Sony’s flagship WH-1000XM series has been the king of noise-canceling since the XM3’s came out in 2018. Since then, companies have tried to replicate the affordability, versatility, and excellent ANC that comes packed inside the XM3 and 4. However, without much success.
The WH-1000XM3 set the stage for ANC headphones to become the most popular. And when Sony released the WH-1000XM4 in 2020, they were certainly riding the wave of success.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem like much has changed; the headphones look almost the same. This can make it difficult to decide whether you should pay full price for the WH-1000XM4 or grab a pair of the WH-1000XM3 on sale.
So, I decided to take a look at some of the features the XM3 and 4 have in common. As well as point out some noticeable differences between them. Therefore, let’s get straight into this Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Sony WH-1000XM3 head-to-head comparison.
More of the Same
As mentioned, the first thought that comes into your mind is that they are the same. Design-wise, Sony did not change much. So, what’s the difference between Sony WH-1000XM4 and Sony WH-1000XM3?
For starters, the earpads are slightly bigger, and the headband is a little thinner. Other than that, the style and color schemes remain the same. Sony also keeps the touch gestures intact. Swiping or tapping on the right ear cup will skip, play, pause or adjust the volume on both headphones.
The biggest difference here is the sensitivity…
The WH-1000XM3 was scrutinized for sensitivity, with some users having issues in colder climates where the headphones would pick up phantom touches. To remedy this, the XM4’s sensitivity has been adjusted.
This does make them a little less responsive. But honestly, I’d rather swipe twice to get something done, than have the headphones randomly skip from phantom touches.
Sony’s Headphones Connect app…
It’s there on both and is optionable, but I highly recommend getting it. On the application, you can mess around with EQ settings, create ANC profiles, or set the noise-canceling amount. You can also set up the Sony 360 Reality audio for compatible apps like TIDAL and Deezer.
Both the headphones come with USB-C fast charging, and the hard case did not change at all.
Differences between the XM3 and XM4
When I put on the WH-1000XM4 after using the WH-1000XM3 for the last year and a half, the first difference I noticed was the slightly wider ear cup. With my large ears, this was a welcome change, albeit a minor one.
The XM4 adds the auto-play function sensing when you take the headphones off and pausing the music. As well as playing music once you put them back on. Another feature of Sony XM4 is the speak-to-chat function, which pauses music when you start talking.
I did not find this feature useful, especially in the office where it can be quite noisy. A couple of times, it picked up co-worker’s voices and paused the music. Cupping the right ear cup to speak is still my preferred method and works on both headphones. The biggest changes, though, come from a connectivity standpoint.
The WH-1000XM4 comes equipped with Bluetooth version 5, which does have some extra functionality. The biggest is multi-point connections. This allows the headphones to be connected to more than one device at a time, which makes switching between devices seamless.
Unfortunately, this results in some Sony XM4 headphones downsides. The XM4 has fewer audio codecs to choose from than the WH-1000XM3. The XM4 supports AAC and Sony’s LDAC but does not come with aptX support.
This means iOS users can make use of higher quality audio with AAC, but Android users won’t have the pleasure of aptX. A lot of devices do support LDAC now, which is the best codec to use if possible.
The WH-1000XM3 has the largest amount of audio codecs…
They support SBC, AAC, aptX, and aptX HD, as well as Sony’s LDAC. What it lacks is multipoint functionality. It also uses Bluetooth version 4.2, which is much older than version 5.
Both the headphones come with NFC pairing, which makes pairing quick and effortless. One area where the XM3 does win is battery life.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 has a better battery life
The battery inside the headphones did not change, but the older XM3 comes out on top with battery life. I’ve had a pair of XM3 last over 34 hours without ANC. Sure, with the noise-cancelling, it drops slightly below 30 hours. But the XM4 lasted me 22 hours with ANC on and only two hours more without ANC. Volume was at 60% for both.
Any amount of battery life above 20 hours is a win in my book, though. Yes, it is strange to see a newer version suffer from less battery life, but 20 hours is more than enough for any long trip or flight. The lower battery life also comes with a positive, which is noise-canceling.
The WH-1000XM4 has better noise cancelling
The WH-1000XM3 set the bar, and the XM4 not only goes above that but knocks it out of the park. The slightly larger earpads help isolate your ears better. But the frequency range between the XM3 and XM4 is larger than you’d think.
The XM3 did well blocking out low frequencies. As well as some high pitch frequencies, but struggled in the mid-range where a lot of things like voices and music sit.
This means that the humming of fans, air conditioners, and vehicles was kept at bay, but some office chatter would slip in now and then. Granted, this is still better than any other wireless headphones on the market and protects your hearing.
The XM4 takes it to another level…
Blocking out most noise from around 20Hz, whereas the XM3 only starts blocking noise from around the 100Hz mark. Not only does it block out even lower sounds, but it also does better at blocking out noise from the rest of the spectrum. In other words, if you want the best noise canceling headphones, the Sony Xm4 is your best bet.
Neutral vs. mainstream
Moving along with this Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Sony WH-1000XM3 showdown, it’s no secret that the WH-1000XM3 sounds great. “Great” does not mean accurate or neutral, though.
The XM3 still had some tweaking done to the frequencies it put out, especially in the low range. The XM3 has some extra bass to add warmth and depth. This is generally to cater to a larger audience and make the headphones consumer-friendly.
With the WH-1000XM4, Sony decided to focus on a more neutral frequency range, smoothing out the line a bit more. This isn’t a bad thing, and they sound great. However, it might just turn off some general consumers and send them towards the XM3. Audiophiles will appreciate that Sony made a more accurate-sounding pair of headphones.
It is important to remember…
Within the Connect app, you can create custom EQs. As well as scroll through the EQ presets from Sony to find a sound that you like. You can also mess around with custom ambiances if you are into that kind of thing.
The XM3 also comes out on top with the microphone. It seems that the extra tweaking Sony did to the microphone in the XM4 is to its detriment.
The WH-1000XM3 microphone is still the best
It is strange that Sony even wanted to tamper with the XM3 microphone. When I tested it at first, I was surprised by how clear it was and how well it canceled environmental noise like the fan and air conditioning in my room. Zoom classes were a breeze with the XM3.
So why Sony decided to tamper with it is anyone’s guess. The XM4 sees a large drop in the low frequencies, which now means my voice sounds thin and tinny. The highs are boosted ever so slightly, but not enough to make a difference.
Which one should you get?
There are plenty of things to consider, and the price is the first. In my honest opinion, the XM3 is still the better, consumer-friendly headset with excellent ANC. It can also be bought on sale for much cheaper than the XM4 and is the reason I still rock my WH-1000XM3.
Even after spending some time with the XM4, it could not convince me to part with my XM3.
If you prefer the new…
The XM4 has some extra things to offer. The more accurate sound is a welcome addition, and the only thing I wish my XM3 did better. The XM4 also has multipoint connections and better ANC.
What I find strange is the fact that Sony dropped the aptX support, but then makes the headphones sound better. They might be trying to get more consumers to switch to LDAC. But more devices support aptX than LDAC.
The XM3 has better battery life, a more consumer-friendly sound, and also comes with excellent ANC at a lower price. To me, there isn’t enough change to justify the XM4.
If you use Apple devices…
The aptX codec won’t bother you at all. In that case, the XM4 has much more of an advantage. Just remember that the better microphone is on the Sony WH-1000XM3. Both of them do not have any sort of waterproofing, so keep them away from the pool or gym.
What are some alternatives?
Apple’s AirPods Max is all about style and ANC. They sound great and offer excellent active noise canceling. They also look great but cost double the price of the WH-1000XM4. If you care about status and style, though, without a doubt, these have that and more.
Bose’s QuietComfort 35 headphones come with some great active noise canceling and sound good too. The real standout feature is how comfortable they are. They have extremely large and thick padded earpads as well as a soft yet firm headband.
Looking for the Best Sony Headphones?
We have more than a few to choose from. Check out our in-depth Best Sony Headphones Review, our Sony WH-XB900N Review, our Sony WH-CH700N Review, our Sony WF-1000XM3 Review, and our Sony WH-1000XM2 Review for awesome headphones you can buy in 2021.
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Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Sony WH-1000XM3 – Final Thoughts
Without a doubt, the success of Sony’s WH-1000XM3 was no fluke, and the WH-1000XM4 prove it. Hammering out most of the small niggles the near-perfect XM3 had, the XM4 does create a few of its own.
But just like the XM3, the smaller issues as overshadowed by the excellent sound and noise canceling. The biggest factor between the two is price. And with not much extra to offer, except slight performance improvements, we have a situation similar to modern mobile phones.
The question is whether having the latest and best, even if it is an incremental improvement, is important to you. For me, the XM4, although the best money can buy, is not worth the upgrade if you already own a pair of XM3s or can purchase them for half the price.
Until next time, happy listening.