If you're looking for a new pair of noise-cancelling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4 should be top of your list. They combine superb sound quality and luxury levels of comfort with excellent noise-cancelling abilities. That's why they currently top our list not only of the best noise-cancelling headphones money can buy, but also the best wireless headphones and best headphones of all styles, for all budgets. No mean feat.
Buying a pair is only the beginning (you'll find all the best prices below). The next step to sonic nirvana is learning how to use them to their utmost abilities – that's where this guide comes in. Here, we'll show you how to set them up, what their features do and how to get the most out of them.
Ready? Then let's begin.
- Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review
How to pair the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones
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.
How to use Sony Multipoint
Remember, the WH-1000XM4s introduce 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.
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 suitable for running and the gym?
In a word, no. They don't have an IP rating, meaning they're not guaranteed as water- or dust-resistant. 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?
Are the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones worth the money?
They are indeed. 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. 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 2020 What Hi-Fi? Award for their efforts, too. Plaudits don't come much higher.
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