Currently, the best noise canceling Bluetooth headphones on the planet are the WH-1000XM4 released by SONY in September 2020. The next best is the previous generation WH-1000XM3 model. "Evolution" occurs where needed, but did the WH-1000XM3 really have a need to evolve and was there dissatisfaction with the performance? In fact, the XM4 has surpassed the XM3. It's more like in the F1 sports car world… aiming for technological heights moreso than evolution.
How comfortable a "quietness" can noise canceling headphones provide? I will review what the WH-1000XM4 has realized.
◯ A noise canceling function in which air conditioners and family voices disappear!
TheQN1 noise canceling processor used in the previous model WH-1000XM3 is still alive in the XM4. The WH-1000XM4 is equipped with a new algorithm that demonstrates the true value of QN1. Especially in summer cafes and offices, the air-conditioning noise that bothers you disappears almost completely. Not only the air conditioner, which is often located relatively far away, but also the familiar sound of USB fans disappears. The only thing that in a cafe that reminds you that there’s a world outside of the headphones is the relatively high-pitched sound of clanging tableware. Even if you don't play music, people's voices will not be heard as meaningful sounds, so it is recommended for those who are concerned about the voice of their family while teleworking. If you play music, you’ll get immersed even deeper in the work. Until now, headphones in this price range were sought after by core music lovers only. But noise canceling headphones are now being recommended for everyone as a tool for work, a kind of productivity efficiency tool.
◯ Comfortable fit and music stop function that works at the right time
In addition to the noise canceling function, the WH-1000XM4 has another element that sets it apart from ordinary high-end headphones… a comfortable fit. The ear pads are very soft and don't put any pressure on your ears, so you won't get tired using them. Not to mention the thick headband pad. There are few headphones that have such superior cushioning on the headband pads. Also, the automatic music stop / playback at the time of taking the headphones off or putting them on is very convenient. When you remove the headphones, music playback on your smartphone will stop, and when you put the headphones back on again, playback will resume. The WH-1000XM4 has a function that allows you to stop music and capture external sounds by covering the housing with one hand, and a similar function (speak to chat) linked to your utterances, but this music stop / playback at the time of taking the headphones off or putting them on works perfectly without fail, so I usually just remove the headphones. This kind of improvement in user experience is unique to home appliance manufacturers that also handle smartphones and game consoles.
◯ Simultaneous connection of 2 units (multipoint function)
This is the main feature of the WH-1000XM4. You can connect two Bluetooth devices such as a smartphone and tablet or a smartphone and PC at the same time. Sound playback itself is exclusive, as the sound is not mixed, and on the other hand, when music is played on one device, the other one stops. However, it is much smoother than switching Bluetooth from the device "Settings", and it is very convenient to switch to the smartphone especially when receiving a phone call. However, due to the automatic switching, sometimes it will not switch from the PC even when music is played on the smartphone ... I encounter small stumbling blocks like this at a relatively high frequency. This problem will change one’s impression considerably even if you can manually switch on the smartphone app. So I look forward to future updates.
◯ There is almost no sound audio delay or latency in games and videos
Voice delay confirmation tool
The Youtube app on your smartphone has a correction function that alleviates the audio delay, but in this environment you will not feel the sound deviation of the video, musical instrument performance, gunshot, swashbuckling, etc. This was the same for PC (Windows). For games that are very time-critical, such as sound games, this will be sufficient for adjusting the notes to your liking.
◯ Sound quality
Few people will be dissatisfied. With flat sound quality, the beauty of the treble is great throughout the series. The resolution is high, and you can enjoy the small details and nuances of each instrument without missing anything. The power of DSEE Extreme, which claims to bring high-resolution sound quality to wireless headphones, is also genuine. Even in an environment where Wifi is not connected, the sound quality setting of the music streaming application will be raised. Of course, this unit can also be registered and controlled in Sony's "Headphones" app, and the equalizer can be customized. The presets can be changed while playing music, so it's fun to explore your tastes. They can also be used as high-quality wired headphones by using the included 3.5mm stereo mini cable.
◯ Battery life
First of all, there will be no time where you need to be concerned about battery life. Even if noise canceling is ON, they will operates for 24 hours. Of course, the charging connector is also the latest USB-C, so it is good that you’ll be able to share the cable with your Android smartphone. If you use the included 3.5mm stereo mini cable, you can use them as wired headphones even if the battery runs low.
◯ Sound cutting in and out (connection stability)
Same as with the battery life… nothing to worry about. There was no time where the sound was interrupted while using them in my office for a month. The connection was stable even inside Shinjuku station, so it is very stable.
◯ Sound leakage
Although it is structurally difficult for sound to leak, it is possible to produce a very loud sound, so care must be taken when setting the volume.
◯ Button, controller
There are two physical buttons on the left, a power button and a custom button. "External sound control", "Google Assistant", and "Amazon Alexa" can be assigned to the custom button. When assigned to the external sound control, it is possible to switch between "external sound capture ON / noise cancellation ON / both functions OFF". Playback, song forward, song rewind, and volume up / down are performed using the touch sensor control panel on the right housing. The volume control traces the sides up and down, and the song forward / backward traces left and right. You can play / stop at any position on the touch center control panel by tapping twice. Older models had a difficulty in playing / stopping unless you tapped the center of the panel once, but the WH-1000XM4 is very easy to use. The Bluetooth pairing method is the usual method of pressing and holding the power button from the power off state.
◯ Supported codecs
S Compatible with SBC, AAC, LDAC. apt-X is not supported. Considering that the actual sound quality, connection stability, and latency scores are all high level, I do not feel there is any problem with not supporting apt-X.
◯ The challenge is price
The WH-1000XM4 are arguably the strongest noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones in terms of sound quality, noise canceling performance, and usability. Speaking of force, the price that is commensurate with the performance seems to be the drawback. If you don't need the latest technical high end model, the previous WH-1000XM3 are still one option because they’re 10,000 yen cheaper.