Sony WH-1000XM4 review: the best Bluetooth headphones put the dots

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With the WH-1000XM4, Sony is trying to perfect a recipe that has already been successful in recent years. At first glance, the new noise-canceling Bluetooth headset from the Japanese manufacturer does not revolutionize the formula, but the devil is in the details. Here is our full review of the Sony WH-1000XM4.

Sony WH-1000XM4

To say that the new WH-1000XM4 headphones from Sony were expected. It must be said that its predecessor, the WH-1000XM3 was launched now almost two years ago and that in the meantime, the main competitor of the Japanese manufacturer in the field of noise reduction headphones, Bose, has launched its latest produced, the Bose Headphones 700. For its new headphones, Sony therefore needed good arguments to make in order to stand out even more from the competition. Successful bet ? This is what we will see with this full review of the Sony WH-1000XM4.

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Sony WH-1000XM4 Data Sheet :

ModelSony WH-1000XM4
Formatpermanent round-aural
Active noise reductionYes
Autonomy announced30 Hours
Bluetooth version5.0
Weight254 grams
Assistant VocalGoogle Assistant, Amazon Alexa

 

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A Rather Comfortable Helmet:

At first glance, the Sony WH-1000XM4 takes on a design almost identical to that of its predecessor. Truth be told, the differences are so few that we can list them. On the left ear cup, the NFC print is replaced by an engraved symbol. At the button level, Sony has replaced the inscription “NC/Ambient” by the simple mention “Custom”, the angles are a little less marked on each earpiece and the left earpiece incorporates a proximity sensor which we will come back to later.

The buttons of the Sony WH-1000XM4

For everything else, we can not say that Sony has fundamentally revised its copy with this new WH-1000XM4. We find a design well known to followers of the brand for several generations now. We will even find some continuity with the first MDR-1000X launched by the Japanese manufacturer in 2016. Overall, Sony therefore offers here closed headphones in circum-aural format. This means that the cushions of each ear cup come around the ear, not rest on it. This also means that the headphones natively offer good passive isolation, an important argument for improving active noise reduction, as we will see later.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 includes the ear

On the connectivity side, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is equipped with a USB-C socket under the right ear cup and a headphone socket under the left ear cup. Still on the left, we will also find two buttons: one used to turn on the headset and a second to change noise reduction mode or interact with the voice assistant. As on previous models, the 1000XM4 does not have any control buttons. To do this, you must necessarily use the touchpad on the right earpiece.

Overall, the WH-1000XM4 does not reinvent the wheel in terms of finishes, always neat, and ergonomics. It is possible to rotate the ear cups 120 degrees, change the length of the headband, and partially fold the headset for easy storage in the included semi-rigid case.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 bends quite easily

In terms of comfort, we may regret that Sony has taken a format similar to its previous headphones, especially at the level of the arch. If the atria themselves don’t press too hard against either side of the head, so do the headband. My first few days of testing, I experienced discomfort and a slight pain in the top of my head after one to two hours of wearing the helmet. However, that feeling faded over the next few days, probably thanks to the memory foam in the headband.

As far as the design goes, the 1000X-M4 is therefore a clear success, not that it is a real surprise. The headset is not really breaking new ground and Sony is keeping a fairly conservative approach. We would have liked a touchscreen on the left for example, but overall the 1000XM4 is a well-designed headset.

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Multipoint Is The Perfect Sony Recipe :

While some headphone manufacturers settle for the bare minimum when it comes to functionality, Sony is far from it. On its previous models, the Japanese manufacturer has acquired a reputation for offering helmets with many features, many settings and a complex application. This is still the case on the Sony WH-1000XM4.

Sony WH 1000XM4

For the first connection to the smartphone, however, Sony has greatly improved the procedure. In addition to offering an NFC chip that will allow simple pairing, the headphones also benefit from the Fast Pair system. When you switch on the headset for the first time near a smartphone with Bluetooth on, a pop-up window appears, asking if you want to connect the two devices with each other. It is after this procedure that another message appears, prompting you to download the Sony Headphones application.

It is really by using this application that we will be able to take full advantage of all the features of the Sony WH-1000XM4. This is divided into three tabs: status, sound and system. The first will tell you which device your headphones are connected to and whether adaptive sound control is enabled. The second focuses on functions related to sound quality and the last one on navigation.

Before going through the features, it is important to clarify one point: the Sony WH-1000XM4 is a headset compatible with multipoint Bluetooth. This does not mean that it is able to record multiple sources and then switch between them. This means that you can connect the headphones to two devices at the same time. For example, you can use the headset connected via Bluetooth to both your smartphone and your laptop or tablet. On a personal level, this is the feature I missed the most on previous Sony headsets, which has long been supported by Bose models. I can therefore take the metro while listening to podcasts, arrive at the office, turn on my computer and keep my headphones on, which will then connect to my Windows PC, without terminating the connection with the smartphone. This allows me, for example, to listen to music on my PC and answer a call on my phone without having to remove my headphones.

The lack of multipoint is the main argument that has kept me in the Bose house all these years. With its arrival on the WH-1000XM4, I have no reason not to take the leap towards the Japanese manufacturer.

However, the multipoint Bluetooth connection mode is not activated by default and will need to be set in the Sony Headphones application. Above all, it does not come without compromise. Sony warns that when the headset is configured to connect to several devices simultaneously, it is no longer possible to enjoy the LDAC Bluetooth codec, but simply SBC and AAC.

In addition to multipoint Bluetooth, other great functions are handled by Sony Headphones. While the app’s menus can be intimidating, with so many features on offer, it’s all about settings. In principle, once all these parameters are set according to your use, you will not need to change them again. This is the case, for example, with automatic pause when removing the headset. As we saw earlier, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is equipped with a proximity sensor in the left ear. So this means that when you remove the earpiece from your ear, the music will automatically pause on your smartphone. If this pause is prolonged, you can even set the headset to turn off automatically. A good way to avoid battery failure from simply forgetting to press the power button.

The proximity sensor of the WH-1000XM4 Sony WH-1000XM4 pauses when removed

In the same vein, it is within the application that you will be able to manage the “talk to chat” functionality. As the name suggests, this feature pauses music and turns off noise reduction when speaking. On paper, this is a great idea, especially since your voice detection is effective and the headphones focus on your voice, not the voices of the people around you. In practice, this is much more restrictive, and for a simple reason: if you have fun humming a music you are listening to, it will automatically pause. This is the case even if you go through the function settings for higher or lower microphone sensitivity. Suffice to say that with my tendency to sing whatever I listen to, I quickly turned it off. I preferred the “quick attention” mode, which simply lowers the volume and turns off the noise reduction by placing your hand on the right ear cup. A much more practical function for communicating with colleagues.

The Quick Attention mode of the Sony WH-1000XM4 allows the noise reduction to be temporarily cut off

Finally, it is also in the application that you can manage the assignment of the “Custom” button between three possible choices: noise reduction, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Depending on your assignment, you can press the button once, twice or three times to initiate a voice command, listen to your previous messages or change the noise reduction mode.

Note also that the controls on the WH-1000XM4 are done as on the previous versions. On the right earbud, you can double-tap to pause, resume or answer a call, slide your finger up or down to adjust the volume, and forward or back to change the track. For some, this type of touch control can be annoying, since it is ultimately less easily controlled than simple buttons. To turn up the sound considerably, you will need to do several movements up and down, where several consecutive presses of a button – as is the case with the Bose QC35 II – can be much faster.

Noise Reduction Above The Lot :

Noise reduction is one of the main criteria of this WH-1000XM4. It must be said that Sony has carved out an excellent reputation in this area in a few years, at the same level as Bose, yet one of the precursors of this technology.

With noise reduction already impeccable on the previous model, Sony did not do wonders on its new model. That doesn’t mean noise reduction is bad, it’s still the best on the market. Simply, it is above all in the functions and management that the Japanese manufacturer has sought to innovate. We will thus find management of the reduction of ambient noise on twenty levels within the application, including one level of wind noise reduction. It is also possible to activate a focus option on voice, so that the headset lets conversations pass.

 

It must be said that the noise reduction of the WH-1000XM4 is excellent not only for filtering out constant noises, like the subway, a fan or a washing machine, but also for filtering voices. Even without music in the headphones, the other person’s voice may be difficult to hear, very muffled, and you will need to concentrate on understanding what other people are saying to you.

Sony has also incorporated another option related to noise reduction in its application: adaptive sound control. Concretely, you will thus be able to configure the headphones so that they automatically activate a particular noise reduction mode depending on the context. For example, you can set high noise reduction with focus on voice when you’re stationary, switch to less noise reduction when running, or set noise reduction to maximum when you’re in transport. Likewise, it is possible to configure automatic modes depending on where you are, for example to reduce noise reduction when you arrive at the office.

To improve noise reduction, it is also possible to calibrate the headphones with two settings: the shape of the ear and the atmospheric pressure. Parameters that can be configured on the custom button and which allow it to be further refined to better suit your body type.

Overall, it’s no surprise that the Sony WH-1000XM4 offers the best active noise reduction on the market. It’s very simple, the headset isolates you in a bubble and this without even causing too much breath as can sometimes be the case with competing headsets or headphones. The latest Sony born brilliantly takes over from its predecessors in this area.

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A Rich, Warm And Detailed Sound :

To output the sound from the headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4 has two 40mm diameter transducers. It is the same format as on its predecessor. According to Sony, the headset is thus capable of broadcasting frequencies from 20 to 20,000 Hz in Bluetooth AAC or SBC, from 20 to 40,000 Hz in Bluetooth LDAC and from 4 to 40,000 Hz in wired. Remember that if the Sony WH-1000XM4 is a headset mainly designed for Bluetooth, it can also be used with a 3.5 mm mini-jack cable of 1.2 m supplied with the headset. An adapter for airplane sockets – with two mini-jacks – is also provided.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 jack

When it comes to Bluetooth audio codecs, Sony backtracked from the WH-1000XM3. Indeed, if we do find compatibility with SBC, AAC and LDAC, developed by Sony, aptX and aptX HD have disappeared. This is not so much an issue for audio quality, since LDAC provides better audio quality, but it can be for source compatibility. In fact, aptX is now found on a large number of smartphones, televisions or tablets, while LDAC can be absent on smartphones that have a few years on the clock.

To test the audio quality of the headphones, I used the Oppo Find X2 Pro and tracks on Spotify with very high quality, which is equivalent to a 320kbps AAC file. Under these conditions, the WH-1000XM4 offers a particularly warm rendering. It must be said that Sony’s signature is to push the mids and bass to offer a particularly inclusive sound. A signature that is all the more felt on Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy with the singer’s voice well highlighted and real bass in the background. The sound is particularly rich and detailed and even if it is not the highs that are put forward, they are still noticeable. Above all, it is the soundstage of the headphones that impresses, especially on Beethoven’s Symphony Number 5. Each family of instruments is perfectly distinguished and, despite the compression of the MP3 file, the dynamics are there.

It must be said that for its WH-1000XM4, Sony is relying on a new audio processing system, the DSEE Extreme, which succeeds the DSEE HX of its predecessor. This technology actually has the same function as upscaling on televisions: it will analyze the input sound and convert it to the file on the fly to provide sound with more definition and dynamics. And he does it successfully. It is possible to turn this feature off in the settings to see the difference and, if it is not obvious, it is present and welcome to listen to MP3 titles with increased quality over Bluetooth.

On top of that, the Sony Headphones app lets you configure a five-band EQ, with nine presets, to adjust the sound to your liking. Handy if you don’t like the very warm, bass-driven sound of Sony headphones and want a more neutral sound.

Comfortable Autonomy :

When looking at a Bluetooth headset or earphones, battery life is everything. It must be said that with smartphones, we already have many devices to charge every day. Above all, noise canceling headsets are particularly effective in airplanes and would see their value diminish if they were cut off midway through a long-haul flight.

Here, however, this should not be the case. Sony announces a 30-hour battery life on its WH-1000XM4 with noise reduction activated. The headphones can even go up to 38 hours according to the manufacturer with listening to music without noise reduction.

For my part, I was able to use the helmet for more than two full working days, including public transport. In a total of four days, I was able to use the WH-1000XM4 for 28 hours before it shut down, out of battery. Noise reduction was always on, as was multipoint Bluetooth. Consequently, the LDAC was itself deactivated.

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Sony WH-1000XM4 USB-C and jack socket

For recharging, Sony announces for its part 3 hours for a full charge with the supplied USB-C cable – without charger. Using a 65W smartphone charger, however, I was able to go much faster, as the headset recovered all of its battery in an hour and ten minutes.

Price And Availability Of The Sony WH-1000XM4 :

The Sony WH-1000XM4 is already available. The helmet is offered at a price of 348 $ in two colors: black or gray.

Opposite, its main competitors are the Bose Headphones 700, offered at 339 $, but also the Sony WH-1000XM3, which can now be found in Amazon at 179 $ instead of 349$. A headset with very similar features, but which does not take advantage of multipoint Bluetooth. With its Momentum 3 Wireless Sennheiser offers an alternative with excellent audio quality for less noise reduction.

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