Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

With the WH-1000XM4, the bar has certainly been raised this time. But the question is, by how much? Is the WH-1000XM4 just catching up with the others in the market or are the improvements really worth it? 29,990 price tag? We discover that in our review.

Sony has finally launched its benchmark headphone of the year, the WH-1000XM4. We’ve already tried the 1000XM3 that launched in 2018 and they’ve been pretty good already, but 1000XM4 is here to push the boundaries of technology and premium audio experience. The Sony 1000XM4 actually comes at a very well timed moment when a pair of headphones have managed to beat the 1000XM3 in some aspects (but certainly not all). Now the bar has been raised.

The question is, by how much? Sony says it has made a lot of internal changes and added a few more features that were missing last time. Judging by that, these headphones should provide the best experience currently available.

So are the Sony WH-1000XM4 those headphones that remain relevant even after a few years or do they just overtake the others on offer with the most obvious features? Or is the improvement worth it? 29,990 price tag? We’ve been using them for almost a month and here’s our review.


Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4 (Robin Sinha/HT Tech)

Design and build

If you are familiar with what the WH-1000XM3 looks like, the 1000XM4 may not seem interesting at all. The changes on the outside are so minimal that if you put them side by side, you may not see the difference. Only the eagle eye will notice that the NFC logo is engraved on the outside this time. The look is a bit stealthier with a more muted matte finish this time. However, the use of hard plastic is still there (works well for the weight) along with increased padding. Even the headband structure is wider for more wearing comfort.

But one of the most significant changes can be seen on the inside of the left earcup. This time, in addition to the acceleration sensors, you have a fairly obvious wear sensor. However, the hinge remains the same. Otherwise, the quality of the headband, ear cups and buttons is the same and they seem durable. Although Sony says 1000XM4 is lighter, we didn’t feel any difference.

That said, the headphones fit comfortably on your head and you barely feel any weight. Add to that a fairly balanced clamping force and you have a perfect pair of headphones that won’t tire you out for hours on end.

While the 1000XM4 looks almost the same as the 1000XM3, which isn’t a bad design by any means, some may not like it as much as the Bose Noise Canceling 700 headphones. This is subjective.

As for the buttons on each earcup, they are easily accessible and we didn’t need much time to get familiar with the layout.


Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4 (Robin Sinha/HT Tech)

What was really a surprise to us was the missing IPX rating. Yes, the 1000XM4 flagship headphones have no water and dust rating. That is why we recommend that you do not use this while exercising.

Features and Performance

This time, the WH-1000XM4 is smarter and richer in features. One of the nicer features is the Speak-to-Chat that automatically detects when you’re talking and stops the music, without having to take your headphones off. You can enable it from the app and you can also adjust the length of time after which the song should resume playing. By default, it’s set to 30 seconds, but you’ll get 15 seconds, 1 minute, and “Don’t close automatically” options. This works surprisingly well and is quite accurate.

This comes alongside Adaptive Sound Control, which is probably one of Sony’s most iconic features for earphones and headphones. It works really well and you won’t have any complaints. You can turn it on or off from the app and manually change the level of ambient sound volume that the headphones should enter. We usually kept our headphones to the minimum for better isolation and immersiveness.

And there’s no doubt that the noise cancellation is still some of the best in the business right now. Much of that credit goes to the HD QN1 chipset that allows real-time AI to effectively reduce the highs and mids around you. It’s the same processor used in the 1000XM3, but this time has an improved algorithm, something end users won’t notice. Add the Bluetooth Audio SoC that can adjust the music several times per second and you have a top performance.


Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4 (Robin Sinha/HT Tech)

One of the more useful but really useful features here is the location data feature in Adaptive Sound Control. You can save locations with various audio adjustments so that it learns the location and changes the settings automatically. While most of us are at home these days, this is certainly a welcome feature.

The call quality was not a problem at all and most of the time the other party heard a clear and crisp sound. You can answer calls from the headset itself and also disconnect. Sony says it has improved the Precise Voice Pickup feature so that the audio quality is better, which actually worked well in our daily use.

Yes, touch controls are there and the entire right earcup gets them all. Swiping left or right skips tracks, and swiping up and down controls the volume. Covering the entire earcup enables Quick Attention mode, which activates quickly and continues to play the music in the background instead of pausing it. The latency is there between the swipe and when the actual action takes place. But it’s less than a second anyway, not a deal breaker at all.

And thanks to a few buttons on the left earcup, you can access Google and Alexa’s voice assistants. Of the two, one is a custom button, which can be configured to handle ambient sound control or activate Google Assistant or Alexa. In addition, you get the usual set of features like preset equalizer, sound quality mode and noise canceling optimizer. However, the DSEE has now been improved and is now called DSEE Extreme.


Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4 (Robin Sinha/HT Tech)

So when you look at it, there are quite a few features that require you to open the app for setup. However, once the setup was complete we hardly needed the smartphone as we got our notification, music, calls, voice assistant, all without barely touching the handset. What’s also impressive is the pairing process, which is now simple and supports two devices at once. However, both devices must have the Headphones Connect app and you will still need to manually switch to it before using them. It’s fast, but it’s manual.

As for the performance, if you are not a regular WH-1000XM3 user and are planning to move to XM4, you will hardly feel any difference. Of course, unless they are heard side by side. But if you’ve spent enough time with 1000XM3, the difference can be figured out. For starters, the overall audio including bass, mids and treble has been further refined and balanced than before. All this results in a more articulate delivery of different sounds.

You still get the same 40mm driver, though, which is already good enough to deliver the most accurate and detailed audio. It’s easier to distinguish between instruments without any muddyness when different instruments and vocals play together. You experience this and the impressive soundstage with Orinoco Flow by Enya. We found no loss of detail when playing at full volume and were very impressed with how the headphones handle bass and sub-bass levels. We found the mids and highs a bit brighter this time around and not something that gets suppressed when the bass kicks in.

In addition, there was no problem with the stereo separation, as each voice was clear and recognizable from which side it came when hearing Flirting with June. It only adds to the tighter performance than its predecessor. And all this is done while the headphones remain versatile for different genres. It doesn’t matter if you listen to rock, pop, EMD, jazz or other types of music, the performance level remains constant.


Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4 (Robin Sinha/HT Tech)

Critics may find some lag in what you see and hear, but for the most part, whether you’re watching shows, listening to music or playing games, all your complaints will be buried when you start hearing the different audio levels and effects.

Battery performance

How long do you think headphones with all the bells and whistles like active noise cancellation, adaptive sound, QN1 chipset, exceptional microphones and touch gestures will last? For those unfamiliar with Sony’s line of WH-series, they can eventually guess around 4-5pm or maybe 6pm tops. But the 1000XM4 actually gives a lot more than that. Sony says that while the headphones have new and improved features, they have managed to keep the battery performance the same as before.

In our day-to-day use, which included all enabled features, along with frequent use of voice assistants, they lasted an impressive 25 hours with noise cancellation enabled. So if you’re an average user and hear music for about 5 hours a day, this will easily go on for 5 days (or even more if the NC is turned off). Also, the wear sensor does a good job of playing and pausing the music and turning it off when not in use.

And the icing on the cake is the charging time. The headphones can be charged for 10 minutes and play for the next 3-4 hours without NC.

verdict

With the WH-1000XM4, Sony tried to fix something that was already a good proposition. And it worked. Not only has it brought some missing features on board but has made it one of the best noise canceling headphones out there 30,000. Although the design is the same, it still looks fresh.


Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4 (Robin Sinha/HT Tech)

For the performance you get a clearer and balanced sound that is not biased on bass. Sony says it used the same battery in XM4 that it had in XM3. But all those extra features hardly make any difference to the battery performance.

If you ask us if the number of improvements is worth it? We’ll say yes, because it makes the 1000XM4 a pair of headphones that lacks nothing. But if you compare it with the 1000XM3, which is currently on 25,000, we’d say you have to get your hands on it before it goes off the market. Yes, Sony has confirmed it will kill 1000XM3 once XM4 hits the shelves.

We see that Bose 700 is currently one of its arch-rivals, which has a somewhat more modern aesthetic and good audio performance. However, the price, few extra features and noise canceling are important factors that place the Sony WH-1000XM4 at the top of the list. It may be only a matter of time before we see better headphones from a rival brand hit the shelves. But to put it in this price tag will certainly be a challenge for them.

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