Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones review
Sony’s WH-1000XM4 headphones are the best noise-canceling headphones on the market right now. Their predecessor, Sony’s WH-1000XM3 set a high bar for what noise-canceling over-ears should be and these headphones improve on them by addressing a few of the annoying shortcomings of its predecessor.
- Incredible audio quality
- Best noise cancellation in its class
- Long battery life
- USB-C charging
- App has many customization and personalization settings
- 5 microphones for good and clear call quality
- Convenience features like auto-play/pause
- Multipoint Bluetooth
- Touch controls are finicky
- Same mostly-plastic build as its predecessor
Sony’s WH-1000XM4 headphones have been highly anticipated for the last year and they’re finally here. It’s been weeks since its release and most would agree they still dominate the over-ear noise canceling space. While they rock a near-identical look and feel to the previous WH-1000XM3s, they have a handful of welcomed upgrades. They almost immediately became our favorite go-to headphones for their comfort, audio quality, personalization, and of course their noise canceling.
The build of the Sony WH-1000XM4 looks identical to the previous version. Despite being the best, their build quality is not actually as durable as you’d hope for. There’s a lot of plastic, which at least keeps them light. The M3s got me through 2 years of regular use, and that is without using the included travel case. Unfortunately, its clean PlayStation off-white-almost-grey “silver” finish eventually showed noticeable wear, darkening, and dirtied around the edges. For that reason, black was the safer choice for our M4s. Both available colors are matte with a soft finish. The memory foam and large ear cups make for an extremely comfortable design. They fasten well to our head without much pressure. They’re among the easiest headphones for us to wear, and we can wear them for hours on end. The ear cups swivel over 90 degrees and they both fold into the band for good portability.
Buttons, ports, and controls are all mostly the same and are only pretty good. There’s a power button and a “custom” button that used to be labeled “NC/Ambient”. There’s USB-C charging, which is a must these days. The feature we were hoping would be changed is the touch controls. The right ear cup is touch-sensitive and relies on swipes to control music, phone, and voice assistant. It’s relatively intuitive — up and down swipes control volume, right and left is track-control, and taps pause/play and holds activate the voice assistant. This was a gripe for us with the M3s as we’d accidentally swipe all the time. When taking our headphones off we’d always accidentally skip tracks. The touch seems less sensitive than the M3s, which is good for preventing accidental swipes.
The welcomed improvements over the previous generation is that there are now sensors that auto play/pause your music when you put them on and take them off. We absolutely love this as a convenience feature, plus we don’t have to tap the earcups anymore. Another interesting convenience feature is “speak-to-chat”. When it hears your voice, it pauses your music and turns on ambient aware so that you can have a conversation without taking the headphones off. This takes some getting used to as sneezing and coughing will pause your music for 30 seconds. Thankfully this is all configurable — you can shut it, change the sensitivity, and choose how long you want music to stay paused after you go quiet.
The other extremely welcomed improvement is phone call quality. With M3, I wasn’t able to make phone calls outside or in any location with moderate noise. The ambient aware microphones would amplify external sound making it very hard to hear my callers. This has been fixed and external noise is drowned out so that I can have a clean and clear dialog with callers. There’s also new tech and additional microphones (5 total) to focus on voice and reduce background noise. The voice quality is very good and better than your average headphones for sure. Personally, I like the call quality of Jabra’s Elite 85h best, but these Sony’s work perfectly even for important business calls.
Sony’s M3s seemed to set the standard for what noise cancellation on headphones should be. It was clean and powerful without any sort of hiss or anti-noise. The best way to describe the noise cancellation is “natural”. The only great contender at the time, and probably still now, is Bose. The M4 noise cancellation seems just as strong, natural, and comfortable as M3. There’s no highly noticeable difference (at least for me), but admittedly my lack of public transportation has made it tricky to conduct a perfect comparison. They are capable of drowning out a ton of background noise. If it’s too much you can shut noise cancellation, or you can turn on ambient aware and choose how much background sound you want to hear.
The audio quality on these headphones is still among the best for the price. Out of the box, it’s incredibly deleted, balanced, and clear. The bass gets really low and thumpy. It gives music a very warm and organic vibe. The app helps you personalize the sound, both for your taste and for your ears. There’s a noise cancellation optimizer atmospheric pressure optimizing, and even a tool that optimizes for the shape and size of your ears. You may or may not realize a difference from these optimizations, but you will definitely notice a difference when playing with the equalizer. There’s a handful of solid presets like bright, excited, mellow, and voice, but you can also custom tune the equalizer however you’d like and save it as a preset. This is a feature that some headphones have, but all headphones need. It also helps you appreciate the range that these Sonys are capable of. They’re a lot of fun to listen to and oh so enjoyable.
The battery is another best-in-class feature. It lasts a whopping 30 hours. It can even deliver 5 hours of usage with just 10 minutes of charge.
We hate to sound like everyone else, but Sony’s WH-1000XM4 headphones are one of the best headphone purchases on the market right now. They’re pricey, but you’re getting a lot of value. To that effect, you’re getting an extremely comfortable pair of headphones, with good portability, very premium audio quality, a crazy-long battery life, best-in-class noise cancellation, an app for personalization, and more. There’s very little to be desired (how about an alternative to touch controls though?!).
The new WH-1000XM4 retail for $299 to $349.99. If you don’t take a lot of phone calls, then consider the WH-1000XM3s which you can find for $250 or less. If you’re looking for less expensive and don’t need such extreme noise cancellation, then we really like Jabra Elite 85h. The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones are currently available in black or silver.