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WH-1000XM4 Noise-Canceling Wireless Over-Ear Headphone Review
Sony’s new industry-leading noise-canceling headphone has been updated and it's ready for the future.
THE HIGH NOTES
- Dual Noise Sensor Technology
- Crystal Clear Phone Calls - Anywhere!
Company & Product Overview
With the August 2020 release of the new Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling headphone, we’re seeing an ever-evolving increase in wireless headphone technology.
Since 2018, the Sony WH-1000XM3 has been an instant industry-leader and Audio Advice favorite. It was such a big hit, it even made it into our list of 2020 Best Wireless Headphones, and the Must-Have Audio Gear For Working Remotely. Sony’s premium sound, advanced noise-cancellation technology, and sophisticated design are the main ingredients that have made the previous model resonate with so many of our customers.
While the name hasn’t changed much, there are some significant improvements to the new WH-1000XM4. If you already own the XM3, or if you are considering noise-cancelling headphones like the Bowers & Wilkins PX7, Beats Studio 3 Wireless, Bose 700, or Bose QuietComfort 35 II, then this review will help you decide if the improvements to everyone's favorite noise-cancelling headphone is worth the upgrade.
And, if you need more help deciding, we compared the Sony XM4 to the latest-and-greatest noise-cancelling headphones in our 2020 Best Noise-Cancelling Headphones Comparison — so be sure to check that out, if you want to know how well the XM4 performs against the best ones on the market.
Plus, purchases from the Audio Advice website will receive an exclusive Tips & Tricks video showing you how to get up and running fast with your new Sony WH1000XM4 Noise-Cancelling headphones.
Packaging, Design & Build Quality
In terms of looks, the new XM4 has the same understated design that resembles the previous version, but there are a few noteworthy changes in the build-quality. First, we’ll discuss the similarities.
The new XM4 comes in a black or silver color option. Both feature the same shiny copper or gold scheme around the ventilation ports and the Sony logo on top of the earcups. Overall, these accents are small but they retain the headphone’s sophisticated look, so we like that not much has changed here.
There’s no change to the placement of the buttons either, but the button that was labeled “NC/Ambient” is now labeled “Custom.” In the Sony Headphones app, you can re-program this button to follow the XM3 setup and toggle between noise-canceling and a transparency mode that allows sound in from the outside world. You can also program it to activate Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.
There’s still a headphone jack on the left ear cup and a USB-C port for charging the battery housed inside the right ear cup. Inside the left ear cup, there’s an NFC chip that automatically pairs compatible devices with just by tapping it. The left ear is clearly marked with the letter “L” and the right is distinguished with a red “R.” At Audio Advice, we are big fans of brands that label which ear cup is the left and the right, and Sony makes it straightforward here.
The most notable change is behind the left earcup where there’s a proximity sensor. This sensor works with a new feature Sony calls “wear detection,” which senses when you are wearing the headphone so that music pauses or resumes based on the headphone’s wearing status.
The earcups swivel and fold just like the previous version so that they fit inside the carrying case with all the included accessories. The foldable structure made the previous version easy to store in a bag and carry around even without the case, so we’re glad to see nothing’s changed on this front.
There is, however, a very small alteration to the headband structure. If you look closely at the point where the yoke joins the headband, there’s a small section of plastic that was prone to cracking issues with enough pressure. Sony has re-engineered it with a thicker section of plastic that reinforces this point for improved support.
In the box, Sony includes a 3.5mm stereo miniplug cable, an airline adapter, and a short USB Type-A to USB-C charging cable. Also, bundled with the package is the same soft-shell travel case that was included with the XM3. For those not familiar, the case does a good job of protecting the headphones while in your bag.
If you look closely, there are subtle alterations in the design that make the new Sony WH-1000XM4 more comfortable than the XM3. While we have no issue with the comfort-level of the XM3, there is less pressure on the crowns of our heads while wearing the new XM4. This is because more pressure is now transferred to the ear pads, which is exactly what you want when redesigning a headphone to feel more comfortable.
The first alteration is in the headband structure. Initially, it’s hard to notice, but Sony has slightly reduced the padding on top of the new headband. These alterations reduce clamping force and pressure on top of your head so weight is more evenly distributed around your ears.
The next subtle alteration makes the most impact on the headphone’s comfort. The new Sony WH-1000XM4 features larger ear cups that now cover about 10% more surface area around the ears. Having a slightly larger earcup means there’s more room in the chamber for your ears to stay cooler, allowing longer wear before your ears get clammy or sweaty.
The pressure-relieving urethane foam pads are also slightly thicker and softer. Because they cover more surface area, they are also a little larger and evenly distribute the pressure around our ears better than the Sony WH-1000XM3. We also like the way the larger earpads feel a tad bit cooler against our skin. All of this combined to create a lighter, cooler, more secure fit compared to the previous version. In terms of looks, the new XM4 has the same understated design that resembles the previous version, but there are a few noteworthy changes in the build-quality. First, we’ll discuss the similarities.
Features & Technology
Active noise-cancelling headphones work by intelligently playing with the phase of sound so that incoming sound is canceled out with outgoing sound. A sophisticated system of microphones captures ambient noise around you and then the headphone reproduces a precise signal with the same amplitude and frequency that's out of phase to cancel the ambient wave out. Sony excels at this, but there’s a lot more to unpack that contributes to the XM3's popularity. We'll start with the features that carry over to the new XM4.
First, the same great battery life remains unchanged. You still get 30 hours of use with active noise cancellation on and 38 hours when ANC is off. Once the headphones die, you get 5 hours of performance from just a 10-minute charge, which is fantastic.
Personal ANC Optimization
The Personal Noise-canceling Optimization feature also remains unchanged. This takes a series of readings inside and outside your headset for noise-cancellation that’s dynamically tailored for you and your surroundings. This feature helps balance the atmospheric pressure and reduces the “sucking” effect that’s typical in noise cancelling headphones. So, we appreciate seeing this feature again in the new model.
Premium Sound Quality
The new Sony WH-1000XM4 also uses the same 40mm drivers as the previous model with Liquid Crystal Polymer diaphragms. So, the premium sound quality of the XM3 across a wide range of frequencies from 4Hz to 40kHz remains unchanged. Sony’s immersive 360 Reality Audio feature is still present, allowing you to hear audio recordings encoded with this format in 3D space like a surround sound experience. Just open the Sony Headphones app on your smartphone to set this up with the music services that support it. In terms of Bluetooth, the XM4 still supports Sony’s hi-res LDAC codec plus the more common lower-res ACC and SBC codecs. However, Sony omits support for aptX and aptX HD in the new XM4, which is supported in the XM3.
Bluetooth 5.0 & Multipoint Connectivity
What’s new and exciting is the addition of Bluetooth 5.0 instead of Bluetooth 4.0. The latest-and-greatest Bluetooth spec opens the door for connecting to two devices over Bluetooth at once. Sony calls this new feature “Multipoint Connectivity,” which means you can finally connect these with two Bluetooth devices at the same time! Multipoint Connectivity allows the XM4 to automatically pause music playing on your laptop and switch to an incoming call on your phone without removing your headphones or fumbling with the Bluetooth settings. As soon as you end the call, the music on your laptop will resume playing — all while never having to take off your headphones or update settings! Multipoint Connectivity works with other devices too, so you can Bluetooth with your TV, switch to your phone, and then back to your TV again, automatically.
When you do take the headphones off, the Sony WH-1000XM4 will pause the audio source for you. The proximity sensor inside the left ear cup senses the proximity of objects, so if you don’t put the headphones back on, they will automatically power off after 15 minutes or so. Then, when you put the headphones back on, the wearing sensor will detect this and the XM4’s will reinstate the audio source so you don’t even have to press any buttons. It’s all automatic. This is not only convenient but also helps conserve battery life.
Quick Attention Mode
Sony’s cool “Quick Attention Mode” is still here, allowing you to place your hand over the right ear cup to automatically duck the volume of the music down to let ambient noise in. This is useful as it enables you to have a quick conversation and then go right back to whatever you were listening to just by removing your hand.
One of the most exciting new features in the XM4 is “Speak-To-Chat.” This new feature is essentially a hands-free version of Quick Attention that automates this mode when it detects you are speaking. If someone comes up and wants to chat, all you have to do is start talking and the microphones in the headset will detect your voice, pause the music for you, and the ambient mode will automatically pipe outside noise in — letting you hear the other person without lifting a finger. The audio will automatically resume playback after a set period that you can change in the app.
These features are cool, but we think the biggest update for the new Sony WH-1000XM4 is the improved microphone pattern. Now, there are more mics, which means the XM4 will capture more of your voice and the outside world with better noise cancelling performance too. Two new microphones on the ear cups work with Sony’s Dual Noise Sensor technology. These mics capture more ambient noise than before and pass the data to the QN1 chip, which is Sony's high-performance and proprietary High-Definition Noise Cancelling Processor. These mics also work with the ambient noise mode that pipes in clear noise from the outside world when you want to hear what’s going on around you without taking off the headphones. Additionally, there are now 5 dedicated microphones built-in for capturing your voice instead of just 4. These voice-capturing microphones work with Sony’s Precise Voice Pickup Technology to deliver clearer voice quality for hands-free calls with better isolation. Through Sony’s advanced audio signal processing, these extra microphones also improve the reduction of even higher and mid-frequencies to make your voice stand out clearer to the other person when on calls.
Finally, all the new microphones and cool tech inside improve the noise-cancellation performance too. This is the most important feature when shopping for a noise cancelling headphone or considering upgrading to this new model. By improving the reduction of more high and mid-frequencies, noises in this range such as human voices, sirens, beeping horns, and other urban traffic sounds will be blocked out even better than before. At Audio Advice, this is the feature we are the most excited about, so we put Sony's noise cancelling performance to the test in the next section.
We wanted to know how well the XM4’s extra microphone improved the noise cancellation and quality of phone calls, so we compared it with the XM3. We used them in a variety of scenarios like walking the dogs, driving, crossing the street in a bustling downtown, and at the office. We also used them for working out, and we were impressed with the XM4’s active noise-cancelling performance in every scenario.
In terms of low-frequency cancellation like the low-end rumble on an airplane or the sound of a train passing by, they both performed about the same. But, there was a clear difference in performance when it came to noises in the higher frequencies. When we were out and about in a noisy city with sirens, honking cars, and the sounds of people talking all around us, we were impressed by how well the XM4 canceled these types of sounds compared to its predecessor. Wearing the Sony WH-1000XM4 in this type of environment was like being in a private world. Overall, the active noise cancellation in the XM4 did a better job of canceling out higher frequencies compared to the XM3.
Multipoint Connectivity enhanced our workflow in the office when we were on our laptops and listening to music with the Sony WH-1000XM4. Let’s say your headset is connected to your laptop while listening to music over Bluetooth, and then all of a sudden your phone rings. Previously, you would have to take off your headphones to answer the call on your phone — or worse, dig around inside the Bluetooth pairing-settings to disconnect one device and pair with the other.
The XM4’s Multipoint Connectivity allowed us to switch back-and-forth between music playing on our laptops, and the audio from incoming phone calls, seamlessly. During hands-free phone calls, our customers told us the clarity and definition of our voices on the call were better isolated when using the XM4 vs the XM3. So, the extra voice-capturing microphone did make a difference here, and the improved microphone quality freed up our hands to work and talk at the same time.
People also told us the reduction of background noises was significantly better during our calls. This feature was particularly useful in our open office environment. It also performed extremely well whenever important phone calls came in while walking on a busy street bustling with people and sounds everywhere. Overall, the additional mics allowed the person on the other end to hear us clearly without the interference of background noise. Our favorite new feature to use in the office was Speak-To-Chat. Speak-To-Chat automatically pauses your music and pipes in ambient noise that you want to hear just by speaking. Whenever a colleague tapped us on the shoulder to discuss something, Speak-To-Chat made it extremely convenient to shift our attention to co-workers just by speaking to them, and then back on our work again once the conversation was over. The music resumed right where we left it, and this is a big hit in our office!
If you enjoy wearing over-ear headphones for working out, your ears will appreciate the increased room to breathe. We noticed the new Sony WH-1000XM4 let us exercise longer without having to take as many breaks for our ears to cool off. If you like using a pair of headphones with noise-cancelling to help you stay in the zone, then this will be a nice improvement for anyone wanting to use this for working out. As a bonus, the more stable fit from the larger ear pads and altered headband created a slightly better sealing experience compared to the XM3. The sound stayed locked in and the earpads did a great job preventing outside noise from entering the earcups. Not only did this improve the listening experience, but the tighter sealing-condition improved the passive noise-isolation as well.
At Audio Advice, we are big fans of noise-cancelling headphones that can offer great performance. However, most sacrifice great sound by choosing to focus on their noise-cancellation tech instead. The original Sony MDR-1000X changed the perception of noise-cancelling headphones and set a new standard in performance. When Sony introduced the WH-1000XM3 in 2018, it changed everyone’s expectation of what noise-cancelling headphones could sound like.
The new Sony WH-1000XM4 looks similar to the XM3, but the improvements raised the bar even higher. Sony listened to tons of user-feedback from previous XM3 owners and delivered everything we were hoping for in the new mark 4. Now, the best noise-cancelling headphones are even better.
You still get the same premium sound quality that made us all fall in love with the XM3 — Plus exclusive features that were co-developed with Sony Music Studios in Tokyo — like Edge-AI, LDAC, DSEE Extreme, and 360 Reality Audio.
The XM4's low-end is full and well-defined, the midrange is warm and punchy, and highs are just as exciting as they were in the XM3. And, the additional microphones take Sony’s advanced noise-cancelling performance, crystal clear call quality, and ambient noise reduction to the next levels.
Overall, the XM3 was already the most fun to use noise-cancelling headphones we had ever seen — the new XM4 is even better. For the same price as its predecessor, we think the new Sony WH-1000XM4 is a lot more than a worthy successor to the XM3. If you use noise-cancelling headphones to do any kind of work, we think the performance you get from this more than pays for itself. With so many improvements and useful features, we are really impressed with the XM4. Many of us here at Audio Advice are using these to help us focus at the office and at home.
Sony WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM3
|Feature||Sony WH-1000XM3||Sony WH-1000XM4|
|30-Hour Battery Life||✓||✓|
|10-Minute Quick Charge||✓||✓|
|Personal ANC Optimization||✓||✓|
|Premium 40mm Drivers||✓||✓|
|Black or White Color Option||✓||✓|
|LDAC, SBC & ACC codecs||✓||✓|
|aptX & aptX HD||✓|
|Quick Attention Mode||✓||✓|
|Number of Voice-Microphones||4||5|
|Number of Ambient Microphones||1||2|
|Noise-Cancelling Processor Chip||QN1||QN1|
Sony WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM3
10-Minute Quick Charge
Personal ANC Optimization
Premium 40mm Drivers
Black or White Color Option
LDAC, SBC & ACC codecs
aptX & aptX HD
Quick Attention Mode
Number of Voice-Microphones
Number of Ambient Microphones
Noise-Canceling Processor Chip
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
Dual Noise Sensor Technology
Two microphones are better than one. Now you capture every word, note, and tune with incredible clarity, no matter where you are.
Crystal Clear Phone Calls - Everywhere
More microphones combine forces to reduce more high and mid-frequency background noises while five voice-capturing microphones isolate your voice for clearer hands-free calls.
As soon as you speak to someone, Speak-To-Chat automatically pauses the music and lets in ambient sound, so you can have a quick conversation and then go right back to enjoying total silence with your music.
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