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A love letter to the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones

Good enough to put a ring on 'em

A love letter to the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones
Callum Booth
Story by

Callum Booth

Editor of Plugged by TNW

Callum is an Englishman in Amsterdam, but not in the way you're thinking. He's the Editor of Plugged, TNW's consumer tech vertical. He w Callum is an Englishman in Amsterdam, but not in the way you're thinking. He's the Editor of Plugged, TNW's consumer tech vertical. He writes about gear, gadgets, and apps — with a particular focus on Apple — and also makes the occasional odd video. Basically, he's halfway between an abrasive gadget nerd and thinky art boy.

Everyone has a contrarian side. At some point you must’ve seen something loads of people loved and had the immediate reaction of “well, not me.”

And, like most human experiences, some people suffer from contrarianism more than others. I, for example, am fucking awful.

Let’s take the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones as an example. Over past iterations, the range has been routinely touted as some of the best mid-range headphones on the market. And that meant one thing to Mr. Contrary Ass over here: I stuck my nose up at them.

“Oh,” I’d say to anyone who’d listen in the five seconds before they walked away, “I prefer to get my over-ear headphones from a dedicated manufacturer.”

This meant companies like Sennheiser or Master & Dynamic or Bose. In other words, organizations solely focused on high-end audio gear — not a broad range of price points and tech products.

I’d tried the Sony WH-1000XM4 and never thought they were bad, they just didn’t appeal to me.

Then, after being urged to give the headphones another spin, I began living with them. And all I can say is I was wrong. Oh I was wrong.

sony wh-1000xm4 travel guide headphones
I made this picture of the WH-1000XM4, rather than taking a photograph, because I’m wearing my headphones and you can’t make me take them off.

When it comes to mid-range headphones (basically anything around $300-500 in my mind), it’s a game of compromises. Do you value battery life? Sound quality? Noise-canceling? You can find a product that thrives at each of these tasks.

But I’ll put my hand on whatever religious book you favor most and state that Sony‘s WH-1000XM4 are the most well-balanced headphones I’ve tried. The build quality is fantastic, the battery is beefy, and they’re light and comfortable to wear.

But it’s the small details that really get me.

They still have an aux cable. The companion app is fantastic and endlessly adjustable. And they have touch controls that actually work.

Look, in my opinion all headphones should have actual buttons. Touch controls are fiddly and don’t always work — but the WH-1000XM4 are some of the few headphones where using them isn’t a fucking nightmare.

Another detail that gets me all hot-and-bothered is the case. Oh, that sweet, protective case.

sony wh-1000xm4 case
Look, I told you, I’m not taking my headphones off. But here’s another picture I made.

The WH-1000XM4 fold away into a flat container and I can’t tell you what a joy this is. They take up almost no space when packed away. There’s even a neat little slot for the aux cable and a flight adaptor. It’s perfect for traveling — whether it’s to work or abroad.

And that is where I think the true joy of the WH-1000XM4 is found: they’re true lifestyle headphones.

Other cans in this market segment can do some things better. For example, I prefer the sound of the Sennheiser Momentum 3 and AirPods Max are amazing if you’ve got a lot of Apple devices.

But nothing has the all-court game of the WH-1000XM4.

These headphones do everything to a consistently excellent standard. Whether I’m listening to lossless files with the Chord Mojo, Marantz CD6007 player, or simply using Bluetooth on my phone, the sound is amazing. There are a gamut of useful features (like a mode where you put your hand over the earcup so you can talk with someone) and they’re comfortable enough to wear all day.

Are they perfect? No. But while there are some things I’d change (proper buttons! longer battery! lower price!), none of them are deal breakers. Simply, the WH-1000XM4 are the best cans I’ve tried for going about my daily business in the city.

All this leads me to one point: I’m happy I was wrong about the Sony WH-1000XM4. I’m glad I’ve had my stupid contrarian face rubbed in the dirt. In fact — I’m elated by it.

Because if I didn’t eat my own filthy words, these gorgeous headphones wouldn’t be part of my life. And that just wouldn’t do.

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