Sony WH1000XM4 Review – Still great in 2021?

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2020 might have been quit a testing year in many matters but was a great year for tech and even more for over-ear headphones. The market saw Apple enter the space with the AirPods Max (a very expensive pair of over-ear headphones) as well as the continuation of the various line-ups from brands like Sony and Bose in the over-head wireless headset (consumer) segment.

Sony has constantly lead this category (at least in our opinion) with it’s WH series. We got our hands on the newest member of that family, the XM4’s pretty late. So here is our opinion of the headphones to stay whether it stays relevant in 2021.

The WH-1000XM4 is the successor to the already great 1000XM3. These headphones don’t just come with a change in number, but also better technology, sound, design and noise cancellation.

Sony WH1000XM4

Body and Build

In terms of design, Sony has kept to its strengths and hasn’t gone back to the drawing board with this pair. However, there are definitely noticeable differences over its predecessor. One of the first things one notices is the feel of the headphones; they’ve gone from a smooth plasticky finish to a slight matte texture-like finish. 

The ear cups of the XM4 are thinner and softer, while getting a little larger than the XM3. The overhead band has been made a little smaller as well giving the whole device a neater appearance and a drop in weight by a whole gram. Sadly, these headphones still don’t have an IP rating and can’t be recommended for use during exercise, but overall, they provide an extremely comfortable fit over long periods of time.

All the buttons and their placements remain unchanged from the XM3, with the exception of the NC button which has been renamed to Custom. 

Audio

The WH-1000XM4 has a lot of big shoes to fill in terms of its predecessor, and one of the additions it sports is a shiny new sound processor. Sony has decided to switch from DSEE HX to the DSEE Extreme engine, which uses Edge-AI, a new artificial intelligence technology and is capable of upscaling compressed music to much better quality. The AI helps to analyse and reproduce the music in real time, giving it a more accurate sound.

We know it sounds ridiculous, but Sony has actually managed to bring out even more performance on these headphones. We tested them on a decent variety of tracks, and its quite apparent that the sound from these definitely allow for more range, clarity and detail. It actually feels like an upgrade over the XM3s instead of just  having a few minor tweaks. 

The XM4 packs a deeper than before bass and definitely finishes its trebles a lot smoother. They really do let you listen to any track you like with equal fervor from the first note to the last and then leave you wanting more.

Noise Cancellation has always been a big point for Sony and its equally important in these XM4s. Earlier we mentioned that the NC button had been changed to Custom but still runs the same as before. You’ll need to run the NC Optimizer to calibrate how you listen to your headphones and adjust Noise Cancellation accordingly. 

Other features

Remember that Quick Attention feature on the XM3 where you could just cover the right ear cup and the music would stop so you could listen to whoever was bothering you or you could complete your coffee order in peace? Well you can do that here but you can all use the new “Speak to Chat” feature which cuts the music as soon as it senses you starting to make conversation. There is minor lag in the time it takes to switch modes, but we can expect that to only get better from here on. You can also set the sensitivity through the Sony Connect app so you don’t just switch it with a simple cough or one word answer. 

They’ve finally introduced “Wearing Detection” wherein the music pauses when you take them off for something and turns back on when you put your headphones back on. Another bonus feature is that you can now connect 2 devices if you need to. 

Battery Life still remains amazing with almost 30 hours with Bluetooth and NC enabled. Sony uses its new “Precise Voice Pickup” technology to improve quality of voice calls and uses the headphones  to control the mics and uses signal processing for a more clear and precise sound.

Worth it in 2021?

It definitely feels like Sony has upped its game and given us a worthy successor. They’re as comfortable as ever, and lighter now too. They wholeheartedly improve the experience when it comes to listening to music and is a commuters dream come true. Adding another device that it can connect to is definitely a win, while its still a little disappointing that these don’t have an IP rating yet.

Available at just over Dh1000 in the UAE, the Sony WH1000XM4 are a definite recommendation from our side if you’re in the market for a new pair of over-ear noise-cancellation headphones.

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