Review: Sony WH-1000XM4

Still the best noise reduction

There is still no one overtaking the Sony WH-1000XM4 on noise reduction. But we hope they will soon upgrade to even better sound.

Published 4 December 2021 - 8:01 am
Sony WH-1000XM4
Geir Nordby

Sony WH-1000XM4 is our reference among noise-canceling headphones. Not because they necessarily have the very best sound – but the noise reduction itself has proven superior.

The “Speak to chat” function automatically pauses the music when you start talking to someone, while activating ambient sound through the headphones. Adaptive sound control adjusts noise reduction and sound from outside based on behavior and surroundings, but I prefer to adjust this myself, manually.

Photo: Sony

The headphones are comfortable, and the weight of 254 grams is by no means heavy. Unfortunately, the plastic feeling is quite prominent.

The Sony app has several settings, such as choosing between the most stable connection (SBC) possible or focusing on sound quality. The latter must be selected if you want to use the LDAC codec with Android phones, for the very best Bluetooth sound. iPhone users should also use this feature, even if they only get AAC quality. But it gets noticeably better than SBC, and the difference down there is more audible than from AAC up to LDAC.

Sony WH-1000XM4 folded
Photo: Sony

In the Sony app you can analyze the ear shape, which the Sony headphones can use to optimize the reproduction of 360 Reality Audio, which is a Sony audio format that provides 3D sound with a pair of stereo headphones. Encoded tracks can be found at Tidal and Deezer, among others. In the same app, the noise reduction can be optimized in relation to the air pressure, which can make them even more suitable in aircraft high in the air.

Sony WH-1000XM4(3)
Photo: Sony

The noise cancellation

There is still no one who has managed to throw Sony from the noise cancellation throne, and this it not the day, either. Although there is a slight hiss to hear with ANC activated (as with almost everyone else), the damping is so effective that it is immediately forgiven. In the car on the way over the mountain, noise from fellow passengers and the radio over the car stereo is suppressed to such an extent that I can have my own music at a moderate sound level and still enjoy it. The Sonys are also exemplary on planes, and the headphones you should have if you want the very best noise reduction.

Sony WH-1000XM4(2)
Photo: Sony

The sound

In the app you can activate DSEE Extreme, which tries to retrieve lost information in the compression needed to send wirelessly via Bluetooth. It gives a better impression of stereo width and air at the top. You can also adjust the sound with a 5-band graphic equalizer, in which case it is recommended to deactivate the DSEE Extreme so as not to drain too much battery.

The sound from the Sony ones is good. The treble is fresher than previous generations, but even though I bragged about them in this discipline when I tested them last fall, there are several others in the class that have a better tonal reproduction than the Sony ones. The Yamaha YH-E700A clearly sounds better, and the JBL Tour One is not far behind either.

The bass is cash and lively, but it does not go particularly deep at Sony. Beyoncé’s Be Alive sounds tough and entertaining, but the double bass of Esperanza Spalding could definitely go deeper. What I like is that the sound quality does not vary much depending on whether the noise cancellation is on or off. Or ambient sound, for that matter. The headphones largely retain the tight and cash rhythm.

Sony WH-1000XM4 white lifestyle(2)-gigapixel-standard-width-3839px Sony WH-1000XM4 white lifestyle-gigapixel-standard-width-3839px
Photo: Sony

Sony WH-1000XM4: Conclusion

It’s been more than a year since we first tested the WH-1000XM4, and especially on noise cancellation, the headphones impress as much today as when they were brand new on the market. They are still class leaders there.

With a slim deep bass but still a juicy and swollen middle bass, these are not the most linear in the class. The sound is still good, and especially pop sounds engaging. Jazz and classical are not their favorite dish, as more nuances and better linearity are needed. Of course it works, but there are better headphones for acoustic music.

Sony WH-1000XM4 spread(3) Sony WH-1000XM4 spread(2) Sony WH-1000XM4 spread(1)
Photo: Geir Gråbein Nordby
Sony WH-1000XM4

We think

Still the best noise reduction in the class, and the fit fits just as good as always. In terms of sound quality, there are several who have caught up with Sony.

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