Skip to content

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM3: A Comprehensive Comparison of Sony‘s Flagship Noise Cancelling Headphones

Hey there audiophile! If you‘re trying to decide between Sony‘s WH-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM3 wireless headphones, you‘ve come to the right place. These are both amazing noise cancelling headphones, but the newer WH-1000XM4 does have some notable upgrades.

In this in-depth guide, we‘ll compare the Sony WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM3 across all the key factors like sound quality, noise cancellation, comfort, features, and price. You‘ll learn how they stack up overall and which pair may be a better fit for your needs and budget.

Let‘s dive in!

Overview of the Sony WH-1000XM3

First, a quick recap on the older model – the Sony WH-1000XM3. Released in 2018, these headphones received rave reviews for their superb combination of audio performance and noise cancelling abilities.

The WH-1000XM3 produces dynamic, well-balanced sound with punchy bass that doesn‘t overpower. Mids and highs are crisp and clear. Sony fine-tuned these headphones to deliver excellent audio across a wide range of genres.

But the real selling point is the noise cancelling. Sony uses a technology called HD Noise Cancelling QN1 that blocks ambient noise across all frequencies. It‘s incredibly effective, especially on low rumbles like plane engines. The WH-1000XM3 provides a true oasis of calm and focus when you need it.

Beyond sound quality, these wireless headphones also shine with:

  • Up to 30 hours of battery life with ANC on
  • Quick charging – 10 minutes gives you 5 hours of playtime
  • Plush earcups and headband for long wearing comfort
  • Intuitive touch controls on the earcups
  • Support for voice assistants like Alexa
  • Customizable sound via the Sony Headphones Connect app
  • Premium matte black or silver color options

It‘s easy to see why the WH-1000XM3 became so popular among frequent travelers and commuters. The combination of sound, noise cancelling, comfort, and features was hard to beat.

But Sony wasn‘t about to rest on their laurels…

Overview of the Sony WH-1000XM4

In 2020, Sony released the WH-1000XM4 as an upgraded successor to their popular WH-1000XM3.

At first glance, the WH-1000XM4 looks almost identical to its predecessor. But under the hood Sony packed in numerous subtle improvements:

Even better noise cancelling – Sony claims the WH-1000XM4 offers their best noise cancelling yet, with improved NC algorithms that block more ambient sound. The enhancements are most noticeable in higher frequencies.

Multipoint Bluetooth – The WH-1000XM4 can now connect to two devices at once, making it easy to switch between phone and computer.

Proximity sensors – These detect when you‘re wearing the headphones and will pause playback when removed.

Speak-to-Chat – A cool new feature that pauses your music when the headphones detect you speaking. Playback resumes when you‘re done talking.

Wear detection sensors – Helps save battery life by pausing playback if the headphones are removed or not worn properly.

DSEE Extreme audio upscaling – Sony‘s new tech that enhances compressed audio in real-time for improved clarity and detail.

Bluetooth 5.0 – Provides slightly better wireless range and connectivity than Bluetooth 4.2 in the WH-1000XM3.

Improved mics – For better call and voice assistant quality.

New matte coating – The earcups have a soft matte rubberized finish rather than smooth plastic. Feels more premium.

For the most part, the WH-1000XM4 retains a very similar design and interface to the WH-1000XM3. But these small upgrades add up to an appreciably improved overall experience.

Now let‘s compare these two awesome headphones in more detail…

Noise Cancellation Comparison

Noise cancellation effectiveness is make or break for these headphones. Here‘s how the two Sony flagships stack up:

WH-1000XM3 WH-1000XM4
Technology HD Noise Cancelling QN1 Processor Improved NC Processor & Algorithms
Low Frequency Excellent Excellent
Mid/High Frequency Very Good Excellent
Tunability Fully adjustable in Sony app Fully adjustable in Sony app
Performance Rating 9.5/10 9.8/10

Both headphones offer incredible noise cancelling that shuts out ambient distractions. But according to Sony engineers, the WH-1000XM4 edges out its predecessor thanks to its upgraded processor and tuning.

The difference isn‘t huge, but noticeable. Mid to high frequency noises like chatter and airplane cabin noise get reduced further on the WH-1000XM4. The noise cancelling feels a touch more natural as well.

Keep in mind both models let you adjust the level of NC in the Sony app. But overall, if you demand the very best noise cancelling, the WH-1000XM4 is your best bet.

Sound Quality Comparison

With top-notch noise cancelling covered, how about sound quality?

WH-1000XM3 WH-1000XM4
Driver Unit 40mm Liquid Crystal Polymer Diaphragm 40mm Liquid Crystal Polymer Diaphragm
Frequency Response 4 Hz to 40 kHz 4 Hz to 40 kHz
Sound Signature Warm, well-balanced Warm, well-balanced with added clarity
DAC 32-bit 32-bit
DSEE Audio Upscaling No Yes – DSEE Extreme
Sound Quality Rating 9/10 9.5/10

Interestingly, both headphones share the same driver and headphone hardware. However, the WH-1000XM4 edges ahead in audio quality thanks to a few software based enhancements.

Namely, DSEE Extreme upscaling that improves compressed audio clarity, and slightly tweaked tuning for better treble and mid-range performance.

The audible difference is subtle, but the WH-1000XM4 does sound a bit crisper and clearer overall. Sony also enhanced the mic system for improved call and voice assistant quality.

For streaming Spotify, YouTube, or low bitrate MP3s, the WH-1000XM4 will provide cleaner and more detailed sound. But both headphones still offer rich, dynamic audio that makes music shine.

Design and Comfort Comparison

Sony didn‘t change much about the industrial design from the WH-1000XM3 to WH-1000XM4. Both sport a clean, minimalist look with oval earcups and padding on the headband.

The WH-1000XM4 weighs just 1 gram less than its predecessor, at 254g vs 255g. For all practical purposes, the comfort level is identical between the two.

Here are a few modest design differences:

  • The WH-1000XM4 uses softer synthetic leather on the earpads and headband for a bit more airflow and reduced heat buildup over long listening sessions.
  • The new rubberized matte coating on the earcups looks and feels more premium than the smooth plastic of the WH-1000XM3. It also resists scuffs better.
  • The WH-1000XM4 headband is slightly slimmer with less clamping force. This results in a very subtle improvement in long-term comfort.

Overall though, both headphones remain extremely comfortable for long flights or work sessions thanks to their well-padded design and lightweight feel. Unless you dislike the feel of synthetic leather, comfort isn‘t a major differentiator here.

Features and Connectivity Comparison

This is where we see the biggest leap forward from the WH-1000XM3 to WH-1000XM4. Let‘s break it down:

WH-1000XM3 WH-1000XM4
Multipoint Bluetooth No Yes – connect to 2 devices simultaneously
Proximity Sensors No Yes – pauses playback when removed
Speak-to-Chat No Yes – pauses when speaking
Wear Detection No Yes – pauses if not worn properly
Bluetooth Version 4.2 5.0
Battery Life 30hr ANC on
38hrs ANC off
30hr ANC on
38hrs ANC off
Quick Charging Yes – 10 min = 5 hrs playtime Yes – 10 min = 5 hrs playtime
Voice Assistant Support Google Assistant, Alexa, Siri Google Assistant, Alexa, Siri
Sony Headphones Connect App Yes for EQ,Controls, Upgrades Yes for EQ,Controls Upgrades

The WH-1000XM4 adds a laundry list of new "smart" features to improve the overall user experience.

Multipoint Bluetooth is the most useful, allowing you to seamlessly switch between two paired devices like phone and laptop. No more manually disconnecting and re-pairing each time!

The proximity sensors provide added convenience by automatically pausing playback when you temporarily take the headphones off. Speak-to-Chat enhances this further by intelligently pausing when it hears your voice, so you can chat without removing the headphones.

Finally, the WH-1000XM4 uses Bluetooth 5.0 which provides slightly improved wireless range over Bluetooth 4.2. But both models offer stable connectivity up to 40+ feet from the source device.

Battery life remains equally excellent at 30 hours per charge with ANC enabled. So if new "smart" features aren‘t a priority for you, the WH-1000XM3 is still fantastic in this department. But the WH-1000XM4 pushes the overall user experience to the next level.

Battery Life Comparison

One spec that hasn‘t changed between generations is battery life. Both models deliver right around:

  • 30 hours of playback with Active Noise Cancellation enabled
  • 38 hours of playback with Active Noise Cancellation disabled

Five minutes of USB-C quick charging gives you around 5 hours of listening time as well.

In real world conditions, most users can expect to go 1-2 weeks between charges with moderate daily use. Frequent fliers may appreciate having 30+ hours for long trips without recharging.

Battery lifespan also holds up well over time, with 80-90% capacity retained even after a couple years of ownership based on user reports. All in all, battery performance remains excellent and identical between the Sony flagships.

Price Comparison

As premium noise cancelling headphones, both the WH-1000XM3 and WH-1000XM4 carry a high price tag:

  • WH-1000XM3: MSRP $350, often discounted to $250
  • WH-1000XM4: MSRP $350

However, being the older model, the WH-1000XM3 sees more frequent sales and discounts. It can routinely be found for $70-100 less than the new WH-1000XM4.

At the time of writing, the WH-1000XM3 costs approximately 30% less than the WH-1000XM4. Keep an eye out for deals, especially around the holidays.

Verdict: WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM3

So which of these stellar noise cancelling headphones should you get? Here are our recommendations:

Get the Sony WH-1000XM4 if:

  • You want the absolute best noise cancelling available
  • Added features like multipoint Bluetooth matter to you
  • You listen to a lot of compressed/lossy audio and want the enhanced clarity
  • Price isn‘t a major consideration for you

Get the Sony WH-1000XM3 if:

  • You want to save some money – it‘s often 30% cheaper
  • You‘re fine without the minor feature upgrades
  • 30+ hour battery life is more important than new sensors/features
  • You primarily listen to high bitrate or lossless music

Honestly, you can‘t go wrong either way! We hope this detailed WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM3 comparison helped you understand what separates Sony‘s back-to-back noise cancelling flagships. Either one delivers excellent performance to elevate your listening experience.

Let us know if you have any other questions! We‘re happy to provide additional advice to help audiophiles figure out the perfect pair of headphones.