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3 reasons to pick up the Sony WH-1000XM4 on sale (and 3 reasons to pass)
Sony’s premium line of active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones are some of the most popular on the market. Naturally, I couldn’t resist picking up 2021’s Sony WH-1000XM4. Although we’ve seen the excellent WH-1000XM5 hit shelves since, I haven’t upgraded simply because I love the XM4 so much.
There aren’t too many days in which these headphones don’t go on my head. I use them pretty much all day while working, whether I’m on a video call or listening to focus-oriented music while I write. I certainly wear them anytime I travel, whether by plane, train, or even car (as a passenger, obviously). Even on the weekends, I’ll throw them on while I’m busying myself around the house and need a good soundtrack.
Although I love the Sony WH-1000XM4, they aren’t perfect. If you’re considering buying yourself a pair during the Black Friday rush, you might be interested to know what I love about them — and what I wish were a bit different.
My 3 favorite Sony WH-1000XM4 features
It’s really easy to talk about what I love about these headphones. In fact, whittling it down to just three things wasn’t easy, as I could probably come up with at least three more. But here are the three top XM4 features that make me the happiest.
Battery life and charging
There are some days that I can’t even remember the last time I charged the XM4. Obviously, the battery isn’t limitless, but I probably only charge them once a week or so. And I use them every day!
With ANC activated, I can get about 20 hours of battery life from these cans. Unfortunately, that’s about 10 hours shy of what Sony claims in its promotional material, but that’s still pretty impressive. Even if I wore them for four hours every day I could still get through an entire five-day workweek without putting them on the charger once.
These last so long there are days when I can't even remember when I last charged them.
When I do need to charge them, it’s not a big deal. The Sony WH-1000XM4 fast charge when you plug them in using a USB-C cable. Fast charging nets you an extra five hours of playback with just 10 minutes of charging. That can easily get me through the rest of my work day, and then I can leave them on the charger for the three hours required to get them from zero to full.
Sound quality and ANC
When I first bought the XM4’s predecessors, I was blown away by how good they sounded. They were my first pair of premium headphones, so it was like opening up a whole new world. In fact, I wrote a whole article about the experience.
I upgraded to the Sony WH-1000XM4 mostly because of their ability to link to two audio sources at once. But, as one would expect, the sound quality is even better than that of the XM3. As far as I’m concerned, it’s difficult to find a pair of headphones in this price segment that exceeds Sony’s best. Of course, you’ll need to love a lot of bass to adore these headphones, but I’m all about that bass (no treble), so it works out.
ANC is similarly impressive. Our review data shows that the XM4 powerfully attenuate those annoying, rumbling bass frequencies of life (think airplane noise and air conditioners). This makes the WH-1000XM4 essential travel companions. I don’t even know if I could fly without them anymore.
Comfort and fit
Considering how much I wear the 1000XM4, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that I think they are very comfortable. The soft padding on the headband and earcups makes them feel much lighter than they actually are. They also, surprisingly, don’t make my ears incredibly hot, despite the tight seal they create on the sides of my head.
Even after long hours of use, the only adjustment I find myself making here and there is moving the headband either forward or backward on my scalp. This is probably unavoidable due to me having no hair there (bald people problems).
Looking for comfortable headphones? These should be at the top of your list.
Also, even with my glasses on, the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones stay comfortable. They aren’t quite as comfortable as when I wear them without my glasses, but they still are very wearable. What’s more, ANC doesn’t appear to be much affected by the stems of my glasses. I’m sure if we tested it, we’d find ANC works better without glasses on simply because of the disruption to the seal around my ears. However, I haven’t noticed an audible difference.
My 3 least favorite features
You’d be hard-pressed to find any perfect piece of tech, and the WH-1000XM4 are no exception. I love them a lot, but even I admit that they could be better. Here are the three things that have frustrated me the most about them.
The touch controls on the right earcup are, by far, the thing I dislike most about the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones.
Swiping up and down is supposed to alter the volume of what you’re listening to. Swiping left or right should skip a track or go back. Double-tapping the cup should play or pause the track.
Interesting read: Fixing my Sony WH-1000XM3 convinced me of the right to repair
However, these gestures barely ever work for me. I find my swipes work maybe 50% of the time, and taps barely ever work. I think the problems might stem from the dual connection to both my laptop and my smartphone. My theory for this is based on the fact that I had much better luck with touch controls on the XM3, which can only connect to one device at a time. I will admit, though, that I had some touch control issues with the XM3 too.
Unfortunately, I’ve had to give up on touch controls altogether because of how finicky they’ve been. I’ve been much happier just ignoring them entirely instead of dealing with the frustration of trying to swipe/tap and not getting what I want.
Color and style
The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones come in four colors: black, silver, Midnight Blue, and hard-to-find Silent White. All four colors come with brass or gold accents on both the headphones themselves as well as the matching travel case.
While four colors seem like plenty, these colors are incredibly neutral — dare I even say, boring. I wear mostly black, so choosing the black color was a no-brainer for me, but I would be happier with more of a statement from my headphones. A red color or even a black version with red accents would fit my style very well. On the flip side, an all-black variant with black accents would be nice too, as I’m not the biggest fan of the brass touches.
The color and style options for these headphones are, well...boring.
Similarly, headphones look a bit awkward on my head. I must admit I get a bit envious when I see people rocking the Apple AirPods Max simply because the design is so much flatter on the sides, creating a thinner profile. I wish the XM4 didn’t jut out so far and make my head look so comically wide.
While the redesigned WH-1000XM5 headphones partially solve these problems, even they only come in a limited selection of neutral colors. One day, it would be nice if Sony went out on a limb when it comes to the look of its headphones.
Price (without deals, anyway)
While I love the Sony WH-1000XM4, I will freely admit that I really want to give the XM5 a shot. The new look seems like it would better fit my head and there are some technical improvements, including further improved ANC.
However, with a list price of $399, upgrading to the XM5 is no easy decision. Likewise, the XM4 still officially retail for $349, which makes them far from an impulse buy.
Granted, you can easily find the Sony WH-1000XM4 for much, much cheaper than $349, especially with so many awesome Black Friday deals. But unless you go the used route, you’re probably going to spend at least $200 on these headphones, which makes them inaccessible to many.
I wholly appreciate that, when it comes to headphones, you get what you pay for. With the high levels of use (and joy) I get out of them, the price is absolutely worth it. I just wish the folks out there who would never spend that much money on headphones had better access. Wouldn’t it be lovely if Sony made a “Lite” version of the XM4 without the touch controls and dual-connection feature? I’d buy those in a heartbeat!
What do you love about the Sony WH-1000XM4?
Are you happy with your Sony WH-1000XM4?
Do you own a pair of Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones? What do you like most (and least) about them? Let other readers know how you feel in the comments, and be sure to also tell us if you are happy with your purchase in the poll above.