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.
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.
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.
40mm Copper-clad aluminium wire (CCAW) drivers and Neodymium magnets
Lighter weight otherwise similar performance to other driver types
Simple means the shell (cup) provides some noise isolation
Frequency response (cabled)
We can’t measure that, but it means the frequencies outside 20-20kHz are not clipped
Frequency response BT
20Hz-20kHz SBC 20Hz-40kHz LDAC
This is more realistic
For pairing to an NFC device
105dB/mW (1kHz) headphone 40 Ω
This is theoretical and means little. You can expect the equivalent of about 75-80dB from a speaker
Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing
No -dB figures available
A2DP / AVRCP / HFP / HSP Maximum range 10m
Usual and supports pairing to two active devices
SBC 6-bit, 48kHz AAC LDAC (96kHz sampling and 990kbps)
We tested these extensively in the WH-1000XM3, and times are correct
Not 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.