How can you top what are undoubtedly the best true wireless earphones available today? Sony has returned to the drawing board and designed a brand new pair that looks nothing like their predecessors – The WF-1000XM4 is the outcome. Is that a bold step? Definitely. Crazy? Yes, most likely.
Over the past few years, Sony’s WF-1000X line of wireless earbuds has dominated this market. The WF-1000XM3 model, the first pair from this line, has won two What Hi-Fi? Awards.
However, Sony’s engineers have gone to town on the WF-1000XM4 with an entirely new design, a new charging case, and a new audio processor instead of just the occasional tweak here and there. They even had time to create a brand-new ear tip material, which is now making its debut on a set of Sony earbuds. What might fail?
Luckily for Sony, very little does. The WF-1000XM4 is one of the most feature-packed, user-friendly, and sonically gifted pairs of wireless earbuds we’ve tested.
Unsurprisingly, Sony products are at the top of the market. They debuted in 2021 at £250, $280, or AU$450, but are now more frequently seen for around £200, $230, or AU$350. For the most recent Sony WF-1000XM4 discounts, check here.
The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, and, of course, the Apple AirPods Pro are just a few other five-star wireless noise-canceling earbud competitors they are up against.
Your first encounter with the WF-1000XM4 is unexpected. Sony has abandoned the customary glossy box in favor of recycled packaging produced from a unique paper blend. It makes for a more compact package (34 percent smaller than the WF-1000XM3’s) and one that’s plastic-free. That’s excellent news for the environment, though it doesn’t give off the vibe that you’ve just bought a pair of premium noise-canceling headphones.
After removing the WF-1000XM4 from its packing, a compact, black charging case greets you. It is significantly smaller (40 percent smaller) than the charging case that came with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds and the case that came with their predecessors.
The case charges via USB-C and introduces wireless charging to the WF-1000X range for the first time – all you need is a compatible Qi charging pad. You can even use battery share with compatible smartphones and piggyback off their power supply.
It would be beneficial if you didn’t stress yourself much over battery life. Sony’s latest headphones may have a small housing, but the XM4’s battery life is greater than the XM3’s. With noise-canceling and Bluetooth turned on, the earbuds now provide eight hours of playback time, and Sony claims the case can provide an additional 16 hours of power. Their battery life from a single account is superior to that of all key competitors. Only five hours can be achieved with the AirPods Pro, seven hours with the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless, and six hours with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds.
Turn off noise-canceling, and the Sony’s life is extended to 12 hours from a single charge and 24 hours with the case. A five-minute quick order is good for one hour of playtime, too.
Through Sony’s Headphones Connect app, you can check how much life is left in both the buds and the case. The app will notify you when the case’s charge falls below 30%.
The quality of the files you’re listening to, how hard the internal CPU is working, and the volume you’re listening at can all affect how long a wireless earbud’s battery lasts. In our testing, we discovered that the battery life was consistently sufficient to last us a day of mixed-use.
You can observe the WF-1000XM4’s new earphone design by opening the magnetic casing. Sony has decided to design the XM3 with a rounder form that fits more into the ear opening in response to user input about the XM3 and ear research.
Thanks to the matte finish on each earpiece, the headphones have a luxury feel, and the subtle accents surrounding the microphone and sensor holes add a slight pop of color. The XM4 is available in silver or black to talk about colors.
You’ll be relieved to learn that the XM4 is resistant to “splashing at any angle” because it has an IPX4 rating. Over the previous generation, this is a significant improvement.
The XM4 also features brand-new ear tips in addition to the updated earpieces. Sony claims they help ensure a tighter, more stable fit since they are made of polyurethane, which has the feel of a hybrid between silicone and foam. The tens of thousands of tiny bubbles in the tips will lessen and diffuse noise.
The only downside is that you only get a single set of small, medium, and large-sized tips to choose earbuds. According to Sony, one pair of tips should last years, and extra tips should be available for purchase if you ever run out.
We don’t have any significant problems sliding the earbuds in and twisting them into place. You can pinch the tips and insert them into your ear canal until they expand if you have trouble getting a seal. According to our research, they fit perfectly in your ear hole and are comfortable for extended listening sessions. You should be aware that Sony just developed the LinkBuds if you have a preference against eartips penetrating your ear canals. The even more recent LinkBuds S, which Sony claims are 41% smaller and 33% lighter than the XM4, are available for individuals with smaller ears or who don’t necessarily want an earful of the earbud.
Through its Headphones Connect app, Sony has added a new air-tightness test that you can use to make sure your headphones are the correct fit. The app sends a test tone and then informs you whether any tweaks are necessary. It’s worth a shot, mainly if you think the bass is lacking or outside noise is coming in.
When connecting the XM4, we advise installing the Headphones Connect app. You may choose which features and functions to enable and disable because it offers you direct access to all the major earbud features and functions. Additionally, it facilitates the setup process for playing music from compatible streaming services like Tidal and Deezer in Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format.
You may personalize each earpiece’s functionality by utilizing the Headphones Connect app on its touchpad-like outer circumference. Through the typical combination of taps, presses, and long holds, they can adjust volume and playback or switch between noise-cancelling and ambient sound modes, and the headphones react quickly to these inputs. It’s easy to switch between sound modes, adjust the volume, and activate and deactivate features like Quick Attention (which reduces the level so you can quickly hold a conversation without taking the earbuds out of your ears).
The Speak-to-Chat feature, which first appeared in the Sony WH-1000XM4 over-ear headphones, is borrowed by the Sony WF-1000XM4 (and has also carried over to their new successor, the WH-1000XM5). Talking activates this feature, which enables you to converse with someone while wearing headphones. It works fine, but, like the over-ears, it only activates a split second after you begin speaking.
This slight delay can be frustrating, as can the tendency for the feature to be triggered by a cough or an impromptu karaoke session while sitting at your desk. You can reduce the sensitivity of the quality, or you can turn it off entirely and either use Quick Attention or remove an earbud altogether.
On the inside of the XM4 is plenty of new technology. The earbuds feature an improved DAC and analog amplifier powered by a new Integrated Processor V1. Sony claims it provides a more precise sound and even better noise-cancelling than its predecessor. The new model also gets Sony’s DSEE Extreme audio processor with Edge-AI, which we have also experienced in the WH-1000XM4 and XM5 over-ear headphones, and is designed to upscale low-bitrate music files to near hi-res quality.
The 6mm driver inside the XM4 is similar in size to the one used in the previous model. Still, it’s made from new material and features a giant magnet, which Sony claims helps improve sound quality and noise-cancelling, especially with specific low frequencies.
There’s no aptX HD support onboard, but the XM4 support Sony’s LDAC format, which, streamed over Bluetooth from a compatible source, allows hi-res audio files up to 24-bit/96kHz to be transmitted at data rates of up to 990kbps.
Sony has also aimed to deliver more apparent call quality with new features, including beam-forming and a bone conduction sensor that stops the mics from picking up distracting ambient sounds while you’re talking. There’s even an automatic wind noise reduction mode that attempts to cut out swirls of noise passing through the headset and into your ears.
It uses Sony’s Precise Voice Pickup technology, first made available in the WH-1000XM4. Overall, the call quality is remarkable for a set of wireless earphones. The technologies work well together for the person on the other end of the line to reduce outside noise and interference.
The general noise-cancelling level is excellent, especially for a pair of wireless earbuds. Not everyone likes that ‘vacuum’ feeling when it’s turned on, but it’s highly effective through the Sonys, and you’ll struggle to find better noise cancellation at this level.
Android users will be pleased to hear the Sonys are compatible with Fast Pair so that you can get up and running with minimal fuss. You receive a battery notification pop-up on your smartphone when they power up, and you can even track their location down using the Google Find My Device app.
However, all you need to do to begin pairing is open the case and remove the headphones. Regrettably, iOS users don’t receive any of these connection benefits. Unfortunately, Sony left the “Multipoint” option active on the WH-1000XM4 over-ear headphones. If you’re working on a laptop but still want to be able to connect to your phone, being able to connect the headphones to two Bluetooth devices at once can be helpful. I’m crossing my fingers that I can add it later.
For most of our testing, we utilized an Apple iPhone 12 and a Macbook, and the connection is incredibly stable with no dropouts, even in more densely populated regions.
We should mention how the WF-1000XM4 headphones handle bass before discussing their remarkable musicality and expressive dynamics. Low frequencies provide exceptional clarity and bass quality. The display has such a remarkable level of detail that it makes competing headphones, like the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, seem crowded in comparison.
Massive Attack’s “Angel” is one of our favorite bass-heavy test tracks, so we’re interested to hear how the earbuds handle it. We’re blown away by the assurance with which the song is handled. That throbbing bassline’s every component is expertly placed and oozing with texture. The clarity around the notes grabs you – it allows the WF-1000XM4 to communicate intricacies in the bass notes that other headphones struggle to uncover.
But it’s not a sound that purely favors low frequencies. Overall, a feeling of rhythmic precision enables the Sony to change pace easily. They seem comfortable, keeping up with Radiohead’s 15 Step and avoiding getting caught up in it as they handle the slow, methodical swagger of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good.
Every aspect of Simone’s delivery is transparent to the listener thanks to her easy singing, which exudes refinement and sophistication. The Sony produces an enthralling sound that is impossible to resist when the piano, percussion, and wind section are combined with the intensity in her voice.
If you are wondering whether the WF-1000XM4 is a step up from the WF-1000XM3, we can confirm they are. The newer model sounds more informative and uncovers more subtle detail. Bass notes are better defined, and the overall sound is better balanced—even the much-admired Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 struggle to match the Sonys for tonality and refinement.
As we hear Ludovico Einaudi’s Experience, that finesse and genuine tone come through. The Sonys mingle distinct characteristics like the components of a delicious cocktail, bringing each personality to life, from the gentle, patient piano strokes at the song’s opening to the soaring strings at its finale.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 pretty takes us. Given all the design changes and new features in these wireless redmi earbuds, getting them right must have been a real challenge. But Sony has nailed it. The headphones deliver a satisfying user experience, class-leading battery life, some of the best noise-canceling we’ve heard in this category, and stunning sound quality. But, this is a new benchmark for premium true wireless earbuds.
- Sound 5
- Comfort 5
- Build 5