There was a mixed one theinformationsuperhighway staff reacted to the recent announcement of the Sony WH-1000XM4. Those looking for new headphones were delighted and disappointed those who recently bought another pair. The product's predecessors are widely recognized as some of the best over-ear headphones available for the price. So the biggest question was what the new ones bring to the table.
Let me say that right off the bat. If you own the WH-1000XM3, congratulations. You bought very good headphones – one that rightly helped break Bose from its longstanding position as the standard purchase for frequent travelers. And no, there is no need to rush and upgrade if yours still exist.
The original headphones came into the world pretty much completely, and after two years this update is more of a refinement of an excellent product. However, the additions go a long way in keeping Sony going Spot as the reigning champion of noise-canceling over-ear Bluetooth headphones. The 1000XM4 are hard to beat.
The new headphones look more or less the same as their predecessors. They aren't the most eye-catching over-ear headphones for your buck (this award may go to Sennheiser or Bang & Olufsen). I appreciate the relative simplicity compared to the comparable Bose Quiet Comfort model. To be honest, when it comes to things like long-haul flights, the less noticeable, the better.
The headphones are surprisingly lightweight – something I noticed when I first got the chance to try out the M3 during a boardroom meeting with Sony managers a few years ago. The new units have a little more padding and are extremely comfortable. I say this as someone who for some reason has a hard time dealing with over-ear headphones. As of this writing, I've been wearing headphones for almost four days.
Of course there were breaks in the marathon. The nature of the form factor means they're not really ideal for going for a walk or falling asleep, for example. The former has been especially the case lately here in New York, where it routinely hit temperatures in the 90s. However, they are great for noise canceling all the nuisances from home. And when we all fly in airplanes again, they are ideally suited for that too (not least thanks to the 3.5 mm headphone jack for maintaining the backrest).
The other element that has made it possible to use it almost continuously is the ability to pair the system with two devices at the same time. This has frankly been a big problem for a number of headphones I've been using lately. The user had to go to the device settings and manually select the headphones. With the iOS app I have paired the M4 with my phone and my desktop and can switch seamlessly between the sources. You will be surprised how liberating it feels. Just make sure your sound level is comparable on each device or you will experience an unfortunate explosion.
As with the M3, the sound quality is excellent and offers a full audio picture regardless of the genre. The sound is honestly pretty much the same as the previous model, and that's perfectly fine. Nura's really excellent sound profile technology holds the top spot for me, but these new Sonys offer excellent sound for a pair of everyday headphones.
The real heart, however, is Sony's really excellent noise cancellation. The feature was the M3's real secret weapon against Bose domination in this category. The new models set new standards by capturing ambient noise around 700 times per second via the system-on-a-chip and actively adapting to counteract this. The system also has the Noise Canceling Optimizer. At first glance, the function works similarly to the noise optimization on other systems. Hold the button and an audio signal will be sent to your ear meowing things like seal quality and atmospheric pressure (mostly for aircraft) to provide a more customized found profile. This results in really great noise cancellation and an overall great audio experience.
There are a number of other useful features that may or may not be helpful in your particular scenario. For example, I found myself Immediately turn off Talk to Chat, which will pause playback when you speak. In theory a nice feature, but I live alone. The only time it triggers is when I cough, laugh, or unconsciously sing along to the music. But more useful for my own needs is a feature that allows ambient noise when you cover the right auricle with your hand. Ambient noise fed into the headphones through a microphone still sounds a little unnatural, but it's enough.
I also found that I turned off location tracking because honestly enough of my devices already know where I am. Also adding noise that adapts to familiar places is nice, but not really worth the effort for me – especially these days when I leave my apartment significantly less than I want to admit. Also, I really don't like seeing that location tracking icon in the corner of iOS 11.
Google Assistant and Alexa are also integrated, but again, these are not functions that I often use in headphones. I'd say I turned them off to save battery too, but with a reported 30 hour lifespan, I was honestly fine in that regard. When you charge via USB-C, you get an impressive five hours of playback in around 10 minutes.
At $ 350, they're just as expensive as their predecessors – that is, they're not cheap. However, you will have a hard time finding better wireless over-ear headphones in their class.