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Sony WH-1000XM4 review: Should you spend $350 for a pair of headphones?

The Sony WH-1000XM4 keeps dropping below the critical $350 mark! If you’re itching to get your hands on a pair, we’ve put these over-ear headphones with ANC to the test. Spoiler alert: If you want to save money over the next few months, you might not want to read on.

Good

  • Very good sound
  • High wearing comfort
  • Very good ANC
  • LDAC and AAC on board
  • Surprisingly intelligent
  • Good battery life (up to 30 hours)

Bad

  • Has quite a loose fit
  • Unfortunately no longer offers aptX HD (available in the previous model)
  • Sony’s app could do much better
  • Fewer innovations compared to the WH-1000XM3

A brief look at the Sony WH-1000XM4

“What would you like to pay with? EC card or credit? Well, have fun with it!”

If you have the necessary change and are looking for high-quality over-ear headphones with ANC, you can confidently take a look at the Sony WH-1000XM4. This is because the headphones offer an impressive overall sound experience, which is delivered by several components.

In a nutshell, I’m referring to the very high sound quality, the degree of customization by the headphones via Sony’s app, and the effective ANC that puts you at ease when required. Thanks to LDAC and AAC Bluetooth codecs, as well as Sony’s very own optimization known as DSEE Extreme, the headphones map the quality of your audio source very well.

NextPit Sony WH 1000XM4 case open
The headphones fold up for easy storage / © NextPit

While you get a battery life of up to 30 hours and an extremely comfortable wearing experience, I do miss the AptX HD support that is available on its predecessor. In addition, the grip can be rather loose when worn even on the smallest setting. Without revealing too much of my personal life: Headbanging is simply impossible with this pair!

However, the end of my brief summary ought to have everything to do with the price: In June 2021, you’ll have to fork out less than $350 for Sony’s over-ear headphones. It might sound rather high, but it is by no means an unjustified price point in my opinion.

Design & comfort: Comfortable but a bit loose

The Sony WH-1000XM4 is simply this: a pair of over-the-ear headphones.
This means that the ear cups will completely enclose your ears. Tipping the scales at just under 250 grams, it comes with a travel bag. To keep it as compact as possible, the Sony headphones can be folded, hence the case measures a mere 22 x 16 x 6 centimeters.

What I liked:

  • No feeling of pressure even when worn for a long time.
  • It looks cool in my opinion.
  • High-quality workmanship.
  • Nice and compact carrying case.

What I disliked:

  • Less secure fit does not allow headbanging.
  • Much of it is made from plastic.

Across all four color variants, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is plain and unobtrusive. It does not matter whether it comes in white, black, silver, or “midnight blue” – hardly anyone will approach you on the street because of your flashy headphones. Instead, you can enjoy the comfort of wearing it in peace.

NextPit Sony WH 1000XM4 headphones
The Sony WH-100XM4 hardly differs from its predecessors. / © NextPit

Because the ear cups come with an inner diameter of 6.5 x 4 centimeters large, they are large enough to fit my ears. This does not result in any unpleasant feelings of pressure and as a heavy user, even wearing them for 8 hours a day was hardly a painful or uncomfortable affair. On the contrary, the headphones could have even been a little bit firmer on the head.

This is because Sony’s softie program ensures a fairly loose fit on the head. A friend who tried the headphones commented that she couldn’t dance while wearing them, despite the great audio quality. If she meant headbanging by that, then I wholly agree with her.

Even by shaking my head a little vigorously, the headphones will begin to slip over my ears. Unlike the Apple AirPods Max, this isn’t necessarily due to the weight as it isn’t excessively heavy at 255 grams.

NextPit Sony WH 1000XM4 Benjamin Test
Lets you sink away in dreamland: The effective ANC provides a lot of peace and quiet / © NextPit

Interestingly enough, Sony’s attention to detail continues to develop after four generations. On the left ear cup, for example, there’s a little knob that allows you to check whether the headphones are sitting the right way up, even without looking. Since I think it adds to the “beauty” of headphones, and I also want to officially nominate Sony’s computer voice as the “World’s sexiest computer voice”. Keep whispering in my ear, Sony WH-1000XM4, please!

TL;DR: Chic and comfortable. However, I don’t always like the loose fit when I am away from the desk. On the other hand, I was able to wear the Sony WH-1000XM4 for up to eight hours during my review without feeling any excessive pressure. Sony’s experience in the headphone game shows here.

Sound: All-rounder without any bass fetish

Sony included 40 millimeter neodymium drivers with an aluminum-coated liquid crystal polymer diaphragm in the WH-1000XM4. These are the very same materials that Sony uses in the €2,200 MDR-Z1R. The 
frequency range is a high 4 to 40,000 hertz with wired use. With Bluetooth 5.0, it drops to 20 to 40,000 hertz despite the presence of LDAC. In addition to LDAC, AAC, and Sony’s AI optimization known as DSEE Extreme are also part of the package.

What I liked:

  • Balanced sound.
  • Very clear resolution of instruments.
  • Super loud on demand.
  • Can also be used with a flat battery via 3.5-millimeter audio cable.
  • 360-degree sound is certainly impressive.

What I dislike:

  • Sony has dropped AptX HD support.
  • Comes with “only” Bluetooth 5.0.

After I’ve already provided you with a bit of tech porn, I’d love to have Sony’s sexy computer voice whisper the frequency ranges into my ear again. The following is about my personal impressions as I think the Sony WH-1000XM4 sounded very good for most genres.

My listening habits range from thumping metal à la Death and Gojira to shallow jazz, quivering hip-hop, and sometimes impossible electro beats. Sony’s 40-millimetre drivers always come off very well regardless of what I throw at it. When it comes to equalizers, the “Enthusiastic” setting in the Sony app turned out to be my favorite.

NextPit Sony WH 1000XM4 power
The WH-1000XM4 allows you to use the headphones passively or actively. Cool! / © NextPit

Here, the focus is a bit on the highs, resulting in a lot of clarity between instruments and sounds. However, I wouldn’t recommend the WH-1000XM4 for bass fanatics. On Mr. Oizo’s bass-heavy “Bear Biscuit,” for example, there’s almost a bit of a lack of thump to give the beat the right impact.

With pop music now having a definite bias towards bass (#BillieEilish), I can well imagine bass lovers being a little disappointed with the headphones. Personally, though, I really appreciate the flexibility of the WH-1000XM4 and was a little disillusioned when my very own Soundcore Life Q30 suddenly wanted to massage my eardrums with every song.

360-degree sound and lack of aptX HD

There are two interesting features concerning the Sony WH-1000XM4’s sound. First, with the right music streaming subscription, you’ll benefit from Sony’s 360 Reality Audio feature, which I managed to enjoy when I reviewed the Sony WF-1000XM4. In doing so, Sony simulates a surround setup on stereo headphones in a rather impressive manner.

Sony App 02 NextPit
To activate 360-degree sound, you have to take a picture of your ear / © Sony / Screenshot: NextPit

Tidal, for example, unfortunately only offers about twenty 360-degree tracks, which put a smile on my face the first time I listened to them. In order to enjoy that, you also have to subscribe to a monthly subscription Tidal Hi-Fi at $20/month. In the end, the feature is more something you can impress your friends with than anything else. I personally never really felt the need for it in everyday life.

Compared to its predecessor, I found it a shame that Sony has dropped support for Qualcomm’s aptX HD Bluetooth codec. aptX HD is a standard that should not be underestimated, where it delivers low latencies in addition to high bit rates. aptX HD is generally considered the best compromise between compatibility and low-quality loss.  While it is understandable that Sony wants to build on its own codec, it is still a shame all the same.

TL;DR: In my opinion, the sound quality is the main reason to choose the Sony WH-1000XM4. This is mainly due to the fairly neutral sound characteristics, which are suitable for all kinds of genres. Once again, I want to emphasize the convenience that comes from the fact that the headphones can be operated via a cable even when the battery runs out.

Noise cancellation: Effective and clever

If you are disturbed by ambient noise, you can activate active noise cancellation with the WH-1000XM4.
The headphones use anti-noise to minimize surrounding noise. With features like Adaptive Sound Control or Quick Attention mode, you can easily and cleverly switch between ANC and Transparency modes.

What I Liked:

  • Very good noise cancellation.
  • Clever features in controlling the ANC.

What I disliked:

  • Slight under-pressure feel when ANC is activated.

Sony’s over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones have made a name for themselves, not because of their good noise cancellation, but because the Japanese manufacturer itself brags on its homepage that they are the industry leader in the noise-canceling wireless headphone market, with the results based on its own research. Well, now how about that?

The headphones counteract noise that tries to enter your ear from your surroundings using frequencies that are of the opposite polarity. The so-called anti-noise will then more or less filter out incoming noise.

NextPit Sony WH 1000XM4 1
Microphones for ambient noise pick up noise, which is then countered by anti-noise / © NextPit

As usual, it’s mostly consistent noise in low frequencies that is almost completely removed by the headphones when I tested it. On a rainy day, I could barely hear the rather noisy street outside my apartment when I put the headphones on by the open window. Sudden noises like honking cars, on the other hand, still come through rather clearly.

But all of that is pretty normal and overall, the ANC of the WH-1000XM4 is subjectively one of the best. In my opinion, though, filtering out noise is far from what a noise-canceling feature should achieve. And this is where the WH-1000XM4s pick up some extra points.

Clever noise cancellation control

Turning up the ANC at full blast isn’t advisable in every situation. If you’re walking around the city, you can easily miss an ambulance with active music playback and ANC enabled. Sony offers “Ambient Sound Control” for such cases.

The app measures the movements of your smartphone and detects whether you are moving, standing around, or sitting on a chair. Depending on your preferences, the headphones will then include ambient noise to the ANC automatically. By the way, the transparency mode can be controlled manually in the app with up to 20 levels.

In addition, you can also switch to ambient noise whenever you want to begin a conversation. If you’re approached on the street, you can simply place a hand on the right earcup and it will cut through the noise and lower the music volume.

Once you get used to it, you won’t want to miss these amazing features. This is especially so if you disable the annoying Ambient Sound Control notification in the Sony app.

TL;DR: Sony claims to offer industry-leading noise-cancelling – and I can’t argue much with that. The noise cancellation is very effective and Sony controls it with really interesting features all by itself.

Ease-of-use and additional features

On the right side of the Sony WH-1000XM4 you will find a touch input field.
In addition, the headphones can detect whenever you wear them on your head, with a few additional features and details bundled in that I’d like to explain further.

What I liked:

  • Intuitive touch operation.
  • Practical custom button.
  • Good wear detection.

What I disliked:

  • Touch elements get wonky in the rain.

I don’t want to dwell too long on the operation and ease-of-use of the Sony WH-1000XM4 in everyday life. It’s quite practical that you can vary the volume or advance a track simply by using swiping motions on the right earpiece. There’s also a power switch on the left side and a custom button that you can assign a specific feature to.

For example, you can activate Siri or Google Assistant, with which the headphones are compatible with. The connection to your Android smartphone is also really easy thanks to Google’s “Fast Pair” feature. You register the headphones in your account and the connection will also be made available on other devices. Alternatively, you can also activate such pairing by placing your smartphone down thanks to NFC.

NextPit Sony WH 1000XM4 4
In addition to the two buttons, there is also a touch control surface on the right ear cup / © NextPit

In addition, there the ability to perform multi-pairing of up to two devices simultaneously, between which the WH-1000XM4 will then switch automatically. You can also do this manually via the app.

Speaking of the app: Here, I have to give Sony the finger once again. The application looks rather old-fashioned and takes away a bit of the premium feeling that the manufacturer’s audio products exude due to its price range. An update to the user interface with a new design is really needed here.

Sony Headphones App NextPit COM
The Sony app looks a bit old-fashioned in my opinion / © Sony / Screenshot: NextPit

Last but not least, the wear detection is worth mentioning, which works via a distance sensor in the right earpiece. This is really handy when you put the headphones aside for a moment. However, if you hang them around your neck, playback will not pause. This is because the folding mechanism rotates towards your shoulders and not upwards towards the sky.

TL;DR: Sony has also come up with something good when it comes to its controls. Although this is limited to wear recognition and a custom feature button, those are still positive mentions. The app is, in my opinion, a weak point when it comes Sony’s audio products as it is long overdue for an update.

Battery: Up to 38 hours playback is possible

The battery life on the Sony WH-1000XM4 was listed as up to 38 hours with ANC deactivated by Sony.
With ANC enabled, the runtime drops to 30 hours. I consider this information realistic after two weeks of use. A quick-charging feature is also on board and this will get you five hours of additional music enjoyment with just 10 minutes of charging.

What I liked:

  • Long battery life.
  • Quick-charging.

What I disliked:

When it comes to battery life, I don’t think there’s much to criticize. You can use the headphones for up to 30 hours and a quick-charging feature is also on board. Before I repeat myself any further, well done, Sony!

What else you should know about the Sony WH-1000XM4

Finally, there are a few things I’d like to tell you about the WH-1000XM4. Entire paragraphs are not necessary for this, I think!

NextPit Sony WH 1000XM4 case
The Sony WH-1000XM4 comes with a practical transport case / © NextPit
  • The call quality is excellent thanks to Sony’s Precise Voice Pickup technology – those whom I conversed with didn’t realize that I was using headphones.
  • In addition to the headphones, an airplane adapter, an audio jack cable (1.2 meters), and a USB-C cable (around 20 centimeters) are also included in the travel case.
  • Sony will throw in three months of a premium music streaming service of your choice to try with each purchase.

Technical specifications

Specifications at a glance

Features Sony WH-1000XM4
Size 22 x 16 x 6 centimeters (case)
Weight approx. 255 grams
Driver 40 neodymium driver with aluminium-coated liquid crystal polymer diaphragm
Frequency response Max. 4 – 40,000 Hz (wired, active)
Bluetooth Bluetooth 5.0
ANC Yes
Bluetooth codecs SCB, AAC, LDAC
Battery life Up to 38 hours (ANC off) | Up to 30 hours (ANC on)
Quick Charging Yes
Features DSEE Extreme, 360-degree sound, Google Assistant, Siri, wear recognition, hands-free calling
Price $350

Final verdict

With the slight price drop that the Sony WH-1000XM4 has experienced since it was released, the over-the-ear headphones have become even more attractive! This is because you end up with a very good pair of headphones that deliver numerous modern technologies. In everyday life, you will quickly get used to features such as Ambient Noise Control and Quick Attention mode, and somehow it would be very difficult to live without them after that.

NextPit Sony WH 1000XM4 inside
The wear detection works via a small sensor in the left ear cup / © NextPit

All of these places Sony on a very good foundation with high wearing comfort, very good sound delivery, and highly effective ANC. When it comes to the negatives, however, I would have to point fingers at the missing aptX codec, support which was still available in the WH-1000XM3. Also, the hold on my ears was not always optimal – the Sony headphones tend to be travel and home headphones than for sporting activities.

 

Therefore, I would like to provide some alternative models for you to consider with their reviews that might help you in making a purchase decision:

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