The WH-1000XM3 from Sony had set the bar quite high in the world of headphones. Not surprisingly, we selected them as the best choice for over-ear headphones. Well, its successor, the WH-1000XM4 headphones, have surpassed them.
They still have a ridiculously long name, but the WH-1000XM4 offers upgrades at $ 349.99, they can be ordered now, and shipments will start arriving in the middle of this month.
The WH-1000XM4 have a design very similar to their predecessors, but there are important internal changes. Bluetooth has more range and supports two simultaneous connections at the same time, there is a new chip that improves the audio and more microphones, which means that it captures the voice better.
And that is just the beginning. We've spent over a week with the WH-1000XM4 and found that they are another class-leading pair of over-ear headphones. Let's dive into them
Subtle design changes
The WH-1000XM4 maintain a similar design to the WH-1000XM3, and also come in black or silver. They are slightly lighter compared to the XM3s and come packaged in a hard shell travel case. A charging cable, a headphone jack adapter and an audio cable are included. The cups rotate 180 degrees, so you can comfortably fold them around your neck when not in use.
The padding on the headphones is more abundant compared to the XM3 and turns out to be quite smooth. It is not a memory foam, but a soft one that absorbs the air quite well. When using the WH-1000XM4, it acts as a shock absorber. It doesn't press too hard on the head, it feels comfortable around the ear, and it doesn't apply an obscene amount of pressure.
It will allow you to have longer listening sessions without a pain in the top of the head as other over-ear headphones can cause.
Although the mostly plastic construction helps keep them light, at $ 349.99, we wish we had seen a more high-end construction.
The WH-1000XM4 are charged through the USB-C port on the right side. The left side features a headphone jack, the power button, and a custom button, which can be used to call Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, but you can also set it to turn active noise cancellation on or off. All of these customization options come in the Sony Headphones companion app for Android and iOS.
On the right earcup, you can swipe up or down to adjust the volume, or double-tap to play and pause music.
There are five microphones in the WH-1000XM4, including two hidden in an oval vent in the headphones. The lower half of the left earcup also has three more microphones. They all work together for better voice pickup and improved noise cancellation capabilities.
Let's talk about noise cancellation
The WH-1000XM4 offers passive noise cancellation once you put them on your head. That will block some of the ambient noise without any technology coming into play.
But the real star here is active noise cancellation. Essentially, the XM4 uses a combination of microphones and an internal processor to block or reduce noise around you. What does the adjective asset mean in noise cancellation? The fact that you are listening in real time to reduce noise around you.
And inside the WH-1000XM4 is a chip that includes a Bluetooth audio system and Sony's QN1 processor. Essentially, using the chips and microphones, it measures ambient sound about 700 times per second. The QN1 processor takes that data in real time and creates a reverse sound wave that overlaps the original.
The results in our tests are quite impressive. They block almost everything, as the WH-1000XM3 already did. With the ambient sound control activated and set to Noise Cancellation, it reduced the hum of our central air conditioning unit to a soft whisper. We could still hear noisy trucks driving on the road outside our window, but it definitely cut the noise down quite a bit. Adding music to the equation around 25% volume effectively eliminated hum and other noise. However, we could hear an emergency vehicle siren passing directly outside.
The actual area in which the WH-1000XM4 has improved is the highest frequency noise area, which includes (at least on the low end) talking people, singing birds or sirens. Hopefully you don't usually have the problem of hearing too many sirens, but the truth is that as we have started working from home, it can be more difficult to get focused, especially since we share the house with other family members who have to make calls. phone calls or screaming children. Even if you're in a different room, those voices can still be heard, but the XM4s actually block them at a much higher rate than the XM3s.
We plan to put this to the test in a coffee shop and other outdoor venues once we get back to normal, but we are excited about the progress made with noise cancellation and believe it will be perfect for work.
And they still have control over noise cancellation levels within the app. Sony houses all these controls under "Ambient Sound Control", which by default will be noise cancellation, the classic experience. You can manually adjust the level through a simple bar in the app that has 20 settings for the ambient sound. The closer you get to 20, the more ambient sounds are evident.
But just like the XM3s, you can have the XM4 customize the level of noise cancellation. Just press and hold the personalization button on the left earbud (it's the slightly longer one) and you'll hear a few tones along with the phrase "start optimization." This adjusts noise cancellation to your specific environment and will work to reduce pressure, for example in the cabin of an airplane.
If you need to quickly stop playback and end noise cancellation, you just have to talk. The WH-1000XM4 will pause playback and disable noise cancellation. They'll hold it for about 30 seconds after hearing your last word, but you can quickly resume it with a double tap on the right earpiece. It is much easier than having to manually pause playback and disable ANC. And arguably, it's easier than having to take your headphones off. But if you are prone to singing, we recommend disabling this option.
We consider the WH-1000XM3 the best over-ear headphones and have received many other accolades from other media as well. Rest assured that after more than a week of testing the WH-1000XM4 is better. Audio is just as sharp, clear, and vibrant. We also experience the same three-dimensional effect, which places you at the center of the music.
With Katy Perry's Daisies , you can hear the circle of opening tones from left to right as the drum beat, guitar riff, and vocals mix on the track. Perry's vocals range from medium to high and sounded pretty good on the XM4, even at higher listening volumes. As the bass beat kicks in, the XM4 plays it loud, but not overwhelming. With the equalizer set to 0, the track was mixed quite well. Of course, you can activate the equalizer with a preset or use the manual control to mix the equalizer. There's even an option to save two custom EQ mixes.
Ed Sheeran's Sing offers a variety of traditional instruments, along with electronic rhythms and a single loud voice of low, mid and high tones. It can be safely said that the XM4 did not create a muddy mix in our tests.
Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run offers a rich experience that allows you to clearly focus on individual tracks. The XM4s don't introduce crackles like cheaper headphones do.
The WH-1000XM4 sounds good, and we especially like the built-in equalizer in the companion app. It really allows you to mix the experience track by track. If you want a focus on vocals or a really powerful bass, you can make it happen.
Do you remember that processor? Well, they also take care of amplification. It works in real time to deliver a quality experience closer to high definition. A different version of this system -DSEE HX- came in the XM3, but Sony has improved it. We notice more clarity with the voices at the upper end of the spectrum.
And when the time comes to take off your headphones, we're super thankful that the WH-1000XM4 is smart enough to stop playback. By the time they get out of their heads, the music will have stopped. It was a highly desired feature. Placing them back on your head will resume playback. Perfect.
The WH-1000XM3 lasts for a crazy 30 hours, and the WH-1000XM4 does, too. Would we have liked to see an even longer battery life? Yes, but do you really need a pair of headphones that last 35 hours of playback? We're big fans of USB-C charging, too, and fast charging is still around - 10 minutes gives you about five hours.
Two more things
The call quality and voice pickup on the WH-1000XM4 is surprisingly good. The five-microphone setup definitely captures voice better and more fully than the previous generation. We held several meetings with a variety of services (Skype, Microsoft Teams, Webex and Slack, among others) and our voice was clear.
On outside calls sometimes some wind or background noise would sneak in, but it did a better job than the XM3s. Similarly, when taking voice notes, your voice may be lower at times and pick up background noise, but it can still clearly understand what you are saying.
The WH-1000XM4 can have two Bluetooth connections at the same time. Not everyone will have to use this, but it is useful in some circumstances. We are always connected to our phone through the WH-1000XM4, but we also like to pair them with a laptop for video conferencing, for example.
Essentially, once you're connected to your phone, you can see that it has the option to connect a second device listed within the companion app.
The WH-1000XM4 from Sony is an excellent pair of active noise canceling over-ear headphones. They don't take away any of our favorite features from their predecessor (WH-1000XM3) and make good leaps forward.
It's a more comfortable design as a whole with the same class-leading 30-hour battery. Plus, the sound remains clear and rich with amplification enhancements. But noise canceling is possibly the feature that you will love. Here the improvements are smaller compared to the XM3, but die-hard users will definitely appreciate them, especially in our new working conditions. We certainly appreciate the ability to better block human voices.
At $ 349.99, these headphones are on the high end of what most consider spending on headphones, but that's the place they deserve. For our part, we will be updating the XM4 permanently and we are wrapping up a few more tests before we can crown them as the new champion.
Sony has not disappointed.
Note: The above prices reflect the price at the time of article posting.