The over-ear headphone market is abuzz with brilliant contenders. From Bose, Bowers & Wilkins and Sennheiser, competition is stiff, but luckily Sony just announced an exceptionally capable followup in its WH-1000XM range in the form of the WH-1000XM4 cans.
In typical Sony fashion, the WH-1000XM4 brings the brilliant audio we expect from the range, along with a few updated features to keep everyone happy. Although we’re still waiting to find out when the headphones will drop in the SA market, we’ve compiled 6 things you need to know about Sony’s new soundboomers.
Same, same but different
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for struggling to notice any design differences between the M3s and the M4s. They really look so similar, it’d be hard to pick out one in a lineup. So don’t worry if you didn’t realise these are the newly announced pair.
They maintain the same clean, minimalist look and overall shape, valuing supreme comfort over eye-catching decorations. But there are differences this time around. The M4s feature a new hanger structure for more snugness — this could also help with the even distribution of weight. If you overlook the new tech in these cans (which we’ll get to later on in this piece), it’s nice to know they’re even slightly lighter than their predecessors.
No noise for you
Filtering out outside noise is the order of the day for just about any audio tech hitting the market right now. And honestly, it’s hard to beat Bose’s newest addition, as it improves on its already brilliant offer. But, lucky for us, Sony hasn’t stood still in this department, reducing highs and mids for what it calls its best-ever noise-cancelling performance.
In each earcup, you’ll find two microphones, which capture ambient noise and transfer the data to Sony’s HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1. A new Bluetooth Audio SoC (System on Chip) then adjusts your music and noise at over 700 times per second. A new algorithm used for real-time processing should keep out all of those daily house-noises at your new home office.
Sony also uses DSEE Extreme AI tech to more effectively upscale compressed audio files so they sound as good as they can. Obviously, we’ll need to test out the tech for ourselves. But knowing Sony, the NC will work beautifully.
All the smarts to keep you productive
Our favourite new feature on the M4s is the ‘Speak-to-Chat’ function. When turned on, the sensitivity can be customised using Sony’s Headphones Connect app. But what this does is recognise your voice whenever you start talking, automatically stop the music and let in ambient sound so you can keep chatting without needing to manually pause or remove them from your head.
Stop talking and the music will resume after 30 seconds. Sony says voice pickup has also been enhanced with the M4s, so they’ll be able to more clearly hear what you’re saying on a hands-free call, or when you’re saying it for Speak-to-Chat.
Honestly, this is the ‘smart’ feature we never knew we wanted on headphones. Imagine not lifting a finger to pause your murder mysteries podcast when a call comes in? This is the epitome of tech, friends.
They know who you are
The WH-1000XM4s are a clever pair of cans. Adaptive Sound Control, again, highly tweakable in the app, allows the headphones to sense where you are and adjust ambient sound accordingly. Over time, they’ll learn frequently visited places such as your workplace (these days more commonly known as your living room), gym or local cafe, intelligently switching between each.
If you’re on the Gautrain they’ll cut out engine roars, and when you’re walking on the sidewalk, you’ll hear your surroundings clearly, so you can get a head start if someone’s running after you to steal your newly acquired M4s.
Multipoint connections ftw!
As much as we love Sony’s outgoing noise-cancelling over-ears (the M3s, if you’re confused), there was one thing about them that really annoyed the nitpicky techy in us: switching between connected devices was far too much of a mission, and rarely ever worked without a hitch.
This time, things are different, or at least they will be after a firmware update Sony assures us is imminent. A new multipoint connection (MPC) allows you to pair the M4s with two Bluetooth-enabled devices at once. Finally!
If you’ve connected these, say, to your laptop and your phone, the headphones will know to connect to the latter when a phone call comes in. It’ll also be easier to switch between connected devices using the app, which is a nice addition.
All the other stuff
But that’s not all! Of course not.
Sony is also introducing a thing called automatic wear detection — this uses proximity and acceleration sensors to know when you’ve removed the headphones or put them back on, pausing and resuming audio automatically. This is by no means game-changing, with many attempting the feature. But there’s generally a delay that makes you lose your spot in the audiobook. So it’ll be nice if this actually works.
As with the M3s before them, you can also trigger ‘Quick Attention Mode’ by placing your right hand over the right earcup. This will allow ambient sound to pass through so you can hear important office/house banter.
You also get 360 Reality Audio support here, which enables object-based spatial audio on compatible streaming services (Deezer and Tidal), while Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri are all supported. Soz Bixby In terms of battery life, it seems it remains unchanged from the predecessor, featuring a good 30 hours with NC turned on. Not bad at all by today’s standards. You can get up to 5 hours listen time with a 10-minute charge top-up.
Sony’s WH-1000XM4 will be priced at £350 in the UK (converted it’s at just over R8,000), but we’ll have to wait and see what local distributors decide in terms of local pricing and availability. We’ll keep you updated on that front.