The Sony WH-1000XM4 has already had its fair share of leaks, but what do we consumers actually want from Sony’s next-generation active noise-cancelling (ANC) headset? We know what to expect: longer battery life due to more efficient power consumption and more effective ANC, but let’s play around and decide what features will gas up excitement.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on June 11, 2020 to address various release date rumors and an app teardown revealing potential features of the Sony WH-1000XM4.
No more broken headbands
The Sony WH-1000X line has been plagued with durability issues from the start, and it’s surprising that the issue has persisted for so long. Just like other plastic headsets, Sony’s flagship tends to break under pressure: there are numerous user reports of the Sony WH-1000XM3 headband snapping along the plastic seams as depicted on Sony’s community thread.
Anyone paying $350 for a headset has every right to be upset by shoddy quality control.
Seeing how this is a top-tier line of noise-cancelling headphones with the price to show for it, the frustration is warranted. The third time around may not have been the charm for Sony, but perhaps the Sony WH-1000XM4 will prove different. I hope we see something along the lines of the Shure Aonic 50 headband design; this ANC headset uses metal in spots that are typical breakage points to prolong the headset’s lifetime.
Hands-free access to Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa
The recent leak detailing some Sony WH-1000XM4 specifications made note of hands-free access to virtual assistants, which I hope comes to fruition. We’ve already seen Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant integration with the headset, so this seems like a reasonable next-step.
It took me a while to appreciate the hype surrounding virtual assistants in general, but I now view them as a wonderful accessibility tool. Direct voice access to assistants like Siri or Alexa makes it that much easier for visually impaired people to receive and respond to text-based information. It also benefits users with dyslexia as the ability to respond directly to incoming messages bypasses the reading process altogether.
If you’re thinking, “Well, I can already do that with the current model anyway,” you’re right, kind of. With the current noise-cancelling flagship, users have to designate the noise cancelling/ambient button for access to Alexa or Google; this means users have to download the Sony | Headphones app, dig through a few tabs, and remap the ANC button for virtual assistant access. It’s not a cumbersome process for a majority of users but is frustrating for some due to it requiring a bit of reading; hence why default hands-free assistant access would be great.
We hope the Sony WH-1000XM4 retains a headphone jack
We’ve seen Apple subsidiary Beats drop the headphone jack from its noise-cancelling on-ear headset the Beats Solo Pro, and can expect more of the company’s audio products to follow suit. Hopefully, Sony avoids this, so you can still enjoy high-resolution audio from FLAC files and services like Amazon Music HD and Tidal HiFi. Seeing as Sony is still pumping out high-resolution Walkman players, the headphone jack seems all but guaranteed on the Sony WH-1000XM4.
Sony WH-1000XM4 rumored specifications and release dates
As more and more rumors are released it seems Bluetooth multi-device support is all but guaranteed with the fourth-generation Sony noise-cancelling headphones. This would be a smart move on Sony’s part seeing how the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and Shure AONIC 50 supported this right out of the gate.
According to Twitter user@justplayinghard who did an app teardown from the Sony Headphone Connect app version 7.0.1 and XDA Developers, a new feature called Smart Talking will also be supported: this means ambient listening mode will initiate if when the microphones register surrounding voices. I’m interested to see how this plays out, as I could see it being annoying if the mics pickup nearby voices and mistake it for your own, thus accidentally triggering ambient listening.
This same app teardown revealed something called DSEE Extreme, which is likely similar to DSEE HX with AI features. DSEE HX upscales compressed audio to make it nearly high-resolution audio quality, and is compatible with SBC and AAC codecs according to Sony. We’ve seen it used in the XM3 and Sony WF-1000XM3 headsets, and the AI improvements could be referring to something as simple as hands-free Google Assistant access or something more complex like Bose AR.
On June 4, 2020, the Sony WH-1000XM4 appeared on Walmart’s website priced at $348. It was also seen on Dell Canada’s website with a June 23 release date. Even still, this is speculative as both listings have been removed. However, Notebookcheck took screenshots of the Sony WH-1000XM4 specifications before the listing’s removal from Dell Canada. Some specifications only appear partially completed, as it’s impossible for the headset to only support LDAC as a lone Bluetooth codec: Bluetooth SIG mandated SBC as the standard for any Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) 1.3 device.
In the meantime, if you’re just itching for a great pair of noise-cancelling headphones, be sure to checkout how the Sony WH-1000XM3 fare against the Shure AONIC 50 and Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones 700.