Noise cancelling headphones have become much more important over the last 6 months. We’re sharing spaces, working from home, and adapting to our new situations. We need headphones that can adapt with us to different environments with different levels of ambient noise. So, it is a great time to take a look at Sony’s newest offering in wireless noise-cancelling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4.
Unboxing the Sony WH-1000XM4
The packaging of the Sony WH-1000XM4 is appropriately clean and uncluttered. The headphones themselves sit within the fabric-covered- carrying case, with the audio cable, USB 3.0 power cable and airplane adapter tucked inside. The very simple setup instructions are printed on the cardboard divider that sits on top of the carrying case. I didn’t see any wasted space or excessive material in the box.
Setting up the WH-1000XM4
The “easy setup” directions on the package has exactly two parts: download the app, then turn the headphones on. I made sure they were fully charged before that, and that is the first step listed in the more detailed instructions tucked underneath the carrying case. You can also download the operating instructions. And there are QR codes on the printed instructions that will take you to tutorial videos that explain how to use the different features. All in all, very easy to set up and adjust via the smartphone app.
Sony Headphones Connect app
You will do all of your settings customization through this app. It manages the Bluetooth pairing process between your device and the headphones, so the connection process is effortless. You can also control the music playing on your device from the app instead of your music app. There’s also an equalizer so that you can adjust the output to the particular type of audio you are enjoying. The app was simple to use and effective.
This is the physical aspect of reducing unwanted external sound. Your headphones create a barrier between the outside sound and your ears, and the effectiveness of the barrier depends on the physical materials used and the fit. The Sony WH-1000MX4 have very good noise isolation. I slipped them on while listening to music through my computer’s speakers, and the volume of the music reaching my ears dropped by a considerable amount. And since noise isolation is a passive effect, it works even if the headphones are turned off.
Sony WH-1000XM4 noise cancellation
I need to be clear about expectations when it comes to noise cancelling: it isn’t magic. I used to believe that noise cancellation meant all sound outside of the headphones would completely vanish. That is a tad unrealistic. Having said that, the Sony WH-1000MX4’s noise cancellation is phenomenal.
How it works
A pair of microphones pick up the ambient sound around the headphones, and they send it to the QN1 microprocessor. The processor takes that information and uses an algorithm to adjust the sound in the headphones to cancel out the noise. The Sony WH-1000XM4 makes up to 700 acoustic adjustments per second to maximize the sound quality and reduce external noise.
I tested the noise cancellation in a few scenarios. You can change the level of noise cancellation manually, to get the right amount of ambient sound. If you’re sitting in your den, you might want maximum noise cancellation. If you’re walking by a busy road, it’s prudent to hear some of the traffic rushing by. On the highest level of cancellation, I was only aware of a car when it was directly beside me. That was a little unsettling. It was easy to find the right balance of noise cancellation and change it when I changed locations.
Are you a voice command sort of person? If so, these headphones will happily accommodate you. You can configure the one custom button on the headphones to launch Google Assistant or Alexa, and use them as you would with any other device. The voice command worked well, fast and responsive. The only drawback is that mapping the custom button to Google Assistant meant I couldn’t switch my noise cancellation presets by pressing the button. I had to use the app instead. Your regular usage patterns will dictate if the voice assistant or the preset switching is more valuable.
I admit that I was surprised to see an audio cable in the box. I assumed that a wireless pair of headphones would refuse to be seen with a lowly wire. I should keep a lid on my assumptions. The included audio cable increases the usefulness of the headphones, especially in a situation where wireless devices may not be allowed. You can connect them to a standard audio jack and use the headphones without turning them on. So, if you happen to find yourself with a depleted battery, you can still use the headphones. Naturally, the noise cancellation and other features won’t be active when the headphones are powered off.
The right earpiece has touch controls on the outer surface, instead of adding a clutter of buttons. You swipe up to increase volume, down to decrease, left and right to change tracks. Placing your hand over the entire earpiece housing tells the Sony WH-1000XM4 to turn the music down and let ambient sound in. If you speak out loud, the Speak-to-chat feature will automatically pause the music and increase ambient sound. And if you take the headphones off, the music will automatically pause. The controls were responsive and easy to use once I familiarized myself with the setup.
I know this is a subjective assessment, and what is comfortable to my particular ear and head arrangement may not work for others. But I think it’s safe to say that the Sony WH-1000XM4 will sit nicely on any ears they encounter. The padding is, well, padded. It’s thick enough and soft enough that the earphones sit comfortably against the side of your head. They are also lightweight, which reduces the physical burden on your head. The only drawback to the ample padding and good fit is that it retains body heat pretty well. This is a benefit when it’s cold outside, but on a walk through the hot summer sunshine, it can get a little bit sweaty in there.
Sony WH-1000XM4 sound quality
You’re going to be very happy with the quality and fidelity of the sound from the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones. There are three primary elements that combine to provide high quality sound. First element are the physical components like the liquid crystal polymer (LCP) diaphragms. The second is the high data transfer rate of the LDAC Bluetooth codec. And third is the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) Extreme, an AI-driven software solution that upscales compressed digital audio files. I put the headphones through their paces with bass-heavy tracks followed by lush orchestral recordings followed by a random selection of dynamic songs. The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones made each one sound fantastic, without a trace of distortion.
Sony WH-1000XM4 final thoughts
These headphones are for anyone who wants effective noise cancellation and great sound quality. The Sony WH-1000XM4 rise to the occasion to adjust and adapt to differing noise levels, without limiting your ability to hear your music clearly and cleanly. They are an investment that may cost a bit more up front, but the long-term payoff in sound quality and functionality is worth it. I highly recommend these headphones. But if you’re still undecided, check out the other great advice that’s on our blog.