Sony WH-1000XM4 revealed: noise-cancelling AI, better mics, and more

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Credit: Sony

The Sony WH-1000XM4 active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones are here to succeed the Sony WH-1000XM3, and have more competition than ever between Bose, Shure, and Microsoft. Its latest headphones make modest improvements over the previous generation, but that’s a good thing. Sony’s incremental upgrades add up to make a big difference.

Sony WH-1000XM4 Industry-leading noise-cancelling headphones with AI features.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 make nominal but important improvements from the Sony WH-1000XM3. Listeners who want some of the best, most intelligent noise-cancelling around should get these headphones.

What’s new with the Sony WH-1000XM4?

The Sony WH-1000XM4 may look indistinguishable from the Sony WH-1000XM3, but there are plenty adjustments the company made under the hood like battery life: the WH-1000XM4 now lasts 30 hours on a single charge, and supports fast charging. Just 10 minutes of charging via USB-C yields 5 hours of listening.

Speak-to-chat voice recognition

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Credit: Sony

Sony’s event stressed the new Speak-to-Chat feature. The headset uses five microphones and advanced AI to detect your voice. Speaking triggers the headset to automatically decreases volume without the need for you to physically intervene. This works by precisely detecting your voice and communication partner’s voice, which Sony was able to achieve via collection of human voice data.

The headphones also automatically detect when the headphones are removed and automatically pauses playback. Quick Attention function is still around, so you can still lift your hand to the ear cup to allow ambient noise in. By retaining this feature, Sony lets its customers choose how to engage in conversation.

Sony retained Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa integration, for easy access to your virtual assistants. You may control media playback, ask questions, set reminders, and more all from the headphones. You don’t have direct voice access, though, and must still rely on touch controls to talk to your preferred assistant.

Improved noise-cancelling and audio processing

The Sony WH-1000XM4 promises better noise-cancelling performance than before despite using the same Q1N processor as the third-generation model. Instead, Sony’s headset relies on an advanced ANC algorithm that analyzes background noise 700 times per second second and adjusts accordingly. We’ll test the noise-cancelling improvements, but if the Sony WH-1000XM3 are any indicator, the WH-1000XM4 will continue the industry-leading ANC performance.

Digital signal processing has been improved over the Sony WH-1000XM3, thanks to Edge-AI in tandem with the new DSEE Extreme processing, compared to the older DSEE HX processing. DSEE Extreme uses AI technology for more accurate upscaling and greater dynamic range. Sony demonstrated dynamic range recovery in treble frequencies, particularly with cymbals.

Fast Pair and Bluetooth multipoint support

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Pairing the headphones is easier than ever with Fast Pair functionality on devices running Android 6.0 or later. When the Sony WH-1000XM4 is powered on for the first time and enters pairing mode, a pop-up notification appear on your smartphone requesting Bluetooth connection access. This means you no longer have to dig through your smartphone’s Bluetooth settings in order to start enjoying your music. You may also pair the headphones via NFC, or the old fashioned way of sifting through your phone’s menus.

Credit: Sony

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Bluetooth multipoint is now supported, which means you can connect the headset to two devices at once. This means you can stream a movie from your laptop, while keeping an ear on your phone for incoming calls and texts. Different headsets execute this functionality with varying degrees of success, so we’ll be sure to comment on it in our full review.

Thoughtful improvements to the construction

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Credit: Sony

Sony didn’t just improve abstract features, too; it made minor tweaks to the build for improved comfort and a lightweight design. Sony reduced the amount of pressure placed around the ears with this model, despite having to include more hardware inside the ear cups.

The Sony team opted for a lighter plastic than used in the WH-1000XM3, alongside softer, pressure-relieving synthetic leather pads. The new earpads more effectively distribute around the ear, further reducing pain points. Granular adjustments were made so far as to rethink the stitching inside the earpads. The stitching seam has receded further back from the surface  to prevent discomfort and itchiness. You may still use the headphones for wired listening, and Sony provides a 1.2 meter cable.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 are available for pre-order now for $349.99, and will ship out later this August.