The noise cancellation itself is unparalleled, thanks to Sony’s excellent signal processing and the included foam tips, which make beautiful ears for a perfect fit as soon as you put them on. The silence is deafening; this is one of the first cases that I actually had to turn on the listening function (which emits sound outside, through the headphone microphone) to hear people talking even when the music wasn’t even playing.
These are basically earplugs on 21st century steroids. Turn them on and off the tunes, and the whole world disappears. My hair covers the headphones as I wear them, and often my fiancée talked to me as I wandered around the house, only to walk past her and miss every word.
Lower frequency sounds like HVAC and jet engines still bleed, as well as to some extent on all noise canceling headphones. But those sounds are significantly reduced, turning into whispers when playing music or podcasts.
The headphones are extremely easy to pair and set up to your liking, thanks to the fast pairing function for both Android and Windows, and for the usual (that is: very fast, but not instantaneous) pairing with iOS. The Sony Headphones app lets you set the EQ, switch from noise canceling mode to ambient sound mode, and turn on the talk-pause feature in the headphones that listens to your voice and pauses the music so you can hear what the person is saying.
Everything in the app is very simple and easy, but I don’t like the touch controls. A long touch from the outside of each headset should turn ambient sound mode on or off, but half the time I tried to do so it just paused my music. Longer hair (especially if it is wet from exercise) tends to activate and control by touch. I wish they were just using a physical button.
Vocal microphones can be used for calls and Zoom meetings, but I wouldn’t call them crazy quality. They have IPX4 water resistance, but they are too bulky for me to run. I used them when lifting weights at home and they worked quite well.
The WF-1000XM4 actually have a striking sound resemblance to their brothers over their ears, WH-1000XM4 (yes, Sony ‘s product name is this terrible). The headphones have a robust low end, but don’t really have much sub-bass to overpower the drivers, peak in the high mids and then drop in the high.
I actually like to go back a little more on top of the headphones in the EQ app section, especially for recordings of already dark jazz like Ahmad Jamal You live in Pershing. When applied to pop vocals like Britney Spears ’“ Toxic, ”the natural high-level drop helps with the sharpness from the early 2000s that you sometimes hear in her voice at higher volume.
No matter what you listen to, the XM4 is remarkably clean and flat in your ears, like many Sony audio products. They rank among the best sounding wireless headphones of today, easily as good as models of more custom brands like Bowers & Wilkins and Cambridge Audio.
Sony’s new flagship wireless headphones sound fantastic. They reduce external noise better than all competitors, and they also have enough battery life to fly over the country. But at the end of the day, they just don’t work well for anyone with smaller ears. That’s a shockingly large number of people asking me for headphones, and enough that I can’t justify a higher rating.
For larger ears, the WF-1000XM4 are the best noise cancellation option on the market. But for others, AirPods Pro or Galaxy Buds will probably fit better.