(Pocket-lint) - When it comes to wireless noise cancelling headphones, Sony has been at the top of its game for a number of years now.

Its 1000X series took many by surprise when first introduced, but are now considered to be among the best.

The latest generation, the Sony WH-1000XM4, brings some new features and refined audio to the table, while also keeping true to what makes the range so popular.

But are they worth upgrading to if you already have last year's model? Or, if you haven't yet got either, is it worth looking out for 1000XM3 deals instead?

We compare the differences between the two to help you make that decision.

What's different?

It's hard to see exactly what's changed by simply looking at the 2020 model. However, there are some design tweaks for comfort, a new chip to improve active noise cancellation, and a few additional features that make it easier to interact with the outside world.

Support for a couple of newer music technologies also makes a difference. Here's why...

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Design and build

  • Sony WH-1000XM4 weight: 254g
  • Sony WH-1000XM3 weight: 255g

Determining the differences between the Sony WH-1000XM4 and XM3 headphones visually is tough. They come in the same colour options - black and silver - and share the same design notes.

But, the XM4s are more comfortable to wear. The earpads are 10 per cent larger, so softer. And the headband has slimmed to reduce weight, albeit fractionally.

There is also a smaller gap between the earcups and the arms, to ensure less audio bleed.

In all other regard, though, they are peas in a pod. Well built, robust and easy to wear for long periods.

Battery and charging

  • Sony WH-1000XM4: Up to 30 hours (NC), 38 hours (NC off), full charge in 3 hours, 5 hours worth in 10 minutes
  • Sony WH-1000XM3: Up to 30 hours (NC), 38 hours (NC off), full charge in 3 hours

Claimed battery life is the same on both headsets - up to 30 hours with noise cancelling switched on, 38 with it off - although the MX4 handles things a little differently that will make life easier.

Both can be charged from flat to full in around three hours, using USB-C. But, the XM4 is capable if being recharged for around five hours of playback with just 10 minutes of charge time.

In addition, the XM4 comes with a proximity sensor in the left earcup that, when coupled with internal motion sensors, can pause playback when you remove the 'phones. Music will start again when you put them back on.

Alternatively, if you leave them off for 15 minutes, they will power down entirely.

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Audio tech and ANC

  • Sony WH-1000XM4: 40mm dome type drivers, DSEE Extreme, QN1 processor, Bluetooth Audio
  • Sony WH-1000XM3: 40mm dome type drivers, DSEE HX, QN1 processor, aptX and aptX HD support

Both models use similar 40mm dome type driver units, but the way audio is processed is slightly improved in the new heaphones - especially when it comes to compressed file types.

While the WH-1000XM3s utilise DSEE HX tech to analyse and enhance MP3s and the like, making them sound closer to high-res, lossless alternatives, the XM4s up the ante by including the latest standard, DSEE Extreme. This uses Edge AI technology to better assess the parts of a track that have been affect due to the compression process and approximate the missing elements.

In short, while you might not notice unless really concentrating on each track, lossy tracks should sound better on the 1000XM4 over-ears.

In addition, while the QN1 processor returns to drive the adaptive noise cancellation tech, it is joined in the new model by a Bluetooth Audio SoC (system-on-chip) that is more accurate in determining external ambient noise and countering it. And, it is capable of making adjustments at 700 times per second.

Weirdly, it's worth pointing out in the negative column that the XM4s have ditched aptX and aptX HD support for lossless streaming, favouring Sony's proprietary LDAC instead.

Features

  • Sony WH-1000XM4: High-res Audio support, 360 Reality Audio, Speak-to-chat, multipoint Bluetooth connectivity
    Sony WH-1000XM3: High-res Audio support, 360 Reality Audio

High res audio is supported by both sets of headphones, as well as 360 Reality Audio - Sony's own virtual surround sound file type. And both devices are compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri voice control. However, there are several key, new features available on the 1000XM4.

Adaptive sound control has been enhanced. While it can adjust the noise cancelling modes on both models automatically depending on your situation, you can now set favourite locations whereby the sound signature with adjust depending on GPS. For example, you can have the headphones automatically switch to ambient sound control when you reach work.

Speak-to-chat is an all-new feature. Only available on the MX4, music playback will pause and music playback will pause whenever you speak out loud. That allows you to have a conversation without having to remove the headphones first.

Finally, multipoint connection has been added to the 1000MX4 - which supports Bluetooth 5.0 instead of Bluetooth 4.2 on the previous model. This means you can link the new headset to two separate devices at once and switch between them easily. And, if a call is received on the other, the headphones will automatically switch and prioritorise it.

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Price and conclusion

The Sony WH-1000XM4 is available now for a £350 retail price in the UK, $350 in the US - the same price the previous model was originally launched at.

However, this could make the biggest decision for a purchase - deals on the WH-1000XM3 can make it more than £100/$100 less, so while there are plenty of upgrades and enhancements available on the latest version, your budget might lead you to considering the former instead.

Either way, you are getting an excellent pair of ANC wireless headphones that will do you proud

Writing by Rik Henderson.