“Same price, even better functions. With the WH-1000XM4 from Sony it looks perfect. "

  • Very convenient

  • Outstanding sound quality

  • Excellent noise cancellation

  • Very good call quality

  • Very good battery life

  • Bluetooth pairing of multiple devices

  • Handy, customizable functions

When Sony launched its latest flagship wireless noise canceling headphones in 2018, which got the uncomfortable name WH-1000XM3 in true Sony fashion, they were immediately at the top of our list of the best headphones. One of our reviewers even called it his gadget of the decade.

If you are curious as to why, I recommend that you read our in-depth review before reading this review as I will be referring to it a lot.

Comfort, sound quality, noise reduction, battery life … the $ 350 XM3 simply destroyed the competition. Almost two years later, we have to find another wireless headphone that we prefer overall.

But resting on your laurels is a recipe for disaster, especially in the ultra-competitive personal audio space. That's why Sony is back with the successor to the XM3, the WH-1000XM4 for $ 350 (you guessed it).

How can you improve near perfection without increasing the price? Let's go into that.

What's in the box

Riley Young / Digital Trends

Your first clue that Sony has decided not to play big games with its proven formula comes when you open the box. Inside you will find exactly the same hard-shell carrying case as the WH-1000XM3 – right up to the elastic mesh pocket on the back and the copper-colored zip.

Open the case and the topic continues. The XM4 are arranged in exactly the same semi-folded layout and are accompanied by the same three accessories: a very short USB-C charging cable, an analog cable for headphone connections and an airplane travel adapter.

I wish the USB-C cable was longer, but that's exactly what Amazon is for.

design

Sony WH-1000XM4 "class =" m-Karussell - picture dt-lazy-no "src =" https://icdn2.digitaltrends.com/image/digitaltrends/sony-wh-1000xm4-00005-640x640.jpg "srcset = "https://www.digitaltrends.com/data:image/gif;base64,https://www.digitaltrends.com/R0lGODlhAQABAIAAAAAAAP//yH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBRAA7Riley Young / Digital Trends

Sony WH-1000XM4 "class =" m-Karussell - picture dt-lazy-no "src =" https://icdn3.digitaltrends.com/image/digitaltrends/sony-wh-1000xm4-00001-640x640.jpg "srcset = "https://www.digitaltrends.com/data:image/gif;base64,https://www.digitaltrends.com/R0lGODlhAQABAIAAAAAAAP//yH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBRAA7Riley Young / Digital Trends

Sony WH-1000XM4 "class =" m-Karussell - picture dt-lazy-no "src =" https://icdn4.digitaltrends.com/image/digitaltrends/sony-wh-1000xm4-00004-640x640.jpg "srcset = "https://www.digitaltrends.com/data:image/gif;base64,https://www.digitaltrends.com/R0lGODlhAQABAIAAAAAAAP//yH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBRAA7Riley Young / Digital Trends

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If you were a fan of the XM3's understated yet sleek design, you'll be glad to know that the WH-1000XM4 are so similar that it's impossible to tell them apart at a glance.

The XM4 offers the same level of comfort and stability as the XM3, while putting a little less pressure on your head.

Not that Sony hasn't made a few changes here and there, but they're all small improvements. After all "if it is not broken …"

These improvements aim to further improve the comfort of an already exceptionally comfortable shape. The bow of the headband has been further refined and the upper pillow is a little thinner. And although it's not recognizable without a ruler and magnifying glass, Sony claims that the ear pads now have a 10% larger contact area with the sides of your head.

The proof is in the carry. The XM4 offers the same level of comfort and stability as the XM3, while putting a little less pressure on your head. They are simply more convenient.

They feel lighter somehow, although I know that I can never feel that the XM4 weighs a tiny gram less than the XM3.

There are also tiny cosmetic changes.

The finish that Sony has chosen for the XM4 is a bit matte and borders on rubber. The result is a reduction in gloss, so fingerprints are slightly more visible on the black version. This is less of a concern with the tan model.

The NFC logo on the left ear cup is now embossed instead of printed, and the model number on the headband caps is more reserved.

Battery life

The XM4's battery life and charging remain unchanged – a surprise given the tremendous performance improvements Sony made with its real wireless WF-SP800N in a similar period.

You get 30 hours of life with noise canceling enabled and 38 hours with the device off, which is still very good for wireless headphones – significantly better than the XM4's main competitor, the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700, which only die 20 hours after that.

Ten minutes of plugging time gives you an additional five hours.

What remains is the inability to use the XM4's powered features such as ANC or wireless audio while charging – although the analog cable also works for audio without power.

Smarter controls

Sony WH-1000XM4Riley Young / Digital Trends

Music and calls are controlled on the WH-1000XM4 using the touch-sensitive pad on the right ear cup with a series of swiping and finger tips – just like the XM3. But now the headphones are smarter. Instead of removing them from your head or pausing the music and switching to ambient mode to have a conversation, you can just start speaking.

The biggest improvement that Sony has added for everyday comfort is a wear sensor.

Sony calls it Speak-to-Chat, and the XM4's built-in sensors automatically detect that you're trying to speak to someone and respond by simultaneously inserting sound and pausing your media.

You can double tap the right ear cup to resume playback immediately, or you can just wait. Thirty seconds after the headphones determine that you are finished with the yakken, the melodies will be cranked again.

It is extremely effective and I have found that if sensitivity was activated, even sneezing would trigger the function. Fortunately, the headphone app offers you a variety of customizations, including a high / low sensitivity switch and a focus-to-speech mode, designed to allow only nearby voices to be admitted without background noise in the Surrounding area.

But perhaps the biggest improvement Sony has added for everyday comfort is a wear sensor located in the left ear cup. If you now remove the XM4 from your head, your melodies can be stopped automatically. This has become a standard feature on high-end wireless headphones and real wireless earphones, and it's nice to see that Sony didn't ignore them.

I noticed some cases where my music started all by itself while the headphones were wrapped around my neck, but for the most part, the function works well and responds very quickly when you put the XM4 on or off.

Bluetooth multipoint

Sony WH-1000XM4Riley Young / Digital Trends

When we tested the WH-1000XM3, the only real criticism we could make on these headphones was the lack of a Bluetooth multipoint coupling. In other words, you can only pair them with one device at a time.

For those of us who live their lives on a variety of machines, the XM4 is worth the upgrade just because of the Bluetooth multipoint.

The XM4 resolves this criticism and you can now set it up so that it can be paired with your phone and your laptop or your phone and a Bluetooth device such as a TV at the same time.

You activate the function via the Sony Headphones app (deactivated by default).

Once you've paired the XM4 with a range of Bluetooth sources, simply pause the sound on one device and then start playing on the other device. In my tests between an iPhone 11 and an iMac, the transition was almost instantaneous. When I heard the Mac when a call came in on the iPhone, I was able to answer the call and then go back to the Mac without ever touching the phone or desktop.

Even better, the headphone app stores all previously paired devices, so you can quickly swap the two devices you want to use at the same time through a single interface.

For those of us who live their lives on a variety of machines, the XM4 with this feature is worth the upgrade.

Sound quality

Sony WH-1000XM4Riley Young / Digital Trends

Given the good sound quality of the WH-1000XM3, it is unlikely to be realistic to expect a significant increase in audio quality from the XM4, which does not mean that Sony will stop in this department.

The XM4 features the latest and greatest version of Sony's digital music upscaling technology, DSEE Extreme. The goal of DSEE technology is to partially compensate for the loss of quality that occurs when music is compressed with lossy codecs such as MP3 or AAC.

Extracting musicality from the low end of a song is, in my opinion, the greatest strength of the XM4.

Sony claims that DSEE Extreme – which uses artificial intelligence on board – is trained to analyze music in real time through a partnership with the company's SonyMusic department. In practice, it should be better to restore certain frequencies like the tsss-tsss-tsss from high-hat cymbals than its predecessor. You can tell that with scientific instruments, but it didn't make a significant difference to my ears.

But ultimately it doesn't matter. The XM4 has such a good balance between the different frequencies – accompanied by a wonderfully wide and well-defined sound stage – that it is excellent to achieve a rich and satisfying listening experience, no matter which genre you choose.

The XM4 continues the tradition of the XM3 to present bass as more than just a low-end boom. On tracks like Hans Zimmer Time, which use complex low-frequency instruments, the XM4 creates a deep floor that spans the boundary between hearing and feeling. But it can also cover this floor with many layers of recognizable bass notes that provide both warmth and precision.

Mids and highs are no less fun, but the ability to get musicality out of the low end of a song is, in my opinion, the greatest strength of the XM4.

There is a limitation in the sound quality of the XM4, but this mainly affects Android users: Sony has discontinued support for the aptX and aptX HD Bluetooth codecs that were included in the XM3 and now only supports SBC, AAC and the own Sony LDAC.

Is it important? I do not believe that. Since Android 8.0 Oreo, LDAC has been a codec that phone manufacturers can freely incorporate, and the vast majority have chosen it. LDAC is also one of only two Bluetooth codecs that have been certified as Hi-Res compatible – even aptX HD cannot make this claim.

I'm sorry to support aptX, but it's definitely not a deal breaker.

Noise cancellation

Sony WH-1000XM4Riley Young / Digital Trends

The WH-1000XM4 again shows Sony's best ANC (Active Noise Canceling) technology. This time the company claims to have improved both software algorithms and hardware to perform even better than the XM3.

Some low-frequency noise, such as an aircraft engine drone, fan, and some traffic noise, can be almost completely canceled out by ANC, while medium to high-frequency noise, such as human conversation, is reduced. According to Sony, the XM4 does a better job with this latter group of sounds. In theory, you should be less aware of your surroundings when you are sitting in your local cafe or in a busy office.

I didn't know any significant difference in my time with the XM4, but our pandemic-based lifestyle didn't offer many opportunities for busy environments. DT senior editor Caleb Denison also tried and noticed only minor improvements. If you're wondering if they're better than Bose's superb Noise Canceling Headphones 700, it's really too close to call.

Another little improvement: you can now enable Sony's personalized ANC calibration using the headphones by long-pressing the "Custom" button instead of relying on the headphones app.

Call quality

Sony WH-1000XM4Riley Young / Digital Trends

Overall call quality is another strength for Sony products, and the WH-1000XM4 is no exception. The calls were consistently very good under different conditions, even when I passed an extremely loud construction site.

I was apparently much more aware of the noise than my caller, which seems to prove that Sony's claim that the XM4's improved call quality due to improved noise reduction is more than just marketing.

Our opinion

For the same price as its previous flagship, Sony has delivered small but very useful improvements to the WH-1000XM4 that are enough to crown it as the new king of personal audio.

Is there a better alternative?

Nah. That happens when you are the best. However, if you want to save some money, you can bet that there are some special offers for the older WH-1000XM3 until Sony clears up the remaining inventory. If you are satisfied with doing without a wear sensor and Bluetooth multipoint and can get the XM3 for $ 50 to $ 100 below the regular price, I think you should.

How long will they last?

The WH-1000XM4 comes with a one-year warranty from Sony. Their build quality is excellent and Sony headphones have a good reputation for reliability. Battery life will decrease over time, but you can expect to use it for many years before it becomes a serious problem. You can expect the ear pads to need to be replaced occasionally throughout the life of the headphones. These can easily be bought online.

Should you buy them

Absolutely. While not exactly affordable, the WH-1000XM4 is at the top of the wireless headphone market and is worth every penny.

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