Sony WH-1000XM4 review

Sony WH-1000XM4 review 4

The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones deliver on everything you need in a premium set of headphones. They sound great, they support multiple codecs, they have fantastic active noise cancellation, they’re well designed and are very comfortable. And you’re getting all of this for a fantastic price.

While it’s easy to assume that a cheaper product is an inferior product, this isn’t applicable for the WH-1000XM4. These are premium headphones. I’ve been testing them for a week, and they’re some of the best headphones I’ve ever used. They get everything right.

Pros

  • Affordable price
  • Great sound
  • Compatible with multiple codecs
  • Comfortable design
  • Responsive touch controls
  • Long-lasting battery

Cons

  • Not water resistant
  • Voice recognition can pause music incorrectly

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Cheaper than its competitors

The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones cost NZD$400 (USD$349; £349). This is an impressive price point as they are top of the range headphones that are significantly cheaper than other premium headphones on the market. 

The WH-1000XM4 are cheaper than their main competitors like the Bose 700, which cost NZD$500 (USD$399 ; £349.95) and the Apple AirPods Max, which cost NZD$999 (USD$549; £549.00). 

Sound

The most important feature for a set of premium headphones is how they sound, and the Sony WH-1000XM4s sound great. Really great.

The bass is powerful without being overbearing, and it’s easy to hear the entire soundstage.

Listening to Hobo Johnson’s Moonlight was a treat. It was easy to pinpoint all of the sounds in the mix, and it felt full. I was impressed at how well the WH-1000XM4’s could make the quietest hi-hat sound present in a song like this, that has so much going on.

I love how customisable the sound is with the Sony WH-1000XM4. The Sony Connect app comes with an equaliser that allows you to customise the sound to your personal preference. For me, this was great because I found the default EQ setting created a “warbling” effect when moving my head. After a few customisations, and dropping the bass down a tad, it was gone. The equaliser allows you to get the sound exactly how you want – the differences between the bass boost, treble boost and vocal EQ settings are noticeable and precise. It’s great.

The Sony WH-1000XM4’s support multiple codecs, LDAC, AAC and SBC which is impressive for a set of headphones at this price point. You also can turn on DCEE Extreme which upscales your existing sound source to near high-resolution sound quality. I found that it increased my sound quality, though it was hard to notice. 

The WH-1000XM4 headphones are compatible with Sony’s 360 Reality Audio too. This provides a more immersive listening experience. However, it’s only available on select platforms that offer Hi-Fi audio streaming like Amazon Music, Tidal and Deezer. Unfortunately, 360 audio isn’t supported by more popular platforms like Spotify; however, these headphones still sound great without it, so you’re not missing out on much. 

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ANC that’ll turn down the world

The active noise cancellation capabilities of the WH-1000XM4s are top of the range. Sony has implemented two feedforward mics and its proprietary Dual Noise Sensor technology and paired this with the HD Noise Cancelling QN1 chip to analyse ambient sounds and cancel them out. The end result is remarkable. Ambient sounds are effectively cancelled out, and I could barely hear myself typing or singing when listening to music at half volume.

Sony has included customisation options with its ANC as well. Using the Sony Connect app you can utilise a Noise Cancelling Optimiser that measures your ears to create the best listening performance for your head. This is useful for those who have long hair covering their ears, and is especially useful if you wear glasses. The optimiser will take this into account and adjust the ANC to suit. It’s great. 

There is also Atmospheric Pressure Optimisation which adjusts pressure based on altitude. This is ideal when on planes or in high altitude areas. I didn’t get a chance to test this (blame Covid), but Sony claims that that the headphones adapt specifically to high altitude by using sensors to detect the air pressure around you, and they optimise the noise-cancelling accordingly. It’s an advanced feature, and it’s easy to control using the simple and straightforward Sony Connect app.

The WH-1000XM4s only have one level of ANC, but they do have up to 20 ambient sound control levels that adjust how much ambient sound is picked up by the microphones and played into your ears. This allows you to hear ambient noise clearly without taking your headphones off. I found this was very effective. I was able to have a conversation with someone across the room, being able to hear them easily without taking off my headphones. 20 levels is a bit much as the difference between level 15 and 20 is minuscule, but overall it works well.

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Design

While there isn’t anything that stands out on the design of the WH-1000XM4s, they still maintain a sleek premium look. It’s hard to notice the differences between these headphones and previous Sony headphones (the WH-1000XM4’s look almost identical to the WH-1000XM3s), but I don’t think that’s an issue. Why change a winning formula? 

The copper colour of the accents is a nice touch, and the headphones aren’t overly flashy. They’re subtle while looking premium, and it’s a great design. 

The WH-1000XM4s are also incredibly light weighing just 254g (The AirPods Max weigh 384g btw).This is due to the plastic frame of the WH-1000XM4 while the AirPods Max has an aluminium frame). Whether this is a good thing or not will come down to personal preference – but I prefer comfort over sturdiness. I was able to wear the WH-1000XM4 for 5-6 hours without any discomfort.

And the WH-1000XM4s are generally comfortable-to-wear headphones. They have a low clamp force, and rest nicely on the top of my head. The cushioning is soft as well, and they fit comfortably around my ears. 

I found the touch controls responsive and easy to use. This is mainly due to the large surface area of the cups. You can pause with a single tap, change song with a swipe forward, change to the previous song with a swipe backward, change the volume by swiping up or down, and turn on the assistant with a tap and hold. There’s nothing unique here as most premium headphones have touch controls, but they worked well with the WH-1000XM4s. 

I also enjoyed the on-ear detection with these headphones. Taking the WH-1000XM4s off, pauses the music and putting them on again resumes it. It was accurate, and I never had any problems with the detection. 

The WH-1000XM4s has five microphones. This made talking on the phone clear. My partner was able to hear my voice easily when I was inside and outside. The headphones easily picked up my voice, and they also come in handy when using voice commands. The headphones have Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri integration, and verbal commands were picked up instantly. 

Battery

One of the WH-1000XM4 headphones’ strongest features is their battery life, boasting 30 hours with ANC turned on and 38 hours with it turned off. This is a lot more than both the Bose 700 and the AirPods Max, which have 20 hours of battery life with ANC turned on. 

In everyday life, you definitely don’t need 30 hours of battery with your headphones. However, it comes in handy when going on long flights. Not having to worry about the battery of your headphones is significant, and it just makes things easier. 

Fast charging is available, giving you 5 hours playback from a 10-minute charge.

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Verdict

Sony’s WH-1000XM4s are some of the best headphones on the market. They deliver top-quality balanced sound that makes your music sound incredible. And they support higher-end codecs like LDAC while also being compatible with lossy codecs like AAC.

The ANC with these headphones is impressive, and the ambient sound works well. Phone calls and voice activation are flawless. It all just works as it should. 

The WH-1000XM4s have nailed the design too. They’re light, comfortable, and have a premium finish with touch controls that are responsive and easy to use. The massive 30-hour battery life means you can use them all day too, and trust me, you’re going to want to. 

In short, the WH-1000XM4s get everything right at a lower price than their competitors. 

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