Sony's WH-1000XM4 headphones are great — here's how I made them sound even better

Sony WH-1000XM4
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

As one of the most popular noise-canceling headphones in the best headphones deals over the holiday sales season, the Sony WH-1000XM4 continue to sell well. Having listened to these headphones extensively myself to compare them to the next-gen Sony WH-1000XM5 flagship version that replaced them in June 2022, it's easy to understand why the older version continues to be so poplar given their great sound and ANC performance, build and practical foldable design.

As the superseded model, the WH-1000XM4s have seen significant price drops down to $228 via some online retailers, and if you're lucky enough to already own a pair of one the best noise-canceling headphones, I want to share with you how I made these already great headphones sound even better with just a few EQ adjustments via the Sony Headphone Connect app.

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM3

(Image credit: Reagan Coule/Tom's Guide)

The Sony Headphones Connect app gives users the ability to personalize their audio experience through a selection preset EQ options including: Bright, Excited, Mellow, Relaxed, Vocal, Treble Boost, Bass Boost, and Speech, as well as manual and custom options where you can tailor a six-band equalizer to your own exacting tastes.

When we reviewed the WH-1000XM4, we kept all the EQ settings switched off. We loved the loud and dynamic soundstage these Sony headphones presented with great bass levels that didn't overshadow the vocals. Jazz recordings were a particular highlight, and captured subtle nuances from hi-hats that were presented with stellar separation to make every instrument sound distinct and precise. The balance of overall sound quality isn't in question, along with exceptional ANC performance, features, build, comfort that resulted in the WH-10000XM4 receiving 4.5-stars in our original review, but I think you can make them sound even better with just a few simple EQ adjustments.

To my ears, the 'Off' default for the EQ setting is a bit congested across the frequency range, meaning that certain frequencies sound crowded out by others. Some of the EQ presets help to enhance particular elements but are either too extreme for my tastes, or don't do enough to open up the the sound across the entire frequency range in the way I'd like. For example, the bass is either too thick and congested at the lower frequencies with the Bass Boost setting, and there's not enough openness or sparkle at the top end. 

I'm not saying that I disagree with the review or that the sound is poor by any stretch of the imagination. Quite the opposite, in fact. I just think it can be improved by fine tuning the EQ to make the sound a little more dynamic and engaging with just a few adjustments. Here's how:

Sony WH-1000XM4 Equalizer settings

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

My expert audio settings for Sony's WH-1000XM4 headphones

1. Go to the Sony Headphones Connect app and select the Sound tab.

2. Open the Equalizer menu and you'll see six frequency band sliders: five run vertically and are identified from low to high frequencies as 400Hz, 1kHz, 2.5kHz, 6.3kHz, and 16kHz. The bass slider doesn't identify a specific frequency but runs horizontally along the bottom and is just called Clear Bass. Each slider enables adjustment of +/-10.

3. With the Manual or Custom 1 or Custom 2 EQ option selected, you'll see that the EQ setting for all six bands are set to the central zero position. 

4. Using your fingertip slide the black dot to the settings below.  

Sony WH-1000XM4 equalization curve

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
  • +1 at 400Hz
  • +2 at 1kHz
  • +2 at 2.5kHz
  • +3 at 6.3kHz
  • +2 at 16kHz
  • +1 at Clear Bass 

These are the settings that worked best for me. They demonstrate that with just the tiniest of adjustments the sound opens up with a more even balance of sounds across the entire frequency range, and a more dynamic and engaging listening experience.

When making any audio adjustments it's always best to listen to tracks you know really well, and to listen in the highest quality you possibly can. I chose a version of Freddie Mercury's "Barcelona (New Orchestrated Version)", and Rudimental's "Spoons" as my starting point, but it took plenty of time skipping from track-to-track and trying out different genres with each adjustment I made to the settings to get a balanced performance that worked for me across all kinds of different music.  

For more more information check out my explainer on how to get the best headphone sound for you and follow our headphone playlist on Tidal (opens in new tab) and Spotify (opens in new tab)

Personal audio

There's no right or wrong when it comes to sound preferences or the settings you prefer for your music. All kinds of factors come in to play such as the music genre, recording quality, and audio quality, for example. Of course, we all hear things slightly differently and whether we realize it or not, we often have sound bias or preferences based on a lifetime of music listening and sound experiences. 

Our sound preferences can even be partly biased to our cultural influences and can depend where we live in the world. And then, of course, there's age to consider, which can often mean that certain frequencies get harder to hear the older we get as the range of frequencies we're able to experience rolls off at the frequency extremes. 

As a global brand, the fact Sony has provided its Headphone Connect app with so many flexible options to help listeners achieve a sound they like when wearing a pair of its headphones, demonstrates that the company understands the broad range of ears and sound tastes of its audience. This is another great reason why the Sony WH-1000XM4 remain a solid buy. Whether you pick them up at the full asking price, or are lucky enough to bag them at a discount, you're unlikely to be disappointed.

One of the best holiday season deals I've seen

Despite the arrival of the Sony WH-1000XM5 in June 2022, it's Sony's continuing WH-1000XM4 predecessor that have been one of the most popular models to bag over the holiday sales season. Prices for the XM4 may have returned to their full $348 MSRP in recent days, but we saw prices tumble to as low $228, which, according to deals website CamelCamelCamel, is their lowest ever price at Amazon. 

Bookmark our best headphones deals page to see if this great deal returns and to keep track of all the best bargains.

Lee Dunkley
Audio Editor

As a former editor of the U.K.'s Hi-Fi Choice magazine, Lee is passionate about all kinds of audio tech and has been providing sound advice to enable consumers to make informed buying decisions since he joined Which? magazine as a product tester in the 1990s. Lee covers all things audio for Tom's Guide, including headphones, wireless speakers and soundbars and loves to connect and share the mindfulness benefits that listening to music in the very best quality can bring.