Sony’s New Noise-Cancelling Headphones Will Make You Feel Adrift in the Quiet Void of Space

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I was working at my computer desk when I heard a knock on the window. Frightened that it was an animal—perhaps a feral raccoon—I checked to make sure the window was closed tight before I pulled the shade up. There was my partner, her forehead covered in sweat, banging on the glass pane. I took my Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones off, the noise of the outside world rushing back in like I’d just turned on a vacuum cleaner. “Let me in!” she shouted. “I’ve been calling you for the past ten minutes!”

Noise-canceling headphones usually give me a headache. Clasped so tightly to my ears, most of the units I’ve worn seem to suck the air out of the room and create a plunger-like suction to the two sides of my brain. They never really cancel the noise; when reruns of I Love New York are playing 10 feet away from my desk in our tiny apartment, I hear every single bleep from my partner’s laptop. Long have I searched for a pair of cans that truly cancel the outside world. And I’ve finally found them: the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones. They’re so good at extinguishing sounds that you may end up losing track of reality.

sony wh 1000xm4 wireless noise canceling overhead black headphones 2020

They’re like pillows for your ears, but not in a suffocating way.

Allie Holloway

They’re scary quiet and massively powerful.

Since going to the movies is a thing of the past, any chance to shatter my eardrums with massive, deafening noise feels like a welcome one. You’re going to hear music as you’ve never heard it before with these puppies. The audio quality is so good, in fact, that Spotify somehow sounds flimsy and cheap; no, you’re going to want to download your damn songs and play them in the highest, most luxurious quality you can find. On these headphones, every little scratch, every twang of the guitar string, comes in loud and clear.

I don’t completely understand the witchcraft behind Sony’s update to the WH-1000XM line, but from what I can gather, these headphones use AI to digitally “upscale” music files, somehow recognizing different instruments, genres, and vocals to deliver the highest possible fidelity in listening. And not only that, but the units carry multiple noise-cancelling modes (there’s even one for air travel), ensuring that your football stadium-sized sounds come in unobstructed. For those of us trapped inside everyday with roommates and loved ones, these headphones feel like a gift from on high.

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sony wh 1000xm4 wireless noise canceling overhead black headphones 2020

Custom functionality via the Sony app lets you harness the full power of these luxury cans.

Allie Holloway

You can wear them for hours.

Personally, I prefer wireless earbuds. Cord-free, tiny, and light, you never have to feel suffocated between two couch cushions when you’re wearing them. But, alas, it’s just impossible to find a pair of earbuds with the level of technology and refinement that are inside old-fashioned headphones. And after spending so much time with the WH-1000XM4s, I’m starting to go turncoat on the earbud movement. These cans are light—they really are—and they feel like nothing on your head. They don’t squeeze you; they don’t clench your ears like vice grips. They’re actually pretty comfortable to wear. I wouldn’t recommend hitting the gym, but for listening to music, playing video games, or watching movies, it doesn’t get much nicer.

sony wh 1000xm4 wireless noise canceling overhead black headphones 2020

These babies are comfortable enough to wear for 30 hours, which is how long they’ll hold a charge.

Allie Holloway

Sony made them with functionality—and safety—in mind.

Of course, one of the biggest downsides of wearing noise-cancelling headphones is, well, the cancellation of noise. Sometimes you need noise! Unless you’re all settled in with the doors locked, ready to shut off for the night, you have to be aware of your surroundings, at least to some degree. While the XM4s will certainly give you the joy of silence, it’d be dangerous to ride a bike or operate heavy machinery with them in maximum no-noise mode. But Sony thought of that already: It added a whole slew of options, harnessing proximity sensors and adaptive sound technology, to make sure you’re still plugged into the world around you. There’s Speak-to-Chat, which automatically chirps up ambient noise whenever you talk to someone. You can even place your hand over the entire can to instantly muffle the music and let some ambient sound in. Hell, if you master all the functions that Sony offers here, you may never go back to analog ears again.

The world is too loud right now. Sometimes you’ve got to unplug. That may mean dunking your head in the sink, hiding in the closet to meditate, or, in my case, blasting the soundtrack to Interstellar as loud as possible into my ears. The WH-1000XM4s, which you can order now, will send you straight to outer space. Just make sure you don’t lock your girlfriend outside before you put them on.

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Photography and prop styling by Allie Holloway

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