Tech

WF-1000XM4 headphone review: Sony takes back the reins on active noise reduction

Sony has yet achieved a small miracle with its WF-1000XM4, headphones with a bluffing active noise reduction, almost at the level of headphones.

To many eyes and ears, Sony’s WF-1000XM3 headphones are some of the best around. This was certainly true when they were launched, but since then the competition has grown in earnest, between Apple’s AirPods Pro (the benchmark for iOS users) or Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds. These are particularly impressive in terms of active noise reduction. We were therefore impatiently awaiting the response from the Japanese manufacturer.

In 2021, Sony is replacing its WF-1000XM3s with the WF-1000XM4s. And, rest assured, it’s not just the number that has changed. If the company had been careful with its high-end headphones – the WH-1000XM4 took the logical continuation of the WH-1000XM3 by not creating any break – the headphones are evolving more clearly. The WF-1000XM3 had been criticized for their far from flawless comfort. What about their successors?

Sony WF-1000XM4 headphones // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

More compact, but still a bit big

Aesthetically, the WF-1000XM3 and WF-1000XM4 have little to do with it. Only the quality of finish, always appreciable at Sony, remains similar. The matte plastic is pleasant to the eye and to the touch, and the small metallic tones elegantly dress the product. We immediately feel the high-end positioning, which justifies the high price.

A high-end positioning that is immediately felt

Where the WF-1000XM3 assumed their elongated shape, very conspicuous from a distance, the WF-1000XM4 opt for a slightly more discreet circular design. However, they remain quite imposing and stick out of the ear even when they are worn. It is a choice that can be found questionable, especially for comfort (we will come back to this) but the evolution is positive: we are gaining in sobriety, while waiting for a future generation which, perhaps, will have even smaller measurements. . For the moment, it will be remembered that the WF-1000XM4 were not designed to be totally forgotten.

The case has also lost weight to better slip into a pocket. We then end up with a rather elongated accessory, with the thickness contained and in which the two headphones are cleverly housed (each its compartment). The finish, again matt, is associated with a very fine light indicator (essential to know the state of the battery). On the cover, the presence of a Sony logo is the only visible eccentricity.

The logo of the Sony WF-1000XM4 headphones // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

Full of features

To take advantage of the full potential offered by the WF-1000XM4, it is strongly recommended that you download the Headphones Connect app – available on Android and iOS. Then all you have to do is take the headphones out of their case to easily pair them with your smartphone. If you ever have difficulty connecting them, hold the touch surfaces for 5 short seconds.

The Headphones Connect application provides access to a countless number of more or less relevant features. To the simplicity of an Apple, Sony responds with a range of customization tools that will appeal to those who love to adjust at will. Among the most interesting features, let’s keep in mind the possibility of adjusting the ambient sound on 20 levels, of intelligently adapting the noise reduction to one’s habits (detection of actions and / or places that we frequent, after several analyzes) or still to choose what to prioritize between sound quality or connection. The application still accumulates a little too many parameters and would benefit from being clearer.

Intelligent noise control of Sony WF-1000XM4 headphones // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

You can choose the shortcuts to assign to the tactile surfaces present on each of the earbuds. These respond well and the freedom given is great: ambient sound control, playback controls, volume controls … It is for example possible to manage the volume on the left earphone, and to switch from one song to the next. other with the right. You can of course also choose not to assign any order.

Customization of Sony WF-1000XM4 earphone controls // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

The WF-1000XM4 automatically shut off when you remove one. Playback resumes if you go backwards. However, this functionality can also be deactivated.

Daring choices

The first few minutes in the company of the WF-1000XM4 can be confusing for many, for several reasons. Sony has made some amazing bets: this strange shape that we don’t really know how to best insert in the ear and these memory foam that replace the traditional silicone eartips. The WF-1000XM4 therefore require a little learning to be well worn. In this regard, we recommend going through the application, which includes a tool responsible for checking that they are correctly inserted. Otherwise, it may be necessary to change the size of the tips (three are provided: S, M and L).

Although the WF-1000XM4 are far from the most comfortable headphones on the market, their design makes them feel good in our ears. Their maintenance is therefore rather good (although we will not recommend them for sport). However, they can create a slight discomfort over long sessions. Nothing crippling, but a point on which the Sony teams can still progress.

Sony WF-1000XM4 headphone adjustment tool // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

Sacred noise reduction

When it comes to active noise reduction, Sony is playing in the big leagues. It’s simple, there are only Bose and Apple to compete. With the WF-1000XM4, we have to admit that the Japanese giant has regained a definite advantage in the headphones segment. As soon as you insert them for the first time, you can feel how effectively they isolate. For example, they will have no trouble completely covering the voice of a video played on your PC (and, therefore, the conversations of your colleagues), or in attenuating the noise of a vacuum cleaner.

For those who want to cut themselves off from ambient noise without going through headphones, the WF-1000XM4 are a solid solution, even bluffing. To achieve such a result, Sony relies on a dedicated chip, coupled to microphones. The active noise reduction is accompanied by a very effective passive reduction, since the WF-1000XM4 plug the ears a little too well. Together, this duo would almost give the illusion that you are wearing a high-end helmet, even in noisy places.

A Sony WF-1000XM4 earphone // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

The listening quality offered by the WF-1000XM4 is very good. Out of the box, they offer a very warm rendering, with a nice base in the bass register to start. Thanks to their accuracy, we take advantage of a mine of details, with vocal parts that stand out perfectly. Perfect for immersing yourself in your favorite playlists. And if you are not fully satisfied, a little passage through the equalizer will allow you to adjust to your tastes. The WF-1000XM4 finally offer 360-degree audio, in compatible applications.

Sony WF-1000XM4 earphone case // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

Up to 8 hours of listening

Despite all its features, the WF-1000XM4 are advertised with an 8 hour battery life on a single charge. They almost succeed, and it’s a real feat against the 4 hours and 30 minutes of AirPods Pro and 6 hours of Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. With the case, compatible with wireless charging, the total autonomy increases to 24 hours.

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