November 30, 2021

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We tested the Sony WF-1000XM4 wireless headphones: pure pleasure

280 euros the pair! Suffice to say that the latest delivery of in-ear headphones from Sony, arriving this summer, targets well-stocked wallets or demanding audiophiles. Best noise reduction on the market, high resolution sound, listening quality in a telephone call, impressive battery life … the Japanese manufacturer is not stingy with qualifiers to sell its latest creation. At this price, it’s an understatement to say that I pay attention to unpacking. No question of pairing in two seconds the utensil to balance France Info on the way to work.

Taking your time is already familiarizing yourself with a packaging… surprising. Clearly, Sony has chosen sobriety and eco-responsibility with this new model. A small, raw-looking, non-inked cardboard box (a material, we learn, made from fast-growing plants), 100% recyclable, serves as the backdrop for a recycled plastic refill box. Nothing to do with its previous model, much more (too?) Bulky but more in line with the “luxury” codes of high-end tech. And it is well seen because in this field the manufacturers still have an avenue to play the green card.

100% recyclable box, recycled plastic box … The green effort is definitely there

Let’s stay in the design. Here again Sony is clearly going it alone and distinguishes itself from the competition (and in particular from the Apple friend who usually gives it away in the matter) with an in-ear model all round, and not light. We will see the interest of all this below, but the aesthetic result is attractive and attracts the eye.

The sequel after the advertisement

But what are the wireless headphones from Nothing, the new brand from ambitious Carl Pei?

Good adhesion of the in-ear

In the box, there is also a charging cable, 3 sizes of tips, and a brief user manual: in 6 drawings, I must understand how the headsets work … A little aside for the designers of manuals (because Sony no. isn’t the only one using it): These crobards aren’t clear at all and I challenge anyone (and I’m not talking about my mom) to pair anything that way.

When tech is interested in our well-being (with varying degrees of success)

In short, instinctively, I start by scanning the proposed QR code and I download the Sony “Headphones” app. My iPhone takes a little time to recognize the WF-1000XM3 (ah, as soon as we leave the world of the Apple house ..) but succeeds and will not deviate from it any more. I run the tutorial in 6 steps and I choose my earpieces from the three sizes offered (I play the game and start the “earbuds” test). For me it will be an S on the right and an L on the left. Why not. Their shape memory material (a polyurethane foam) is pleasant to the touch, but at first I find it difficult to make the spherical device fit correctly in my ear … until the app tells me shows how to drive in and then turn the machine like a screw. Effective. Grip is clearly part of the Sony device for optimal listening and the “noise reduction” function.

A very effective

A very effective “talk to chat” function

I then familiarize myself with the operations available via the sensors and I note that I will not adjust the sound by ear but via the smartphone (in fact, it is not annoying in use). Interesting novelty: thanks to a bone conduction sensor, I have the possibility of activating a “talk to chat” function. Clearly, as soon as I open my mouth (and even when I cough …), the music stops and the microphones “are directed” outwards to facilitate a conversation. This will be verified in use with very good quality listening.

So much for the base. It’s time to get down to business, with “adaptive sound control” on the palate. Thus, by detecting my actions and the places I frequent thanks to geolocation, the headphones will automatically find the right listening atmosphere. To be continued then.

Optimizing “360 audio reality”

The second manipulation concerns the “360 audio reality”, that is to say the must have of Sony. The technology is not new. Presented in 2019 at CES in Las Vegas, it is a musical format developed by the house and based on the MPEG-H 3D Audio codec (open source format).

The sequel after the advertisement

The goal of the maneuver is to produce immersive content: “The voices, the guitar, the bass, the piano, and even the emotion of the audience are positioned in a spherical space of 360 °. By defining the angle and distance information, we are able to faithfully reproduce the artist’s vision ” explains the Japanese. The content thus recorded (or reworked) gives the impression to the listener of being at the center of a room in which, for example, an orchestra would play. Unfortunately, there is still little content of this type (4000 pieces according to Sony). Some streaming platforms, like Deezer, TIDAL… offer it.

Immersive sound from Sony

Immersive sound from Sony

Let’s be precise, the headphones do not reprocess the music being listened to. But it is natural that the inventor of this format proposes a device that optimizes “The spherical sound field around us” using an audio system with several speakers, a bit like setting up a “home theater” at home to immerse yourself in a movie. Note that the proposal appeared on the previous model of the mark (WF-1000XM3).

So I go to the setting… and start by photographing my ears. ” Why ? “ I ask myself. I am probably not the only one to ask the question since it is explained to me immediately “ that the sound I hear during shows depends on the shape of my head and my ears ” and that thanks to my photos Sony will be able to calculate the data necessary to produce an optimal and personalized sound field. Marketing effect or real innovation? I don’t want to know it and I do so by even accepting the use of the data of my auricular anatomy to advance musical progress…

Analysis of my ears to optimize 3D sound

Analysis of my ears to optimize 3D sound

Now is the time to try a “sample” to understand what “360 ° sound” means. The result is obviously at the height of the experience sold even if it is unlikely that I will then listen to much music carved on this model. Regardless, the possibility exists and proves, if it were needed, the capacity for innovation of the Japanese.

The sequel after the advertisement

Mark Knopfler on my scooter …

So all that remains is to test the headphones in real condition, which is for me the way to work on a manual scooter, which is ultimately a good way to check the different uses. First observation, these “in-ear” not only do not bother me (I do not have the feeling of an intrusion or a weight in the ear) but in addition hold up well, and jerks. I start my walk up Avenue Daumesnil with “Think” by Aretha Franklin, and there… an ecstatic smile appears on my face.

Coupled with the particular design of the headphones, I have the impression of not going unnoticed. But whatever, I am really immersed in the music, the “active noise reduction” function is particularly effective and fortunately is deactivated by pressing the left ear at the most critical passages of my journey. I follow up with “Lady Writer” by Dire Straits for the deep voice and guitar solos by Mark Knopfler. The sound is round, enveloping, without aggressiveness and the quality of listening impeccable.

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Everything is of course subjective in terms of musical feeling, but the quality is there, and there it is. To read the lab tests of specialized colleagues, it is far from being a sight of my mind: “… these qualities allow Sony headphones to retain an extremely pleasant and musical rendering in all circumstances, even at high volume” can we read in Les Numériques which places them ” among the very best true wireless audio on the market ”.

Let’s not throw any more, if not to mention, this is not the least of their interest, an excellent autonomy -8 hours for the headphones alone, plus 16 hours with the charging case with the noise reduction function activated and the bluetooth connection. More than enough to go around Paris on a scooter without getting bored.