This week Sony finally announced its new flagship WH-1000XM4 wireless noise-cancelling headphones. If your ears have blessed by the previous generation, you’ll know this is a big deal. I’ve gotten to try them over the last few days and have a few first impressions.
Please keep in mind that I’ll have more to say after spending more time with with WH-1000XM4s. So keep an eye out for a full review soon.
This post was originally published on August 7, 2020.
Sony Wh-1000XM4 Design
At face value the Sony Wh-1000XM4 headphones look exactly like the previous generation. But there are a few subtle differences. This includes a wider but somewhat less padded headband. The cups also 10 per cent bigger. Sony says this is to accommodate more ear and head sizes.
I’ve found the XM4s to be just as light and comfortable as the previous generation and can wear them for hours on end with no issue. I also haven’t noticed any audio spill (in or out) due to larger can size.
Other familiar features include an aux cord if you ever want to plug them in, as well as a USB-C charging port. The headphones also still fold down neatly into the provided travel case.
The only new addition to the Sony WH-1000XM4 is a plane adaptor. If we could actually go anywhere right now I would be stoked for this. I’ve often wanted to use the XM3s with in-flight systems, so this is a thoughtful inclusion that simply came at a tricky time.
XM4 Noise cancellation
Despite the truly spectacular noise-cancellation on the XM3s, Sony has attempted to improve it with some new hardware in to WH-1000XM4s. This includes two microphones in the ear cups to capture ambient noise. This is subsequently transferred to Sony’s HD QN1 noise-cancelling processor.
Sony says a new System on Chip (SoC) is then able to sense and adjust music and noise at over 700 time per second, making the noise cancellation occur in real time.
I honestly haven’t been able to detect any difference between the XM4 and XM3 noise cancellation as yet, but I’ve also haven’t gone anywhere for the past two days. So I really haven’t gotten to test them robustly.
However, when I do I’ll be testing the XM4s smart listening technology. According to Sony it can adjust the ambient sound based on your preferences and surroundings. It can also utilise location settings to learn about the ambient noise in regularly visited places, like your gym, favourite cafe or workplace. Stay tuned for my thoughts on this in the full review.
What I have gotten to try is the new speak to chat mode. You can turn this on in the Sony Headphones Connect app. It uses the internal microphones to detect when you’re speaking and pauses your music. It works perfectly and has been handy even in the mini home office I share with my partner.
It takes about 30 seconds to turn back on, which has only been a problem when I’ve triggered accidentally when singing along to my music. If you plan on doing this on the reg consider turning this feature off.
I found speak to chat more convenient than the quick attention mode where you cover the right ear to trigger ambient sound. This feature was introduced in the XM3s and was designed for ad-hoc chatting, meaning you didn’t have to remove your headphones.
It lowers the volume and turns off noise cancellation so you can quickly talk to someone. It’s still a feature in the XM4s but I can’t really see myself using it anymore — especially due to the new wear detection mode.
This functionality pauses whatever you’re listen to automatically when you take your headphones off. Again, this works perfectly. Whether I slip the cans down around my neck or remove them completely, they pause within about a second. Once I pop them back on my music starts up again. It’s great.
As always, sound quality is paramount with the Sony XM4s. This time around the company has included some improved AI upscaling into the mix. Sony says its Edge-AI repairs audio quality lost during the compression process. It can also apparently recognise different instruments and genres.
Now, I’m a heathen and thus haven’t noticed any difference so far. This isn’t a sledge — the XM4s sound amazing. But I’m just not hearing difference either way. But perhaps it depends on what you’re listening to, so something like Tidal might make a difference.
On the sound front I find the XM4s to be naturally warm and on the bassy side. This is something I’ve always enjoyed about Sony wireless headphones. I prefer this slant over something like Bose, which I find to be a tad flat and lifeless.
Perhaps most importantly, the kick drum on Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe is crisp and brutal — the true mark of a good set of cans.
I will also say that Husavik from the recent Eurovision movie is spine-tingling gorgeous… until Will Ferrell shows up. No thank you.
And for those who like to tinker, the Sony app lets you tailor the sound to your own personal preferences. If you prefer bright vocals, treble boost mellow tones – you can make it happen.
360 sound is limited
One of the most innovative sound features of the XM4s is 360 audio. This mode is designed to make you feel like you’re actually witnessing a live performance.
Unfortunately, it’s quite limited in practice. In addition to only being compatible with Android phones, it will only work with three apps — Tidal, 360 by Deezer and nugs.net.
This makes sense considering this are specialised music apps, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. I had the opportunity to experience Sony’s 360 audio in Las Vegas a couple of years back and it was insane.
There’s been absolutely no change in the battery life between the XM3s and XM4s. Both get up to 30 hours playback with noise-cancellation on and up to 38 with the feature turned off. This will of course vary and be dependent on other factors, like volume.
Both also have a quick charge ability that will get you five hours of playback from just 10 minutes of charging.
This is a great battery and better than some of its competitors. That being said, two years have passed so I expected to see some improvement considering both the price tag and that Sony wireless headphones are arguably the best in market.
Sony XH-1000XM4 Price in Australia
The only real problem I have with the XM4s so far is the price. $549.95 is a hell of an ask and makes my eyes involuntarily twitch.
And look, I get it. These are incredibly high quality headphones that have always had high price tags. And both myself and the industry have continued to praise the XM3s for being at the top of their game for the last two years. There’s no argument when it comes to these being a quality for cash purchase.
Still, $550 is a lot, not to mention $50 more expensive than the original XM3 price. But this is where you at least have a good choice to make.
If you just can’t justify spending that, you could just opt for the previous generation. The WH-1000XM3s go between $350 and $400 now. Not only that, they are still brilliant and have little competition two years on.
You’re still getting high quality sound and noise-cancellation, the battery life and design are the same and they were already ahead of their time by including USB-C charging. They’re still an excellent buy.
But if you’re happy to make the investment, the Sony WH-1000XM4s are a great choice. Everything about them is stunning, at least based on my short experience so far — as well as my time with the XM3s and XM2s over the past few years. If you have the budget, they’re absolutely worth considering.