Hands-on review: Sony WH1000XM4 over-ear headphones

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Erin Lawrence

Sony 1000xm4 headphones

We all have vastly different reasons both for wanting headphones and for the headphones we choose. Some folks love the isolating power of over ear headphones while others find them smothering. There are people that prefer the subtle discretion of earbuds while others can’t stand having some thing in our ear canals. All that is to say that purchasing headphones can be a very personal experience that’s different for everyone. The best you can do is choose a reputable brand and try to find a pair that have good consumer reviews to. In this review I’m testing out the Sony WH1000XM4 over ear wireless noise cancelling headphones. I’ll take a look at the style and comfort, what you get with your purchase, how long the battery lasts and what it’s like to use for all kinds of listening experiences from music to podcasts, phone calls and zooms. I’ll wrap things up with the pros and cons and make an assessment about whether or not I think I can recommend these for you.

Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones
4.5

Summary

While they look and feels like a classic, Sony’s noise-canceling WH-1000XM4 headphones perform exactly as you should expect high-end audio to perform.

Pros

  • Great sound quality
  • Folding design with case for easy travel
  • Comfortable and light to wear
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Plain design
  • Older model priced close to newer one

Many reviewers and customers have praised Sony’s flagship WH-1000XM over-ear headphones series for their exceptional comfort and listening experience and top-tier noise-cancelling options. Sony’s latest noise-cancelling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM5, continues that premium streak, but has a different design than its predecessors. The glaring omission of that redesign is its inability to fold, making the included case much bigger as well.

Fortunately, many retailers continue to sell the older Sony WH-1000XM4 which has many of the same features the current model has. But is buying a pair of $300 premium headphones launched back in 2020 a good idea given the sea of newer options available? Let’s see how they hold up in 2024.

What’s in the Box?

Sony 1000xm4 headphones

 

When you unblock the package the first thing you’ll likely notice is the hard shell travel case. I’m actually not generally a huge fan of these cases as they tend to be far bulkier than they need to be for simple safe transport. In this case, the case is actually extremely thin and very slim and flat on both sides making it quite unusually easy to slide into a bag or backpack. The back of the carrying case also has an elastic mesh pocket for storing any other small items you wish to add.

I’m very impressed. When you flip the case open you’ll see the headphones, a very short 6-inch USB-C power cord, an auxiliary cable, and a dual-prong airplane aux travel adapter. A felted divider keeps the cords and accessories in one place while also protecting the headphones, another very nice touch.

Design & Comfort

Sony 1000xm4 headphones band

The WH-1000XM4 should be one of the most comfortable headphones $350 can buy thanks to the ample memory foam cushioning on the earcups and headband. (In fact, the WH-1000XM4 model has thicker cushioning than its successor making the former the better pick if you are after comfort and long listening sessions. The newer WH-1000XM5 feels a lot lighter though.)

The earcups feel very well made but they are on the thinner side. I don’t have particularly big ears or ones that stick out, but the inside of the earcup do come quite close to my ears. Those with bigger ears might find these uncomfortable or annoying. The covering on the cups is quite soft and feels feels neither leathery nor plastic. Just very comfortable. (I get the impression these would last years before you notice any signs of wear and once you do, you can easily replace the earcups with a third-party set like the popular stylish earcups Wicked Cushions make.)

When wearing the headphones, you can adjust the headband for a nice snug fit that doesn’t add serious pressure to your head and ears, in fact if anything I’d say these feel on the looser side when it comes to head compression. While I wasn’t worried about them falling off, sudden had movement did seem to allow them to move around just a little bit. Just bear in mind that Sony designed the WH-1000XM4 for casual listening so they’re not really meant to go jogging or exercising since the design also offers no waterproofing.

My preference is for a lighter and less constricting feeling over your headphone that doesn’t sound hollow or plasticky. I’d say this set checks all the boxes.

Using the Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony 1000xm4 headphones

Setup & pairing

There’s only two buttons on the left earcup, making things easy to operate and keep track of the controls.
Holding the power button on the left cup for a couple of seconds switches on the headphones and will immediately enter pairing mode if you are doing this for the first time, as mine did. Pairing the headphones with your device is pretty simple (just open your phone’s Bluetooth menu and tap to connect)

You can use the Sony Headphones Connect app to configure the headphones. From the app, you can adjust the noise cancellation levels, assign a function to the physical “custom” button next to the power button like toggling noise cancellation or triggering your voice assistant, and even pair the headphones to a second device.

Gestures

The right earcup’s surface is touch sensitive allowing you to perform quick actions through tap and swipe gestures. If the app or site supports it, double tapping the right earcup plays or pauses the active media. An alternate way to pause playback is to simply remove the headphones since it has wear-detection and putting the headphones back on resumes the playback.

When your connected device has an incoming call, the double-tap gesture can also answer it as well as end the call during a conversation.

Swiping up or down adjusts the volume while swiping left or right triggers “next” or “previous” actions. These gestures will work when connected to Android or iOS devices as well as Windows systems.

Noise Cancellation

The comfortable earcups provide some decent passive noise isolation, but you’ll get the best experience by activating the noise cancellation feature.
Sony’s QN1 noise cancelling processor and five built-in mics do a fantastic job in cancelling out background noise. The noise cancellation is also adjustable. If you go into the app and look for the sound tab, when you turn on ambient sound control it will give you a slider bar so you can adjust how much exterior noise gets through. You can also let the Sense Engine do its work by setting an appropriate level based on your current activity and the level of sound around you. I always test out noise cancellation both with some audio playing and without anything playing at all. Testing noise cancellation in quieter or environments is actually a bigger challenge since the headphones don’t hear anything to try to cancel out so it’s possible to get more noise bleed in advertently. I can say that these performed quite well in all my tests.

The noise cancellation quality is excellent and really allows you to create an excellent cone of silence.

Sound quality

I tried listening to a variety of music and audio with the WH-1000XM4 including spa sounds (soothing and non-distracting while working), pop, rock, podcasts and more.
The sound quality on these is outstanding, as it should be. Supremely well balanced, it’s easy to pick out multiple layers of sound. The bass, if all settings are left to factory, is a wee, wee bit on the flat side, which can easily be adjusted with the equalizer settings (turn on Bass Boost or Excited). The overall experience is full, head-filling and super enjoyable and it will be tough to find fault with the audio.

Connect to two devices at once

A feature I love and headphones is the ability to connect to two devices at once. While you have to toggle the setting on inside the Sony headphones connect app, it allows you to maintain connections to two devices at once meaning you can connect to your laptop and your phone and easily between them without needing to stop and reconnect. This does take a couple of steps to get set up and the app will walk you through it.

Battery life & charging

Having long battery life in quality headphones is really important. Nobody wants to have to charge them up every day or so, because of course you can count on them running out of juice when you need them the most; like when children are screaming at the airport and you just need to chill out. The WH-1000XM4 provide about 30 hours of battery life with a full charge. With noise cancellation off, you can expect about 38 hours of runtime. I’m happy to say these also boast fast charging where 10 minutes of charge can give you up to five hours of listening time. All in all this is outstanding.

Auto Power off

The headphones have an auto power off setting so that whenever you remove the headphones they will turn off after a short period of time. This is very handy for the forgetful types and those who want to prioritize saving needless battery waste.

Other Features

Sony 1000xm4 headphones

Like many noise-cancelling headphones models in its class, the WH-1000XM4 offers an ambient sound mode which utilizes the built-in microphones to transmit ambient noises to the earcups so you can hear your surroundings while enjoying your music. You may also temporarily activate this feature at will by covering the left earcup with your hand. This will trigger Quick Attention Mode which activates ambient sound while also lowering the volume.

Being a high-end Sony audio product, the WH-1000XM4 supports the high-resolution LDAC audio codec. LDAC improves the audio quality over Bluetooth connections which could come in handy if you have a large FLAC collection or enjoy lossless streaming services like Deezer or Tidal.

If your mobile device has built-in NFC, you can also initiate a quick Bluetooth pairing by placing the smartphone on the left earcup. Just look for the NFC logo.

My Places

These headphones allow you to adjust how they operate based on where you are. Registering locations you frequent with the Sony headphones connect app automatically switches your headphones settings when you were at each location. For example you may be able to hear your family speaking while listening to music at home, or block out colleagues using noise cancelling at your busy open-concept workplace. This feature will automatically adapt your settings based on your current location. Sony does take note that certain areas like subways and tunnels where GPS reception is weak won’t allow you to use this feature properly.

360 Reality Audio

Another key feature of these headphones is 360 reality audio which seems very similar to spatial audio in that it allows you to seemingly hear sound from more places around your head as opposed to simply straight into the ear canal. At the moment this feature is only compatible with a handful of music apps, none of which I subscribed to. As a result I was unable to test out this feature.

Speak to Chat

The speak to chat feature is another cool offering. If you turn this feature on the headphones will listen for your voice and then automatically kill noise cancelling so you can hear what’s happening around you and speak to others. The sound quality is rather strange in that it sounds truly like your voice in the room, I’ll be at with headphones still on your head. It actually sounds very true to life and doesn’t distort voices or add a buzz or hum. The only downside I noticed when testing this is there is a very slight delay when you first begin speaking before the ambient mode kicks in. And it takes quite a while after I finish speaking (about 20 seconds) before the noise cancellation comes back on. Not really a problem but just something to be aware of.

Equalizer

The Sony headphones connect app also offers you equalization settings so you can adjust the headphones to your liking. You can choose from some Sony built presets or make your own custom custom adjustments.

Overall Review: Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony 1000xm4 headphones in case

Despite the product’s age, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is still a compelling buy and will easily outperform other current midrange products in the audio quality and noise cancellation departments.
When it comes to the pros, the sound quality is great, the folding design and slim hard case make it really easy to travel with. The headphones are comfortable and light, and easy to wear for long listening sessions. The battery life is fantastic, the accessories it comes with are useful.

When it comes to the downsides it’s hard to find a lot to crack on here. I could complain about the rather plain design, but for some people that’s actually a pro. I think the biggest issue is going to be the price, and that it continues to stay high despite the launch of a newer iteration.

Many retailers still sell the WH-1000XM4 at over $300 which in my opinion puts it too close to the newer Sony WH-1000XM5. The Sony WH-1000XM5 offers better noise cancellation and audio performance, which is worthwhile if you don’t mind the bulkier case and slightly reduced comfort and flexibility. But if you can find a pair at under $300, grab the deal and you’ll have some great mileage with the pair.

**A note about Affiliate Links: TechGadgetsCanada & TechGadgetsInternational is supported by our readers. Occasionally I will include affiliate links in my reviews. I do this partly for convenience of the reader (since I’ll almost always include a link to the company website or similar anyway) in case you want to read more or purchase, but I also may get a small commission from the click, which helps me keep the blog running. If you choose to use this link I thank you greatly for supporting the blog. There’s no obligation or cost to you for using these links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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