Sony has revamped its flagship noise-canceling headphones, resulting in a mature and nearly flawless product.
Sony has an obvious technological advantage when it comes to noise cancellation. Last year we saw it several times, both in the review of the WH-1000XM3 and in the test of the WF-1000XM3 earphones, two very different headphones but united by an effective cancellation of environmental sounds and a natural sound and also suitable for fine palates. It seemed really difficult to further improve what was done with the previous models but the Sony WH-1000XM4 they have succeeded in this intent.
No revolution is clear, owners of the previous variant can sleep peacefully, but who is approaching the world of noise canceling headphones today you will find in the WH-1000XM4 a mature and practically flawless product.
At first glance the WH-1000XM4 seem identical to the previous model but the reality is quite different. Sony has applied a whole series of optimizations to improve ergonomics and file down the small defects seen in the past. The ear cups are slightly larger and the padding is now softer while on the outside the overall size has decreased, for a more sober design that stands out less from the eye, while retaining some small details in a golden color. The weight has also decreased, albeit by very little, all measures made to further increase comfort, and if we think that the previous model could already be worn for hours without feeling it, these new WH-1000XM4 improve ergonomics even more. Once worn, the pressure on the sides of the face is minimal and even that on the head, at the headband, is almost imperceptible. The size of the headband cushion has decreased, precisely to avoid a more pronounced pressure in the upper part of the head.
Build quality is at the highest level, the structure of the headphones is in metal and transmits a feeling of remarkable resistance, as well as the other materials positioned in the rest of the body, from the eco-leather of the earpads to the plastics, soft to the touch. The WH-1000XM4 are high-end headphones, and the quality is felt right out of the box. Package that also includes a carrying case, jack cable to use the headphones in wired mode and the adapter for use on the plane.
Headphone controls are all done via the touch surface located in the right pavilion, as in the past it is possible to forward a track, answer a phone call or raise and lower the volume (the latter a procedure that does not always succeed on the first try). As we will see, thanks to the innovations introduced, the touch is used less, thanks to the automations designed by Sony. On the left pavilion you can see a button to activate-deactivate the noise cancellation and the power button, while on the right one is installed the USB Type C port for charging. Observing the inside of the pavilions you can now see a small hole in the left one: it is a proximity sensor, very useful since just remove the headphones to pause playback.
We tested the WH-1000XM4 in the middle of summer, despite the heat the materials do not bother and do not cause sweating. If you move on foot under the sun, of course, the result is different, but also for this there are the WF-1000XM3, perfect for the summer period.
Technology at the service of comfort
Sony has provided automatisms that change the experience of using the headphones compared to the previous model. We have already seen the first, or the proximity sensor, the second is called “Speak-to-chat“and, for those used to using noise canceling headphones, this is an important novelty. In the past, to stop playback and disable noise canceling, for example during a conversation, it was necessary to place the palm of the hand on the right pavilion , a comfortable but unnatural gesture while speaking. Now the WH-1000XM4 are able to detect when the wearer initiates a conversation, thereby turning off music playback and turning off noise cancellation.
The automatisms do not end there, because the Adaptive Sound Control is also available, which modifies the sound cancellation settings based on what you are doing (for example if you are stationary or if you are moving). This technology is also able, over time, to learn the user’s habits, for example by learning about the most popular places (home, gym, office, etc.) thus setting the sound accordingly based on the environment. . This year the possibility of connect the headphones to two devices, so you can switch between them in no time.
Noise canceling and user experience
Sony claims that the noise cancellation technology of these Sony WH-1000XM4 is better than the previous model. The processor that manages it, the QN1, is the same seen last year, which had impressed precisely for its ability in canceling sounds, applied without particular sacrifices in terms of audio quality. But now Sony’s noise canceling algorithms have been improved, not so much in the low frequencies as in the medium and high frequencies, also thanks to a better passive isolation of the auricles. We didn’t feel a clear break from the WH-1000XM3, but simply because the previous model was already excellent in this area.
In any case, the final result is incredible, the noise cancellation is so effective as to reduce the sound of a mechanical keyboard a few cm away, or to cancel the voice of an interlocutor a few meters away. On airplanes and trains this ability becomes even more evident, considerably increasing travel comfort.
In terms of noise cancellation Sony remains the undisputed queen of the market, but the quality of the WH-1000XM4 is also felt when listening to music. The sound is very natural with the factory settings, for some it might even be too balanced, but this is an advantage, because through the equalizer you can intervene to increase the highs a little, or emphasize the bass more for those who prefer a more full-bodied sound.
In conclusion, the WH-1000XM4 suit very well to different tastes, but always in the name of balance and listening quality. Thanks to the effectiveness in noise cancellation then you don’t even need to turn up the volume too much, to the benefit of your ears.
Upgrading to the Bluetooth 5 standard increases the stability of the phone connection, also reduces input lag, unnoticeable when watching movies. Also improved the DSEE HX algorithm, responsible for improving the sound tracks, now called DSEE Extreme. It is difficult to notice the difference in this case, given the excellent performance of the previous model, but there is still a further technological evolution inserted in these headphones, which also support the LDAC transmission standard, for better wireless sound reproduction.
The audio quality during calls is also excellent, thanks to the technology “Precise Voice Pickup Technology“.
The four microphones installed on the headphones are able to capture the voice by isolating it from the ambient sounds, during the tests we carried out our interlocutors never complained of problems, the same thing for the audio in the headphones, also this always clear.
Positive feedback on autonomy, Sony declares 30 hours but after a full recharge and daily use of about a couple of hours, we have not yet been able to download them. Useful is the possibility, with 10 minutes of charging, to have 5 hours of listening.
The only criticism we can make of Sony concerns the smartphone application, with a translation that is not always optimal and an improved interface, but these are trifles compared to the quality of the WH-1000XM4.
Sony has succeeded in further improving a product that already seemed mature and consolidated. It has done so without revolution, this must be clear, but with many small tricks that make the difference, first of all the Speak-to-chat function, really useful when using headphones while on the move. The audio quality seen last year has remained as well as noise cancellation, the best available today. Finding a weak point in these headphones is difficult, we could say that the price is high, 380 € is not for everyone, but for quality and technological load the WH-1000XM4 today have no rivals.