Ameya DalviSep 22, 2020 16:36:54 IST
Price: Rs 29,990
I have been reviewing a bunch of in-ear true wireless earphones lately, so a pair of good old over-the-ear headphones was a refreshing change. The fact that they were the latest from Sony’s revered XM series was more than just icing on the cake. Sony’s WH-1000XM3 has won many accolades the world over for its excellent audio quality and battery life. Time to see if the Sony WH-1000XM4 can build on that success.
Sony WH-1000XM4: Build, design and features (8.5/10)
The Sony WH-1000XM4’s design is quite similar to its predecessor and is made of high-quality plastic with a smooth black matte finish. The construction is sturdy and the headphones look elegant. The copper accents on the Sony logo and microphone vents add to their style quotient. Despite their solid build, they don’t feel heavy and weigh just a shade over 250gm. This, on a set that includes active noise cancellation (ANC) circuitry, multiple sensors and microphones and a battery that lasts close to 30 hours on a single charge. That’s quite impressive.
The ear-cups are nicely cushioned and hold a pair of 40 mm drivers along with touch controls on the right ear-cup. The left ear-cup hosts the power button that doubles up as a Bluetooth pairing button, and you also have a toggle for ANC. You get a wear detection sensor on the inside of the left earcup that automatically pauses the content when you take the headphones off, and resumes as soon as you put them back on; a welcome addition. There’s also a 3.5 mm jack to plug in an aux cable in case the headphones run out of battery, or if you wish to use them with a non-Bluetooth device.
The right ear-cup hosts a USB type-C connector for charging the headphones. Interestingly, I noticed something that seemed like an additional USB type-C connector with a copper edge at the top of each of the ear-cups. On close inspection, they turned out to be mics for active noise cancellation. A standard USB to type-C cable and an aux cable are bundled in the package along with an airplane adapter and a cool looking carry pouch; the headphones can be folded and tucked away nicely in there. The Sony WH-1000XM4 let you summon the virtual assistant on your smartphone or tablet and issue voice commands. They are compatible with Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa.
Supported Bluetooth codecs include SBC, AAC and LDAC. For some reason, Sony has done away with support for Qualcomm’s aptX and aptX HD codecs. Yes, LDAC does have a higher bandwidth compared to aptX HD, but not every device is compliant with it. Ironically, Sony’s WH-XB900N wireless headphones that sell for half the price of the XM4 are compliant with aptX HD and LDAC both. Another major absentee is any kind of sweat or water resistance. These are not ideal to wear during a workout or in a light drizzle.
Sony WH-1000XM4: Comfort: (8.5/10)
The Sony WH-1000XM4 sits nicely on your ears without any discomfort. The ear-cups aren’t large enough to entirely clear the ears, but the padding is excellent and lends a great degree of comfort. The soft cushions put just the right amount of pressure on the earlobes, while maintaining a strong grip. They also provide decent passive noise isolation even if you do not turn on ANC.
They do not cause ear fatigue for a couple of hours of continuous listening, but beyond that my ears started getting a tad warm, and needed a breather. In fact, it’s always a good practice to give your ears a break every hour or two irrespective of how comfortable the headphones are.
Sony WH-1000XM4: Performance: (9/10)
As I mentioned earlier, the Sony WH-1000XM4 supports SBC, AAC and Sony’s LDAC codecs on Android. However, if you choose to pair them with Apple devices, you only get AAC. These headphones can be paired with two devices simultaneously, but if you choose to do so, you cannot use LDAC codecs. I was hoping they would let you use LDAC on at least one device, but no! These Bluetooth 5.0 headphones are easy to pair and retain a solid connection up to 10 metres with a clear line of sight, and a little over 6 metres with a concrete wall in between. They are NFC-enabled too for quick pairing.
These headphones support active noise cancellation and you get a toggle for switching ambient sounds on and off. To fine-tune the amount of ambient noise that you want them to let in, you will need to install the Sony Headphones Connect app. The app gives you access to several other audio settings too, including equalisers in case you want to tweak the sound further. ANC here is one of the best I have experienced, and it drastically cuts down on the surrounding noise, giving you great isolation. Once you play any audio, you are simply cut off from the outside world. The QN1 processor does its job well in conjunction with the two microphones that capture ambient noise and feed data to the noise-cancelling processor constantly, which then calculates and applies ANC in real-time. It also factors in atmospheric pressure at your altitude and the shape of your ears to make noise cancellation more effective.
As in case of several Sony wireless noise cancelling headphones, you can momentarily disable ANC and reduce the volume of the audio that’s playing by simply placing your palm on the right ear cup. This is quite convenient when someone wants to speak with you or you wish to listen to an announcement. The moment you take your palm off the ear-cup, ANC gets reactivated and the loudness goes back to the original level. There’s also another option too to achieve the same effect.
If you enable the Speak-to-Chat option in the app (or by a long touch on the right can with two fingers), the audio pauses as soon as you say anything and resumes 30 seconds after you stop talking. You can also manually restart the audio prior to that. While this sounds cool, in reality it only works if you truly keep your mouth shut while listening to the audio. If you even as much as hum along, the audio/video pauses and can be a cause for irritation. I opted to keep it off after trying it out for some time.
The touch controls on the right ear-cup are simple and effective. Double-tap can play/pause a track, sliding your finger horizontally lets you go to the next or previous track, sliding it up increases the volume, while sliding it down lowers it. Single tap doesn’t do anything and saves you a lot of headache that accidental touches could have caused, especially during travel. Double-tap is also used to answer or end calls, and a long touch brings up the virtual assistant.
Moving on to the audio quality, it is simply top-notch when it comes to general purpose headphones. I tried different genres of music and pretty much everything sounded good on it. The sound signature isn’t perfectly neutral, and has a hint of additional warmth to it; just the way I like it, to be honest. The bass isn’t remotely as excessive as in case of Sony’s XB (Extra Bass) series of headphones, and doesn’t hamper other frequencies. But worry not, there’s enough there to make those beats sound punchy.
The mids are reproduced brilliantly with clear vocals and ample instrument separation. The highs are sharp too without being harsh, and the overall detail in the sound is excellent. The sound stage is as broad as it gets with closed back headphones. I also indulged in some movies; The Dark Knight was thoroughly enjoyable on this pair with all the subtle sounds clearly audible, as was the dialogue.
Long story short, the overall sound quality of the Sony WH-1000XM4 is excellent, and I don’t expect to see too many complaints. If a hint of extra bass isn’t good enough for you and prefer it in heaps instead, better opt for one of the XB series cans like the Sony WH-XB900N, and save a good amount of money too. The design is similar and the rest of the features like touch controls and ANC are available there as well, though the noise cancellation isn’t as good as on the XM4.
Sony WH-1000XM4: Call quality: (8/10)
While the audio quality of the XM4 is excellent, the call quality is not at the same level. I know it may not be a high priority for its potential buyers, but it needs to be checked. The microphone quality is quite good on this headset and you are heard clearly by the person on the line, but noise cancellation isn’t perfect during calls. It does pick some ambient noise when outdoors, and even when indoors, the TV in the adjacent room can be heard ever so slightly by the other person, though it doesn’t distract one from the conversation.
It may seem like nitpicking but it is what it is. Also, the person on the line sounds a tad soft, which can be fixed in the next firmware update. The overall call quality isn’t bad by any means, but for a product with a near 30K price tag, I expect better.
Sony WH-1000XM4: Battery life: (9/10)
Sony claims that the WH-1000XM4 can last for about 30 hours on a full charge with ANC on, and it’s not far from the truth. I managed to get something very close to that with LDAC and ANC on all the time. At around four hours of daily listening, I didn’t have to bother charging these earphones for a full week. That’s 28 hours right there with just a little bit of fuel left in the tank. With ANC off, it can go on for another 8 hours as per the spec sheet, but why bother switching it off? These are excellent figures anyway.
What’s even better is that if they run out of battery, charging them for 10 minutes can give you about 5 hours of play time. It takes approximately 3 hours to charge them fully, and probably a bit less with a fast charger. And if you tend to use them for 3 to 4 hours daily like yours truly, you will need to charge them just once every week or 10 days.
Sony WH-1000XM4: Price and verdict
The Sony WH-1000XM4 is priced at Rs 29,990 with a one year warranty, but can be purchased for an introductory price of Rs 28,490 online or in stores. Yes, they are a bit expensive, but they are currently the best around. And given their excellent, detailed sound output, top of the line noise cancellation and solid battery life, it is hard not to recommend them to anyone looking for premium wireless headphones with ANC. You can’t go wrong with this pair, unless you are a basshead.