FutureFive New Zealand logo
Consumer technology news from the future
Story image

Hands-on review: The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones

By Sara Barker
Mon 2 Nov 2020
FYI, this story is more than a year old

When Fatboy Slim named his record You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, it was in no way referencing the technological evolution of headphones. Dated references aside, for some reason that album was the first thing that popped into my head when I cast my mind back over Sony’s audio journey from the late 70s to the present day. 

Continuing Sony’s progression through the audio ages, the WH-1000XM4s are the freshest Sony headphones on the market. These XM4s are the successors to the WH-1000XM3s and in my original writeup about the XM4s I suggested that they 'might just redefine smart audio'. And you know what? They are pretty darn smart.

Build

My review kit included the grey XM4s, a flight adapter, USB-C charging cable, a functional grey carry case, and AUX cable.

The headphones are made of high-quality plastic, with flexible padded earcups that twist to fit into the case. They’re fairly weighty at 254g, so if you headbang a lot you might find that they move around quite a lot - or they might fall off your head.

The earcups can feel a little stuffy after hours of use, so let your ears breathe regularly. The protective case is made of reasonably sturdy fabric-covered plastic – look after the headphones and your case, and you’ll be fine.

How they work & features

I’ll briefly translate Sony’s minimalistic, visual approach to user instructions: Tap the right earcup two times to pause/play, swipe up – volume up, and vice versa.  Swipe left to jump back a track and right forward. Tap the right earcup twice to answer a call, and twice to end a call.

One of the defining features of these headphones is Speak-to-chat. It's an awesome feature that will pause the music if it hears you speak, and then use the microphone to amplify your voice, as well as the voice of whom you are talking to.

This was a feature I was most thrilled about – and it works a gem. You still have to say ‘sorry? Could you repeat that' (or some variation thereof) because you missed the first thing someone said to you, but it means you don’t have to constantly remove the headphones or pause the music.

There is a downside though – if you have a habit of singing along to your favourite tunes, you might want to turn speak-to-chat off. There’s nothing like your headphones turning off when you get swept up in the chorus of your favourite song.

Sony has finally incorporated multipoint Bluetooth 5.0 connection into its headphones, which means you can connect to two different devices at the same time.

Sony also says the Bluetooth range is around 10 metres – I managed about 16 metres outside one end of the house before sound cut out, and just seven metres outside the other end in the house. 

The headphones also have a sensor that turns the music off when you remove the headphones. It’s a useful feature that can help to preserve around 30 hours of battery life with noise cancelling on, and around 200 hours with noise cancelling off.  Charging from flat to full takes a few hours.

Sound

Sony’s DSEE Extreme sound engine is the successor to DSEE HX. That means a dash of AI in the processor will try its best to upscale music to the highest resolution possible – with varying results, but generally, I found it to significantly improve even the most terrible 128kbps MP3 files. 

Unsurprisingly the sound quality across low, mid and treble tones is excellent, with a range of 4-40,000Hz. I couldn’t fault these when it came to music, playing games, or watching TV shows on Netflix.

There is one major drawback to the XM4s: External noise bleed. When the volume is either loud or medium. I couldn’t find a way to fix this, and it’s super unfortunate because for me it is a major blow to what is otherwise a good pair of headphones.

I found the microphone to be of average quality, after testing through Zoom and Hangouts. You’ll get clearer sound through a dedicated business or gaming headset but the sound isn’t too bad.

Sony | Headphones Connect app

I’ve mentioned Sony’s headphones app in my review of the WF-1000XM3 earbuds, but there are a couple of notable features associated with the XM4s – namely, the ability to turn Speak-to-chat on or off, and The ability to connect to two devices simultaneously (e.g PC and phone). You’ll know if this is working if you hear a voice say Bluetooth second device connected.

The voice assist function can be programmed into the Custom button on the left earcup so you have direct access to Alexa, Google Assistant, the Google app, or Siri.

I won’t go into the other features in great detail, but you’ll find adaptive sound control that detects if you’re walking or running or sitting down, noise-cancelling optimisation, ambient sound control, the equaliser, battery life, and other settings.

Verdict

At around $500, these headphones are available in black and grey. They are a fantastic piece of kit with good sound and good tech. Noise bleed was an issue for me but if you don’t mind noise escaping the cups and carrying the tune on the wind, the XM4s are worth a look.

Related stories
Top stories
Story image
Mobility
Tyson Beckford partners with Element Case on new AppleWatch band
Celebrity Tyson Beckford has collaborated with STM Brands' Element Case brand to create a rugged new accessory.
Story image
Wireless Nation
Wireless Nation, N4L provide 4G network to remote NZ schools
Wireless Nation and Network for Learning (N4L) have rolled out the Rural Connectivity Group’s (RCG) new 4G network to better connect three Chatham Islands schools.
Story image
First Table
First Table set to revive restaurant commerce in NZ with platform launch
A new restaurant booking platform has launched in New Zealand, giving Kiwi diners the opportunity to save and book at a variety of restaurants around the country.
Story image
Apple
Apple previews new features for users with disabilities
Apple says new software features that offer users with disabilities new tools for navigation, health and communication, are set to come out later this year.
Story image
Corsair
Hands-on review: Corsair 32GB Vengeance 5200MHz DDR5 DRAM kit
Corsair’s Vengeance 5200MHz DDR5 DRAM offers PC users an entry-level upgrade to the new memory standard allowing them to get a little bit more out of their new Alder Lake CPUs.
Story image
Logitech
Logitech releases new mouse with ergonomic and sustainable focus
Logitech has announced the Logitech Signature M650 Mouse and the Signature M650 for Business Wireless Mouse, both with new ergonomic features and capabilities.
Story image
D-Link
D-Link launches new G415 Smart Router as part of EAGLE PRO AI range
D-Link A/NZ has announced the launch of its new G415 AX1500 4G Smart Router as part of the new EAGLE PRO AI Series.
Story image
E-waste
NZ’s first and only e-waste sorting machine launched
Computer Recycling launches e-waste shredder and MSS optical sorting machine BLUBOX, which is able to sort out a tonne of e-waste per hour
Story image
Dynabook
Dynabook A/NZ announces new Portégé X40L-K hyperlight laptop
Dynabook A/NZ has unveiled the all-new Portégé X40L-K, a hyperlight 14.0" modern laptop utilising cutting-edge, high-performance computing power.
Story image
Design
Dynabook launches new Tecra A40-K and A50-K models
Dynabook has announced two new additions to its Tecra range, with both said to help promote flexible working solutions while also reducing the strain on IT managers.
Story image
Review
Hands-on review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition
In almost every respect it works like a book, apart from the fact that it weighs next to nothing, fits in my hand perfectly, and is soothing on my eyes.
Story image
Online shopping
A/NZ shoppers plan to spend less, be more selective
For retailers, 2022 is set to be a year of introspection as shoppers across Australia and New Zealand indicate they plan to spend less.
Story image
NFT
Emirates to launch NFTs and experiences in the metaverse
"Emirates has embraced advanced technologies to improve business processes, enhance our customer offering, and enrich our employees' skills and experiences."
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Tell-tale hints before volcanic eruptions found using AI
Researchers have pinpointed precursors to volcanic eruptions, in data collected before explosions including the deadly 2019 Whakaari surge that killed 22 people.
Story image
Gaming
Hands-on review: Ghostwire Tokyo (PS5)
Although a bit of a tonal departure for Bethesda, Ghostwire Toyko is a good-looking and eerie action game that is aimed at a very select audience.
Story image
Wireless
Sony to bring new 1000X series WH-1000XM5 headphones to the market
Sony has announced the newest edition of its award-winning wireless headphones, with the 1000X series WH-1000XM5 noise-cancelling model.
Story image
IDC
IDC finds 3.9% decline in worldwide tablet shipments
Preliminary data from IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker has found tablet shipments reached 38.4 million units during Q1 2022, a year-over-year decline of 3.9%.
Story image
Gaming
PNY launches XLR8 Gaming EPIX memory products in A/NZ
PNY has launched its XLR8 Gaming EPIC-X RGB™ DDR4 Silver 3200MHz and 3600MHz memory products in Australia and New Zealand.
Booster
Booster Innovation Fund. A fund of Kiwi ingenuity – for Kiwi investors.
Link image
Story image
PaaS
New digital traffic light system to tackle construction defects
Smarter Defects Management launches its PaaS digital system and says it will revolutionise managing defects in the construction industry.
Story image
Review
Hands-on-review: Creative Outlier Air V3
Creative is back with the third version of its affordable Outlier Air wireless earbuds range - aptly named the ‘V3’. And this time, they come boasting ambient mode and active noise reduction.
Story image
Microsoft
Microsoft unveils adaptive accessories for disability access
Microsoft is introducing an expansive Inclusive Tech Lab to give people with disabilities greater access to technology through new software features and adaptive accessories.
Story image
Gaming
Hands-on review: Intel Core i7-12700 CPU
Intel’s middle-of-the-road 12th generation Core i7-12700 offers performance at a lower price than the pricey Core i9 for users that are not fussed by overclocking.
Story image
Wireless
Hands-on review: Steelseries Aerox 9 Wireless and Aerox 5 gaming mice
Steelseries offered two interesting mice for review, the Aerox 9 Wireless, aimed at MMO/MOBA players, and the Aerox 5, a wired mouse for multi-genre use.
Story image
Microsoft
Microsoft backing Māori and Pacific wāhine in tech industry
A new initiative focused on getting Māori and Pacific wāhine into the tech industry and backed by Microsoft, NZTech and the government is calling for tech companies to get involved.
Story image
Poly
Poly introduces new smart devices and announces Amazon e-store in Australia
Poly is introducing two new pro-grade devices to the market and announcing its first official Australian e-store on Amazon.
Story image
Sustainability
Can bots succeed where humans have failed in sustainability?
People want businesses to turn talk into action, and believe technology can help businesses succeed where people have failed.  
Story image
Gaming
Hands-on review: The A500 Mini Retro Gaming Console
Retro Games, the UK outfit responsible for a range of retro gaming devices from joystick to full-sized Vic-20s and C64 emulators, have launched their A500 Mini Retro Gaming Console.
Story image
Gaming
Game review: Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga (Xbox Series X)
The Lego Star Wars games have always been popular with both kids and adults as they are a cute way to relive the famous movies.
Story image
Review
Hands-on-review: GoPro Hero 10
I have a long history with GoPro; I still remember getting my first camera when I was 16, using it to film Parkour and the day I lost it down a dingey crag. 
Story image
Malware
Vulnerabilities in Lenovo laptops expose users to UEFI malware
Researchers at ESET have discovered three vulnerabilities affecting various Lenovo consumer laptop models.
Story image
Norton
Hands-on review: Norton Anti Track 19 software
We get hands on with Norton's new privacy tool that was introduced in March 2022.
Story image
WolfVision
WolfVision announces new range of visualisers
WolfVision has announced a new range of visualisers to help meet multiple industry demands for remote learning and educational solutions.
Story image
Review
Hands-on review: MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WIFI motherboard
It’s all change with Intel’s 12th generation CPUs. We have a new chipset in the 600-series, a new socket with the LGA 1700, and new DDR5 memory.
Story image
Music
Hands-on review: JBL Partybox 110 Bluetooth speaker
My first review in a long time is sure to create a lot of noise, if the experience in my household has been anything to go by.
Story image
Collaboration
TikTok launches community-inspired effect capability
TikTok has announced the launch of its Effect House feature to allow its users to create and share Community Effects.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Google to enter the smartwatch market with the Google Pixel Watch
Google has provided a first look at its new Google Pixel Watch, which is set to make an entry into the competitive smartwatch market.
Story image
Gaming
Hands-on review: 32GB PNY XLR8 Gaming MAKO 6000MHz DDR5 memory kit
PNY’s XLR8 Gaming MAKO DDR5 memory modules are designed to get the most out of systems based on Intel’s 12th generation Alder Lake CPUs.
Story image
Jabra
Jabra reveals its latest portable headset Engage 55
Jabra has launched the Engage 55, the newest product in Jabra's Engage series designed for ultimate call security and quality.
Story image
i-PRO
i-Pro announces newest solutions as rebranded enterprise
i-PRO APAC Oceania has introduced its newest high-resolution mid-range cameras, with combined edge AI analytics and resolutions of up to 4K.
Story image
Mobility
Hands-on review: STM laptop bags
The advent of hybrid working has meant we need laptop bags. We got our hands on two of the most popular laptop bags from STM.
Story image
Wireless
Hands-on review: Technics EAH-A800 Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones
Designed in Osaka, Japan, these headphones just exude quality. They aren’t heavy, but they feel well built and solid.
Story image
Gaming
Game review: MLB The Show 22 (PS5)
Historically the MLB The Show series has been exclusive to PlayStation consoles, but now the franchise is expanding.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Significant spike in consumer fraud, new report finds
Reported cases of consumer fraud more than tripled in the years 2020-2021 from prior years, according to a new report by Accenture.