Tech review: Sony WH-1000XM4 offers best-in-class noise cancellation

The Sony WH-1000XM4 has superb active noise cancellation, just like its predecessor.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 has superb active noise cancellation, just like its predecessor.PHOTO: SONY

Sony's WH-1000XM4 (available on Amazon, Lazada and Shopee), the successor to the critically-acclaimed WH-1000XM3 wireless over-ear headphones, is finally here after a long wait of two years.

In terms of looks, it does not differ much from its predecessor - still with a minimalist design, two big ear cups and a cushioned headband. It is available in black and silver (version tested).

The inner part of the ear cups feels larger than its predecessor's, giving my ears more room, while the ear cup paddings are soft and comfortable. The headband does not clamp down on my head, allowing me to wear the headphones for long periods of time without discomfort.

At the bottom of the right ear cup are the power button and a custom button for turning on the ambient sound or active noise cancellation (ANC), along with a 3.5mm jack. At the bottom of the left ear cup is a USB-C port for charging the headphones.

The exterior of the right ear cup is a touch-sensitive panel. I find the touch controls really intuitive - swipe up or down to increase or lower the volume, double tap to play or pause a track, swipe forward to skip to the next track, and swipe backward to return to the previous track.

On the downside, it does not have a water resistance rating. So don't wear it out for jogs or even gym workouts.

In terms of audio quality, the WH-1000XM4 is superb. When I first tried it, I thought its bass boost mode was on, such was the punchy bass and sparkling mids and treble.

But when I checked the Sony Headphone Connect app (available on Android and iOS), I realised it was on the default flat equaliser (EQ) preset. With the rich and vibrant way details are presented in this EQ mode, classical music and Kitaro's tunes are an audio feast.

The WH-1000XM3 is widely regarded as having the best ANC in its genre. The WH-1000XM4 is just as good as its predecessor in this department. I think it just edges out its closest competitor, Bose's latest NC Headphones 700.

The app offers a noise cancellation optimiser that analyses sonic characteristics caused by the wearer's head size, glasses and even hair, to tailor the noise cancellation to each user.

The ANC blocked out my "re-creation" of the engine hum inside an airplane cabin - which I simulated by turning up the fan of my study's decade-old air-conditioning unit to the maximum setting. It also cut out noise from the home improvement work of my neighbour upstairs. I think I would be able to get hours of good sleep on long haul flights - when we are able to easily travel again - if I wear it.

 
 
 

Apart from its superb ANC, the WH-1000XM4 also retains the Adaptive Sound Control feature, which detects the wearer's actions and location and automatically switches the headphones to, say, the ambient sound mode. This feature may not be useful for the work from home brigade though.

The more useful feature is its new ability to be connected to two devices at the same time, such as a laptop and a smartphone. So say you are watching a webinar on your laptop and the phone rings. The WH-1000XM4 will automatically switch from your laptop to your smartphone so you can pick up the call.

Not to mention, my callers told me my voice came across crystal clear when I was using the headphones. You can also manually switch connectivity between your two paired devices.

Also new is the Speak-to-Chat feature, which automatically pauses music playback and lets in ambient sound when it detects you are talking, so that you can conduct a conversation. Sounds good if you are in the office, but irritating if you are working from home and want to sing along to the tune you are listening to. However, you can turn off this feature in the app.

In terms of battery life, the WH-1000XM4 is rated at 30 hours with ANC on, much longer than the 20-hour rating of the NC Headphones 700. In my test, I found that it has around 80 per cent of battery life left after six hours of music playback with ANC turned on.


FOR

- Superb audio quality with rich details

- Industry-leading active noise cancellation

- Able to connect to two devices concurrently

- Very comfortable to wear

- Long battery life

AGAINST

- Same looks as the WH-1000XM3

- No water resistance

TECH SPECS

Price: $549

Drivers: 40mm neodymium

Frequency response: 4Hz to 40KHz

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, Near Field Communication, 3.5mm

Weight: 254g

RATING

Features: 4/5

Design: 4.5/5

Performance: 5/5

Battery life: 5/5

Value for money: 4/5

Overall: 4.5/5 [ST Tech Editor's Choice]

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