With its WH-1000XM4 wireless headphones, Sony is trying to outdo itself. If the WH-1000XM3 was already excellent, its successor promises to erase the few rare flaws, while adding in the process the features that it lacked in the face of the competition. So we tested the new accessory to see if Sony still held the gold medal for noise canceling headphones, and beware of spoilers … No, we won’t tell you just yet!
When Sony took out his WH-1000XM3 in 2018, the audiophile world set a new benchmark for noise-canceling wireless headphones. Sites specializing in audio, more general sites and of course the users … Everyone agreed that the headphones were perfect, with a few minor details. And yet, Sony decided to work on a new iteration of its headphones: thus was born the WH-1000XM4.
So, how to renew a model which started hardly any defect and especially, for what? Would it be a little sleight of hand on the part of the manufacturer to push consumers to acquire another model by offering a few meager novelties, which they ultimately do not need and which they manage to do without? with their WH-1000XM3? Or has Sony really found a way to innovate, to go even further in perfection ? This is what we wanted to know. We therefore received the WH-1000XM4 in the editorial staff and we hastened to test it under all possible conditions.
A proven design
We do not change a formula that wins. Rather than attempting to review its copy, already exemplary, Sony has chosen not to make any major aesthetic changes to the WH-1000XM4 compared to the previous model. Laying side by side, difficult to notice the slightest difference between the old and the new wireless headphones, as shown in the photo below. Does this mean that there is no change between the two models? Not quite. If the two accessories have the same circumference, whether they are set to the minimum or maximum of their opening, the new WH-1000XM4 benefits from a “firmer” opening. To do this, Sony has reduced the maximum aperture of the sliding system, thus offering more firmness to the headphones when positioned on a bulky head.
While it will also be fun to note that the external markings are more discreet than on the old model, it is especially on the inside of the helmet that we will have to look for other differences. The pads are a little wider than their predecessor and a little bit firmer, too. But the most notable difference is hidden inside the left ear cup: this is where Sony has integrated a proximity sensor.
We therefore find on the WH-100XM4 a small device allowing detect if the headset is placed on the head of the listener, or if it is removed. The current reading starts instantly on break if so, while touch controls are disabled. An essential feature for those who have to remove their helmet frequently and which prevents handling errors. Another advantage of the proximity sensor: automatically switch off the headset within 5 minutes of removing it from the head. As a result, the extinguishing button located under the left ear can be dispensed with. Enough to avoid completely discharging the helmet when you forget to turn it off when you get out of public transport, for example. Finally, note that it is perfectly possible to deactivate this feature via the Sony Headphones Connect application.
Read also: best noise-canceling headphones, which model to choose in 2020?
Hard-to-match audio quality
In terms of audio quality, the XM4 delivers consistently great sound, regardless of the type of music delivered. The highs are present, the mids too. Bass enthusiasts will be in heaven, because Sony has done everything to boost them, without relegating other frequencies to the background. While some might find the bass a bit too sluggish, the majority of the editorial staff who got to test the headphones didn’t. And in case you find the bass a little too present, you can always use the Sony app to tune the frequencies to your liking.
Another very significant point: even pushed to the maximum, the sound never saturates. We count among our ranks lovers of metal, RnB, classical music, etc. All tastes are in nature, or rather in the writing. Here again, the helmet has never failed in its mission to offer each member of the editorial staff the best possible rendering. In short, it’s hard not to say enough good things about the audio qualities of these headphones. The noise reduction is terribly efficient and, just like on the previous model, it is possible to adjust it according to the place and the situation (public transport, street, etc.).
But one of the main novelties of this model is to offer a multipoint connection. By “multi”, understand by that thatit is possible to pair the headset with two devices at the same time, without having to reconfigure the connection each time. This is one of the most awaited functionality, Sony putting itself at the level of the competition. Priority is assigned to whichever of the two devices connected last. This option, to be enabled, requires the installation of the Headphones Connect application on at least one of the two devices, and cannot be used when the LDAC setting is enabled.
Here again, the headset microphones do their job perfectly. The sound is crystal clear, the voice perfectly isolated from the few noises that can hamper it in an open space office. On the other hand, that was to be expected: on public transport, for example and at peak times, it is not always easy to make yourself heard well by your interlocutor. If the headphones somehow manage to isolate your voice, the sound that comes out is sometimes too low. In fact, it all depends on how close you are and how many people there are, as well as how loud the noises are around you.
Like the previous model, we take advantage ofa very large area on the right ear allowing you to control the current reading. A little tap on it allows you to pause or restart reading. Swiping your finger forward lets you play the next track on your playlist, while swiping back plays the previous track. Sliding your finger upwards increases the volume, while the same operation downwards reduces the sound level… Nothing new in short, since this kind of operation is found on almost all wireless headsets. .
However, one point should be noted: Sony has improved the responsiveness of its touch device, so much so that pausing (for example) really responds quickly … Which was not really the case with the WH-1000XM3, we have to admit. It was even one of the rare weak points of the old helmet: too often you had to do it several times before being obeyed by the tactile part of the helmet.
Note that apart from the touch controls, there is also an on / off button located at the bottom of the left ear cup, anda second allowing to carry out a personalized action. This is configurable in the app, and if this little button is set by default to activate ambient sound control, it is also possible to make it launch the Google Assistant or Alexa.
In order to fine-tune the helmet, but also of take advantage of its updates, we have the application Headphones Connect from Sony for Android and iOS. This is the same that already accompanied the WH-1000XM3 and all the other models of the brand, whether they are headphones or earphones. Speaking of updates, from the first use of the headset, a little update awaited us. Nice surprise: this one seemed much shorter than usual. Either Sony fixed the issue of lengthy processes that would not allow you to use the headset over time, or the update in question was lighter than usual. We will not hesitate to update this article for the next update, in order to give you our thoughts again.
Sony Headphones Connect lets you control the headset from every angle, manage the voice assistant (Google or Alexa, your choice) and notifications, set noise reduction, activate or not 360 mode, etc.
The same also offers a small equalizer, and therefore, to control treble, midrange and bass according to your tastes. Some presets are already available, but it is of course possible to create your own personalized levels and save them (two personalizations are possible).
Finally, the application also makes it possible to save the settings in the Cloud, in order to recover them in the event of a total reset of the headset or a change of model. The application remains among the most complete and intuitive there is, even if we prefer that of the competitor Jabra (Sound +), in particular for its noise reduction manager, even richer and easier to understand. But that’s just a small detail, as Headphones Connect turns out to be a well-thought-out, feature-packed application.
Sony announces that its XM4 can last up to 30 hours before crying out for famine, the same length of time as the XM3. We tested the two possible configurations: with or without noise cancellation. In the first case, the accessory is able to hold a little more than 28 hours (a bit below the performance announced by Sony, but we’re almost there). In the second case, by deactivating the noise reducer therefore, the XM3 benefits from a range of up to 42 hours.
So, do we fall for Sony’s new headphones or not?
Comes the fateful moment: should we yes or no buy this new helmet, which is still worth the trifle of 379 € ? Sony has indeed decided to market the WH-1000XM4 at the same price as the XM3 when it was released. Note in passing that, if the old model has lost between 100 and 180 euros of its value in 2 years, it is now difficult to find it new and that it will be necessary to fall back on a marketplace.
In the end, if you already have the old model, migrating to the new one may not be really justified. You will certainly gain in ease of use, since the touch controls respond without a hitch, and you will have a device that stops reading as soon as you start talking. Another advantage of the device: the proximity sensor does its job perfectly and avoids draining the battery if you forget to switch off the device. However, you won’t gain much (or really very little) in audio quality, which is already excellent with the XM3. In this sense, one can wonder if one really has to do with an XM4, or if it is not rather an XM3.5 …
On the other hand, if you don’t have an XM3 (and your budget allows it), the XM4 is a remarkable wireless headset with active noise reduction. Sony has corrected the shortcomings of the old model, while retaining its many strengths, starting with its audio quality. So, is it still missing some features? The answer is “we are still looking”. Is this the best of all? Chances are, yes!