Sony WF-1000XM4 review
When it comes to truly wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation there are good, there are great and there are Sony's WF series - the gold standard in TWS headphones.
These are the second generation, the WF-1000XM4, which aim to take their predecessor's place as the go-to for high-fidelity TWS earbuds with NC. We'll go over how they compare to the WF-1000XM3, after we do an unboxing.
You get the new redesigned case, the buds themselves, two additional sets of ear tips of different sizes and a USB cable.
The new case supports both fast USB-C charging and Qi wireless charging, bringing Sony's earbuds to current industry standards. The case is pretty simple, but robust.
The ear tips are among the biggest improvements to this generation. Sony made the choice to go with polyurethane foam instead of silicone, which does a few things. Foam isolates noise significantly better than rubber and it conforms to the ear more easily, making for a better fit.
You get the usual infrared sensor for automatic pause and play when you take the buds off or put them back in. There are four beam-forming microphones and a bone-conduction sensor that work in tandem for better voice pickup during phone calls.
Each bud has a touch-sensitive area - a tap on the left circles through Ambient Sound mode and Noise Cancellation. Tapping the right plays and pauses playback. Double tap for the next track and triple tap for the previous.
The list of improvements of the WF-1000XM4 over the XM3 is vast. The old QN1e chip is replaced with the V1, which integrates both the ANC processor and the Bluetooth SoC.
The V1 features new Digital to Analog conversion circuit, an amplifier, DSEE Extreme, which upscales music to near-Hi-Res level and uses AI to reproduce lost frequencies.
The WF-1000XM4 are also the first earbuds to feature Sony's LDAC codec. LDAC can transmit Hi-Res audio over Bluetooth - up to 990Kbps, compared to 328Kbps of the standard SBC codec.
The WF-1000XM4's are also physically improved over their predecessors. The buds themselves are 10% smaller in volume and lighter - a step in the right direction even if these aren't the most compact TWS earphones you can buy.
Like the over-ear Sony WH-1000XM4 the WF model features Speak to chat. The buds will recognize you're talking to somebody and automatically enable Ambient Sound mode so you can have your conversation.
Adding go their hands-free abilities, the WF-1000XM4 support both Alexa and Google Assistant. Just say the prompt - Hey Google / Alexa - and the buds will activate said assistant. This is especially neat because it works for cheching the buds' battery, activating ANC or Ambient Mode.
In our testing callers said we came out loud and clear through the WF-1000XM4's microphones.
Finally, there's Fast Pair with Android phones - a pop-up on your screen prompts you to connect to the WF-1000XM4's when they are in pairing mode.
Audio quality, noise cancellation, fit and battery life
The Sony WF-1000XM4 are easily the best-sounding earbuds we've ever tested here at HQ. The 6mm driver delivers better sound, courtesy of a 20% larger magnet and a new high-compliance diaphragm.
Music comes in rich and bold from end to end. Bass is ever-present, giving music a nice foundation, without becoming overbearing. The midrange is very detailed throughout and there's volume to spare. Seriously, these are by far the loudest earbuds we've had here, easily quieting the blaring Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro.
Sony has tuned the WF-1000XM4's ideally - striking a good balance between crowd-friendly bassy and loud, but also mature. Instruments and vocals are a standout.
The sound quality of the WF-1000XM4's feels as if it belongs to much larger cans. There's nothing of the tinny stretched-thin sound you get from TWS earbuds trying to be more than they are physically.
Ambient Sound mode has seen an immense improvement in fidelity. It's no longer an artificial boost of human voices, which made you feel both uncomfortable and like you have super hearing at the same time. We can use the WF-1000XM4's in Ambient Sound for hours, it's natural and allows us to hold conversations without the need to take the buds out.
But it's noise cancelling that's the Sony WF-1000MX4's true trump card. For starters the buds themselves have better passive isolation than other in-ear models we've tested, which is likely down to the foam ear tips and the over design.
As soon as you activate noise cancelling, the sounds of the surrounding world disappear. The sensation is a bit jarring at first. It's something we can't explain, it needs to be felt or heard as is the case.
Sony claims up to 40% improvement over the already solid WF-1000XM3's, which is just crazy. We'll say this - Samsung's Galaxy Buds Pro and Apple's AirPods Pro have nothing on these Sony's when it comes to ANC.
It's weird to say, but the WF-1000XM4 can even give their larger counterparts WH-1000XM4's a run for their money when it comes to noise suppression. Perhaps it's due to the superior isolation you get from jamming a foam ear tip into your ear canal.
That's as good a transition as any into the big fault of these otherwise superb earbuds - fit. There's no going around it - the WF-1000XM4's are big, too big for some people. We tried demoing the buds to a few ladies to no avail - the wouldn't even give them a second look.
This reviewer had his fair share of discomfort with the WF-1000XM4s after about 30 minutes of wearing them. The pain is concentrated in the so-called ear concha, but the fact that you need to push the buds in snug into your ear canal is an issue in an of itself for some people.
Bottom line - try these if you can before you buy them, or make sure you can return them for free, as they won't fit everyone's ear.
Sony claims up to 36 hours of combined battery life from the WF-1000XM4's, which is a 4 hour improvement over their predecessors. What's more impressive is the claim of 8 hours from the buds with ANC on, up from 6 hours on the outgoing pair.
We got close to Sony's numbers. 7 hours of continuous music playback at full volume with ANC on. You can expect up to 12 hours without ANC.
Quick USB-C charging delivers an hour of playback from 5 minutes on the cable. A complete top-up took about an hour and 20 minutes.
So should you buy the Sony WF-1000XM4's? As long as you can afford them it's a resounding yes! We haven't listened to better-sounding earbuds, nor have we experienced better noise cancellation in a TWS form factor. We could go further and say that both audio quality and ANC are on the level of larger headphones. The WF-1000XM4's are as great as they come.
But while worth it in our minds, these are among the most expensive in their class at €280. Apple's AirPods Pro are down to €195 at the moment, although we wouldn't recommend getting them over the Sony's, unless they happen to fit your ears better.
If you're serious about music on the go or you want the absolute best noise cancelling in a portable package, this is it. Just make sure it fits your budget and your ears.