We’ve seen some amazing noise cancellation advances in personal audio in the last few years, and Sony has emerged as a favourite in the space with their XM series of over-ear headphones and in-ear true wireless earbuds. Today Sony has announced the release of XM4, featuring the company’s latest noise cancelling technology.
Sony’s XM4 headphones (to give them their full name, WH-1000XM4) are your classic over-ear headphones with an extendable arm connecting the cans together. They connect to your phone using Bluetooth (or a cable, with a 3.5mm jack on the headphones end) and offer a whopping 30 hours of noise-cancelling music playback.
The pads on the ear cups are super soft (certainly a fair bit softer than my old XM2s), and they’re designed to evenly distribute pressure around your ear. The headphones have buttons on the left and touchpad controls on the right.
You’ll control your music with Sony’s standard touch-sensitive right can (swipe up/down for volume, forward/backward for track control, double-tap to start/stop music and cover to let ambient noise in), but there’s also a button you can use to summon the Google Assistant (or Alexa, if that’s your thing).
Previous models also allowed you to enable/disable noise cancellation with a physical button; this feature is now controlled via the Sony Headphones Connect app.
The headphones can connect to two Bluetooth devices and switch if an incoming call is detected.
Sony’s still using their QN1 HD Noise Cancelling Processor (first sighted in the XM3 headphones), but they’ve updated the algorithm used for noise cancellation and paired it up with a new Bluetooth chip that responds to input music and noise arond the headphones 700 times a second(!). The XM4 headphones have two microphones on each earcup, and Sony says there’s five microphones overall on the set.
XM4, along with Sony’s Headphones Connect app features Adaptive Sound Control. This learns where you go and how best to tune your use of noise cancellation and ambient sound settings as you move around, according to your location.
The new XM4 headphones will also detect whether they’re being worn or not, and play/pause your music accordingly. This makes use of a proximity sensor in the earcup and two accelerometers. Similarly, the headphones will pick up when you’re speaking to someone and automatically stop music and switch to ambient noise mode so you can have a conversation for 30 seconds before music starts again.
I’m not so sure how I feel about that last one – it’s far more polite to take your headphones off when speaking with someone else, but I’m sure there are situations where this is warranted.
The headphones offer 30 hours of noise-cancelled battery life – and more, if you turn off noise cancellation – and they charge from USB C so you shouldn’t need any new cables (if you’re using a modern Android phone, anyway).
XM4 also supports Google’s Fast Pair feature, which for me is the first time I’ve seen it in action – I turned on our review unit and my phone immediately popped up a notification offering to set the headphones up. A few seconds later they were connected and Google Assistant was set up.
Given the changes to our lives 2020 has brought about, you might be wondering why you would need noise-cancelling headphones at all — after all, we’re not getting on an aircraft any time soon and many of us are now working from home. Despite this, transport is still a thing for many, and these headphones can definitely help on public transport with background noise on a train, or a bus engine.
They are also useful around the house, as you’ll be able to focus on work (or music) if you’re in a shared space. You could listen to music without hearing the washing machine or dryer, or tune out the noise from your robot vacuum as it goes about its business.
Sony’s in a command position with the launch of XM4, with their XM3 sets still well regarded after a couple of years on the market (they were launched at IFA 2018) but there’s still a palpable buzz around the industry awaiting the launch of its successor. XM4 has been anticipated since the end of last year, and started showing up in accreditation databases earlier this year.
The good news, if you’re chomping at the bit waiting to get your hands on them, is that you won’t have to wait long. They’ll be hitting local release during August for $550. Sony’s XM3 headphones are available practically everywhere, so you can assume the XM4 model will move into those retail spaces as well.
Along with the headphones, you’ll also get a carry case, in-flight adapter, 3.5mm cable and a small USB A-to-C cable in the box.
You can find more information (including full specs) at Sony’s XM4 page.