headphones that listen to you / Sound and acoustics

headphones that listen to you / Sound and acoustics

Apple’s refusal to use a mini-jack in the iPhone 7 has caused a real boom in wireless headphones – everyone and everyone is now making their own Bluetooth headsets, the variety is off scale. For the most part, however, these are ordinary small headphones that do not place much emphasis on sound quality and comfort. Which is logical – full-size wireless headphones have been around for a long time, but for a long time music lovers did not take them seriously, and there is nothing to say about audiophiles.

The Sony MDR-1000X (the next versions are already called WH-1000X) have seriously changed the rules of the game: the combination of excellent noise isolation, Ambient Sound system (turning off noise isolation in one motion) and decent sound quality was impressive. Yes, in many respects the success of this model was due precisely to how the rest of the players in this segment were used to behaving: it still did not sound like wired headphones of the hi-fi and hi-end class, but in its niche (that where other brands reigned before) this model became the main one. Most importantly, Sony is not resting on its laurels, rolling out an update every year. In 2020, we waited for the fourth – we meet the Sony WH-1000XM4.

⇡ #Specifications

Sony WH-1000XM4
A type Closed, covering
Emitters Dynamic 40mm (Dome Type)
Range of reproduced frequencies, Hz 4-40,000
Impedance 47 Ohm
Sensitivity at 1 kHz and 1 mW 105 dB (wired)
Bluetooth version 5.0 (profiles A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP)
Noise suppression Active
Battery life 30 hrs (with noise canceling), 38 hrs (without noise canceling)
Charging time 3 h
Weight 255 g
Price 29,990 rubles

If in the previous versions of the 1000X series progress showed itself gradually – they became a little lighter, slightly smarter, worked longer autonomously and sounded a little better, then in the fourth generation Sony made a leap forward. Although at first glance, it may not be very noticeable. Sound characteristics remained more or less the same – the same 40-mm dome-type speakers with the same frequency range (4-40,000 Hz) and sensitivity (104 dB). The weight has not changed – the same 255 grams. The design has hardly changed – plastic with a more matte surface is used, and some small details have changed.

The noise cancellation system still relies on the QN1 processor, which debuted in the third version of the headphones – the system is able to adjust the sound depending on atmospheric pressure (so that it is comfortable to listen to music at high altitudes), head shape, and so on. But the processor algorithms and data transmission technology have been improved – now the headphones work with Bluetooth 5.0. However, this is also not the most important change – first of all, “smart” functions have been shoveled.

The headphones received a motion sensor and now they are able to determine themselves whether they are on or off; it is no longer necessary to touch the cup to stop playback before taking them off. With the Sony Headphones Connect app, you have been able to flexibly tune your surround sound characteristics to cut out noise while still hearing important sounds – now outside sounds will intrude in more situations. And most importantly, the Speak-to-Chat function has been implemented, which will automatically pause playback when the user starts talking. Let’s see how it all works in practice and if there are any other minor improvements.

⇡ #Contents of delivery

The Sony WH-1000XM4, like all of their predecessors, is marketed as headphones, not least for travel – and for business. This is a foldable model, it is packed right in the box in a hard case with a zipper, which has practically not changed compared to the previous generation.

In the case, in addition to the “broken” headphones closer to the cup (how to put them – it is indicated on the enclosed cardboard), there is a 3.5-mm ↔ 3.5-mm cable 1.2 meters long, with which Sony WH-1000XM4 work in ” analog “mode, adapter for double aviation connector and cable for charging. Quite a comprehensive kit.

⇡ #Design and construction

Sony prefers not to change what has already turned out well, and with each generation, it makes only subtle changes to the design and design of the 1000X series. The classic shape with a padded headband upholstered in leather, equally soft ear cushions and flat ear cups with a touch coating has not changed even now. The earbuds still look good, well built, and are offered in silver and black.

But there are a few differences as well. Firstly, now the cups are made of more matte plastic – it is a little more pleasant to the touch and does not so quickly get splattered from the touch of your fingers.

Secondly, the markings on the functional elements located on the left cup have changed: the large key is marked with the word Custom (you can hang not only noise cancellation on it), and the mini-jack has lost its markings. And so it is clear what he is for. The design of the microphones on the cups and the NFC icon has changed – the contact area of ​​this module itself is in the same place as before.

The headband is adjustable in height with the help of a slide – they have become tighter, the positions are fixed more clearly. The cups swing freely, the ear cushions are soft and very pleasant to the touch – Sony WH-1000XM4 is very comfortable, you can safely spend hours in them. They weigh quite noticeable, seemingly 255 grams, but they do not feel heavy either on the head or on the neck. In an airplane, for example, these headphones can be used as a kind of earplugs thanks to powerful noise cancellation and sleep peacefully without discomfort.

The main external difference between the Sony WH-1000XM4 and its predecessors is hidden inside the cups – this is the motion sensor. We’ll talk about it below.

⇡ #Functionality and sound quality

The key thing that the fourth version of the 1000X series has learned is to recognize more user actions on its own. Headphones now rely less than ever on direct commands from touching the touch surface and more on their intelligence.

First of all, this applies to situations when you take off the headphones – you do not need to stop playback first, the headphones will do it themselves, having received a signal from the sensor. It is very convenient, no doubt, but so far, with the current firmware version, this system does not always work stably – sometimes playback starts again when the headphones are still hanging around the neck or completely put aside. With the resumption of playback, when you put them back on your head, there are also hiccups, from time to time you had to start it manually, either on a smartphone, or still touching the touch panel. With it, by the way, you can both control playback (stop / start and switch tracks) and adjust the volume.

Sony WH-1000XM4 also learned to respond to the user’s voice – when you start talking, playback immediately stops, and the noise canceling mode is turned off (instead, the Ambient Sound mode is turned on, in which even the passive noise isolation of the on-ear headphones is compensated). This feature is more stable – and very useful too. Past scenarios have also been preserved – noise cancellation is turned off if the headphones “hear” announcements at the station, the sound signal of traffic lights, and so on.

In general, the noise reduction system has not changed – it still works as efficiently, I did not notice a difference with the Sony WH-1000XM3. Four microphones on the cups in combination with the QN1 processor work great – noise is cut off very high quality, in these headphones you can safely listen to even quiet podcasts on the subway or on an airplane not at maximum volume. I already wrote above about using the Sony WH-1000XM4 as a kind of earplugs – this is a completely normal way of using these headphones. They also know how to optimize noise cancellation based on the shape of the ears and adjust to atmospheric pressure, providing greater comfort in flight.

There is one noticeable but: it is not always possible to connect a new version of headphones to a smartphone without a special Sony Headphones Connect application – they sometimes do not appear in the list of headphones available for connection in the Bluetooth profile, pairing is possible, but neither the sound on them, nor the voice from them transmitted. The app itself is pretty good. In it, you can set up scenarios based on location, when the headphones themselves will determine whether you are on the road or have already arrived, and adjust noise canceling depending on this. It is also suggested to turn on or off the headphone response to ambient sound, adjust the sound in the equalizer and adjust the degree of noise reduction. You can also turn on the 360 ​​Reality Audio surround sound system, but for this you need to download an additional application, which you can use for free for only 3 months – the purchase of the Sony WH-1000XM4 provides only temporary access to this system.

Perhaps the coolest feature of the new model is the ability to connect to two devices at once. The headphones themselves must determine which signal is currently coming from, and switch.

As for the sound, the acoustic characteristics of the Sony WH-1000XM4 have not changed, but the character of the sound, albeit minimal, has changed. It’s hard to say what influenced this – a slightly different sound processing in the headphones or an updated Bluetooth module, but the headphones have become a little deeper, and the overall picture is now a little more detailed. I wouldn’t call the differences from the third version of the model significant, but they are. In general, the Sony WH-1000XM4 sound good, both with wireless data transmission and by cable – this is still not an audiophile model, but it keeps a strong high level. I would like to note separately the DSEE Extreme system, which really “pumps” digital audio files with a low bit rate quite well.

How does the Sony WH-1000XM4 headset perform well – the built-in microphones have noise cancellation and work correctly.

Autonomy has remained the same – with active noise cancellation and all its smart functions, the headphones hold a charge for about 30 hours (my experience confirms the claimed battery life). The Sony WH-1000XM4 is charged via the USB Type-C port, and a full charge cycle takes about three hours.

⇡ #Conclusion

Sony WH-1000XM4 is a logical continuation of the famous series, in which the emphasis is placed on “smart” functions: now the headphones can recognize whether they are wearing or not, can connect to two devices at once, react to the voice, and even if they do not always do it perfectly, but , I think the problems will be solved in future firmware. Noise reduction is left unchanged, the sound has improved slightly, but not much – although both of these parameters have not caused much criticism before. Nevertheless, I don’t think it makes sense to consider the fourth version of this model as a replacement for the third: a solid increase in “intelligence” does not send them into a new league. But if you are looking for a new high-end wireless headphone, this will be an excellent choice.

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