours, I had connected the included audio cable to my PC to hear my favorite music tracks.
Sony continues to prove that they can provide great audio technologies in the market to challenge the likes of the big players in the market like the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 series headphones. The WH-1000XM3 has been one of the most recommended headphones before and Sony stepped it up with better build, wearing comfort, and smarter features on the new WH-1000XM4. If you’re in the market for premium noise-canceling headphones and don’t mind the price, then the WH-1000XM4 is an excellent choice. It may not be suitable for those who want the best of bass but the headphones do offer great sound quality for every user and for every type of music.
The game-changing features of the headphone such as the Ambient mode and the Quick Attention feature are great. And the new Speak-to-Chat capability will certainly be a useful and convenient feature for everyone. The use of the Sony Connect application and the ability to use custom equalizers to tune to your music preferences is also a great addition, along with the Personal noise canceling optimizer and atmospheric pressure optimizing features. The headphones’ Adaptive Sound Control will also be able to automatically tune the ambient sound settings based on the surroundings. There is also the 10-minute charge feature that should let you get through the day. The headphones also bring support for multi-point device connections, where it switches to the smartphone when you receive a call.