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Working from home? Missing going to gigs? Are you working out or just looking to escape and chill for a bit? Headphones have become even more vital in our day to day lives over the last 12 months so it makes sense that you might want to upgrade for better audio, mics and crucially noise cancelling. The market for more premium consumer headphones has been heating up with new devices from Bose, Apple, Sennheiser and… Sony. Yes, today we’ll be taking a look at Sony’s new premium headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4. Are they worth picking up? Let’s find out.

I’ll start off with a device I’ll be comparing these to a lot through this review – Bose’s NC 700 and Apple’s Airpods which are the devices I use day to day. Thankfully, the Sony WH-1000XM4 sound fantastic. The WH-1000XM4 feel much richer in sound with a notably better bass than Bose’s NC 700 and comfortably better then Apple’s Airpods in this regard. Podcasts and dialogue in video felt clear and I just enjoyed listening to music more on these compared to my go-to headphones. Noise cancelling is also a big thing in 2021 as we all try and get a slice of peace and quiet and I’m happy to report it’s excellent on the Sony WH-1000XM4. You can very easily drown the world out with these on and I really appreciated the feature where with holding your palm to one cup – to temporarily turn off noise cancelling if you need to hear an announcement at the station for example.

Design wise, I think there’s another win here for the Sony WH-1000XM4 thanks to one simple thing – they fold. In the before times, I’d travel a lot so I always appreciated any things that would save me a bit of space in my bag and these come with a notably smaller case too. That case too is sturdy, feels nice and even includes an adaptor for flying. Nice! I will say that I’m not a fan of the touch controls on either the Bose or Sony models with swipes and taps never quite managing to beat the pure simplicity of buttons but they’re manageable. The Sony WH-1000XM4 felt comfortable on the head too, if a bit of a tighter feeling than the Bose NC 700. They also to me looked nicer with lovely gold metal touches around the cups and a clean look.

I will say that one area which I could have done without (and thankfully is optional) is the smarter features of the Sony WH-1000XM4. I understand that it’s an easy way to stand out for the crowd but I quickly turned many of these features off. The main culprit is a feature that analyses what you’re doing and where you are to customise audio called Adaptive Sound Control.

For example, if you’re out and about at a train station or working at home it’ll customise the sound and noise cancelling for the optimum experience. As an iOS user, I found this really clunky with far too many notifications and a persistent location usage icon and even after trying it for a few days, I didn’t really notice a difference. The one unique feature I really enjoyed here (that the Bose NC 700 lack) was a sensor to pause music if you take your headphones off and play when you put them back on. Neat!

A huge deal breaker for many with the previous model, including myself was the omission of multipoint – the ability to connect and switch easily between two devices. In fact I returned a pair of Sony WH-1000XM3s previously when I found out this wasn’t supported in the past. I’m happy to report that the feature is here and works well. In fact, a little too well? I found the headphones when taken off and I’m playing music through my phone’s loudspeaker would often try and wrestle control back. I think if Sony can tweak this moving forward and in future models support even more bluetooth connections at once they’ll be onto a winner. Apple’s Airpod switching across multiple devices is industry leading and something they should absolutely try and copy.

Finally, given many of us are lucky enough to work from home – what is the microphone quality like? Frustratingly, that’s where there’s a clear difference between Sony’s WH-1000XM4 and Bose’s NC 700 headphones. I had quite a few people tell me that the audio on calls just wasn’t as clear and asked me to repeat what I said. When outdoors, microphone quality struggled also, especially with a breeze outside. Bose solved this issue by just putting a ton of mic’s inside and outside their headsets to help prioritise quality in this area. This is absolutely an area to improve on for Sony with the inevitable sequel.

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 for many will be a huge upgrade with great audio, connectivity, and design. However, if you’re working from home then I’d definitely advise you to compare them closely with Bose’s NC 700 headphones and see which one you might prefer because the better mic quality might be enough to swing your decision. Price is also a factor too with Bose’s NC 700 at time of writing costing €50 less than Sony’s headphones. Is that extra €50 worth it for a better design and audio quality? I’ll leave that up to you. Either way, you’ll be getting a cracking pair of headphones.

David McGinley

Irish Writer, Ad man and lover of tea, all things digital, gaming, coffee, photography, gadgets, writer @TheEffectDotNet. Views are my own.

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