I can’t believe I’ve never written about this before, I had to take a few minutes and write down some thoughts on Sony’s seemingly-everywhere noice cancelling headphones. They were released in 2018, I got them in early 2019, and it looks like we could be very close to seeing their successor in the next few weeks: I wanted to get my thoughts out there on these before they were replaced.
Also, since I know no one really wants to read a 1,000+ word review about a 2 year old product, I’m going to be very brief and get straight to the point on each topic.
With the disclaimer that I have a good eye for display quality, I do not have a particularly good ear for audio quality. To me, these sound absolutely great, and sound better than the many earbuds that have used over the years. I have tried a few other over-ear headphones, and frankly they all sound similar to me, but the Sony’s certainly hold their own against the similarly priced options out there.
Noise cancelling is a big draw of these and I am quite happy with them here, but I can definitely see room for improvement in the future. They block out unwanted sound way better than AirPods Pro, but there is still room to improve. Airplane noise is mostly gone, but it’s still there, and of course the irregular noises like conversations at the table next to you at a coffee shop are not totally eliminated.
Sony claims 30 hours of battery per charge and I would suspect that is accurate. The bottom line for mis that I wear these for an hour or two a day and I recharge them 1-2 times per month. It’s amazing how many times I wonder “are they almost dead?” and then see they’re still at like 80%.
And when you charge them, they wonderfully charge over USB-C, meaning I can use the same cables I use to charge basically everything else with them.
I’m not a huge fan of big headphones, but of all the ones out there, I think these are some of the better looking ones. The matte black finish with gold accents make for a sharp look.
They’re also built well and feel properly durable in the hand. And for travel, they come with a nice carrying case that holds the headphones.
The ear cups are very soft and feel good, and the overall package is light enough that they can sit on my head for a couple hours without me feeling any sort of fatigue. This is nice compared to earbuds, which almost always make my ears sore when I wear them past the 1 hour mark.
These primarily use Bluetooth to connect to your devices, and they work well there, but are limited. The connection has always been solid to my iPhone, iPad, and laptop. However, you are only able to pair to one device at a time, which mean using them with you iPhone on a walk and then hooking them up to your computer when you get back home is a bit of a pain. You simply need to hold down the power button to enter pairing mode and then select it from your Bluetooth menu on the new device, but it’s still not as seamless as I’d wish, and other similar headphones in this space do it, so hopefully the XM4’s so this.
On the plus side, you can plug in a 3.5mm headphone jack into these and use them wired with any device you want, no pairing required. When you use them wired, they can act like dumb headphones, which is nice because they don't burn through battery, but they also lose their advanced sound processing and noise cancelation. If you turn them on when wired, then they get all these fancy features back, they just accept sound over the wired connection.
With the next model on the horizon, it’s probably good advice to wait and see what those ofer before pulling the trigger on these, but even when the XM4 hits, I think this 2 year old model is still pretty compelling, especially since you can get them for around $250 regularly.
Headphones aren’t like phones where you need to feel compelled to get the newest model to get all the things you need; sound quality just isn’t getting better that quickly. And given that these have solid Bluetooth and charge over the most modern and ubiquitous USB standard, they certainly don’t feel out of date.
I guess my takeaway is that I personally am unlikely to upgrade these anytime soon, and my prediction is that unless the XM4’s have some killer new feature we don’t know about, the 2018 XM3 for $100 less is still going to be a very compelling product.