Quick Thoughts On Sony WH-1000XM4 Noise Canceling Headphones

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Last month I gave my thoughts on my Bose QC35s versus the new Airpods Max.

I love my QC35s and use them every day. They are excellent for making phone calls, listening to music, or drowning out background noise. The noise cancellation drowns out the drone of an airplane engine so well that when you take them off in middle of a flight you’ll be in shock that you were ever able to fly without them. They make for a peaceful flight and I sleep like a baby on the plane with them over my ears.

Several commenters asked for my opinion on how the Bose QC35s compare to the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones. Let’s call them the XM4s for short.

They look fairly similar and they fold into a case similar to the Bose QC35s. There’s no Apple purse problem here.

The XM4’s music sound quality is excellent, certainly a step above the QC35s, though not quite as good as the Airpods Max.

I think that the XM4 noise cancellation is also excellent and a small step above the QC35s, though my friend Adam flew with me to Miami a few weeks ago and thought the QC35s had the better noise cancellation. This is fairly close to a toss up, but I’d give the edge to the XM4s.

However, even with the great music sound quality and excellent noise cancellation, I’m still not trading in my QC35s for these.

This is personal preference of course, but I find the QC35s to be much more comfortable to wear. While the XM4s have a polyester type lining that rests against your ear, the QC35s allow your ear to sit without anything touching them. Over time that meant my ears got hotter and more uncomfortable when wearing the XM4s. It’s just a poor design choice by Sony in my opinion.

The XM4s have touch controls, where are actually fairly intuitive, though still takes much more time and effort than the QC35s buttons. If your volume is set to high, you’ll need to swipe down many times to get it to the right place, versus the much easier clicking of a button on the QC35s. But the worst XM4 feature is the physical power button on the bottom of the left earcup. You need to awkwardly locate it among 2 buttons with your left hand and hold it down for several seconds to turn them on and off. I also found that it didn’t always turn off as it should. That’s a huge downgrade from the simple slider power switch on the right side of the QC35s, which works like a charm and is much faster.

If I’m at my desk I leave my QC35s off, and if I get an incoming call I slide the power switch on, which automatically answers the call. On the XM4s it takes several extra seconds for the headphones to turn on and it doesn’t automatically answer the call when you turn them on, which I found to be very inconvenient.

The XM4s are much newer and that shows with USB-C charging instead of Micro-USB. It also has transparency mode to talk to people while wearing the headphones, which is needed because it takes much longer to locate the power button and then hold it for several seconds to power them off and on again. On the QC35s the power goes on and off instantly with the slide of the conveniently located switch, making transparency mode mostly unnecessary.

The XM4s have the option to go into transparency mode when you talk, but that means every time you cough, sneeze, or sing along to the music that you lose noise cancellation. The other option for ending transparency mode is awkwardly cupping the right earcup. Personally I’d rather just use the sliding power switch on the QC35s to quickly turn them off and on again as needed. Turning the XM4s off and on again is much more difficult.

I also found that people who called me complained about the sound quality on the XM4s more than the QC35s.

In short, while the XM4 certainly outshines the QC35s in music sound quality and slightly outshines it in noise cancellation, it’s still not good enough to make me trade in the QC35s.

But perhaps the XM5 will solve the problems I had with the XM4? Or maybe Bose will finally release a real replacement (no, the Bose 700s were not a replacement product) for the QC35s?

What are your favorite noise cancelling headphones? Which ones should I compare next?

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39 Comments On "Quick Thoughts On Sony WH-1000XM4 Noise Canceling Headphones"

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What is the best noise cancellation earbuds?


I got Samsung Galaxy Buds Live from that Verizon deal in August. The noise cancellation can be activated from the app but it doesn’t really add much. Sound is pretty good but comfort not so much – the bean shape takes some getting used to.


I have had the Bose QC35 II since November 2017, and they are amazing. I’ve tried the XM4s as I resell them, and I too prefer the Bose headphones. I use the AirPods 2 for my daily transit to/from work, but the Bose for use at home and when traveling.


With all due respect to Dan,

Prior to AirPods Max, it was pretty much unanimous amongst all the tech reviewers and bloggers that the XM4’s were the best of their class.

Not so say you can’t have an your own opinion to your large audience, not to say you are wrong about your opinion, though when ALL the reviewers Stood behind the XM4’s – I’m gonna go with them.

Yes AirPods max is another story.

Anyways, keep on rocking away, you are the best

Mark Davis

I’ve learned comfort trumps almost everything else with full headphones like these. I recently got a new set and at first I thought they were great. They fully covered my ears, didn’t touch my ears at all (some were smaller ear cups that sat on top of my ears. Unfortunately, at maximum extension they’re just slightly too small and I ended up with a massive headache, and then realized it was the headphones causing it because they were pressing too tightly on the top of my head (I guess I have a big head).
So, I have learned like you, that headphones fit people very differently according to head shape and ear size/shape and that is more important than most anything else.


I was a big fan of the Bose noise canceling for years, however once the AirPod pros came out i don’t bother with the qc35’s anymore, I have slept with the AirPod pros on several flights and are extremely comfortable especially when using on a lie flat seat.


I wont use buds on a plane. While dosing off, my AirPod dropped and fell under where the seat connects to the floor, which truthfully was lucky, since it didn’t disappear aa row, or bunch of rows back…
My first and last attempt with portable buds.

Over the ear obviously avoid that issue.


When it comes to noise canceling I am a LONG time believer in Sennheiser. I’m have MM models and bot the 450BT. Great sound. Great Noise canceling and you’re still not going to convince me to goto Sony or Bose.


What’s the link to the bose headphones that you recommend?


Dan, what’s the best device in your opinion for an office setting, primarily for making phone calls.
I currently use the plantronics savi 8200, I am getting complaints about the clarity and not being heard by the other call party.


I bought the Sony WH-1000XM4, primarily due to the consensus that they were the best headphones for Active Noise Cancelation. I already owned the Airpods Pro, which I think are great, but was hoping that the Sony WH-1000XM4 would provide even greater noise cancelation, due to the over the ear design.

I’ve had a very strange experience with the Sony WH-1000XM4- With the noise cancelation activated, I get slight nausea and headaches, even after using them for just a few minutes. It’s disorienting to the point that they’re pretty much unusable for me. Oddly enough, I have had no such experience using the noise cancelation on the Airpods Pro.

Has anyone else had this experience? Is this a known issue with Sony, or can I expect to have a similar experience with Bose?


I’ve heard from friends that they experienced similar effects. They weren’t referring to any brand in particular.


I like buds because i find any over the ear headphones put pressure on the temples of my glasses