August 5, 2020

Sony WH-1000XM4: Everything we know, and what we want to see (Updated: Aug 3)

Update: A new promo video outs all the key features of the Sony WH-1000XM4.

Sony WH 1000XM3 at angle on table

Update, August 3, 2020 (10:39 AM ET): We’ve updated our Sony WH-1000XM4 rumor hub with new details about its possible specs and features. We’ve also added a leaked promo video which shows the headphones in all their glory. Read on for all the latest.

Original article, April 25, 2020 (12:21 PM ET): The Sony WH-1000XM4 has already had its fair share of leaks, but what do we consumers actually want from Sony’s next-generation active noise-canceling (ANC) headset? We know what to expect: longer battery life due to more efficient power consumption and more effective ANC, but let’s play around and decide what features will gas up excitement.

When will the Sony WH-1000XM4 be announced?

After Sony’s tweet on July 30, we expect the Sony WH-1000XM4 noise-canceling headphones will be revealed at the Sony Electronics Live Stream event. It’s likely this will accompany other products, perhaps a Sony PlayStation 5.

Sony WH-1000XM4 specs, features and price

A leaked promotional video of the Sony WH-1000XM4 has revealed most of its key features and specs. In the video above, you’ll see that the upcoming noise-canceling headphones borrow a lot from their predecessor but Sony is also adding some handy new features to the mix.

One of the two new features detailed in the video is called Wearing Detection. It automatically starts and stops playback when you wear or take off the headphones. The other new feature is called Chat-To-Speak. It pauses audio when you start talking to someone and resumes after 30 seconds so you don’t miss the response. Both of these seem quite useful and will be a welcome addition if they work as intuitively as shown in the leaked video.

Everything else mostly remains unchanged compared to the WH-1000XM3. Here’s a full list of features and specs of the Sony WH-1000XM4 as revealed by the promo video embedded above.

  • 40mm hybrid drivers
  • Same touch-based swipe controls as the Sony WH-1000XM3
  • Real-time audio upscaling with Sony’s DSEE Extreme software
  • Ambient sound mode to listen to important announcements while using headphones
  • Personalized sound settings based on location
  • Alexa and Google Assistant support
  • USB-C fast charging: 10 minutes charge for 5 hours of playback
  • 30 hours of advertised battery life
  • Black, silver colorways

As more and more rumors surface, it seems Bluetooth multi-device support is all but guaranteed with the new Sony noise-canceling headphones. This would allow the headphones to connect to at least two phones, computers, tablets at a time. It would be a smart move on Sony’s part seeing how the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and Shure AONIC 50 supported this right out of the gate.

An app teardown by Twitter user@justplayinghard revealed something called DSEE Extreme which is also shown in the promo video. It is likely similar to DSEE HX with AI features. DSEE HX upscales compressed audio to make it nearly high-resolution audio quality and is compatible with SBC and AAC codecs according to Sony. We’ve seen it used in the XM3 and Sony WF-1000XM3 headsets, and the AI improvements could be referring to something as simple as hands-free Google Assistant access or something more complex like Bose AR.

A screenshot by Notebookcheck of the rumored Sony WH 1000XM4 specifications.

A screenshot of Dell Canada's Sony WH-1000XM4 specifications taken by Notebookcheck before the listing's removal.

On June 4, 2020, the Sony WH-1000XM4 appeared on Walmart’s website priced at $348. It was also seen on Dell Canada’s website with a June 23 release date. Even still, this is speculative as both listings have been removed. However, Notebookcheck took screenshots of the Sony WH-1000XM4 specifications before the listing’s removal from Dell Canada. Some specifications only appear partially completed, as it’s impossible for the headset to only support LDAC as a lone Bluetooth codec: Bluetooth SIG mandated SBC as the standard for any Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) 1.3 device.

In the meantime, if you’re just itching for a great pair of noise-canceling headphones, be sure to check out how the Sony WH-1000XM3 fare against the Shure AONIC 50 and Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones 700.

Sony WH-1000XM4: What we want to see

No more broken headbands

The Sony WH-1000X line has been plagued with durability issues from the start, and it’s surprising that the issue has persisted for so long. Just like other plastic headsets, Sony’s flagship tends to break under pressure: there are numerous user reports of the Sony WH-1000XM3 headband snapping along the plastic seams as depicted on Sony’s community thread.

Anyone paying $350 for a headset has every right to be upset by shoddy quality control.

Seeing how this is a top-tier line of noise-canceling headphones with the price to show for it, the frustration is warranted. The third time around may not have been the charm for Sony, but perhaps the Sony WH-1000XM4 will prove different. I hope we see something along the lines of the Shure AONIC 50 headband design; this ANC headset uses metal in spots that are typical breakage points to prolong the headset’s lifetime.

Hands-free access to Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa

A photo of a man wearing Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones.

The Sony WH-1000XM3 lets users program the ANC button to access Google Assistant, Alexa, or Siri but doesn’t support direct voice access.

The recent leak detailing some Sony WH-1000XM4 specifications made note of hands-free access to virtual assistants, which I hope comes to fruition. We’ve already seen Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant integration with the headset, so this seems like a reasonable next-step.

It took me a while to appreciate the hype surrounding virtual assistants in general, but I now view them as a wonderful accessibility tool. Direct voice access to assistants like Siri or Alexa makes it that much easier for visually impaired people to receive and respond to text-based information. It also benefits users with dyslexia as the ability to respond directly to incoming messages bypasses the reading process altogether.

If you’re thinking, “Well, I can already do that with the current model anyway,� you’re right, kind of. With the current noise-canceling flagship, users have to designate the noise canceling/ambient button for access to Alexa or Google; this means users have to download the Sony | Headphones app, dig through a few tabs, and remap the ANC button for virtual assistant access. It’s not a cumbersome process for a majority of users but is frustrating for some due to it requiring a bit of reading; hence why default hands-free assistant access would be great.

We hope the Sony WH-1000XM4 retains a headphone jack

A photo of the Sony WH-1000XM3 and its 3.5mm analog audio port.

The WH-1000XM3 has a 24-hour battery life, but users can always depend on analog listening via the headphone jack.

We’ve seen Apple subsidiary Beats drop the headphone jack from its noise-canceling on-ear headset the Beats Solo Pro, and can expect more of the company’s audio products to follow suit. Hopefully, Sony will avoid this, so you can still enjoy high-resolution audio from certain streaming services. Seeing as Sony is still pumping out high-resolution Walkman players, the headphone jack seems all but guaranteed on the Sony WH-1000XM4. In fact, you can see a tiny glimpse of it in the leaked promo video embedded above.

Looking for some more headphone recommendations? Check out the links below.

If you run out of battery, just plug in the included 3.5mm cable.