Sony WH-1000XM4 vs JBL Tour One: Which wireless headphones should you buy?
Here's how two over-ear behemoths stack up.
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Sony’s WH-1000XM4 are our favorite headphones right now, thanks to their marvelous sound quality, great features and comfort, and incredible noise canceling. These sleek cans ensure their worth by using a well-tailored mix of software features and embedded technology to deliver top-notch performance. So when it comes to wireless travel headphones, Sony’s XM4 are the gold standard.
JBL’s new Tour One headphones are the latest we’re putting toe-to-toe with the XM4. The Tour One get surprisingly close to the XM4 in terms of overall comfort and sound quality, they cancel noise handily, and they even have some features that Sony’s best don’t. So which one should you buy? Let’s find out.
The XM4 are the older of the two, and while they were $350 MSRP at launch, they’re fairly widely available for closer to $300. JBL’s Tour One launched a couple of months prior to writing and start at a $299 MSRP.
The Tour One are the cheaper of the two based on MSRP, and may be more likely than the XM4 to drop below $300 in the future.
Our pick: JBL Tour One
Fit and design
Both the XM4 and the Tour One are designed for comfort, and they're both stellar for short- and long-term use. However, at around 250 grams, the XM4 are the lighter of the two (by about 20 grams). They also net you some seriously cushy padding on the ear cups and headband, which—combined with that light weight—makes it easy to forget they’re even on your head.
The Tour One are plenty comfortable too, but they’re a bit heavier than the XM4, and not quite as lovingly padded. You can still wear them for hours without complaint, and the difference in pure comfort is very close, but the XM4 gets a slight edge there.
Where these two differ a bit more is in control functionality. The XM4 shy away from tactile buttons: you get a power and multi-function button but otherwise, all directives are executed via tap-and-swipe gestures on their ear cups. You can double-tap and hold, swipe left, right, up or down to control things like play/pause, raise/lower volume, activate your voice assistant, answer calls, and so on. In short, the XM4 have some of the most advanced and customizable touch controls in the biz.
The Tour One use more physical buttons and less touch control facility. You’re getting power, volume, and multi-function buttons, as well as a toggle-able Bluetooth switch for when you want to use them in a wired capacity. As an aside, a 3.5mm cable is included with both the XM4 and the Tour One, and both can be used in a passive, wired mode.
The Tour One do utilize touch controls on the surface of the right ear cup, but what you can do is very limited compared to the XM4. You can still tap to play/pause and tap/hold to activate a voice assistant, but you won’t get any of the XM4’s touch-enabled volume or track-scrubbing abilities.
While you might prefer the Tour One’s approach to controls if you prefer tactile feedback, there’s no denying that the XM4’s approach, while initially less intuitive, eventually makes for a very fast and technologically hip way to manage these core functions.
Our pick: Sony WH-1000XM4
Features and noise canceling
Both of these headphones stand out from the more affordable crowd in a major way because they’re stuffed with all sorts of extra features and ways to customize how they sound.
One of the XM4's coolest features is “Speak-to-Chat." This allows the XM4 to stop playing music (or a podcast, or whatever you’re listening to) when you begin to have a conversation, meaning there’s no fumbling to pause—you don’t even have to remove the headphones when you want to talk to someone. I guess you might want to turn it off if you like to sing or talk to yourself a lot.
You’re also getting multi-point Bluetooth connection, noise-canceling optimization (which measures both your ears and barometric pressure to adjust noise cancellation specifically), a full EQ, and compatibility with Sony’s proprietary spatial audio tech, 360 Reality Audio.
There’s also a ton of ways to customize the XM4's functionality in the app. You can swap whether the multi-function button controls ANC or transparency modes, customize the strength of those modes to the nth degree, disable the touch panel entirely, set up auto power-off, and more.
The Tour One are no slouches, either. JBL has its own app—My Headphones—and fiddling with it enables a granular and nuanced approach for controlling the Tour One. The main features are different ANC, ambient, and “smart” Bluetooth modes.
The Tour One headphones deliver two varieties of noise canceling: Adaptive, which (like the XM4) listens to your surroundings and actively cancels noise, and a less battery-intensive generalist mode. There are also two ambient/transparency modes: Ambient Aware and TalkThru. The former helps you to better hear non-repetitive noises around you, while the latter uses exterior mics to help you listen to and talk to people around you, all while music keeps playing.
The “smart” Bluetooth modes toggle between a setting that’s ideal for a non-congested home environment, while “Smart Audio” and “Smart Video” help to optimize Bluetooth quality during more congested listening situations, or specifically to sync audio with video content.
The Tour One doesn’t stop there, either. Like with the XM4, you’re also getting a full EQ (with some solid presets already loaded in), the ability to customize control buttons, and a way to sync the Tour One with an alarm using the silence of noise canceling in a kind of “sleep bubble”—a feature totally unique to JBL. There's also Auto Play/Pause, Auto-off, and voice assistant selection.
As you can see, both models equate to some fully loaded nachos, but the XM4 have a slightly higher topping-to-chip ratio—it's close, but a barometric pressure setting on headphones that may find themselves on airplanes more often than not is inarguably useful.
Finally, where the XM4 undeniably trumps the Tour One is in noise-canceling performance. Both of these cancelers do a great job squashing unwanted noise and delivering you to a personal, quiet environment. Both were able to shut out droning air conditioners, traffic sounds, and unwanted nearby conversations. But Sony is simply masterful at engineering noise canceling, making it hard for anyone but Bose to match up.
Our pick: Sony WH-1000XM4
This is one area where the Tour One wins, no questions asked. Sony’s XM4 get you around 30 hours of battery life (sometimes less with constant ANC), but the Tour One average 40-45 hours even with ANC enabled, and can last as long as 50 hours when running without any noise canceling or transparency modes active.
Our pick: JBL Tour One
This one is tough. Naturally, headphones in this price range need to sound really good to justify their price tags, and both the Tour One and the XM4 deliver on that promise. My experiences listening to both for the first time were eerily similar. I found myself impressed with the spaciousness and warm, detailed sound provided by these cans. Compared to your average headphones, they are streets ahead, and I have no complaints about either one in terms of sound quality.
For picky listeners, however, the XM4 are going to edge out the Tour One a bit. The XM4’s bass and midrange emphasis is appreciably boosted, but in a subtler way than the Tour One, and the range of EQ presets really show off Sony’s attention to detail. On the other hand, listeners used to more bass-heavy cans might actually prefer the Tour One's sound.
As EQ presets go, the JBL has mastered the basics: one for boosting bass; one that adds sparkle to trebles; and one that brings out midrange (voice) frequencies, best for stuff like podcasts. Sony’s XM4 includes similar presets while also adding in a couple more uniquely tailored frequency responses, such as the “Relaxed” preset, which almost acts like a pass filter for louder and more sibilant sounds.
So while both default listening experiences deliver nuanced and distortion-free music, Sony has the edge when it comes to fine-tuning your listening experience in more advanced ways.
Our pick: Sony WH-1000XM4
At face value, you're getting the exact same accessories from these headphones: a USB-C charging cable, a zip-up carry case, a dual-prong airplane adapter, and a 3.5mm cable for passive listening. But while Sony includes a notably short charging cable with the XM4, the Tour One's 3.5mm cable and charging cable are the same generous length.
This means you can listen to the Tour One passively while you charge them, a convenience that rides on top of the fact that the Tour One already net you better batter life. If you use the XM4 constantly, you're going to have to remember to charge often, and whenever you're charging, you likely won't be able to use them.
Our pick: JBL Tour One
And the winner is…
The lauded Sony WH-1000XM4 wins this comparison, but it’s awfully close in a lot of categories.
To summarize: Both are very comfortable headphones, but the XM4 weigh less; both are well designed, but the XM4 reach further with their commitment to touch controls. Likewise, both are excellent noise cancelers, but Sony delivers a bit more consistency in that technology. Finally, Sony offers more flexibility in terms of EQ customization.
That doesn’t automatically make the XM4 the better choice for everyone. You might prefer the Tour One’s higher battery life, more familiar button-based control scheme, or the specifics of its software features—especially since you can regularly get them for almost $50 cheaper than the XM4.