Sony XM4 Full Size Headphones

sony xm4 full size headphones
If you have the money and want a top-tier pair of headphones for modern life, the sony xm4 full size headphones are the way to go. The combination of high-quality Bluetooth codecs, great sound, improved noise canceling, good battery life, and smart features like auto pause and Bluetooth multipoint makes these the best all-around option for most people.
Pros
  • Excellent noise cancelling
  • Very good sound quality for all Bluetooth profiles (Listening to music, phone/video calls)
  • Battery life
  • Excellent Bluetooth range
  • Automatic voice detection to pause music and enter transparency mode
Cons
  • Touch controls are simply awful!
  • Dual Bluetooth device support
  • Constant beeps and noise canceling turned off, especially with “Detection of Actions” enabled
  • Voice detection for stopping the music and going into a transparency mode responds to almost any sound you make. A large breath, grunt, or anything will trigger this feature.
  • Rubs on the “helix” outer part of the ear on the left ear
  • Somewhat complex set up process

 

The Sony WH-1000XM4 builds upon its predecessor, the Sony WH-1000XM3. The WH-1000XM4 continues to give Bose competition and features multipoint connectivity, speak-to-chat functionality, and a host of other advanced software features.

This time around, Sony forges ahead of the pack, and with the advent of the Sony WH-1000XM5, you can get The Best Sony xm4 full size headphones for a steep discount. Does this set of Best Sony headphones have the heart to continue fighting against its competition or do others overtake it? We spent two weeks with the Sony WH-1000XM4 active noise canceling (ANC) sony xm4 full size headphones to find out.

Editor’s note: this review was updated on July 11, 2022, to address how the Sony WH-1000XM4 compares to the Sony WF-1000XM4 noise canceling earbuds.

We also added a microphone frequency response chart to the review and added information in the Noise canceling section comparing the WH-1000XM4 to the WH-1000XM5, Bose QuietComfort 45, and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.

Excellent noise canceling, Bluetooth range, sound very good, comfortable, horrible user controls

A disclaimer: I received this product as part of Amazon’s Vine program. While I didn’t pay for the item, the review is my personal, unbiased review. Neither Amazon nor the vendor has influenced this review in any way.

Overall these are excellent Bluetooth headphones. The noise cancellation is excellent. This is probably the best noise-canceling headphone available. The Bluetooth range is also exceptional.

The audio quality for music is also very good, and I expect most people will find them to be excellent.

Phone/video call audio is also good receiving, and acceptable for the microphone. They have long battery life and charge quickly. They are relatively comfortable as well. The touch user controls are simply dreadful. There are many other features with a range of benefits.

Comfort:

They seem comfortable, and the ear pads are soft and plush. However, after several hours the outside of my ears start to hurt from rubbing on the insides of the sony xm4 full-size headphones(the area called the helix on top of the ear rubs on the inside of the left ear around the optical sensor area.) If at some time we resume taking long international flights this could be an even larger issue.

They are still comfortable though when wearing them with glasses. The ear pads are pliant enough to continue to make a good seal without painfully pushing them into your head.

Bluetooth, Pairing, Multiple devices:

These support 2 Bluetooth devices to be connected simultaneously. The Bose QC35 has had this feature for some time.

I initially paired my iPhone X with the headphones. I then added a MacBook Pro from within the Connect app. I was then able to play music from the MacBook. I went back to the iPhone and tried to play something.

It didn’t immediately play. It is rather finicky. Sometimes starting something with audio on the iPhone will cause audio to switch. Mostly it doesn’t if something is playing already on one device. Stopping the audio, waiting, and then starting the audio on the phone is a bit more reliable.

Even if the source on one device is paused and not playing it may not switch back.
This is a bit problematic though since the iPhone still thinks it is connected to a Bluetooth headphone, so the audio is still routed to the Sony WH-1000MX4, but isn’t played – so it goes nowhere. This works far more seamlessly on the Bose QC35. I found myself disabling this feature half the time.

While the WH-1000MX4 does have voice announcements, it doesn’t speak the name of the device. It will say “Bluetooth device 1 connected,” whereas the Bose QC35 will speak “Joe’s iPhone.” Even more confusing is that device 1 and device 2 don’t always refer to the same device. Sometimes my iPhone is device 1 and other times it is device 2. The only way to know is to go into the app where it will identify the device associated with device 1 and device 2.

I added a 3rd Bluetooth device, again from the app. This works but will disconnect one of the 2 already connected devices. It works pretty much like most Bluetooth devices. You disconnect at least one of the currently connected devices and then connect the new device. You can have multiple devices paired, but a maximum of 2 devices are currently connected. You can see the list of devices within the Connect app.

The Bluetooth range is excellent. It would easily stay connected when going from one area of a reasonably large house to another. The range exceeds any other Bluetooth headphones.

Sound Quality:

Sound quality has to be the most subjective area to evaluate, yet one of the most important. Most people will find these very good to excellent.

For most these may well be the best-sounding sony xm4 full size headphones they have ever had. Those more critical may find a few areas where they lack, but still, they are excellent for noise-canceling headphones. Sound quality is probably one of the best aspects of these headphones.

The sound quality when listening to high-quality content was very enjoyable. Overall they are fairly well balanced, albeit a bit heavy on the low end, but not boomy or with obvious peaks in the response. More so they sound “warm.” The bass is noticeable and quite deep.

You will hear the thump of a drum, but still somewhat tight. The deep bass on some of the Billie Eilish tracks is impressive.

The bass is not so excessive though that it drowns out mid or high frequencies. Music sounds good with individual instruments identified. Male and female vocals sound good and natural.

The deep warm bass works well for movies and similar entertainment. These will likely work quite well for watching airplane entertainment.

High frequencies are clear and more smooth than harsh. They are balanced overall with a bit more low-frequency emphasis that shifts the balance a bit.

The iPhone app does have equalization settings, so it is possible to adjust to your personal preferences. I reviewed these sets at the flat, default setting.

If one is going to compare these to audiophile sony xm4 full size headphones they will notice differences. They will not replace examples of the best open or closed-back audiophile headphones.

They simply lack the detail, imaging, and placement that sony xm4 full size headphones present when paired with a quality DAC and headphone amplifier. That isn’t a fair comparison though as these are noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones and they do a great job at that.

I did listen through both Bluetooth with the AAC codec and wired with a quality external DAC while listening to high-resolution content streamed from Tidal through a Master Quality Authenticated DAC.

They do sound better with the same content played through a wired DAC than Bluetooth. The difference wasn’t as much as expected.

Sony did a good job with Bluetooth. I also tried listening to them with the power off, as plain wired headphones.

They didn’t sound that different, which is rather a good thing. The same experiment with Bose QC35s will have a different sound. Bose relies extensively on equalization to get their otherwise somewhat poor-sounding sony xm4 full size headphones to sound good. Sony starts with decent-sounding drivers.

I have not tried using the LDAC hi-resolution Bluetooth codec yet. This isn’t as easy as it would seem to use on either iOS or macOS.

You can’t simply use a high-resolution source to use it. You need to download and install the Sony Music Center app, then load the high-resolution content into that app to play.

I’m not sure how to get it to work with a Mac at all. The better codec should sound better. To be fair, at least part of the problem is Apple in this case.

I did try the DSEE Extreme feature. This supposedly improves the sound quality of low-bit rate compressed content.

I listened to some low-bit rate MP3 files, and some standard streaming services, such as Amazon Prime music. It sounded different, I’m not sure I would say it sounded better. At least what I noticed was a boost in high frequencies.

It made some of the squashed high-frequency details more noticeable, but they still sounded highly compressed, and to some extent, the compression artifacts became more noticeable.

This may well be a personal choice, and likely varies over content, level of compression, and codecs used. The bottom line is that you need to start with quality content.

The 360 Reality Audio was a disappointment. I tried playing a variety of tracks in 360 Reality Audio on Tidal. I did this using the Tidal app on both my iPhone and a Mac.

I did link the Tidal app with the Sony app as part of the initial setup. I did notice a wider sound stage. It wasn’t like demos in a movie theater for Dolby Atmos or anything that dramatic. There was some front/rear placement depth.

It was interesting to play with for a while. What I found though is that it just sounded strange. I played some of the same tracks on Tidal HiFi or MQA and to me, they sounded much better, much more musical.

Call me a purist, audiophile, or whatever, but I found the highly processed audio more annoying than enjoyable.

It doesn’t replace the stereo imaging or placement that superb sony xm4 full size headphones can present as described above.

Honestly overall these sound good enough without these audio tricks. Perhaps if there were some movies encoded with 360 Audio it would be better to enjoy special effects and less about musicality. It seems more of a gimmick than a musical.

By far the best quality was the same song in Master Quality on Tidal with an external DAC and the 3.5mm wired cable.

Phone calls

The audio quality on the phone and video calls has been excellent on the receiving side and is about as good as the Bluetooth HFP profile gets. it is excellent for conversations.

With excellent noise cancellation, these are excellent for long video calls. They will likely continue to be great for those forced to endure a noisy open office environment or need to make phone calls in a noisy area such as an airport or train station.

Phone call microphone:

Overall I’ve had only a few complaints from those that I’ve been in meetings or on calls with. Most people said I sounded fine. I was on one phone call with my iPhone and the person had difficulty understanding me and could hear me fine when I switched to the iPhone.

They said I sounded “far away.” On a video call, I had some people refer to the sound as “bubbly.” After switching to AirPod Pros and the sound improved.

They seem to isolate ambient noise reasonably well, although I haven’t had extreme cases to try during working from home due to COVID-19. This is one area where Bose QC35 was awful. I don’t know if they match AirPod Pro for microphone beam forming, but so far they seem fine. These work for phone and video calls, but aren’t great.

Noise cancellation

These are fantastic at noise cancellation. I haven’t been on an airplane with them, the real test, but these seem significantly better than the already excellent Bose QC35. At least around the house, they block out the low-frequency sounds that noise-canceling headphones are best at.

Around the house, even a Ninja blender was mostly attenuated while I was on a conference call. My neighbor’s air conditioner that still can be heard with the Bose QC35 and AirPod Pros is completely gone with these.

I was even using a loud flooring saw and used these. I did still hear the saw, but not very loud, and I could still enjoy music while sawing flooring! Family talking is mostly gone during conference calls and entirely when playing music.

I expect that these would be great in an open office environment or an airplane. Bose QC35 was the best I had used before these, and the Bose doesn’t work nearly as well, especially for voice.

They have much better noise cancellation than Apple Air Pod Pro buds too. If your main reason for looking for headphones is noise cancellation, these are what you buy.

One annoyance I had with the Bose QC35 headphones is if I wore glasses the sidepieces would create an acoustic leak and let some noise in. They still work, but especially on an airplane, you would hear more air noise. I haven’t tried them on an airplane yet due to covid, but so far I don’t notice nearly as much difference as I did with the Bose with glasses.

Battery

Sony claims 20 hours of battery life without defining what mode. Other headphones sometimes have decreased battery life with HFP (phone calls). These exceed the rated battery life. With the first charge, they lasted almost a week of varied use.

I used them for a multi-day virtual conference, and other meetings (a combination of HFP and A2DP) for over 14 hours, and they still had a 60% charge. Sony doesn’t specify any longer battery life with the wired cable.

On the Bose, I would plug the cable in when I would go to sleep on international flights, and Bose quoted 40 hours like that, so 20 hours isn’t fantastic.

It is more than enough though. It will get you through the longest flight plus some other use. Almost any other use should be more than enough. I used them for over 10 hours straight one day and they were still around 70% charged.

Charging:

These charge with a USB-C connector. They come with a very short (about 6”) USB-A to C cable but no power supply.

They charge relatively quickly (less than an hour from 20%, but I didn’t time it). You will need around a 10W power supply to get the fastest charging.

I monitored the charge current from 20% capacity. They started at 0.44A or roughly 2.2W, which seemed reasonable for headphones.

Then they jumped to 1.32A or about 6.66W, then to the maximum I saw was 1.8A or about 9 W! Surprisingly, Sony pushed that much power into a headphone!

The actual battery capacity has to be pretty large, so it does use quite a bit of power. In most cases this is of no issue, they charge up quickly.

It can be an issue if you are stuck trying to charge them in an airport or airplane port. They will also suck a lot out of a battery pack.

User interface:

This is the worst aspect of these headphones. The touch controls are simply dreadful, almost unusable. Simple buttons would have been much better.

Even with practice, it is almost impossible to master the gestures to go forward, backward, start/stop, and change the volume. Either it doesn’t register the touch, or it does the wrong thing. You try and turn the volume down and track changes.

To be fair, they do have volume control. The Air Pods Pro don’t and that is annoying. Even with practice controls don’t work right.

Some guidance: to change the volume, especially lower it, swipe down on the right ear as if you are petting it.

Just swiping as if using a smartphone touch screen won’t work right. Swipe down from above the top just like petting it, and then it might change the volume.

Changing tracks is even harder, and only seems to happen when trying to change the volume. Hitting the start-stop button doesn’t seem to work, except of course when you try to adjust the headphone on your head and then it stops what you were listening to, and would likely hang up a call – be careful of that. I end up using controls on my phone or computer most time. Simple buttons would have been SO much better.

Voice Assistant:

Setting up Alexa is not all that easy. Assuming the headphones are already set for Alexa, you already have the Alexa app installed and set up, and the headphones are already paired to the phone you still need to add the WH1000MX4 to Alexa.

This takes going to the Alexa app and adding the device. It will then want to pair with Bluetooth. I put the WH1000MX4 into pairing mode by using the almost hidden mode of holding the power button (rather than the app).

It then showed it failed to connect, but it seemed to pair on the second attempt. If you were successful you will have a second pairing of the device as LE_-WH1000XM4, for a second Bluetooth Low Energy pairing.

Then Alexa did work hands-free (if enabled in the Alexa app). You could just say Alexa and it worked. You could ask Alexa whatever you normally would. It seemed to work better than the Echo Auto which also relies on the app.

The response audio always has the first syllable of cut off though. This works fine for querying Alexa or invoking Alexa content. It does NOT work for controlling other functions on the phone, even changing the volume.

Telling Alexa to play won’t resume what was playing on the phone, it will resume what the Alexa app used last it seems. This may be iPhone limitations, but I will likely switch to Siri and see if that works better. It would be great if you could have all of them and just invoke the desired one with the appropriate wake word (Alexa, Hey Siri, OK Google). I haven’t tried other voice assistants with these yet.

The automatic speak-to-chat feature is both great and annoying. At least with the sensitivity set to automatic, it will detect voice quite well and stop the content you may be listening to, and allow ambient sound to be heard.

This, when desired is far more convenient than Air Pods Pro where you have to hold a button for a few seconds to go into transparency mode. While you still can’t hear what someone says to you, at least when you reply to them, it immediately lets you hear them and doesn’t take the seconds the Air Pods do.

With AirPods, you also need 2 actions to stop the music and enter transparency mode. This mostly works. In the automatic mode, it doesn’t need to be a voice that triggers it.

Anything like a grunt, large breath, anything it seems will trigger it. The slightest grunt or sound stopped the music and went into ambient mode.

There is a low-sensitivity mode that I haven’t tried yet. You will find this feature to be a love/hate relationship after a while. Even with the “Focus on Voice” feature enabled this still seems to be overly sensitive.

Another feature is adaptive sound control. This is supposed to optimize the sound based on location, and detection of actions.

This is likely useful when changing between an office, train station, etc. I haven’t evaluated that during a pandemic.

As for automatic detection of actions, that can be very annoying. It was fine when sitting in one place. Initially, I didn’t know why EVERY time I bent down the headphones would beep and go out of noise canceling mode. Then resume playing normally.

This is the notification for the detection of actions. This can be disabled in the app. If someone were to use these headphones in a gym or exercising this would be annoying as well. (Note: These are NOT sports headphones!)

App

The app is essential for setting up, using, adjusting, and updating the headphones. Sony even uses the app for pairing with the iPhone, which is unusual. The app allows configuring the many options available, equalization, and more. You also use the app to optimize the headphones for the shape of your ears by taking a picture of your head and both ears. I went through the whole process.
There are a lot of options in the app, and the layout is OK. It can be a bit confusing.

The app does provide a lot of control and information. It shows the battery level and the current codec in use. This last part I like, Apple typically doesn’t show these details. Many options can beyond simply being enabled or disabled from the app also be further controlled.

Also Read: The 7 Best WiFi Repeaters Quality

Case, Accessories

A nice rigid fabric-coated and lined travel case is provided. It is similar in size to the Bose QC35. It appears that it would protect the headphones and hold up well with travel.

A 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable is included. This allows using the headphones with a wired source, such as an airplane entertainment system. The cable does not have a microphone or controls and will not control an iPhone, iPad, or Mac or support call. It is only a 3-conductor plug for stereo listening.

While the Bose QC35 headphones come with an equivalent cable, the Bose QC25 cable, or the Amazon Basics alternative cable can be purchased that does allow using the QC35 for phone calls, and wired remote.

Also included is a short USB-A to USB-C charge cable, no charger, and the old 2-pin airplane adapter.

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