The panorama made up of cultivated fields, roads that become bridges, houses that rise up to be palaces, flows at 250 km per hour, almost in silence. In spite of the high-speed train with its vibrations, the businessman who records vocals aloud two seats away, the children playing in the corridor, the new WF-1000XM4, third edition of the excellent Sony true wireless headphones , insulate from noise in an excellent way. It is a pleasant surprise, definitely confirmed by the sound test: when “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, the first of the many songs listened to, starts, the clear and detailed performance of the basses alone is enough to set the bar for a sound quality that in few on the market can match.
Just presented by Sony, the already excellent WF-1000XM3s arrive just two years later, of which it was neither easy nor obvious to do better. Instead, the leap forward is tangible, and it affects almost every aspect: from design to ergonomics, through battery life and arriving at the astonishing sound quality. Let’s see in detail why.
Out of the box (paper)
From the first approach, every detail seems to want to remember that the new Sony are a leap forward compared to the past. Starting with the packaging, which is not only 40% smaller than the previous model, but is also plastic-free and completely recyclable. Here the curious thing is that the “Franciscan” simplicity of the cardboard packaging, although appreciable in terms of eco-sustainability, appears almost in contrast with the premiumness of the product. A paradox that we should get used to more and more.
In the hands, the WF-1000XM4 impresses with its compact size, has a pleasant-to-the-touch coating and a design characterized by soft curves, beautiful to look at and very different from previous headphones, which in comparison seem bulky and a little rough. Thanks to the advances in the development of hardware and software (especially with regard to Noise Cancellation and batteries), which now allow you to enable superior performance in smaller spaces, freeing the creativity of designers.
When the lid is lifted, a light turns on to indicate the charging status in different colors (from red to green). Curiously, the first time you try to extract one of the earphones you have to fight a little with the force of attraction of the magnet that attaches them to the case, now much more powerful than before. Impossible for them to fall out of the box and very easy to put them back in their place.
As soon as activated by removing the protective plastic, the headphones automatically enter pairing mode and can easily be connected to any device, with a preference for the Android world that has the convenient Fast Pair mode (just bring the devices closer and the connection procedure starts) . If the need arises to reactivate the pairing mode, for example for another device, just keep your fingers on the touch keys of the two earphones for more than seven seconds. It is also worth noting that it is possible to configure voice activation of the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant digital assistants, but not of Siri.
Just a few gestures (which include downloading the dedicated Sony Headphones Connect app) and the headphones are almost ready to be worn. Before using them, it is in fact important to check if the installed rubber pads (developed from scratch in polyurethane foam, softer, more elastic and comfortable to wear), are the right ones, or if you need to replace them with one of the other two pairs present in the package. A less wide choice than the “old” WF-1000XM3, but it was sufficient in our case.
The important thing is that the headphones adhere well to the walls of the ear canal, both to help the noise cancellation software work with good sound insulation, and to prevent them from slipping and falling while you are out and about, perhaps running at breakneck speed in a park. Once inserted into the ear, you have to rotate them slightly backwards to find the optimal position.
No app, no party
At this point it is good to remember that the new Sony can work even without downloading the dedicated app, but that the latter is necessary to take full advantage of its multiple features. Starting from the ad hoc configuration, where the user is invited to photograph his ear to allow the system to configure the sound processing in the best possible way. Or for the management of the different equalizations (the writer prefers the “Enthusiastic” mode) and then again for the configuration of the touch keys.
With regard to the latter, by default the right is used to manage the playback controls (one tap to start or stop playback, two to advance a song, three to go back), while the left allows you to switch with a tap from the Noise Canceling mode to Ambient Sound, where external microphones collect external noise to transfer them into the ear along with the music or whatever the user is listening to. A very useful and now ubiquitous function, designed to avoid excessive sound insulation, for example when crossing a street on foot. It should be noted that, compared to the WF-1000XM3, the possibility of turning off the Noise C with a third tap has disappeared: now to do this you need to access the app. Finally, a continuous pressure on the left earphone is enough to activate the “Quick Attention” mode, which turns off the audio stream and activates the Ambient Sound mode to allow you to quickly interact with other people without removing the headphones.
Still using the Sony Headphones Connect app, it is also possible to configure the practical Speak-to-Chat function (already appreciated on the WH-1000XM3) which automatically pauses the music when we start talking and reactivates it after 15 seconds of silence. Very useful when using headphones for example in the workplace, it is not recommended if you love to sing the songs you listen to. Seeing is believing. Also from the app, it is also possible to activate the DSEE Extreme function, which uses artificial intelligence to improve the quality of music files compressed in real time.
Seeing is believing
When everything is ready, even the first song you want to listen to, the advice is to take a moment before pressing play. And this not only to immediately appreciate the effectiveness of Noise Canceling which radically reduces the noise around you, but also because that gesture will almost instantly raise the bar of your expectations towards any audio device, defining a new standard for the sound of premium quality.
We already mentioned the bass at the beginning: clear, detailed and at the same time wide and deep, they are “real” and satisfying in a way that you would not expect from true wireless headphones. First of all the merit of the new 6 mm driver with a 20% larger magnet, but not only: at the center of everything is the brand new V1 processor which, thanks to Edge AI Computing solutions (technology that consists in bringing artificial intelligence as close as possible to the source of the data to be processed), it improves practically everything while consuming less energy. Noise suppression (thanks to the two microphones equipped with Dual Noise Sensor technology) stability of the bluetooth connection (thanks to the integrated chip), and then, again, high quality audio processing. For example, using the aforementioned Dsee Extreme technology that recognizes instruments, musical genres and elements of each song to restore the high-frequency sounds lost in compression, restoring a lot of the original quality to the streaming music.
The result is pure joy in listening: whether it’s the powerful electronic music that hits you and overwhelms you with Moderat’s “A New Error”, the rousing Rap of Marracash and Cosmo in “Greta Thunberg”, or the overwhelming and distressing heavy nightmare. metal of “Schism” by Tool, the WH-1000XM4 “are on the track”, faithfully reproducing every instrument, voice, nuance, expressing full lows, mids and highs while showing no fear of any musical genre. Indeed, to love them all.
And to love the voice: the one reproduced, whether it is in a podcast (for example the one dedicated to Alessandro Barbero’s lessons) or the one listened to in a phone call, even better if transmitted in HD through the many messaging systems. Or whether it’s yours, when you are talking on the phone: thanks to the Precise Voice Pickup function, 4 beam forming microphones (two on each side) and the bone conduction sensor work together with the noise suppression system, to collect the voice more sharply and accurately and let others hear you with great clarity, even when you are in noisy environments.
Finally, another strong point is certainly the autonomy: a single charge promises (and actually grants) 8 hours of continuous listening with activated noise cancellation, which become 12 if the NC is deactivated. To these are added another 16 provided by the battery of the case (or up to 24, without NC), and if it happens to find them discharged when they are needed immediately, 5 minutes of charging are enough to gain about an hour of autonomy. Finally, there is also wireless charging, useful if you have a compatible charger.
In summary: we like them, and a lot. We found them perfect for listening to music in the armchair, for isolating yourself at home while working in remote working, for listening to podcasts or “motivating” playlists while running (they are IPX4, that is splash and sweat proof), for meditating in the absence of noise. A clear and unexpected progress compared to the already excellent previous generation, which had already impressed us favorably.
To want to find defects at all costs, we can underline the reduced choice between the rubber tips, so important to fit the headphones well to the ear, and here only present in three sizes. The other possible “flaw” is that you pay for quality: available in two black and white colors, the Sony WH-1000XM4 cost 280 euros. But they are all worth them.