If you're looking for a premium pair of noise-canceling, wireless, over-ear headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4 are some of the best on the market . Both the sound quality and noise-canceling abilities are field-leading, able to deliver powerful lows, crisp mids, and sparkling highs whether you're sitting in the silence of your living room or dealing with the raucous din of a crowded train station (or working from a less-than-silent home office). A few convenient touches like the ability to link to multiple devices at once, touch-sensitive controls, and an auto-pause sensor complete the package. As long as you can stomach the relatively high price, you're almost sure to love the Sony WH-1000XM4.Editor's Note: This Sony review was updated on January 18, 2022, to provide more details on why we would choose the Sony and what else we think you should consider.
Sony WH-1000XM4 Review
Pros: Superb active noise cancellation and overall sound quality, multipoint Bluetooth pairing, auto-pause, relatively comfortable for most people
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|Pros||Superb active noise cancellation and overall sound quality, multipoint Bluetooth pairing, auto-pause, relatively comfortable for most people||Excellent sound quality, field-leading noise cancellation, comfortable||Great sound quality, good noise cancellation, comfortable, built-in Google Assistant||Great sound quality, great noise cancellation, comfortable, user friendly features||Inexpensive, powerful bass, effective active noise cancellation, comfortable|
|Cons||Expensive||Expensive||Expensive||Expensive, both sound quality and noise cancellation fall just short of being the best in the field||Lacks some brightness in mid and vocal ranges, headband may be to large for smaller heads|
|Bottom Line||Top-notch in terms of both noise cancellation and sound quality, it's hard to find a better listening experience||Pillowy comfort and one of the best personal listening experiences we've enjoyed from any device||Top of the line headphones that offer nearly everything you could want||Premium cans that offer unique features on top of great sound quality and noise cancellation||Impressively inexpensive given the sound quality, active noise-canceling performance, and comfort|
|Rating Categories||Sony WH-1000XM4||Bose Noise Cancelli...||Bose QuietComfort 3...||Jabra Elite 85h||Soundcore Life Q20|
|Sound Quality (30%)|
|Noise Isolation (25%)|
|User Friendliness (10%)|
|Specs||Sony WH-1000XM4||Bose Noise Cancelli...||Bose QuietComfort 3...||Jabra Elite 85h||Soundcore Life Q20|
|Manufacturer reported battery life (hours)||30||20||40 wired, 20 BT||36||40|
|Measured weight (ounces)||8.8||9.2||10.9||10.5||9.3|
|Included case||Semi-hard case||Semi-hard case||Semi-hard case||Semi-hard case||Lined drawstring pouch|
|Earcup padding cover material||Foamed urethane/leatherette||Leather||Synthetic protein leather||Leatherette||Leatherette|
|Charging cable length (inches)||7.9"||42"||47.2"||12"||40"|
|Microphone for voice?||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Onboard buttons||Volume, change track, take/make calls||Volume, play/pause, forward/back, noise cancelling, voice assistant, power/bluetooth, answer/decline/mute calls||Volume, play/pause, forward/back, noise cancelling||Volume, play/pause, forward/back, noise cancelling, voice assistant, power/bluetooth, answer/decline/mute calls, toggle between sound modes||Volume, multifunction, power, NC|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Sony WH-1000XM4 set the standard in both consumer headphone noise cancellation and sound quality, and the price reflects that.
Overall, the WH-1000XM4 are some of the best-sounding wireless headphones we've ever tested, but there's a decent chance you'll have to adjust the EQ settings to get them sounding the way you want.
The WH-1000XM4 gets impressively close to what audio nerds would call a flat frequency response. This means the headphones give fairly even expression/volume through the entirety of the low, mid, and high frequencies. In essence, the sound tends to be more "true" to the recording, with all the instruments shining through at the respective volumes at which they were played. This can create a very nuanced and rich listening experience, bringing your musical appreciation to another level.
Sound quality is an inherently subjective thing, and some people may not like the more even sound that the WH-1000XM4 offers out of the box. In fact, many people like the warmer, more bass-forward sound that many modern headphones favor. This kind of sound profile offers a bit more expression and volume in the bass frequencies, drops off a bit in the mids, and often ticks back up a little in the higher registers to lend some clarity to vocals and guitar solos. The WH-1000XM4 is more than capable of producing this kind of sound; you might have to go into the app and engage the "bass boost" mode or adjust the EQ sliders yourself.
No matter how you'd like to adjust the EQ, these headphones are capable of incredibly sharp clarity, booming bass, and impressive fullness. If you put them on and close your eyes, it may just feel like you're at a concert.
Phone calls sound great on these headphones. The microphones do a fairly good job of sifting through background noise to send a clear signal of your voice to whomever you're speaking to. However, the flagship Bose headphones maybe do a slightly better job in that regard.
Here again, the WH-1000XM4 is standard-setting. When we did our controlled test of sitting next to a 70-decibel fan with no music playing, the headphone didn't let any sound reach our ears. Similarly, typing, tapping on the desk, having coworkers talk next to us, and turning a TV on in the background at a reasonable volume were all completely shielded from our ears. Turn music on, and it feels like you're in your own little bubble, even if there's a good amount of ambient noise around you. Bottom line, if these headphones don't satisfy your noise-canceling needs, nothing will.
Using the corresponding app also lets you fine-tune the noise-canceling settings, but more on that in a bit.
We think that the vast majority of people will be able to find a comfortable fit with the WH-1000XM4.
Sony increased the padding in these headphones a bit compared to their predecessors, resulting in a slightly more cushy feel and slightly deeper earcups. The cushions are covered in faux leather and feel comfortable against the skin. The headband has just enough padding that we didn't feel any hotspots when wearing them for multiple hours.
The ear cups are still a bit smaller than those on the competing Bose Noise Cancelling 700 and Bose QuietComfort 35 II models, so those with larger ears may still prefer the latter. However, for most people, the WH-1000XM4 is likely to be comfortable for hours on end.
The WH-1000XM4 uses an intuitive touch-sensitive control pad and offers several broadly useful features and some more niche features.
The headphones use a touch-sensitive pad on the right earcup for most basic functions like play/pause and volume control. We found these controls both intuitive and responsive.
Perhaps the best new feature for these headphones is the multi-point Bluetooth parking, allowing you to pair the headphones to two devices simultaneously. This means you can be listening to Spotify on your laptop and then seamlessly switch over to your phone when you get a call.
A similarly great feature is auto-pause, which uses a sensor in the left earcup to detect when you remove the headphones from your head, automatically pausing your music when you do so.
These headphones also offer a "quick attention" mode like previous iterations. If you hold your hand over the right earcup, it pauses the music, turns noise-canceling off, and turns on transparency mode, which pipes in outside noise through the headphones' microphones. This is great if you're in a train station or airport and want to hear an announcement quickly. It also lets you have a quick conversation without taking the headphones off.
A more advanced version of this is the "speak-to-talk" feature, which pauses music and goes into transparency mode when it senses that you start talking and then remains in that mode for a predetermined amount of time (15 to 60 seconds). We found this feature a bit more clunky, as it was sometimes triggered by noises other than our voices and often took an extra second or two to kick in when we did start speaking. Also, there's nothing like a pair of headphones that automatically pause your music every time you inadvertently talk to yourself to make you realize this aspect of your behavior.
While no full-sized pair of headphones can be considered super portable, the WH-1000XM4 comes fairly close.
First off, the headphones themselves fold flat, presenting a relatively small profile. They go into an included semi-rigid case that has helpful illustrations showing you how exactly to fold the headphones to make them fit. The case itself isn't impervious but offers enough protection that we didn't feel any trepidation in stuffing the headphones into a carry-on bag or an overloaded backpack.
Should You Buy the WH-1000XM4?
The Sony WH-1000XM4 offers field-leading sound quality backed up by leading active noise cancellation. If you're looking for the best possible headphones to enjoy music, to drown out distractions, or both, these definitely deserve your consideration.
What Other Wireless Headphones Should You Consider?
Assuming your budget can handle it, these are the headphones we'd choose hands-down. However, if you need to save a few dollars, the Jabra Elite 85h can save you about a hundred dollars while only sacrificing slightly. They offer the same level of comfort and user-friendliness, with just a slight dip in performance for sound quality and noise cancellation. Depending on your goals, this might be more than acceptable if your budget is smaller than the Sony allows.
— Max Mutter and Michelle Powell
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