There are a few headphone models that are truly considered among the best of the best. The AirPods Pro are on that list for true wireless headphones, for example. And, the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones were on that list for over-ear noise-cancelling headphones.
But now Sony has a follow-up, here to help ward off competition from the likes of Bose, Microsoft, and Jabra. The new Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones are an iterative update, to be sure, but they add some features that users have been asking for since the previous-generation model.
At $349, are the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones worth buying? Or should you go for something else? We put the WH-1000XM4 headphones to the test to find out.
If you’ve seen the XM3 headphones before, you would be forgiven for thinking that I’m actually reviewing a pair of two-year-old headphones, and not a pair that were just released. The WH-1000XM4 headphones look pretty much identical to the XM3’s, with the smooth ear cup faces, controls on the left ear cup, USB-C port on the right, and so on. In fact, the only immediately noticeable difference is design is the fact that the headphones say “WH-1000XM4” headphones on the headband.
That, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You could argue that the design of the new headphones is boring, but the XM3 headphones were, in my opinion, some of the best-designed headphones out there, but the overall look is far from tired. We’ll have to wait a few years and see if the XM5 headphones end up offering any refinements.
The headphones come in two different color-schemes, including a silver color, and a black color with gold highlights. We’re reviewing the black model, and they look great — both on and off the head. Sure, they’re not all that unique, but if your goal is sleek and stylish, these headphones are the way to go.
The overall build of the headphones is extremely light-weight, but they still felt strong enough to withstand most day-to-day abuse. You probably wouldn’t want to chuck them in a backpack amongst all your other stuff, but they come with a nice hard case that should keep them nice and safe. Also in the box are a USB-C cable, aux cable for wired use, and even an airplane adapter.
While not immediately noticeable, the padding on the headband has been shaved down a little compared to the previous model, while the ear cups have been redesigned to offer a little more surface area. The effect? The headphones are extremely comfortable.
Of course, much of this has to do with how light the headphones are, rather than how much padding they have. But add in all that plush padding, and you’ll be able to wear the headphones for hours on end without any issue. I put in around eight hours of use during a work day, and while it did feel refreshing to take them off after that long of a listening time, they still weren’t at the point of being uncomfortable.
These headphones have a few upgrades to offer over the previous-generation model — but an improved sound quality is not one of them. That’s not a bad thing though. The previous-generation headphones sounded awesome and these do too.
Bass response is tight and punchy, allowing kick drums to clearly disrupt a mix without going over the top. Bass response is deep and defined, and while out of the box it favors a more natural response than an overly boosted one, those that want more from their bass can simply tweak the EQ in the Sony app.
The mids are well-tuned too. The headphones offer a warm response to them, thanks to the fact that there are plenty of low mids to go around. They don’t overshadow other areas of the frequency range though — the high mids help ensure vocals are present and guitars have plenty of bite.
The highs are one of the best things about these headphones. There’s plenty of detail and clarity to go around, even in wireless mode, and while serious audiophiles may not buy these for their at-home pair, even enthusiasts (like myself) might like these on the go. Instruments are clearly separated, and the soundstage is good for a pair of consumer-facing headphones like these.
Betty Who’s I Love You Always Forever made for a tight, punchy bass with clear-sounding percussion. AC/DC’s Back In Black pulled that tucked away kick drum to the forefront, while ensuring that the hi-hats helped drive the song along. And, strings on Joshua Bell’s rendition of Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor were smooth and pristine. All that to say, these headphones make for a great listening experience.
Performance and features
The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones connect to your listening device through Bluetooth 5.0, and they retained a great connection throughout testing. Not only that, but they retained a great connection to two devices, thanks to the Bluetooth multi-point support. It’s handy for those who switch between their computer and phone a lot — like me. They also offer a 30-hour battery life, which is the same as the previous-gen model, but still quite good.
Of course, cooler than the battery life are the smart features on offer by the headphones. Sony has added a series of awesome features to the headphones to help make them even smarter than the previous-generation model was. For example, while the XM3 headphones allowed you to cover an ear cup to activate ambient mode if you need to have a quick conversation or hear an announcement on the train, the new model can automatically activate ambient mode if it hears you speaking.
This is a cool feature, and came in handy a number of times — but it does tend to mis-trigger. This is by no fault of the headphones, but the feature can activate if you start singing, for example, and there’s nothing worse than launching into song only to have your music immediately pause. The feature also triggered when I sneezed. Ultimately, I ended up turning the feature off and sticking with the ear cup covering for ambient mode.
In the app, the headphones offer a series of other features too. For example, you can have the headphones change modes depending on your location, and you can tweak the noise cancellation and ambient mode settings.
One feature that I would have liked to see is the headphones remember your settings for the next time you turn them on. For example, when I’m at home I don’t want or need noise cancellation to be activated, and considering we’re all spending 99% of our time at home right now, I would like the headphones to remember to keep noise cancellation off after I turn the headphones off and back on again.
Still, these are some of the smartest headphones out there, and while you might not want or need all those smart features, the good news is that you can turn them on or off individually as you see fit.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 noise cancellation headphones may offer iterative changes compared to their predecessor, but they should still be one of the first pairs of headphones you consider if you’re in the market for high-end wireless headphones and have $350+ to spend.
There is some competition. For example, you should check out the Bose Headphones 700 — though having not reviewed those yet, it’s hard to say if the headphones are better or worse than the Sony headphones.
Still, considering their excellent feature-set and top-end sound quality, these headphones well-and-truly deserve the Headphone Review Gold Medal.
|Frequency response||20Hz – 40kHz||Active noise cancellation||Yes|
|Driver size||1.57 inches||Noise attenuation||Unknown|
|Driver type||Dynamic||On-ear controls||Yes|
|Sensitivity||105dB||Earpad material||Memory Foam|
|Rated impedance||Unknown||Magnet material||Neodymium|
|Total harmonic distortion||Unknown||Water resistance||No|
|Rated input power||Unknown||Battery life||30 Hours(With ANC), 38 Hours(Without ANC)|
|Maximum input power||Unknown||Wireless distance||33ft (10m)|
|Wireless connection||Bluetooth 5.0||Cable length||4ft (1.2m)|
|Wired connection||Yes, 3.5mm||Case type||Hard Case|