Two years after its entry into the noise canceling headphone scene, Sony wants to maintain its position. This “Mark IV” version of the WH-1000X therefore comes at the right time to take over from the one who made the Japanese manufacturer go from outsider to co-leader of the market, neck and neck with the historic Bose and its excellent NC 700.

Suffice to say that Sony did not want to change a winning team. When you take it in hand, it is very difficult to tell the difference between this new helmet and the “Mark III” version of the WH-1000X, Both the design is similar and the differences are played out in the details.

The most noticeable improvement in the end is the strengthening of the padding in the headband and the headphones. This makes it even more comfortable and brings it even closer to the Bose model which still remains the benchmark in the field.

Same electronics, new algorithms

Inside, the electronics don’t change either. Sony has kept the same 40 mm drivers that equipped the previous generation, but also the same chip called “QNA”, largely quite powerful according to the manufacturer. It analyzes data collected over 700 times per second to adjust the effectiveness of noise reduction under any circumstances.

But then what is really changing with this fourth generation? The evolution is first to be found on the side of the internal software. Sony told us that they have worked hard on algorithms for noise cancellation. This would improve its efficiency by 15% in airplanes (with continuous background noise) and 20% in more hectic places such as a street or an office. If this remains difficult to measure, it is clear that the result is still as effective.

Tested throughout the month of August in a multitude of places (plane, train, car, beach, street, office, etc.), the WH-1000XM4 has never been faulted. Whether the noises are continuous or more unpredictable, the headset is responsive and always provides the right cancellation to keep us calm. We still quibble a bit, noticing a very slight hiss in the background, typical of the process. Only the most attentive will hear it and it is quickly masked as soon as you play music.

An app that always offers more, sometimes too much

The WH-1000X series is particularly appreciated thanks to its ultra-comprehensive application that allows you to take control of a variety of features. Sony is making it even better here by adding new ones. This is particularly the case with “Speak to chat”, a process that captures our voice to automatically pause music and activate transparent mode. This makes it possible, for example, to start a short conversation with someone, without having to take off their headphones or rest their palm on the right earpiece.

In reality, the system is not necessarily the most efficient. Although you can adjust its sensitivity, there are times when it goes off without you wanting it. For example, don’t plan on humming the song you have in your ears with this feature turned on because, for sure, your headphones will automatically switch to talk mode. Not to mention that it is still more pleasant to converse without keeping your headphones on your ears.

New things … and disappearances

The other functional novelty, meanwhile, is inherited from the brand’s in-ear headphones. Sony has integrated a sensor in the left ear cup to know when you are wearing your headphones or not. So when you remove it, the music can pause automatically, with a deactivation of the touchpad to avoid unwanted manipulation.

Still within the application, there is also a slight change: the replacement of the DSEE HX system by a new DSEE Extreme. This system allows an MP3 or AAC file to be upgraded to higher sound quality depending on the manufacturer. In fact, a difference is actually being heard – in particular thanks to a widening of the soundstage – but this remains anecdotal. Note that it is possible to deactivate it to save some battery.

We also note the strange disappearance of support for Qualcomm’s aptx HD codec. Only the classic SBC and AAC (supported by all iOS and Android smartphones) and LDAC, Sony’s high definition codec which will only work with the brand’s devices. Too bad for those who have a smartphone equipped with a Qualcomm SoC compatible with aptx HD, Sony preferring to highlight its own equivalent technology … and thus avoid paying royalties to the San Diego company. If the logic can be understood, it seems surprising to remove functionality from one generation to the next from the same headset. Pity.

Dynamic, powerful, precise

Fortunately, the WH-100XM4 is absolutely convincing in the audio quality it offers; like the … WH-1000XM3. The same material producing the same effects, you will not be at all disoriented if you switch from one model to another. First of all, this helmet clearly falls under the “basseux” category. The bass frequencies are indeed there, very present, but also very controlled. Their dynamics are precise and no hum will disturb the rest of the frequencies.

This is where Sony demonstrates its know-how: despite these bass, the mids are very distinct and allow instruments located in these frequencies (piano, guitar) to stand out from the rest. The whole thing is underlined by very precise highs again which underline the whole of precious details, no sibilance being felt at any time. And you can turn up the volume anytime you want, this Mark IV clearly has it under the hood. Be careful with the eardrums, because it will be difficult to catch it, even at very high volume.

Finally, let’s finish with a last very good point of this generation of the WH-1000X: its autonomy. We measured over 36 hours of non-stop use, noise cancellation enabled. It even has the luxury of saving almost 10 hours compared to the Mark III that we had measured at 27 h 49. In other words, it is among the best models on the market and quite simply brings down the Bose NC700 which does not held until 6:58 p.m. according to our lab measurements. And without noise canceling activated, Sony breaks all records with 59:05 hours of operation. Impressive.

The verdict of the test

Sony WH-1000XM4

Quality sound, exceptional battery life, effective noise cancellation, complete application: this WH-1000XM4 is packed with quality and once again stands out as one of the best models on the market. However, we have a little taste of the unfinished compared to its predecessor whose performance is extremely close. A model to recommend to those who do not yet have a helmet of this type. As for the owners of the Mark III, they can still sleep comfortably.

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