Sony WH-1000XM4 vs. WH-1000XM3: Which ANC headphones should you buy?

Sony WH1000XM3 and WH1000XM2
Sony WH1000XM3 and WH1000XM2 (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony has taken a great design and continued to iterate while adding user-requested features such as Multi Device Connection. Noise cancellation has been incrementally updated, and there's now a built-in sensor for the XM4 to detect when it has been removed, automatically pausing the music.

Sony WH-1000XM4

Better than ever

Industry-leading noise cancellation
Built-in sensor for wearing detection
Connect two devices at the same time
Improved padding provides better comfort for long listening periods
Dated design
Touchpad controls are still odd

Sony WH-1000XM3

Side shot of the Sony WH-1000XM3 ANC headphone

The Sony WH-1000XM3s are no slouch despite being succeeded by the XM4. There's still fantastic noise-cancellation, customizable EQ and 30-hours of battery life. You'll just miss out on the nifty new features such as Multi Device connection and thinner ear cup padding.

Sony WH-1000XM3

Still great, but wait for a sale

Noise Cancellation is great
USB-C for charging
Customizable EQ (via app)
30-hours of battery life
Can only connect one device at a time
Padding is slightly thinner than XM4 version

Although the Sony WH-1000XM3s still do a great job, you just can't get past some of the new features that are now provided by the Sony WH-1000XM4. From the enhanced noise cancellation to improved audio quality and the wear detection sensor, the XM4 are great for everyone.

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs. WH-1000XM3 What are the similarities and differences?

Despite hopes that Sony would change things up with its flagship cans, that's simply not the case, as there are subtle differences, but the design of the XM4s are largely the same. You'll still find the matte finish, to go along with the black and white color options, which are the same two colors offered by the older XM3s.

At first glance, you may think that this is nothing more than an iterative update from the WH-1000XM3's to the WH-1000XM4.

In fact, this design has been around since the Sony WH-1000XM2s, which debuted all the way back in 2017. Since then, Sony has bolstered the design, while keeping the weight down, and actually decreasing the weight slightly for the XM4s compared to the XM3s. Another key "feature" that Sony kept with these new headphones is the foldable hinge, making for much easier traveling and storage when not in use. It's something minor, but it's still rather convenient if you're on the go a lot.

As for the differences in the design alone, Sony has improved the ear cushions by adding just a little bit more surface area. The headband also has slightly modified, making for a more comfortable fit, as some felt that the headband on the XM3 "squeezed" against the sides of your head too much for comfort. That's been remedied with this new iteration, which should make disappointed XM3 owners rather happy.

Side profile of Sony WH-1000XM3

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

There's one other subtle difference, that you may not even notice unless you were really looking for it. As we have been seeing with more and more in-ear earbuds, the XM4 now support Wear Detection. The sensor for this is placed inside the left ear cup, and will automatically pause the media that you are listening to if you take the headphones off.

In the box, Sony packs the same additional accessories with the Sony WH-1000XM4 vs. the XM3, as you'll find a sturdy carrying case, to go along with a 3.5mm headphone cable and a USB-C charging cable. This is unchanged from the XM3s, but is a welcome sight to see, especially for those who travel frequently with their over-ear cans.

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs. WH-1000XM3 The new features you'll want to upgrade for

Sony WH-1000XM4

Source: Sony (Image credit: Source: Sony)

Following suit with the design, these have just enough umph to separate the Sony WH-1000XM4 vs the XM3s. Noise cancellation has been improved to cover more of the higher-frequency sounds that the previous iteration struggled with. This includes higher-pitch noises like the sound of voices that would not have been cancelled out with the ANC activated.

Sony also changed up how to enable the customizable noise cancellation via the "Custom" button, which is found on the ear cup. Previously, this was labeled as the ANC/Ambient button on the XM3, and you needed to open the accompanying Sony app on your phone in order to customize the noise cancellation levels.

Sound quality, on a whole, has been improved thanks to the audio upscaling technology known as DSEE Extreme. Sony's audio department worked with the company's music division in an effort to improve the overall audio quality, with and without the noise cancellation.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Sony WH-1000XM4Sony WH-1000XM3
Weight8.95 oz8.99 oz
Wearing Detection
Active Noise Cancellation
Battery Life30 hours (ANC on), 38 hours (ANC off)30 hours (ANC on), 38 hours (ANC off)
Quick Charge10 minutes provides 5 hours of playback10 minutes provides 5 hours of playback
Bluetooth Version5.04.2
Foldable Design
Ambient Noise Mode
Multi Device Connection
Smart Assistant SupportGoogle Assistant, Amazon Alexa, SiriGoogle Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Siri
Customizable EQVia AppVia App

There are a lot of feature-set similarities between the XM4 and the XM3, including audio codecs (they both support SBC, AAC, and LDAC but not aptX), Ambient Noise Mode, and NFC. The XM4s are also compatible with the same group of smart assistants, including Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Apple's Siri. Plus, you can use the Sony app on your phone or tablet to customize and tweak the EQ levels to that perfect level.

Battery life, which is always a cause for concern with new products, has remained unchanged. XM4 users will still get that great 30 hours of juice with ANC enabled, along with 38 hours if ANC is turned off. If you need to top off to finish that project, step away, charge the XM4s up for 10 minutes, and enjoy the same five hours of additional playback time.

Sony WH-1000XM4

Source: Sony (Image credit: Source: Sony)

There are three major differences in the feature set, one of which we already mentioned. Bluetooth 5.0 is now onboard with the new WH-1000XM4, which is an upgrade over the Bluetooth version 4.2 found on the WH-1000XM3. This opens the door for the next biggest feature — Multi Device Connection.

This is a huge feature that was highly-requested from Sony fans, as we have seen more over-ear headphones equipped with it. Multi Device Connection makes it so that you can have the XM4s paired to your smartphone and computer at the same time. Then, when your phone rings, it will automatically switch to your phone so you can answer the call. When the call's finished, the XM4s will pick right back up on your computer.

The "minor" feature upgrades warrant replacing the XM3 with the XM4 for heavy headphone wearers.

Last but not least is a Wear Detection sensor. Pop your headphones off for a few minutes, and the headphones will stop playing whatever media is happening on your phone or computer. Pop the headphones back on, and your device will pick up right where you left off. We've seen this in headphones from the AirPods to Pixel Buds and Galaxy Buds Live, but it's great to see it also come to the new Sony WH-1000XM4s.

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs. WH-1000XM3 Which way should you go?

Sony WH-1000XM4

Source: Sony (Image credit: Source: Sony)

If you're a headphone lover and want the best noise canceling headphones, or really care about the slight improvements to noise cancellation, then the pick is pretty obvious. Sony took a great design, tweaked it after hearing customer feedback, and added features that improve and enhance the overall experience of the WH-1000XM4. The company did all of this without upping the price tag, with these starting at $349, the same as their predecessor.

The only hesitation we might have in a full-on recommendation of the XM4 comes down to price. The XM3 is still a wonderfully great set of headphones, with noise cancellation that still surpasses the stiffest of competition. But right now they're still $350 at most retailers. Wait a few weeks and you'll likely see the XM3s drop to $299 or even $249 as Sony tries to get rid of inventory. Then they will be an absolute killer pair of ANC headphones.

Nonetheless, the Sony WH-1000XM4 have been upgraded in all the right ways, and are the go-to pick for those looking for over-the-ear, noise-canceling headphones.

Andrew Myrick
Senior Editor - Chromebooks, tablets, and wearables

Andrew Myrick is a Senior Editor at Android Central. He enjoys everything to do with technology, including tablets, smartphones, and everything in between. Perhaps his favorite past-time is collecting different headphones, even if they all end up in the same drawer.