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Sony WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM3: Is it worth upgrading?

Sony nabbed the over-ear crown with the excellent WH-1000XM3 headphones in 2018 and, now, the champ is back with the new WH-1000XM4 model. Do they match up to Sony’s high standards?

Ever since their release, it seems like you can’t move without being recommended the Sony WH-1000XM3. Such widespread acclaim is rare, but that is truly what Sony achieved.

The level of praise for the previous model means that the WH-1000XM4 headphones have a lot to live up to. Let’s dive into the key differences and similarities between these two best headphones contenders.

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM3 — Price

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 headphones will retail for £350 in the UK – a pretty penny but very much in line with competitors and expected with such a premium feature set.

While the older WH-1000XM3 headphones can now be picked up for around £259, there may also be a price-cut once the new model hits the shelves.

Regardless of the quality of the XM4 model, the price difference does make the older model quite appealing considering the wall-to-wall plaudits it has received.

Related: Best headphones

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM3 — Design

If you were hoping for a radical redesign for this year’s Sony noise-cancellers, you’ll likely find yourself disappointed. That conclusion is perhaps maybe a tad harsh as the original design is perfectly fine with its slim and elegant profile.

The WH-1000XM4 headphones come with a slightly less visible NFC logo, and a new texture for the text along the headband. The NC/Ambient button has also been renamed to Custom this time around.

You can pick up the new headphones in either Black or Platinum Silver, with Sony sticking to tried, true and sleek rather than adding some Beats-esque flashiness.

Aside from the more obvious design choices, the WH-1000XM4 headphones have switched up the earpads. The new earpads are softer and much less rigid, with the goal a more comfortable fit that also accommodates a strong seal for that all-important noise-cancellation.

Related: Best noise cancelling headphones

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM3 — Features

With the design not changing much, Sony definitely needed to boost the feature set from WH-1000XM3 to warrant an upgrade to the new model. Thankfully, Sony has obliged.

Further new features include wear detection, connecting to two devices at once, “Speak-to-Chat” mode and Adaptive Sound Control. Speak-to-Chat automatically stops your audio and let ambient sound in once you start speaking – think placing an order at a coffee shop.

Adaptive Sound Control will recognise where you are (as long as you give the headphones permission to look at your location data), and customise noise-cancelling/audio levels for where you are. Quick Attention carries over from the WH-1000XM3 and is a feature that lets you quickly raise your right hand to your ear to immediately lower the volume and let ambient sound in – useful if there’s an announcement you don’t want to miss.

One potentially significant omission is aptX and aptX-HD. The WH-1000XM3 had both these Bluetooth codecs, but Sony has decided to drop both, asserting that its own LDAC is better positioned for further development in the wireless hi-res audio space.

Related: Best wireless headphones

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM3 — Sound

The DSEE HX technology inside the XM3 was impressive in its own right, using AI to enhance the overall audio experience. The WH-1000XM4 headphones have gotten a big boost in the form of the new DSEE Extreme engine.

The new engine was developed with Sony Music Studios Tokyo and utilises Edge-AI to upscale track in real-time and restore high range sounds that may have been lost through compression

Elsewhere, there’s a new Bluetooth Audio SoC for sensing and adjusting sound at more than 700 times per sounds.

The same noise-cancelling processor from the XM3s is sticking around and, given its performance, that is absolutely okay by us. A new algorithm aims to apply noise cancelling in real-time, making the XM4s more reactive to your environment than ever before.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones also offer 360 Reality Audio when paired with Android and iOS devices that support participating streaming apps. The new immersive experience aims to make you feel like you standing right in front of the performance, with the performance optimised for the unique size and shape of each user’s ears.

In terms of the actual audio quality, so far the WH-1000XM4 offers a more refined, clearer and measured performance that makes for a smoother listen over the more exuberant nature of the WH-1000XM3. We’ll have to listen to both headphones more to come up with a definitive verdict.

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM3 – Verdict

Visually there are few differences between the WH-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM3, it could be easy to say that the new model would appear to be the better headphones on paper

However, the XM4s bring everything you loved about the previous model and then some. The few tweaks that have been made don’t rock the boat but, rather, give it a new lick of paint.

Nevertheless, the XM3s are so good that there could be some great deals to be had with the older model expected to be retired in the new future.

Make sure to check our early impressions of the Sony WH-1000XM4, and tune in for our more in-depth review as it comes.

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