Sony has done it again. WF-1000XM4 are amazing pair of true wireless earbuds, easily beating all of their competition.
A long-awaited successor to the popular Sony WF-1000XM3 has arrived, and it doesn’t disappoint.
The new Sony WF-1000XM4 have a new, attractive design with sweat protection and similar features like a bigger WH-1000XM4 model.
Apart from excellent active noise cancellation and ambient sound mode, you now get a Speak-to-chat feature, DSEE HX Extreme audio processing, and support for high-quality LDAC Bluetooth codec.
Also, sound engineers tuned the earbuds to sound very balanced. There’s a peak in the upper treble to add some sparkle, but the overall presentation is still fairly neutral.
The Sony Headphones app offers tons of customization. However, Sony should improve some things like expanding touch controls customization and the gimmicky 360 Audio feature (more on that later).
There’s also a concern about the new hybrid ear tips. They sport a proprietary design, and so far, Sony isn’t selling replacements.
Still, the new Sony buds offer an attractive package. But are they worth $278 of your hard-earned money? See our review before making a purchase decision.
- Audiophile-grade sound quality
- Unique, sweatproof design
- Great battery life
- Excellent active noise cancellation and ambient mode
- Feature-rich app
- In-depth custom EQ
- Comfortable hybrid ear tips
- No official ear tip replacements
- Limited touch control customization
- Poor microphone performance in loud places
- Too bulky to fit smaller ears
How Have Sony WF-1000XM4 Evolved from the Previous Model?
The new model’s starting price ($279) is $50 higher than the starting price of the previous model ($230). While a new design and added features contribute to the higher price, the main reason is probably a current chip shortage.
XM4 model now supports Bluetooth 5.2 and LDAC codec, has an IPX4 water resistance rating, and carries a new V1 chip to boost active noise canceling and Bluetooth performance.
New earbuds are also lighter and more comfortable to wear. Previous Tri-Hold design received mixed user reports.
The battery is now even better at 12 hours per charge on XM4 than 8 hours on XM3 (noise cancelling turned off).
You can read more in the Sony WF-1000XM3 review.
What’s in the Box?
- Sony WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds
- Charging case
- USB-C charging cable
- 3 pairs of hybrid ear tips (S, M, L)
- User guide
- Trial code for 360 Audio
Comfort & Fit
Earbuds provide great comfort for short listening sessions and are stable enough to exercise. However, after 2 hours, you start noticing some pressure in your outer ear.
Sony ditched their Tri-Hold shape and opted for a more sleek, rounded design. It fits much better than the previous model.
That being said, earbuds are still somewhat bulky. Even more so than Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, which some find too big to fit.
Therefore, users with smaller ears might find them too painful for extended listening sessions.
In my case, I had no issues wearing them for a couple of hours straight, and I have medium-sized ears.
It’s important not to twist them upward too much. Simply push them inside, gently twist, and leave them in a comfortable position.
Thanks to their new ear tips, they’re unlikely to fall out. Sony WF-1000XM4 use proprietary hybrid ear tips. They’re of high quality and feel excellent in your ears.
They have a thin layer of memory foam on top of a silicone dome. By doing that, you get the best of both worlds: foam isolation and silicone durability.
Still, the foam will eventually tear, so buying replacement tips is inevitable.
However, even after 2 months after the official release, Sony still isn’t offering replacement ear tips, which is a bit concerning.
Earbuds are especially sensitive with ear tips, so using third-party ones can result in entirely different sound performance.
Right now, Comply is the only company selling proprietary replacement tips for Sony WF-1000XM4. However, those tips aren’t hybrid; they’re just foam.
Nevertheless, much like with Apple AirPods Pro, I’m sure ear tip manufacturers will start offering replacements soon.
Note: Sony advises to gently brush ear tips after every use. Do not use water or alcohol to clean earbuds.
Hybrid ear tips do an excellent job of keeping ambient noise out. Nothing should bother you when listening to music.
Foam ear tips are great for blocking outside noise since they contour your ear canal perfectly.
Sony’s tips provide excellent passive noise isolation. When playing music, you don’t hear anything around you.
If you’re using them outdoors, you have to be extra careful when crossing roads since you can’t hear passing cars.
Lower frequencies, like engine noises and hearing your blood flow, can still pass through, which is normal.
Is There a Wind Noise?
Surprisingly, wind noise is minimal and not distracting at all. Despite their bulkiness, it seems like Sony made WF-1000XM4 a bit more aerodynamic.
The powerful noise-canceling performance is on par with the competition. ANC earbuds completely block low-end and most high frequencies, but not to the same extent as full-sized headphones.
For WF-1000XM4, Sony uses a new V1 integrated processor that handles both Bluetooth connectivity and active noise cancellation.
It does its job very well, reducing a large chunk of a frequency spectrum. Constant droning sounds are gone entirely, with some higher frequencies still remaining.
They share similar noise-cancelling performance as Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 and Apple AirPods Pro. While that is great, I expected a bit more, especially after the hype.
New earbuds also have Wind Mode, which supposedly reduces wind noise when using ANC. The difference is minimal but helpful when using active noise cancelling outdoors.
Sony’s ambient mode is as impressive as ever. It’s again on par with Sennheiser earbuds but can make human speech slightly clearer.
Still, if you’re looking for high-end wireless earbuds to block annoying sounds or amplify them, you can’t go wrong with Sony WF-1000XM4.
The addition of the LDAC codec is excellent, but the Bluetooth range is only average, with no support for multipoint nor mono mode.
Sony WF-1000XM4 uses the latest Bluetooth 5.2. The stability is good, with no random stutters. However, the range is only average.
Earbuds start losing connection stability after passing the second brick wall. The results are similar whether you pick Sound Quality Priority or Connection Priority inside the app.
At least the pairing process with the Google Fast Pair service is effortless. First, you connect them to your smartphone and later to the Sony’s Headphones app.
Strangely, WF-1000XM4 don’t support mono mode on both sides. You can only use the right earbud for mono.
It seems like Sony’s buds work similarly to the Sennheiser model, where the right earbud connects to a smartphone and beams audio to the left earbud.
Unfortunately, no. You can’t connect them to 2 devices at once.
Rumors have it that Sony might implement the feature in a future update.
What Bluetooth Codecs do They Use?
Earbuds use standard SBC and more Apple-friendly AAC.
Android users will love the inclusion of an LDAC, Sony’s house audio codec, for high-quality audio streaming.
To enable it, you have to go into the Bluetooth menu and go into Sony WF-1000XM4 settings. In there, enable LDAC. Otherwise, earbuds will use AAC.
Check the Headphones Connect app to see which Bluetooth codec is currently in use.
Is There an Audio Delay?
Audio is in sync on both Android and iOS devices. Even playing mobile games doesn’t show much of a delay.
An improved battery can last up to eight hours with ANC (7 hours and 25 minutes in our test) and 12 hours without noise cancelling, which is an above-average result. The charging case also supports wireless charging.
Earbuds can endure up to 12 hours of battery life per charge. You get another 24 hours inside the charging case.
Enabling noise canceling does reduce the playtime down to “only” 7.5 hours on a single charge. That’s still great battery life and more than enough for a long trip.
The charging case also supports fast charging, providing:
- 1 hour of music listening in a 5-minute charge.
This time around, you get an IPX4 rating on the earbuds, making them fully sweatproof. They also feel well-made, while the case seems a bit hollow and cheap.
Last year’s model had no water resistance whatsoever. Thankfully, the WF-1000XM4 can now deflect sweat and light splashes of water.
Accompanied with excellent stability and punchy bass (if you boost it in the app), they’re also a lovely gym companion.
Earbud’s housing is made of matte plastic and feels dense. They look luxurious and pretty durable.
I accidentally dropped them on the wooden floor from a couple of feet, and it left no marks at all.
The charging case also feels pleasant to touch and shares a similar matte finish. However, the lid seems cheap and unfitting for a premium product.
Tolerances are a bit loose, and the lid wiggles slightly, which doesn’t feel reassuring. The quality of the case is nowhere near the one from Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2.
On the other hand, the case is at least relatively small and should fit in any pocket.
Sony WF-1000XM4 have tons of handy features. Some are excellent, whereas some are a gimmick.
To justify their hefty price, Sony’s packed their earbuds with lots of features. It takes quite some time to experience all of them.
Apart from active noise cancellation, ambient mode, and modes for prioritizing sound over the connection, you also find things like Speak-to-chat.
The latter pauses music playback when earbuds detect your voice.
While its first implementation in the WH-1000XM4 model was terrible, Sony now added a few more settings. Now you can select how sensitive the microphones are and how long it takes to resume the playback.
To experience 360 Audio’s full potential, you have to use a dedicated music app (in my case, Deezer 360).
However, this feature is mostly a gimmick. Songs either sound the same as their stereo versions. Or, in the case of “Cover Me with Sunshine” by P!nk & Willow Sage Hart, can even perform worse than the original.
Headphones app can also check if you got a proper fit, offers customizable EQ and custom controls.
The latter is a bit annoying since it doesn’t provide complete control over what commands you want to select.
The UI is similar to JBL’s companion app; you can only pick one group of commands for each earbud.
For example, you can only have noise canceling and ambient mode commands on the left and playback commands on the right.
In contrast, Sennheiser’s or Jaybird’s app lets you fully customize individual touch-sensitive controls, whereas Sony will leave double-tap and triple tap options empty for some unknown reason.
Hopefully, they will address this in future software updates.
Note: Firmware updates can take up to one hour to finish, so initiate them only when you aren’t using the earbuds.
Call quality in a quiet room is great. Beamforming microphones pick up your voice with good clarity. The person on the other side should have no problem understanding you.
On the flip side, adding some more ambient noise worsens the performance significantly. While mids successfully reduce background noise, your voice becomes robotic and muffled, as if you’re drowning.
Therefore, only use them for phone calls in a quiet environment.
The WF-1000XM4 are so far the best sounding true wireless earbuds you can buy. While their sound profile is already excellent by default, a few EQ tweaks make them sound even better.
Learn how we make and how to understand sound comparisons.
Many premium earbuds tend to shower you with features but ultimately forget about sound quality.
Thankfully, Sony made sure to tune their WF-1000XM4 as best as possible.
The result is a smooth yet dynamic sound with punchy bass and good detail retrieval.
By default, the bass is slightly boosted for a few dB.
It’s punchy and controlled and can easily handle even more demanding tracks, such as the brutal “Duende” by Bozzio Levin Stevens with strong bass guitar notes.
The bass has a nice extension into the sub-bass, producing a pleasant rumble.
Bass boost does extend slightly into the lower mids, which makes it warm. Otherwise, the midrange is well-balanced, without any sibilance or harshness.
Regardless of the music genre, instruments and vocals sound natural and enjoyable.
Earbuds can also sound quite dynamic, transitioning nicely from quiet to loud parts. Drums can also sound very impactful, especially snare.
There’s a noticeable boost in the upper treble, which can sound slightly out of place compared to balanced midrange.
Thankfully, 6mm dynamic drivers are of good quality and can portray a lot of details. Cymbal crashes sound crisp and airy, just how they should.
For earbud standards, the soundstage is big but not the biggest. You can hear instruments slightly out of your head, which makes for a pleasant listening experience.
Imaging could be more accurate in between the center and left/right channels. Still, masterfully produced tracks like “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits (drumming section at the beginning) sound amazing.
Of course, if you want Sony WF-1000XM4 to truly shine, you have to play a bit with EQ.
You can make them sound almost perfectly neutral, albeit at the cost of some dynamics (enabling EQ presets can hurt overall dynamics).
DSEE HX Extreme feature is there to increase the fidelity of low-quality music files. It essentially boosts the treble slightly and makes it more sparkly.
If you’re rocking FLAC/ALAC or stream HiFi quality music, keep the feature off.
Should You Get Sony WF-1000XM4?
High-end products are all about a complete package with all the bells and whistles, and Sony WF-1000XM4 noise-canceling earbuds are very close to that.
They’re the best wireless earbuds for travelers and commuters that want both convenience and high-quality sound in a small form factor.
Even gym-goers might find them useful thanks to sweat resistance and long-lasting battery life.
Sure, there are problems like control customization, mic quality issues, and the current unavailability of ear tip replacements.
However, Sony can resolve all of those things in the future.
Overall, Sony WF-1000XM4 deserve our recommendation for the best true wireless earbuds on the market (August 2021).
How Sony WF-1000XM4 compare to the competition?
They offer similar value as their close competitors. While they’re currently the most expensive at $278 (Sennheiser MTW2 are $231, and Apple AirPods Pro are $250), they’re also the newest.
The WF-1000XM4 strength is sound quality. They have the most customizable equalizer by far, offer high technical performance, and sound close to neutral.
Feature-wise, Sony’s also offer a bit more. Although, many of those extra features prove to be a gimmick that you’ll probably never use.
They’re also strong on battery life, providing around 12 hours per charge. Competition can only do between 5-7 hours.
Active noise cancellation performance is on par with other wireless earbuds. Apple AirPods Pro can cancel noise slightly better, although there’s no night and day difference.
Sony WF-1000XM4 Alternatives
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
Both have similarly performing noise-canceling tech and ambient mode and sport an IPX4 rating.
Sennheiser’s are slightly less bulky and fit more comfortably, although their design isn’t as attractive.
On the other hand, Sony’s have new memory foam tips that fit more securely and block more ambient sounds.
Momentum’s don’t have as many features, but they have superior control customizer. In contrast, Sony’s have more in-depth custom EQ.
Both earbuds sound refined and are pretty detailed. Out of the box, Sennheiser have a noticeable V-shape, whereas Sony’s are more balanced.
Apple AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro offer far better comfort due to their lightweight design but don’t feel as secure due to shallow fit.
Their ANC is ever so slightly better than Sony’s, but you’ll hardly tell the difference in real-world situations.
They have a more stable Bluetooth connection and provide seamless multipoint support on Apple devices.
Apple AirPods Pro also offer many features, but some of them only work on Apple devices.
Durability is the same, although WF-1000XM4 have a more rigid construction. Both charging cases feel a bit cheap.
The battery life is noticeably worse on Apple’s earbuds, with only 5 hours on a single charge compared to 12 hours on XM4.
Sound signature is somewhat similar on both, but Sony’s are technically superior and more customizable.
|Frequency range:||20-20.000Hz (20-40.000Hz with LDAC)|
|Weight:||14g both buds, 41g with case|
|Mic & Controls:||Yes|
|Battery life:||8h + 16h in case (with ANC)|
|Charging time:||1.5h + quick charge – USB-C & Qi wireless charging|
|Active noise cancelling:||Yes|
|Bluetooth codecs:||SBC, AAC, LDAC|
|Wireless range:||33ft (10m)|