Have you ever experienced something? A smartphone? A computer? A pair of headphones. And that experience both enlightened and fulfiled your deepest desire in what you expect from that product.
You feel it cannot get any better. And then you experience something that further elevates the experience to an even higher level. Levels so high you have to recalibrate on what you thought was the echelon of premium experiences.
Well ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones. The best wireless headphones Sony makes right now and probably the very best headphones money can buy. You van watch the video below.
The Sony brand is synonymous with excellent entertainment products. The Playstation is the best selling console, Sony TVs are the best selling TVs and Spiderman used to be their baby. One of the most popular superhero movies.
Enter the premium wireless headphone market and we have the WH-1000XM4 wireless bluetooth headphones. The unboxing experience is not the pinnacle of premium experiences. I say so because the box that the Huawei Freebuds Studio came in was a lot less flimsy than the one for the Sonys.
Anyway, inside the box is the case and some paperwork with operation instructions and warranty information. There is also a gift card for a free trial of the 360 reality audio which only works in supported apps like Deezer and 2 others that I’m not familiar with.
The case is where I at least started to see where my US$350 went to. Shout out to Gizmotech for helping me get these headphones hassle free. This is not a paid slot but many of you Zimbos have asked me where I get my gadgets so these are the guys I have been using for about a year now. Their prices are dope and turnaround time is like 2 weeks on average.
Back to the case. It’s more compact than the one for the Huawei Freebuds Studio and made of what looks like a hard wearing fabric. There is a bit of netting on the base of the case and I only knew that the netting is the base after a bit of a fail on my reveal video.
The zipper also has the Sony brand embossed onto it. I am a sucker for 1st party accessories. I won’t lie. Anyway too much romance is going on with the case here. Time to see the goods! If you had not figured it out yet, I love black on all my gadgets and these headphones were no exception. Fun fact this colour option is the most expensive one if we ignore the Limited Edition silent white colour scheme that was announced earlier this year asking for a US$50 premium over the other colours.
In the case you also get a plug adapter for inflight use and they had to put a warning label saying this should not be plugged into a power outlet. I see the similarity to a plug but I mean…anyway. There is also a 3.5mm audio cable to connect the headphones to accessories that still have this interface as well as a 20cm long USB-C cable for charging the headphones.
Personally I liken this tiny charging cable to space saving spare wheels in some cars. I feel it’s a rip off to be honest just from the sheer inconvenience. You just end up using a longer cable that you already use for your smartphone unless if you are 100% Apple.
They are mostly plastic but the nice feeling kind of plastic. The design is traditional headphone design, Sony didn’t go about reinventing the wheel. The bands can be adjusted with the same ratcheting system that was in the MDR-XB950B1s but this time there is some dampening of the steps and it does sound and feel just a bit more posh. A bit more premium.
They also fold up in many ways making them super portable. The cups can fold flat and then further fold inside each. Looks really cool but my fears are durability with all those moving parts. The finish is matte which is fantastic for fingerprints but with my oily hands and oily face especially in this summer weather it was a mission maintaining the matte surfaces in pristine condition.
Buttons. There are only 2 of them, both on the left cup. The power button which doubles as a pairing button as well as the Custom button which can be mapped to the ANC options or to Google Assistant/Alexa.
There are 2 ports. The left cup has the headphone jack for some wired audio and the right cup has the USB-C port for charging the headphones and it supports fast charge. A 10 minute charge gives you 5 hours of music playback and charging from dead to full takes 3 hours. Seems like a slow charge considering the Huawei Freebuds Studio take 1 hour to charge from empty to full.
The right cup also has the touch panel for your music control gestures. Swipe forward to skip to the next track, swipe backwards for the previous track, double tap to pause, play, answer or end a call, swipe up or down to increase or reduce the volume and long press to launch Alexa, Google Assistant.
Pairing and setup
So when you press on the power button to turn them on, they immediately enter pairing mode and the shocking thing is about a second later they launched the headphone animation on my phone automatically and asked me to download the headphones connect app.
Once the app is installed, the installation wizard takes you through some steps. But then the headphones needed a software update so while that was downloading I went on to see what Google Assistant was on about. These headphones have Google Assistant built in so the assistant on my phone recognised them and asked me to make them my own. Again that sent me through a separate wizard to customise the headphones and set up Google Assistant.
With that out of the way we resumed with the setup in Sony’s headphones connect app and it was quite a process. Nothing complicated really but because these headphones just have soo many features, it took a minute to at least go through the highlights. In fact my setup process took just over 6 minutes but I might be to blame because I may have taken a couple of side quests as well.
Setup done. The first thing I did was play some music because I had been waiting for this moment since these headphones were announced and DEAR LORD!
Performance and comfort
My benchmark for premium audio was absolutely destroyed.
Where do I even begin? Ok so the soundstage is spacious. When listening to music you feel more like you are surrounded by audio rather than it just being pumped into your ears. It feels natural. Like your head is in a cocoon of music. It’s a warm sound signature with bold, creamy, smooth bass that I drool over and it does not overpower the mids or highs in any way. It’s just audio excellence from the lowest bass note to the highest crackle.
For the 1st time, I was hearing new instruments that I had never heard before in some of my tracks. It felt like I was listening to new tracks and this must be a combination of the fancy LDAC bluetooth audio codec as well as Sony’s DSEE Extreme engine which is just some witchcraft Sony engineered in the headphones to boost the audio quality of whatever music you are playing to studio quality.
Haaa guys these headphones sound magnificent. If I was to rate them on audio quality alone it would be a strong 10 out of 10. Hands down the best sounding bluetooth headphones I have ever owned. At this point I am content with the US$350 price tag.
Comfort? They have plenty of it. I wore them all day, morning till evening and they were nice and cozy. Yes the ears got just a little bit warm but it was nowhere near bad enough to make me wanna take a time out.
Clamping force is perfect. And I’m not sure if it’s just the cozy pillows or not but they hold on nice and snug on my head. I had no issues of fatigue whilst I had them on. No discomfort on my temples or even the most protruding parts of my ears like on the Freebuds Studio. The M4s are a cozy set of cans.
It’s a long list. It’s a very long list so I’ll just dive into my 3 favourite ones
Noise cancelling/Ambient sound control
The noise cancelling on these headphones is strong! I mean really strong. I honestly felt deaf when I had it on for the first time. I could hear absolutely nothing. Yes I was in a relatively quiet room but I almost could not even hear myself breathe. It’s that strong. The whole world just goes on mute.
In the app you can adjust how strong you want the noise cancelling or the ambient sound control to just the right amount you need. The headphones also have built in sensors to detect your current activity and automatically select a noise cancelling or ambient sound profile to match the activity.
Built-in Google assistant
This one almost freaked me out for a second. I received a notification and soon after, the headphones started speaking to me. They read out the name of the person who sent me a message and went on to read out the message for me. When the headphones were done they then asked me if I wanted to respond and that I can press and hold the Custom button and say my message. When I was done it recited my message to me before asking me if I wanted to send it.
This also works in 3rd party apps like WhatsApp and I was impressed at how good it was at reading notifications as well as accurately transcribing my speech to text. I mean I’m African and usually dictation apps have a tough time with exotic accents. That’s Google Assistant flexing its AI muscles there.
And it was not just limited to WhatsApp. It can read emails, SMSs and some Android system notifications
Google has a find device feature and apparently it supports these headphones as well. How it works is whenever the headphones are connected to your phone, they are constantly grabbing the current location and when you lose them, they will pop up in find device on the last location they were recorded at.
Pretty useful if you happen to have the memory of a goldfish and you are unable to retrace your steps.
Honourable mentions include
Speak-to-chat which detects whenever you are speaking then pauses anything that was playing and amplifies the sounds within your sorroundings. I can bundle this one up with Quick attention as well where you can get the same effect by just covering the right cup with your palm.
And Atmospheric pressure optimizing to just ensure you get the best sound quality in any environment especially in a plane where the cabin is pressurized. It makes some crazy sci-fi noises then uses the mics to listen to these same noises and estimate the pressure of the environment you are in. This estimate is then used to adjust the audio output of the headphones to compensate for the ambient pressure and provide the best possible audio experience.
There is just a lot of tech on these headphones. It is mind blowing. But as superb as they are, they are not immune to imperfections
Quirks and Compromises
The setup process is a bit too long. How many of you will be able to go through about 6 minutes worth of setup steps before the headphones are ready to use? I mean I get that I’m being a bit of a cry baby seeing it’s a one time thing but I had waited for this moment for close to a year. Forgive me for being a little impatient.
Matte finish is really good looking and also deals with scratches a lot better than glossy surfaces but it is super easy to get oil stains on them from oily fingertips and it’s a mission to clean them up.
Some of the smart features were a bit too intrusive for me. Speak-to-chat is one. Whenever one of my favourite songs was playing I could not help but sing along…which triggered speak-to-chat and paused the song I was singing to. Thankfully you can turn it off in the settings
The ambient sound does not pump in enough sound in my surroundings even in the strongest setting and I saw myself having to trigger quick attention mode to clearly hear what’s going on around me. The Huawei Freebuds Studio did a much better job on this one.
And lastly, more of a price to pay for the tech. The headphones connect app kept getting flagged by my system UI for consuming too much power in the background. Now for some features to work well like activity tracking and location tracking of the headphones, the app needs to stay active in the background even if the phone’s screen is off.
That said, Man oh man Sony made something absolutely special with the WH-1000XM4s. They have more tech and features than probably any other set of bluetooth headphones on the market. The battery life is insane! 30 hours with noise cancelling on and 38 hours with noise cancelling off. The noise cancelling is ridiculous. It made me feel like I was deaf for a moment. It absolutely is unreal. Package contents are awesome too and the main event, the sound quality. It is just a first class experience.
US$350 ladies and gentlemen. That is how much I paid for them and so are they worth it? Absolutely. If you are looking for the best Bluetooth headphones period. Get the Sony WH-1000XM4s. I 100% recommend them.