Sony WH-1000XM4 Overview: Still the Best Full-Size Noise-Canceling Headphones

By: Alex Chub | 18.09.2020, 15:36
Sony WH-1000XM4 Overview: Still the Best Full-Size Noise-Canceling Headphones

Sony WH-1000XM4 Headphones Against Their Competitors in 2020

Best Choice
Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4
Author’s Choice
The best wireless headphones with noise cancellation. Full-size. Connected via Bluetooth 5.0 and supporting SBC, AAC and LDAC codecs, They work up to 30 hours on a single battery charge. Highly recommended!
Read Verified Customer Reviews

But how are they compared to other headphones available on the market? Let’s see what makes them so different.

6 Competing Headphones

Author's Choice
Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4
  • Great noise cancellation and audio quality
  • Wearing detection sensor
  • Long Lasting Battery Life
Check Price
People's Choice
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
  • Feel lightweight on the head
  • Good voice capture during calls
  • Can work in passive mode
Check Price
Premium Choice
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
  • Decent ANC performance and ambient mode
  • Solid build with metal headband
  • Good call quality
Check Price
Best Budget
TaoTronics SoundSurge 90 (TT-BH090)
TaoTronics SoundSurge 90 (TT-BH090)
  • Excellent value for money
  • Portable folding design
  • Up to 35 hours of playtime
Check Price
Best Sound
Bowers & Wilkins PX7
Bowers & Wilkins PX7
  • Stylish look and premium feel
  • Auto pause audio when taken off
  • Support for aptX codecs
Check Price
Best Price Deal
Sony WH-1000XM3
Sony WH-1000XM3
  • Premium features for a lower price
  • Tried and true design
  • Top-notch battery life
Check Price

Sony WH-1000XM4 Detailed Overview

So what makes Sony WH-1000XM4 different in the abundance of features that come directly on the headphones.

Sony WH-1000XM4 Sony WH-1000XM4
  • Great noise cancellation and audio quality
  • Wearing detection sensor
  • Long Lasting Battery Life
Check Price

Sony WH-1000XM4 is currently one of the best in its class (or even the best) full-size wireless headphones with active noise cancellation system. This is a rare case when a producer does not have to develop a model from scratch with each generation, but to improve once again the already very successful existing one. Which, by the way, is not so easy. In the new model Sony has expanded the functionality of the headphones and added a number of convenient things. In particular, auto-pause when you take off the headphones or start a dialogue. Also, the headphones have the ability to pair with two devices simultaneously and got an updated technology DSEE Extreme to improve the compressed audio materials. Sony WH-1000XM4 is still easy to use, sounds good and can live on a single battery charge for a long time. There are only a couple of small things and it is probably unfair to say that they are reasons not to buy the model. First of all, there is no support for aptX and aptX HD codecs. But, almost all modern Android smartphones support LDAC, so it’s actually not a problem. Secondly, they are not waterproof.

What’s in the box?

The contents of the package have not changed at all since the last generation. The Sony WH-1000XM4 come in a large beautiful box with lots of printing. Inside you’ll find a hard travel case, which contains everything else, i.e the headphones themselves, a Type-C USB charging cable, a 1.2 meter audio cable for wired connection, an adapter for an aircraft and documentation.

What is New Compared to Sony WH-1000XM3?

It is quite difficult to distinguish Sony WH-1000XM4 from Sony WH-1000XM3 by appearance. In general, the design is very similar. The main changes affected functionality of Sony WH-1000XM4.

  • In the model WH-1000XM4 there is a wearing detection sensor, through which headphones can automatically pause and resume playback when you take them off and on.
  • It uses the same Sony QN1 chip as the previous model, but the algorithms have been improved. And it is claimed that the noise cancellation works even better. At the same time, the customization for a specific user needs and the wearing conditions of the headphones have been preserved. As well as different scenarios depending on the current actions and location.
  • In contrast to Bluetooth 4.2, Bluetooth 5.0 is now used and it is possible to connect to two devices at the same time (but it does not work if LDAC is used).
  • The list of supported codecs includes SBC, AAC and LDAC. This means there is no support for aptX and aptX HD. I don't consider this a problem, and I explain why below.
  • Speak-to-chat technology automatically reduces volume during conversations. Having heard the voice, the headphones automatically stop the music and restore the playback after a set interval after last words.
  • There is support for 360 Reality Audio (Virtual Surround Sound) format, the corresponding records are already available, including streaming services of Deezer and Tidal. Also the manufacturer claims to have better microphones on the new release.
  • WH-1000XM4 have the DSEE Extreme sound enhancement technology, which replaced the older DSEE HX feature.
  • The microphones are better at capturing voices.

What does Sony WH-1000XM4 Look Like?

Externally and structurally Sony WH-1000XM4 are not much different from the previous headphones. What we think is a benefit in this case: the headphones look very stylish and expensive. Matte plastic is primarily used in the design, no gloss. The coating itself resembles soft touch, but in reality it is not. In any case, Sony WH-1000XM4 do not collect any fingerprints. The model is available in two colors: black and silver.

Cups are of medium size, they do not look big on the head. On the front panels of cups there is practically nothing, just a small NFC stamping on the left side, and on the perimeter - microphone holes. In the previous version NFC sign was printed. The decorative elements are the golden SONY logo on the cups in the place of attachment to the headband and a little lower - the same golden edging around the microphones of the noise canceller.

The headband design is standard, with sliding mechanisms for size adjustment and a metal inner frame for strength. The upper part of the headband is upholstered with artificial leather, and with foam filler on the inside. Left and Right marks are placed on the inner part of the headband next to the cups.

The design allows the cups to be turned to hang comfortably around the neck when not in use. Sony WH-1000XM4 is also foldable and fits well in a compact travel case.

The earpads are also made of artificial leather, inside - fabric. They are quite wide, deep and very soft. Inside the left cup there is a Wearing Detection Sensor, thanks to which the headphones automatically pause when removed and resume playback when on again.

There are not so many functional elements on the headphones. On the left headphone there is a 3.5 mm jack for wired connection and two buttons, power button with LED and the so-called Custom button, the action of which can be configured via application. By default you can control the ambient sound. A short press switches the modes of noise cancellation, and a long press starts its optimizer. On the right earpiece only USB Type-C is visible. The rest of the control is done using the touch panel on the right cup lid.

As for the quality of materials, assembly and appearance, there is nothing to complain about at all. These flagship headphones look appropriate. Perhaps users of the previous models may feel a little disappointment by almost no exterior differences. But, actually there is not much to add.

Is It Convenient to Use Sony WH-1000XM4? 

Sony WH-1000XM4 are compact full-size headphones with a decent headband size adjustment range and rather lightweight. We couldn't find exact data on the official website, but the previous model weighed 0,5 pounds (255 g). There shouldn't be any big difference with the new one. The size of cups and ear cushions allow the ears to be completely inside, and the headband tracking force is optimal. The headphones are not pressurized. You can wear them almost the whole working day (tested) without any discomfort or desire to take them off. As for the street, in summer, at +27 ° - +30 ° ears sweat. This is not critical and half an hour walk in the fresh air does not turn into hell. But, still, full-size headphones in general are not the best option for a hot summer. In any case, we haven't yet met any models where ears don't sweat in the heat. It is important to use artificial leather to ensure good sound insulation. A more "breathable" fabric is not suitable for this.

The connection is carried out in a usual way: to switch to the pairing mode you need to press the power button and wait for the LED to flash, then - the usual procedure is already on your smartphone. The producer promises a stable connection at a distance of up to 33 feet (10 meters). The quality of the connection depends on a lot of factors, starting from the walls and ending with the total load on a radio channel. At a distance of 20-23 feet (6-7 meters) there was no failure observed. Let’s also look at peculiarities about codecs: SBC, AAC and LDAC are supported, aptX and aptX HD are not. And it’s not clear - why. But it is not a critical problem, as far as LDAC is available in the form of open source code and is included in the "standard set" of Android. In this case, the maximum bitrate can reach 990 Kbps. While the limit of aptX HD is 576 Kbps, and aptX/aptX HD should be licensed from Qualcomm. During the test, only the LDAC codec was used, its own audio library, approximately 95% of which is in FLAC. And as a streaming music service - Deezer HiFi with FLAC up to 1411 kbps. Of course, you shouldn't expect that absolutely all tracks on the service are provided in the maximum quality.

Control "on the go" is carried out with the touch panel on the right earpiece: horizontal movements are responsible for switching tracks, vertical - for volume control. Double touch - Play/Pause, as well as Receive/End calls. And if you cover the right cup with your hand, "attention” mode is activated to hear what is happening around. The control is intuitive and easy to understand. We haven't had any problems with touch control since the first launch. In the past there were complaints on the previous model regarding the sensor's operation in the cold weather, it’s reaction to moisture and condensation. SONY promises to improve the new model's sensor and battery.behavior in cold weather. We’ll see it soon.

Sony Headphones Connect App manages all the functions of Sony WH-1000XM4. It is divided into three tabs. The first one, called "Status", is not very functional. It displays battery power, a codec used, a current track and adaptive sound control.

The second tab "Sound" is much more interesting. In this tab you can adjust the noise cancellation level, speak-to-chat technology, noise cancellation optimizer, equalizer, 360 Reality Audio, sound quality mode (a choice between quality or stability of connection) and DSEE Extreme.

In the third tab "System" you can set up simultaneous connection to two devices, select the action of the Custom button (by default - ambient sound control, can be reassigned to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant), disable the touch panel, set up auto-pause and auto-off, select the language of voice prompts and set up software auto-update.

Now about noise cancellation and adaptive tuning. In addition to the usual level adjustment with the slider through the application, there are three presetings between which you can switch on the headphones themselves with the Custom button (if you have not reassigned it to the voice assistant). They are full noise cancellation, selective and complete disabling of noise cancellation. The adaptive sound control automatically adjusts itself to the current situation, including geolocation. And for every such situation you can adjust the level. For example, maximum level if you are in public transport and minimum level if you are outside.

There is also a user-specific optimization function and an external pressure level. The function is not new, it was also present in previous models. The application asks to place the headphones in a usual position, then headphones begin to emit sounds at different frequencies, which are read by the appropriate microphones inside the cups. Further, based on a bunch of factors (including even presence of glasses) the algorithms optimize the noise reduction system under specific conditions.

To set up 360 Reality Audio, the application asks the user to take pictures of his ears, and then automatiсally adjusts everything to the specific user. The next step is to configure applications. Deezer, Nugs.net and Tidal have content in 360 Reality Audio format. 

What about Sound and Microphone Quality?

If you consider the category, target audience and price range, Sony WH-1000XM4 sounds very good. The headphones have outstanding features in comparison with their closest competitors. For example, Bose QuietComfort 35 II sounds more flat. Bowers & Wilkins PX7 sound smart, but they are behind Sony WH-1000XM4 in noise cancellation. If we go back directly to sound quality, it seems that Sony was trying to please the widest possible audience. The headphones have a very nice V-shaped frequency response, without extremes. Lower frequencies are slightly accentuated, dense and massive. They give the sound the necessary weight and drive. They are not super detailed and fast, but everything is very good. The average frequencies are not "drowned", with enough amount. They sound quite natural, balanced and with good details. Live instruments and vocals sound nice. The upper frequency range sounds the same as it should sound in good quality headphones with a scope for the mass audience. There are enough of them, there is a slight rise, but the "dangerous" part of high frequencies is softened. Thanks to this, there are no symbilants and high frequencies do not grate on you. In general, Sony WH-1000XM4 sounds pleasant, but it is not a music fan level. Modern pop music and electronics sound best on the headphones, as well as instrumental genre. 

Now a few words about 360 Reality Audio. On personal sensations, it works approximately the same as the virtual surround sound in gaming headsets. We have tested them with Deezer 360. In general, it sounds very good and interesting, adding a kind of “Being There” effect. Personally, old jazz like Miles Davis sounds great.

Judging by design, three microphones on the left earphone are used for voice transmission. They do not cope with their main task perfectly, but quite well. In noisy places the other person hears the surrounding noise, but the voice is not lost and the information is heard. Even speaking in the subway, the partner did not have to ask again. In terms of quality of the sound transmitted - no surprises: the voice sounds flat and quite deaf, with no detachable microphone in all models.

How Good is Noise Cancellation?

To cut off external noise effectively it is not enough for headphones to have just an active noise cancellation system. The headphones themselves should have good sound insulation. Sony WH-1000XM4 is perfect with both, the ear cushions fit tightly to the head and provide good "protection" from external sounds. The Active Noise Cancellation System worked perfectly in previous models as well. But the new Sony WH-1000XM4 perform fantastic. They almost completely cut off the listener from surrounding sounds, especially monotonous hum at low frequencies. In closed spaces like offices they provide almost complete silence, and the hum of the subway can only be heard if you pause music. And it is not even hum, but something more like a distant rustle. So no external noise prevents you from listening to music under any circumstances. At the same time, maximum level of noise reduction does not create an unpleasant feeling of vacuum.

Battery Life

Sony states WH-1000XM4 can run on a single charge for up to 30 hours with noise cancellation enabled and up to 38 hours without noise cancellation. But it's worth considering that these data are valid for medium level volume and with SBC codec. During the test we only used LDAC and the volume level was around 70-80%, with an average working time of 3-4 hours per day. As a result, we did not manage to discharge them in a week, so battery life is very good. Fast charging is supported. 10 minutes of charge is enough for 5 hours of work.

Reasons to Buy or Not to Buy Sony WH-1000XM4

Pros:

  • Excellent active noise cancellation system
  • Nice driving sound
  • A lot of additional useful features and options
  • Extended battery life
  • Convenient design and user-friendly touch control
  • Excellent appearance, materials and assembly

Cons:

  • You are not ready to pay that price
  • You have a previous generation model (no huge difference between them);
  • You are music fan and looking for headphones with appropriate sound

How Do They Stack Up Against Competitors?

People's Choice – Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Bose QuietComfort 35 II Bose QuietComfort 35 II
  • Feel lightweight on the head
  • Good voice capture during calls
  • Can work in passive mode
Check Price

Bose QuietComfort 35 II delivers balanced sound and offers three noise canceling modes. If you want to hear some ambient sounds, you can set ANC low level or disable this function completely. In High mode headphones remove most of the external noise, although Sony's flagship model is still better in this regard. During audio and video calls you will not be asked to repeat what you have said, the built-in microphones perfectly capture voices. The Bose QC35 II does not put much pressure on your ears and is suitable for long wearing. The battery life lasts up to 20 hours. Fast 15 minute charging gives 2.5 hours of work. The only drawback is the old Micro USB port. If there is no power source nearby, you can connect the cable and listen to music in passive mode.

Sony WH-1000XM4 VS Bose QuietComfort 35 II

  Bose QC35 II Sony WH-1000XM4
Noise Cancellation ANC (three settings) NC with Ambient Sound Control
Special Features Volume-optimized EQ, Multi-point technology DSEE Extreme with Edge-AI, Precise Voice Pickup, Proximity sensor, Multi Device Connection
Connectivity Bluetooth 4.1, AUX Bluetooth 5.0, AUX
Driver size N/A 1.57"
Battery life with ANC on 20 hours 30 hours
Dimensions (inches) 6.7 x 3.2 x 7.1 7.27 x 3.03 x 9.94
Weight 8.3 oz 8.95 oz

Premium Choice - Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
  • Decent ANC performance and ambient mode
  • Solid build with metal headband
  • Good call quality
Check Price

Bose NCH 700 has got one of the most advanced active noise cancellation technologies. The 11-stage system provides flexible control over blocking sounds level in the application. There is also a button for quick switching between three presets. By default, this is the maximum, average level and transparency mode, but you can customize your settings. ANC is used not only for the pure sound of music, but also for calls. The headphones do a great job as a headset, clearly transmitting the user's speech in the office and other noisy places. The headphones do not fold, but the case containing a separate convenient compartment for cables included into the package is an advantage. Bose added a voice assistant button, and to activate Alexa, you just need to name it. Bose 700 sounds good and works up to 20 hours. In addition, just 15 minutes of quick charge gives up to 2 hours of listening to music.

Sony WH-1000XM4 VS Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

  Bose NCH 700 Sony WH-1000XM4
Noise Cancellation Controllable noise cancellation NC with Ambient Sound Control
Special Features Voice Pickup, Multi-point technology, Voice-enabled Alexa DSEE Extreme with Edge-AI, Precise Voice Pickup, Proximity sensor, Multi Device Connection
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0, AUX Bluetooth 5.0, AUX
Driver size N/A 1.57"
Battery life with ANC on 20 hours 30 hours
Dimensions (inches) 6.5 x 2.0 x 8.0 7.27 x 3.03 x 9.94
Weight 8.96 oz 8.95 oz

Best Budget - TaoTronics SoundSurge 90 (TT-BH090)

TaoTronics SoundSurge 90 (TT-BH090) TaoTronics SoundSurge 90 (TT-BH090)
  • Excellent value for money
  • Portable folding design
  • Up to 35 hours of playtime
Check Price

The noise cancellation function of TaoTronics SoundSurge 90 is activated by a button on the right cup. It does not allow you to completely fence off the outside world, but it is good enough to remove unwanted sounds in the middle and low ranges. The headphones sound good for their price and can be used for video calls in Zoom. The declared battery life is 30 hours with ANC on or 35 hours without it. A full charge takes only 45 minutes, and the first 2 minutes are enough for 2 hours of listening to music. By the way, TaoTronics has recently released an updated version of the headphones with USB-C charging port instead of the outdated Micro USB. The SoundSurge 90 is easy to carry and can be folded up for transportation.

Sony WH-1000XM4 VS TaoTronics SoundSurge 90

  TaoTronics SoundSurge 90 Sony WH-1000XM4
Noise Cancellation Hybrid ANC Technology NC with Ambient Sound Control
Special Features DSEE Extreme with Edge-AI, Precise Voice Pickup, Proximity sensor, Multi Device Connection
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0, AUX Bluetooth 5.0, AUX
Driver size 1.57" 1.57"
Battery life with ANC on 30 hours 30 hours
Dimensions (inches) 6.42 x 3.15 x 7.68 7.27 x 3.03 x 9.94
Weight 10.3 oz 8.95 oz

Best Sound - Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Bowers & Wilkins PX7
  • Stylish look and premium feel
  • Auto pause audio when taken off
  • Support for aptX codecs
Check Price

B&W PX7 features an elegant design with a headband made of carbon fiber and fabric accents. The headphones quite effectively cut off external noise, but still go behind Sony and Bose with this feature. The headphones are suitable for all genres of music. The sound quality is at the highest level. Except wireless codecs SBC and AAC, the aptX, aptX HD and even aptX Adaptive are supported. So far the producer remains committed to physical control buttons. There are three modes of noise cancellation: low, high and automatic. Of course, you can turn it off. The ANC can also run when wired to a sound source. Thanks to the proximity sensors, when the ear cup is raised (lift an ear cup), the music is automatically paused. When the cup is back, playback resumes. The manufacturer promises up to 30 hours of battery life. If this is not enough, just 15 minutes of quick charging will provide you with another 6 hours of listening.

Sony WH-1000XM4 VS Bowers & Wilkins PX7

  Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Sony WH-1000XM4
Noise Cancellation Adaptive Noise Cancelling NC with Ambient Sound Control
Special Features Wear Sensors, Multi-point technology DSEE Extreme with Edge-AI, Precise Voice Pickup, Proximity sensor, Multi Device Connection
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0, AUX Bluetooth 5.0, AUX
Driver size 1.69" 1.57"
Battery life with ANC on 30 hours 30 hours
Dimensions (inches) 6.89 x 3.15 x 8.66 7.27 x 3.03 x 9.94
Weight 10.7 oz 8.95 oz

Best Price Deal - Sony WH-1000XM3

Sony WH-1000XM3 Sony WH-1000XM3
  • Premium features for a lower price
  • Tried and true design
  • Top-notch battery life
Check Price

Despite the new model release, Sony WH-1000XM3 is still good. Even the previous noise cancellation algorithm of Sony works better than the majority competing ANC systems. The headphones also support aptX and aptX HD codecs, which were discontinued with Sony WH-1000XM4. The new 360 Reality Audio surround sound format is also on the list. From generation to generation Sony practically does not change the design of the headphones. If it ain't broke don't fix it! The Swivel foldable structure allows the headphones to be folded compactly. The headphones last about 30 hours or up to 38 hours with the ANC turned off. There is also a quick charge function, just 10 minutes will provide you with 5 hours of work. If you are not willing to overpay more than $100 for extras of M4, Sony WH-1000XM3 still remains very attractive.

Sony WH-1000XM4 VS Sony WH-1000XM3

  Sony WH-1000XM3 Sony WH-1000XM4
Noise Cancellation NC with Ambient Sound Control NC with Ambient Sound Control
Special Features DSEE HX, Quick Attention DSEE Extreme with Edge-AI, Precise Voice Pickup, Proximity sensor, Multi Device Connection
Connectivity Bluetooth 4.2, AUX Bluetooth 5.0, AUX
Driver size 1.57" 1.57"
Battery life with ANC on 30 hours 30 hours
Dimensions (inches) 7.26 x 3.03 x 9.93 7.27 x 3.03 x 9.94
Weight 8.99 oz 8.95 oz

The Verdict

Before buying Sony WH-1000XM4 you should know at least three things about them:

  • The way Active Noise Cancellation System is realized for Sony WH-1000XM4 is one of the best (if not the best) at the moment.
  • The headphones have quality, dynamic sound, support SBC, AAC, LDAC codecs, but do not support aptX, aptX HD.
  • Sony WH-1000XM4 has long lasting battery life.

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