A Worthy Successor

Sony WH-1000XM4

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This is the WH1000XM4 and it is Sony’s latest flagship wireless active noise-cancelling headphone. It doesn’t look that much different from the model it replaces, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Buttons and ports are unchanged and folds flat like its predecessor.

If anything, the padding on the headband and the earpads feel softer and plusher. Wearing comfort is therefore good, and so is the seal. However, the downside to connect to two devices simultaneously, be able to switch quickly between the two devices and is clever enough to switch to the correct device if a call comes in. Actual performance was a bit of a mixed bag; it could switch between devices quickly, but it doesn’t always switch 30 HWM | OCTOBER 2020 to my phone when a call comes in. 

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A carrying case is provided to help transport the headphone and its accessories. 

The WH-1000XM4 has a host of quality-of-life updates too. Key amongst them is a “Speak-to-Chat” feature where the headphone will automatically stop music and turn to ambient sound mode to hear yourself and the environment. The idea is to let you quickly have conversations without having to do anything but speak. It’s a convenient feature but I feel that it takes too long for music to resume playback. Even the minimum setting of 15 seconds is still a tad too long. 

The WH-1000XM4’s ability to cancel out environmental noise is phenomenal. Though I didn’t get the chance to test it on a plane, I tried playing plane noises through my speakers and was amazed by how effective the headphone was at nullifying them. But the biggest test, however, is the fan that I have blowing at me to keep me cool while I’m working at my desk. Out of all the active noise-cancelling headphones that I have tested from home so far, the WH-1000XM4 was easily the most effective at cancelling out the fan noise. Its loud whir became a mere whistle. The microphone also benefits from this amazing noise cancellation. Even with the fan blowing directly at me, people I spoke to could not hear the fan at all. 

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Sony’s ambient sound mode, however, has room for improvement. It works insofar that it lets you hear what’s going on around you, but it sounds muffled and unnatural. It’s also hard to place where sound is actually coming from and that can be a real problem if you are walking on the street and you need directional cues to avoid getting hit by others. 

As for sound quality, it is first necessary to talk about audio codecs. The WH1000XM4 supports SBC, AAC, and LDAC. Curiously, any form of aptX is missing which is odd because it’s widely supported, especially by Android devices.

Sound quality is generally good for a headphone of its type. It has an incisive, powerful, fun, and authoritative sound. Bass is a little overpowering but it sounds appreciably cleaner than it was in the WH-1000XM3. Mids are present and quite forward in the mix but highs are still lacking that last bit of air and sparkle. 

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A USB-A to USB-C charging cable is provided. 

Even when used passively, the WH1000XM4’s exuberant nature cannot be suppressed. It used to be that wireless headphones would sound drastically different when relieved of their internal amplifier but that’s not the case here. It’s less accurate and just slightly less dynamic, but you lose little in the way of performance even in passive mode. Late at night when it’s less noisy, I actually prefer using it this way.

For cancelling out external noise and cocooning yourself in your own world, the WH-1000XM4 is in a class of one. Whoever wants to usurp it will have to come up with something very special. 




DRIVERS 40mm dynamic drivers


BATTERY 30 hours (NC on, single charge)

PRICE $549 

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