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There’s rarely a moment to rest on your laurels in the wireless earbud game, lest you be caught by Apple. Precious few sets of premium earbuds can go toe-to-toe with the AirPods and come out on the other side. This time, we just might have the one pair to rule them all: Sony’s WF-1000XM4. Let’s find out what makes them so special in our Sony WF-1000XM4 review.
Update, April 2022: This Sony WF-1000XM4 review was updated to add some further details to the sound quality section, include standardized microphone samples, include results of the microphone poll, add an alternatives section, and include more detailed battery testing results.
Who should buy the Sony WF-1000XM4?
- Fitness junkies with money to burn will be able to afford these, and sweat resistance means they can make the most of them.
- Wealthy wireless enthusiasts can splash the cash as well, and they may never take them back off again.
- Anyone looking for the most advanced earbuds around will have to at least consider the WF-1000XM4 for their unique quality.
See also: Headphone buying guide
What’s it like to use the Sony WF-1000XM4?
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better pair of true wireless earphones than the Sony WF-1000XM4, and the user experience is as good as it gets. The sound quality, attenuation, and touch controls are all top-notch.
Sony opted for some recycled paper packaging on the WF-1000XM4, which is nice to see. Inside that packaging, you’ll find a charging case, three sizes of foam ear tips, a USB-C charging cable, and the earbuds themselves. While you could walk through all of the documentation, the setup process is very simple, but you may want to start by downloading the Headphones Connect app from the Play Store.
Like any good companion app, it comes with plenty of software goodies. You can manage your controls, select your preferred virtual assistant, adjust your EQ, and plenty more.
Once you get around to actually using your Sony WF-1000XM4, you’ll notice that they’re much smaller than the Sony WF-1000XM3. As a result, they fit much better in your ears. The capacitive touch controls make playback a breeze, and we can’t forget about the handy IPX4 rating for sweat resistance.
Sony’s V1 processor is far more energy-efficient than in previous generations, so noise-cancelling and premium playback won’t drain your juice as quickly anymore. You can also tap into Qi wireless charging using the case, which happens to be much smaller than the previous WF-1000XM3 case. If you’d prefer to stay wired, you can turn to your trusty USB-C cable to get the job done.
Take your time with the foam tips
We’re big fans of comfortable foam ear tips, but they take a little bit of warming up. You’ll get a great seal once you nail down your size, but you’ll have to squeeze the tips for a few seconds until you can comfortably place them in your ears. Once you have the earbuds in, hold them steady until the foam can expand to fit your ear canal just right.
Now you can check your fit with the test in Sony’s Headphones Connect app. If it comes back and tells you that your seal is good, then you’re off to the races. If not, it might be time to try larger or smaller tips.
How do you control the earbuds?
Once you get the Sony WF-1000XM4 in your ears, it’s time to get comfortable with the touch controls. To keep life easy, we’ve put together a quick table to get you started:
|Right Earbud||Left Earbud|
Play / Pause
Mute / ANC / Ambient sound
Skip forward / Answer call
Activate smart assistant
As you can see, the right earbud is the star of the show. If you prefer to use your left earbud, you can remap some of the controls in the Headphones Connect app. You can also remove one earbud from your ear if you want to quickly pause music playback. To enable passthrough audio and hear the outside world, a simple long-press will do.
See also: The best Sony headphones you can buy
How do you pair the Sony WF-1000XM4?
You won’t find a pairing button at home on your charging case, so the process might seem intimidating at first. Luckily, you only have to go through the pairing steps the first time you add a device.
Remove your earbuds from the case and put them in your ears to get started. Then, hold your fingers on both buds for about six seconds to activate pairing mode. You should hear a robotic voice declare that your Sony WF-1000XM4 earphones are in pairing mode. Now, select your earbuds from the Bluetooth menu on your phone.
After you’ve paired the first time, the process is much easier. Simply pop your earbuds out of the case and they will automatically connect to a remembered device — usually your phone.
Unlike most earphones on the market today, Sony packed its WF-1000XM4 with Bluetooth 5.2 capabilities. It’s far more exciting than it sounds, because you should get better battery life overall provided that your phone supports Bluetooth 5.2 as well. We don’t know for sure yet, but it’s possible that the Sony WF-1000XM4 will support all of the mandatory 5.2 codecs (which may well include the anticipated LC3 codec). We’ll be sure to update this if we get confirmation from Sony. Right now, we do know that the earphones support the SBC, AAC, and LDAC codecs.
Are the Sony WF-1000XM4 waterproof?
Although the Sony WF-1000XM4 earphones are not waterproof, they do carry an IPX4 rating against moisture. Essentially, that means you can use them to workout and sweat as much as you please, but don’t take the earphones for a swim. Too much water will spell doom, and that’s not what you want if you’re spending quite this much.
Just make sure that you run through the fit test again if you plan to wear the WF-1000XM4 on a run. You don’t want to risk an imperfect fit and lose an earbud while you’re in the zone.
How do the Sony WF-1000XM4 sound?
The Sony WF-1000XM4 sound very good, as should be expected at this price point, but there are some quirks. In the chart above, the pink line indicates the SoundGuys house curve, which it posits as the ideal frequency response, while the cyan line represents the Sony WF-1000XM4 response. You can see how this deviates from our sister site’s curve quite a bit, particularly as it applies to treble notes.
Ultimately, this means that it might be harder to hear high-frequency sounds like the detailed clang of repeated cymbal hits, a consequence of the amplified bass notes. While this may not appeal to audio purists, it’s a relatively common consumer-oriented trait.
Sony’s default profile does actually sound pretty good for older recordings that tend to underemphasize bass. For instance, you may note that higher-pitched voices sound a tiny bit off, like in Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams. In this track, Stevie Nicks’ voice sounds a little “hollow” compared to what you might expect, and some of the hi-hats are almost muted while the cymbal crashes sound a bit quiet.
Mentioning older tunes, the Sony WF-1000XM4 also packs Sony’s latest digital sound enhancement engine, known as DSEE Extreme. It essentially upsamples your music, bringing older, lossy tracks closer in line with modern expectations. Even if you can’t enjoy the benefits of DSEE Extreme on higher bitrate tracks, you’ll be happy to know that these buds support proprietary 360 Reality Audio which helps to bring spatial audio to your favorite songs.
Overall, we found that the default sound profile is easy enough to fix with some simple adjustments to de-emphasize the mids and bass in the Headphones Connect app. You can simply open the equalizer section of the app and tinker to your heart’s content. Those of you dead-set against tinkering might find that you miss details here and there when it comes to high notes.
How well do the Sony WF-1000XM4 cancel noise?
You might have guessed this from how much we talk about the importance of a good seal, but the Sony WF-1000XM4 get top marks in the noise-cancelling department. Sony’s active noise-cancelling (ANC) is some of the best in the business, and the foam ear tips make it easier to fit just about any ear. That perfect fit contributes to the overall isolation, which can help to block out sounds like conversations at work or on your commute.
Before you even get around to cranking your ANC, the foam tips have already started to do their job against outside sounds. Provided you get a good seal, the foam should cut street noise down to one-quarter or half as loud as it would normally sound. Once you do activate your ANC, you should see most droning sounds around 50Hz or above drop to approximately one-sixteenth or one quarter as loud. It’s impressive overall, but keep your expectations tempered: it can’t outcompete with the Sony WH-1000XM4.
If you’re not sure about totally blocking the outside world, you can easily toggle your ANC with the left earbud. Keep tapping until you hear a robotic voice announce “ambient sound” in your ear. Now you should be able to hear the environment a bit better. You can also check out the “speak to chat” feature, which recognizes when you start a conversation and automatically enables audio passthrough.
Is the battery life any good?
There’s no need for any reservations in the battery department, as the Sony WF-1000XM4 can manage 7 hours and 43 minutes on a single charge according to the testing over at SoundGuys. Once you add in about two extra charges from the included case, you’re looking at just shy of 24 hours of total playback. If you only listen while you commute, this should be more than good enough to last you an entire week. It’s not the best battery life we’ve ever tested, but Sony’s crammed a lot into a small package.
The USB-C/wireless charging case can fast charge the earbuds: just five minutes in the case yields 60 minutes of playback. This is a great feature for intercontinental flyers.
How does the Sony WF-1000XM4 microphone stack up?
Like the battery life, Sony’s microphone is good but not excellent. We noticed that it suffers a bit if you’re using the AAC codec. It works well for calls, though, and Sony added a handy feature that can differentiate between speech and background noise. It can then boost your audio while you’re in a call, even if you don’t notice the change yourself. In fact, that’s the whole point: Sony made its buds smarter without making you worry about the changes. Plus, if there is background noise, such as wind or office sounds, then the mic struggles to transmit your voice clearly.
Check out our samples below to listen for yourself:
Sony WF-1000XM4 microphone demo (ideal):
Sony WF-1000XM4 microphone demo (office):
How does the microphone sound to you?
As of April 2022, 59% of respondents gave these earbuds a rating between “okay” and “good” (3-4). That is around what’s expected for most premium buds, but it is notable that it’s not a very large majority of votes compared to some other models of earphones.
Sony WF-1000XM4 review: The verdict
If you can afford them, the Sony WF-1000XM4 is truly one of the best pairs of wireless earbuds you can buy. These ‘buds have the audio chops we’ve come to expect from Sony, and the hardware will last a good long time. You’ll want them to last as long as possible, too, as the $279 price point is sure to eat up a good chunk of your headphone budget. Yes, it’s a lot of money, but the best things in life often come at a price.
If you want the best true wireless earphones, the Sony WF-1000XM4 have to be in the discussion.
You might be expecting Sony’s WF-1000XM4 to replace the previous WF-1000XM3 ($199), but you would be wrong. Instead, the older earbuds are now more affordable and can usually be picked up for just over $100. The newer WF-1000XM4 is a better set of earphones all around, but the older earbuds are tried and true and your wallet will thank you.
What are some alternatives to the Sony WF-1000XM4?
When it comes to comparable noise-cancelling, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds ($279) come the closest to the Sony WF-1000XM4. These buds actually tend to damp the lows and mids a bit more than Sony’s buds, but the WF-1000XM4 have much more consistent ANC. Still, the “comfort” name from Bose is certainly true, even though they are bulkier.
There’s also the Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless ($189). They work great on both Android and iOS, have good ANC, and an IPX4 rating. Plus, they are less bulky than the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. Furthermore, they swap out LDAC for aptX, which might be more appealing to certain users.
What are some good earbuds without noise-cancelling?
If you can forego noise-cancelling, then the Sony WF-C500 ($99) are a solid option. These earbuds are comfortable and even have 360 Reality Audio support. They’re not special in many ways, but they do a bit of everything reasonably well.
Android die-hards might be well served by the Google Pixel Buds A-Series ($99). Instead of ANC, they try and adjust the volume dynamically depending on your surroundings, which you might find jarring. Still, with good hardware and touch controls plus tight ecosystem integration, they may fit your lifestyle perfectly otherwise.
What about the Apple AirPods Pro?
Now for the real question: should you grab the Sony WF-1000XM4 over a pair of Apple’s AirPods? Well, they cost a solid $30 more than the AirPods Pro ($249), so it’s certainly a tough choice for Apple users. The Sony earbuds cancel noise better, they fit better, and they offer a steadier connection than the AirPods Pro. However, you won’t have to tinker with your AirPods to get the right sound profile. Apple users may benefit from the smooth integrations as well thanks to the H1 chip, but the WF-1000XM4 still pack enough extra punch to justify the cost difference, especially if you’re on Android.
Read on SoundGuys: Apple AirPods Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM4