If you're looking for a new pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4 should be top of your list. And if you already own them, congratulations – you've chosen wisely.
The XM4 combine superb sound quality and luxury levels of comfort with excellent noise cancellation. That's why they currently top not only our best noise-cancelling headphones guide but also our list of best wireless headphones for all budgets. That's quite some feat.
The next step to sonic nirvana is learning how to use them to their utmost abilities
– and that's where this guide comes in. Here, we will show you how to set them up, connect them to devices, and get the most out of their features.
Ready? Then let's begin.
How to pair the Sony WH-1000XM4
The Sony WH-1000XM4 support NFC (near field communications), which speeds up the time it takes to connect them wirelessly to a compatible device. All you have to do is turn them on, then touch them against an NFC-enabled phone or tablet.
If your mobile device doesn't support NFC, pairing is still pretty easy. Turn them on for the first time and they'll go straight into pairing mode – just make sure your mobile device has Bluetooth switched on – then select the WH-1000XM4 from the list of Bluetooth devices able.
If you want to set them up with a new device, press and hold the power button to start the pairing process. Then you can select the headphones through the menu on your smartphone, tablet or portable music player.
Can the Sony WH-1000XM4 connect to multiple devices?
The WH-1000XM4 introduced Sony's extremely useful 'Multipoint' feature, which allows you to have two Bluetooth sources connected at once. For example, you can connect to a smartphone and laptop simultaneously and switch music playback between the two.
When you're pairing for the very first time, simply connect two sources through your Bluetooth settings menu. Alternatively, if you want to pair at a later date, press and hold the power button to start pairing mode and just add your second device through its Bluetooth menu.
Can Sony WH-1000XM4 be wired?
The XM4 have a USB-C connection, but that's purely for charging. For wired listening, there's a 1.2m audio cable supplied in the box that can be plugged into the right ear cup's 3.5mm headphones jack and into your device's 3.5mm output socket.
For use during a flight, there is also a plug adaptor supplied to use the in-flight entertainment.
The XM4 don't need battery life to listen to wired, though they do to be able to deploy the noise canceling function.
How to reset the Sony WH-1000XM4
When charging, press the power and Custom buttons at the same time to completely reset the headphones. You can then start the pairing process all over again. Remember, if you had two devices connected to the Sonys then you'll lose the connection to both.
How to set up the Sony WH-1000XM4 app
This unlocks all sorts of features. It lets you, for example, see the headphones' battery life without taking them off; adjust the noise-cancelling and ambient aware features; tweak the equaliser; and also enable or disable the Speak-to-Chat feature.
There's also a Help section for any problems you might be having.
How to charge the Sony WH-1000XM4
The Sony WH-1000XM4 come with a USB-C cable – plug this into a USB AC adaptor, and then plug that into the mains to charge them up. The charging indicator should light up red to show they're charging.
A full charge takes about three hours, and is good for 30 hours of use.
To check how much battery life is remaining on your headphones, press the power button while they're switched on. A voice will announce how much battery power is left.
How to maximise battery life for the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones
Sony's quoted figure of 30 hours' battery life is impressive enough, but it isn't actually the maximum you can get from the XM4s. Look at the manual and you'll see the headphones can actually hit 38 hours – but only if all the main features are turned off and you're listening to music encoded in AAC or SBC.
Real-world battery life can vary and depends on many factors, including whether noise-cancelling is switched on or off, the volume at which you listen (louder volumes drain the battery quicker), and the codec you're listening to.
Listen to an AAC track with noise-cancelling and Sony's DSEE Extreme sound processor switched on, for example, and your battery life will drop from 30 hours to 18.
You can turn DSEE Extreme on or off using the Sony Headphones Connect app, although we would advise leaving it on, as it greatly improves sound quality. But if you're running low on juice, or are setting off on a long journey, it might be prudent to disable it to extend the battery life.
How to update the Sony WH-1000XM4
You can update the firmware on the Sony WH-1000XM4 either manually or automatically.
If you choose to do it manually, the Headphones Connect app will send you a notification when an update is available. Download it, and it will transfer to the headphones. Set updates to happen automatically, and they will update in the background without needing a prompt from you. They will then transfer to the headphones the next time they are powered on.
As with all software updates, bugs can happen, so it might be worth checking for other user feedback before installing. You'll need enough battery life to complete the update. And make sure you're downloading the updates over wi-fi rather than mobile data to avoid big phone bills – if you're worried about this, it might be better to opt to do them manually, so you can okay the downloads only when you're connected over wi-fi.
What is Sony NC Optimiser? How does it work on the Sony WH-1000XM4?
Sony's NC Optimiser optimises the headphones' noise-cancelling to your situation –factors considered include the shape of your face, and whether you wear glasses; it even takes into account your altitude if you are on a plane. Press and hold the custom button on the left earcup to start running the Optimiser software, sit back, and wait for it to finish. You might be surprised at the difference it makes.
Are the Sony WH-1000XM4 waterproof or sweat resistant?
In a word, no – so they aren't the most appropriate headphones on the market for running or gym use. They don't have an IP rating, meaning they're not guaranteed as water- or dust-resistant. And that, coupled with their over-ear design, makes them unsuitable for wearing while getting active. You might be ok doing a few bicep curls, but we wouldn't advise using them to get sweaty. If that's what you're after, why not check out our list of the best sports headphones instead?
And while a few raindrops won't likely cause any real harm, we'd be cautious of wearing them outside in the rain.
Are the Sony WH-1000XM4 good for gaming? Do they work with the PS4 or PS5?
Many of the more premium headsets available now offer some form of surround sound. However, that rarely works terribly well, so it's worth prioritising good, old-fashioned stereo sound quality and considering any surround sound processing (which the Sonys do not have) as a potential bonus.
Sonically, the Sonys are up to the gaming job. But there are a few logistical things to consider around connectivity. Despite the PS4 and PS5 being Sony consoles, they don't natively support the Sony XM4 – unlike dedicated Sony gaming headset models like the (very good) PlayStation Pulse 3D Wireless Headset. But that doesn't mean the XM4 can't be used; you simply need to buy and connect a Bluetooth adapter/transmitter to the console's USB port. It's this adapter that the headphones wirelessly connect to over Bluetooth, rather than the console itself, so you'll just need to make sure it is selected as the 'audio output' in the PlayStation's 'sound' settings.
If you're finding there is a lag issue over a wireless connection, you can always wire the XM4 to the console by plugging them into the 3.5mm jack at the bottom of the DualSense controller (using the supplied audio cable boxed with the headphones).
Are the Sony WH-1000XM4 worth it?
They certainly are, though they're not short of competition.
The Apple AirPods Max have slightly better sound quality, although they do cost quite a bit more than the Sonys. The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are another rival and offer more levels of noise cancellation. The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 are another top all-rounder. But, as a complete package, we have yet to come across any pair of headphones at this sort of money that delivers on as many fronts as the WH-1000XM4. As we say in the intro, they consistently top our lists of best headphones, and they picked up a 202 and 2021 What Hi-Fi? Award for their efforts, too. Plaudits don't come much higher.
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