Sony WH-1000XM4 – headphone refinement continues

Sony WH-1000XM4

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9.8

The Sony WH-1000XM4 is a refinement of the WH-1000XM3 that was a refinement of the WH-1000XM2 etc.… All were damned good earning a place as GadgetGuy’s reference Bluetooth, ANC headphones.

And apologies to Sony – I have had the Sony WH-1000XM4 since August and been using them for all our tests because it gives us a consistency of sound quality and volume levels. So here is the belated review.

Let’s start with the evolution from the WH-1000XM3 to the Sony WH-1000XM4

  • Name: Sony WH-1000XM4 (Mark 4) Who dreams these names up? Surely no one with any creativity.
  • Battery: both around 30 hours with ANC, which is another reason we love the Sony WH-1000XM ‘whatever’s’. The M4 adds wearing detection
  • Fast charge: Same 10 minutes for five hours
  • BT 5.0 versus BT 4.2 for M3
  • Design: ‘Peas in a pod’ but the M4 is 1g lighter and has 10% larger ear pads
  • Audio Engine: Sony calls the M4‘s new audio processor a DSEE Extreme against the M3 that was DSEE HX. Both upscale compressed lossy MP3s very efficiently but the M4 has Edge-AI which apparently makes the end result sound even better.
  • ANC – Adaptive noise cancelling: The M3 lifted the bar above market leader Bose by implementing barometric change – things sound different at 40,000 feet. The M4 has updated QN1 processor the algorithm and has a BT 5.0 System on a chip that analyses outside noise in more detail.
  • Ambient sound control: M4 has improved on recognising the environment and setting sound passthrough levels accordingly. For example, different environments need different levels – train, plane, walking, etc.
  • BT 5.0 multi-point: M4 can connect simultaneously to two BT 5.0 devices.
  • Codecs: The M4 doe not support Qualcomm aptX/HD when the M3 did
  • Speak to chat: M4 recognises you are speaking and lowers the volume.
  • Precise Voice Pick-Up technology: Better microphone beamforming
  • Sound: It is hard to improve on the M3 bit we noticed a slight refinement in the M4.
  • Assistants: Both have Google Assistant and Alexa
Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4

  • Website here
  • Price: $499 but shop around – JB Hi-Fi has them for $395
  • Warranty: 1-year ACL plus Tourist Limited Warranty
  • From: Major CE retailers
  • Note the 2019 WH-1000XM3 are available for about $325 at JB Hi-Fi

First impressions – same as last model impressions – EXCEED

It is all about the total package. From the solid library slipcover to the textured hard travel case it oozes quality.

Then you open the case, and neatly folded flat are the headphones in either matte black or silver (kind of a sandy silver). Here are fine copper highlights on the branding and little vents. Under the headphones is a handy reference card for touch gestures.

The case also has a 1.2m 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable (thank goodness – none of that 3.5 to 2.5mm rubbish), a way too short 20cm USB-A to USB-C cable and a dual pin aircraft adapter.

Sony WH-1000XM4

What is Sony WH-1000XM4?

Regrettably, we need to resort to specifications but take it from us it is one of the top BT, ANC, over-the-ear headphones on the market. There may be some that sound slightly better (and I challenge anyone other than an audiophile to notice) and some that have added features but you cannot go wrong with this.

Headphones and earphones somewhat hamper our audio test regimen, so much of this is subjective.

ItemTypeGG Comment
Drivers40mm Copper-clad aluminium wire (CCAW) drivers and Neodymium magnetsLighter weight otherwise similar performance to other driver types
ShellClosed dynamicSimple means the shell (cup) provides some noise isolation
Frequency response (cabled)4Hz-40,000kHzWe can’t measure that, but it means the frequencies outside 20-20kHz are not clipped
Frequency response BT20Hz-20kHz SBC
20Hz-40kHz LDAC
This is more realistic
NFCFor pairing to an NFC device
Volume105dB/mW (1kHz) headphone 40 Ω

This is theoretical and means little. You can expect the equivalent of about 75-80dB from a speaker
ANCAtmospheric Pressure OptimizingNo -dB figures available
BT 5.0A2DP / AVRCP / HFP / HSP
Maximum range 10m
Usual and supports pairing to two active devices
CodecSBC 6-bit, 48kHz
AAC
 LDAC (96kHz sampling and 990kbps)
No mention of Qualcomm aptX/LL/HD
Battery times claim (max)30 hours (ANC ON)
38 hours (ANC OFF) 22 hours (Ambient Sound) 200 hours (ANC OFF) cable 22 hours (ANC ON) cable
We tested these extensively in the WH-1000XM3, and times are correct
ChargerNot supplied
USB-C 5V/1.5A/7.5W
10 minutes for 5hrs
 

Comfort – EXCEED

The earpads allow good comfort for all-day wear although you will want to take a break every few hours as they are closed cups.

Weight is 250g (light enough), and the travel case adds about another 200g. Despite the lower weight, the design is quite bulky, but the head clamping pressure is quite light.

No ANC over-the-ear is for exercise or jogging.

Battery – EXCEED

Battery life varies according to volume and content. At 50% volume and ANC/BT, you can achieve Sony’s claims. More important is the addition of Auto wear sensing that saves battery when you take them off during breaks.

But if there is one downside, it is that these do not have a USB DAC (to be seen as a USB sound device) to enable USB charge and play at the same time. Here Sennheiser is king.

ANC – EXCEED

Again, a very subjective assessment, but we found it effectively blocked bass-heavy sounds from 0-150Hz, external conversations from 1-5kHz and a little shrill noise from 9-10kHz.

This is excellent, and we estimate it is not far off 25dB reduction.

Quick Attention – PASS

Covering the right ear cup lets in ambient noise so you can be aware of your surroundings without pausing music or talking.

How do they sound? EXCEED

Terrific. Our tests are subjective and include a mix of Jazz, Blues, classical and vocal. Tests are with Cable, BT SBC and LDAC.

The native cabled sound signature has unusually high bass that tapers down to a good flat mid and treble.

Mid is crystal clear. However, at that critical 10-12kHz (high treble) it can be a little uncontrolled and harsh (increasing THD) and then drop like a rock off a cliff. The average listener won’t see this, but we know what to look for.

Now BT SBC and BT LDAC are not much different from the native cable. Plenty of volume and a solid sound signature. However, the app EQ can make changes that were not available over cable.

The sound stage is typically from inside your head. But when used with Dolby Atmos content and a supported device, it has a good wide stage and some spatial height.

Sony touts 360° reality audio, but it’s a free ‘trial’, so we did not try it. And like Atmos content has to be created for it. Content is on premium Deezer and TIDAL streaming services.

There is very little leakage (escape) of sound outside the headphones – users of Quiet Train Carriages will appreciate that.

App – PASS+

Has good customisation and EQ features but is missing surround sound (see 360 earlier).

Hand-free – PASS

The voice mic (one on the left cup) is average and can be subject to wind noise. Callers said I was was a little muted.

The other ANC mics (two external) are highly effective at removing city noise.

Latency – within limits

Latency is the difference between what the content device transmits and how much later you hear it.

In part that is due to BT, the codec used and the host device. We cant measure that accurately, but we understand that latency from a PC/iPhone/Android is approx. 200/180/140ms. These are not the best for gamers that don’t have aptX/LL/HD codecs.

GadgetGuy’s take – The Sony WH-1000XM4 is a step up and sideways (not backwards)

There is no doubt that these are among the best, and you will be totally satisfied. But we miss the aptX and virtual surround sound support of the M3. We don’t see the value in 360 when Atmos support would have made them unbeatable.

Competitors – too many

Let’s just say that Sennheiser, Bose, Jabra and many more have premium BT, ANC, headphones. And to be fair, only a serious audiophile would even know the difference.

So, look for these as well – in a similar bracket.

Rating explanation

As we said, ‘A step up and sideways (not backwards)’. The loss of aptX/HD will be a deal-breaker for some that use Qualcomm smartphones. The loss of a Virtual surround sound setting – ditto.

We are going to revert to the M3 for testing because we use those things.

But for a newbie wanting to buy a great set of BT, ANC, ‘Cans’ these are perfect.

Features
9.6
Value for money
9.6
Performance
9.6
Ease of Use
10
Design
10
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Positives
A full suite of features
Very effective ANC
Excellent sound
30-hr battery life
Negatives
One step forward and one step sideways - not enoug to get M3 owners to update
No aptX/HD support
No USB DAC for charge and play
360 free trial is not a substitute for the M3’s surround sound setting
9.8