Sony WH-1000XM4 Review
Japanese company took an already perfect headphone and made it even better. If you don’t mind the price tag, Sony WH-1000XM4 are an easy recommendation. See what more you get with the new iteration.
Overall score: 4.8 out of 5 points
Sony WH-1000XM4 are the successors of the famous XM3. With the new generation, you’re getting an improved comfort and a couple of new features to make the user experience more enjoyable.
These headphones are still a go-to if you seek the ultimate ANC performance. They can block everything from keyboard presses to human speech, making them a perfect tool if you want to block yourself from your surroundings.
You can still rely on the LDAC audio codec for the best sound quality among wireless headphones. They can even rival some audiophile cans, which is simply impressive.
However, many things stayed the same compared to WH-1000XM3’s. Should you upgrade if you already own a previous model? Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review to find out.
PROS & CONS
- Outstanding noise-canceling performance
- Audiophile-grade sound quality
- Premium-feeling build
- Useful Headphones Connect app
- Great battery life
- Support for LDAC
- Amazing comfort and fit
- The speak-to-chat feature is a gimmick
- Voice Priority mode doesn’t work correctly
- No IPX rating
Type: Over-ear headphones
Connection: Wireless Bluetooth 5.0
Driver size: 40mm drivers
Frequency response: 4Hz – 40,000Hz (depending on the audio codec)
Cable length: 20cm/7.9 inch
Microphone & controls: Yes (built-in)
Battery life: Around 38 hours per charge (28h with ANC on)
Charging time: from 0-100% in 3 hours
Active noise-cancelling: Yes
Charging cable: USB-C
Bluetooth codecs: SBC, AAC, LDAC
Wireless range: 33ft (10m)
Mic design: 5 microphones
- What’s in the Box?
- Comfort & Fit – 5/5 Perfect
- Noise Isolation 4/5 – Great
- Noise Cancellation – 5/5 Great
- Bluetooth – 5/5 Perfect
- Battery – 5/5 Perfect
- Durability – 4/5 Great
- Features – 5/5 Perfect
- Sound – 5/5 Perfect
- Why Buy Sony WH-1000XM4?
What’s in the Box?
- Sony WH-1000XM4 wireless headphones
- Hard-shell carrying case
- Cable with 3.5mm jacks
- USB-C charging cable
- Travel adapter
Comfort & Fit – 5/5 Perfect
Comfort is fantastic, with a fit that is suitable for both commuters and runners. You can’t get any better when it comes to closed-back, over-ear headphones.
With each generation of WH-1000XM headphones, earpads are getting more spacious. The 4th generation in the line-up now has even slimmer pads, with more space for your ear. Your ear lobes no longer touch the pleather cushions unless you have really big ears.
Pads are also slimmer, minimizing contact with your skin. Consequently, ears don’t sweat as much, which increases comfort quite a bit. We haven’t had problems feeling too sweaty, and we live in a house without air conditioning.
Sony could have put a bit more padding since the pads are relatively shallow. While this is a brand-new product, padding feels just right, and it doesn’t ruin the comfort. However, after a year of use, you might run into some issues when earpads get slightly stiffer.
Fit is also superb. Headphones manage to squeeze an entire ear inside the cup, providing a snug experience. Once they’re on your head, you can walk, jump, run, or lean your head backward, headphones will stay in their place no matter what.
While they don’t offer an IPX rating, they aren’t the best for working out. However, you can rest assured that these are not falling off your head if you need to run down the stairs or if you’re in a hurry to catch a bus.
Noise Isolation 4/5 – Great
Even if you end up with a dead battery, you can still rely on above-average noise isolation.
Passive isolation is usually great in in-ear headphones, but the Sony WH-1000XM4 also offer surprisingly effective blockage.
Because of the snug fit with just the right amount of padding and skin contact, headphones manage to isolate well. There is a noticeable difference in noise when you put them on your head.
Of course, you can still hear buzzing noises and even your heartbeat. It resembles the experience when you put your fingers inside your ears.
Noise Cancellation – 5/5 Great
Sony remains the best noise-cancelling headphones, eliminating almost everything from keyboard presses to human speech.
Cancellation on these is something out of this world. You don’t even need to pair them with your phone to experience the dramatic result of the noise around you suddenly disappearing.
The ANC performance is so good that it’s sometimes impossible to understand what people around you are saying. The only thing that remains is high pitch sounds.
They can also cancel the noise of the mechanical keyboard, making your typing experience slightly weird.
That’s the thing with these headphones. They’re so good at canceling everything out that you almost feel too isolated. As if someone placed you in an anechoic chamber. It somehow contradicts the human survival instinct, wanting to be aware of the things around you.
Of course, you can adjust the intensity of the noise-cancellation, while also choosing to prioritize speech inside the app. The latter ensures that you hear other people, while still eliminating the rest of the environmental noise.
Bluetooth – 5/5 Perfect
Reliable connection with multipoint support, and LDAC for high-quality audio streaming.
The connection remains strong, providing similar performance compared to other Bluetooth 5.0 compatible headphones. There are no audio stutters up until you reach the second brick wall. That is where the music completely stops, resuming once you make a few steps back.
When pairing for the first time, you have to download the Sony app. By registering them, you unlock all their possibilities, from ANC and Ambient Sound control to the EQ and 360 Reality Audio, Sony’s virtual surround sound standard.
Touch-sensitive cups seem to respond very well to presses. Since we are a couple of months away from winter, we cannot test if the new Sony WH-1000XM4’s have the same issue with ghost touches present on the previous version.
What Bluetooth Codecs They Support?
Sony WH-1000XM4 are using SBC, AAC, and LDAC. No aptX this time around, however, there is no need for it. If you have Android 8 or above, your phone already supports LDAC, the highest quality audio codec currently available.
Strangely the phone doesn’t automatically turn on this codec, so you have to enable it manually. You need to go into the Bluetooth menu on your phone, click on the “gear” icon and select the LDAC. You also have to choose the “Priority on Sound Quality” under a Sound Quality Mode inside the mobile app.
iPhone users can’t experience the LDAC quality, since iOS doesn’t support it. Thankfully these headphones also support AAC, which is a go-to codec for Apple devices.
Is There a Video Delay?
Similarly, as the aptX, LDAC also provides non-lag video playback, with audio perfectly synced with what’s happening on the screen.
Watching YouTube on iOS is also great, with no noticeable lag.
Yes. This year Sony decided to add the multipoint support, which was missing in the XM3’s. Now you can easily connect the WH-1000XM4 with two devices at the same time.
To make it work, you have to enable to feature inside the Sony Headphones Connect app. Also worth mentioning is that if you decide to connect the headphones to another device, LDAC no longer works. Not sure why Sony decided to do that.
Battery – 5/5 Perfect
You’re getting a splendid battery life performance, with 28 hours of playtime with ANC turned on. If you turn off all the power-hungry features, they can last up to 38 hours in total.
The battery is also one of the areas that Sony left as it is. Compared to the previous model, WH-1000XM4 are sporting the same 30-hour battery (28 hours in our test) on a single charge with ANC enabled. That is still one of the top-performing headphones with noise-cancelling.
If you don’t need noise-cancellation and leave the feature off, you can get an extra 8 hours of playtime. If you end up in a situation where the battery is dead, and there is no charger around, you can plug these into your phone via 3.5mm jack (if you have one) with the included cable.
XM4 also supports quick charging, giving you up to five hours of an additional battery in just 10 minutes.
To find out how much juice is still inside the headphones, you need to use the mobile app.
Durability – 4/5 Great
Premium-feeling headphones with robust-looking hinges. However, they’re still mostly plastic.
Sony WH-1000XM4 are stunning in its simplicity. They feel remarkable in hands, with mostly plastic construction that has a soft finish. The only metal is inside the headband.
They feel incredibly lightweight for their size, with wonderfully designed hinges that rotate with minimal friction. Cups can swivel up to 100° and can also fold for extra portability.
While those hinges are usually the weakest point in headphones, on WH-1000XM4’s, they seem much more robust. They lock in securely and don’t wiggle around.
Earpads are decently padded, although we would want a bit more. After a year of use, they might become slightly stiffer, and replacing them could be troublesome. On the other hand, headband padding seems sufficient, with beautiful stitching to enhance the luxurious experience.
Despite the excellent comfort and fit, there is no IPX rating for water or sweat resistance. Therefore, we are not recommending these headphones for running or intense workout sessions.
With the headphones, you get a small (for the full-sized headphone) hard-shell carrying case. In there, you can store folded XM4’s, as well as different cables and plane adapter. There is also a net outside the case. However, we don’t know why Sony put it there instead of on the inside.
Features – 5/5 Perfect
These headphones are packed with tons of features, giving you the freedom to fully personalize the user experience. Most of them work amazingly, but some are somewhat gimmicky.
There are so many things packed inside the XM4 that you feel slightly overwhelmed when opening the mobile app for the first time.
The main thing is, of course, the active noise-cancellation. To make it work correctly, you need to let the headphones do some atmospheric measurements. By default, the pressure is at 1 ATM. However, if you take a plane or travel somewhere higher in altitude, you need to repeat the measurements repeatedly for the best results.
You’re also getting the Ambient Sound mode, where you can tweak how much of the outside noise you want to let inside your headphones. You can toggle between the noise-cancelling and Ambient Sound by pressing the Custom button on the left earcup (button can be remappable). Or you can place your hand over the right ear cup, which lets you hear surroundings.
There is also the 360 Reality Audio feature, Sony’s version of the virtual surround sound. To calibrate your ears for the best surround experience, you need to take a picture of them. The app guides you through a process of taking a few selfies of your ears, after which you need to download 360 Reality Audio compatible apps like 360 Deezer, Tidal, and nugs.net.
However, don’t bother too much with this. We tried it with nugs.net, streaming platform with live recordings, and the difference is barely noticeable. You also need to pay a hefty subscription for these platforms.
Sony has also added a few new features. Some of them are cool, some of them a gimmick. You can’t miss the new proximity sensor inside the left earcup, responsible for the automatic play/pause feature. It works well, and it can be useful when you need to put your headphones off your ears quickly.
Another new feature is Speak-to-chat, which on paper sounds interesting. It pauses whatever you’re listening as soon as you start talking. It also amplifies your voice so that you don’t shout too much.
The problem is that it waits 15 seconds after you stopped talking to resume the music. Also, if you say one word to yourself or start singing along, headphones will recognize your voice and pause the playback. That is why we turned the feature off immediately.
Controls on Sony WH-1000XM4:
- Play/pause – one press on either side
- Accept – double-tap on either side
- End call – double-tap on either side for 2 seconds
- Reject call – tap and hold on either side for 2 seconds
- Next song – swipe to the front on either side
- Restart/previous song – swipe back on either side
- Volume up – swipe up and hold
- Volume down – swipe down and hold
- Voice assistant– tap and hold on either side
- Activating ANC/Ambient Sound – press Custom button (remappable)
- Activate Ambient Sound – cover the right cup with a palm
This is the microphone test of the Sony WH-1000XM4. When speaking in a quiet room, we noticed that while our voice remains clean, they produce a crackling distortion. This might be due to aggressive noise-canceling, but we can’t be sure.
When we introduce some noise, our voice managed to remain clean and understandable, but it is far from the best we have tested. We have expected a bit more from these headphones, but they’re still a good choice, even if you tend to make many phone calls.
Sound – 5/5 Perfect
The sound quality justifies the hefty price tag. These can even compete with some audiophile headphones.
There are still many audiophiles out there who haven’t switched to wireless headphones due to audio quality not being good enough. In that case, WH-1000XM4 are an excellent place to start.
Sure they’re not the most faithful to the studio recordings, but they’re still very balanced and natural. If you’re buying these for the first time and coming from cheaper cans, you’re in for a treat. We listened to them with both LDAC and DSEE HX Extreme enabled.
Starting with the bass, it has a good punch to it. It can reach very low if the track asks for it. It’s very dynamic and controlled, effortlessly rendering bass guitars. It works great for all kinds of music genres, from pop, rap, classical, rock, and metal.
The midrange is slightly warm, making it easy to listen to. Instruments sound just the way they should, with natural-sounding vocals. Again, there is a good sense of dynamics present.
Treble is smooth and non-fatiguing. It provides a fantastic amount of sparkle and detail, but in a very gentle manner with no sibilance.
Another area where XM4 performed well is the soundstage and imaging. They manage to create a decently sized space around you, with smooth transitions from one channel to another.
We compared their sound with the Sennheiser HD 650, which are highly recommended among the audiophile community. Surprisingly, they sometimes perform quite similarly, with the same amount of details present in the mix. The only difference is that Sony’s have deeper, fuller bass, while HD 650 offer more airiness in the treble.
Why Buy Sony WH-1000XM4?
If you decide to purchase the XM4’s, you’re getting top-notch Bluetooth headphones. Their noise-canceling performance is still one of the best on the market and can even improve over time via firmware updates.
You’re also getting fantastic sound quality, which can convince some diehard audiophiles to switch to wireless headphones.
With new slimmer earpads, they provide a comfortable fit, without getting too hot inside the cup. The long-lasting battery life of 38 hours (ANC off) ensures you can take them on a trip and still have a little juice after a couple of days.
However, the biggest question is whether you should pick these over XM3’s. Sony made only a few tweaks here and there with their new flagship headphones. XM4’s have slightly slimmer earpads, play/pause feature, and multipoint support for connecting two devices.
But everything from the audio quality, battery life, and even noise-cancelling performance is very similar to what you’re getting with their previous version.
Therefore, if you already have WH-1000XM3, you don’t need to upgrade. If you only care about the sound, you should probably buy the XM3’s since they’re about to drop on price.
However, if you’re deciding to get yourself a brand-new pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones and want the very best on the market, we are highly recommending the Sony WH-1000XM4 since they’re a fantastic set of cans.