Photo: Sony headphones
For me, headphones have always been a compromise. I like the fluidity of the AirPod Pros that I use most of the time, but I wish they had a better battery. When I tested over a dozen options last year, the Sony WF-1000XM3 almost convinced me to change, but not quite. The XM3s have wonderful noise canceling capabilities and a long battery life, but I couldn’t forget the immense size of the heads and their cases. Sony must have taken Google’s note and listened to my thoughts, because the new WF-1000XM4 headphones have the same great battery life and NC technology, and the headphones and their casing have been reduced to actually usable proportions.
Thanks to their new V1 chip, the XM4s block an even higher frequency range. These are the Dkimebe Mutumbo of noise cancellation, blocking out sounds so effectively that I struggled to hear my own breath. On a recent flight, the faint hum of the plane’s engine did not even manage to pass. The technology is so good that it feels like these tiny headphones are now in competition with their big brother (Strat’s beloved), the Sony WH-1000XM4 on-ear headphones – one of the best on-ear headphones. auriculars that I tested. After a month of reviewing the XM4 headphones, I think these are the best noise canceling headphones available today. (Our friends at the Verge agree.)
Unlike the bulky XM3s, which constantly moved around in my ears and fell if I moved my head too quickly, the XM4s are small and light (41 grams compared to the XM3 79). Plus, they’re water resistant, with an IPX4 rating, which means they can withstand the sweat of your most intense workouts and even light rain. I would never have considered training with the XM3s, but the XM4s weren’t a problem. In my own tests, I walked through boulders of New York City under a musky cloud of humidity and extreme heat, and they didn’t even budge in my ears. This stability comes from Sony’s new memory foam, which expands for a perfect seal, adapting to every contour of your ears. (You can even test the fit with the app to confirm you’re wearing the right size ear tips for your ears.)
In my testing, I barely thought about charging the XM4s. They have a powerful battery that can last up to eight hours with noise cancellation enabled. (To put that in perspective, Apple’s Airpods can only last five hours with noise cancellation on.) And if you don’t want noise cancellation on, the XM4s will last a blistering 12 hours. Sony doesn’t just beat the competition; they go around them. After hours of daily use listening to music and podcasts I still expected to hear a battery warning (every time you put the headphones in they announce battery remaining), but the lowest ever reached was 60%.
The sound is also amazing. It came to life while listening with noise cancellation enabled. Lou Reed’s vibrant, vibrant “Vicious” guitar came center stage, while Reed’s low, monotonous vocals crept smoothly into the midrange. The drums added a slight swing but never overpowered the vocals. The dynamism was particularly noticeable on songs like “Love Is Strange” by Paul McCartney and the Wings. The coherent hi-hat merged perfectly with the backing vocals and the infectious chorus. Even the 80s boombastic synth influence on Bo Burnham’s Inside was powerful and intimate. No matter what I played, the vocals and instruments were always clear and unobtrusive, even at high volumes.
Even though I love these headphones, they have one flaw that makes them not for everyone: they’re still bigger than a lot of other options. (The AirPods Pro manage to be smaller by hiding some of the noise-canceling technology in the upper, which the XM4 doesn’t have.) If the most important thing for you is to find something lightweight for workouts, then I would suggest the Jaybird Vista. And if simplicity is your goal and you don’t want to bother with an app (and you’re an iPhone user), you’d better use AirPods. But if you are currently looking for the best noise canceling headphones on the market, your choice is simple. The Sony WF-1000XM4 is a master class on how to improve a good pair of headphones and make them perfect.
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