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- Sony’s WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds come highly recommended.
- Their sound quality and noise cancellation are second to none, and they have long battery life.
- At $280, they’re premium wireless earbuds designed for discerning listeners who can afford them.
If their $280 price tag didn’t already suggest as much, Sony’s WF-1000XM4 are a high-end pair of wireless earbuds. Indeed, they’re even more expensive than Apple’s $250 AirPods Pro. At this price, the WF-1000XM4 are geared toward buyers who are willing to pay a premium for excellent sound quality and functionality.
In exchange for your wallet’s depletion, you get class-leading noise cancellation, water resistance, a wireless charging case, 24 hours of total battery life, good phone call quality in noisy places, comfortable ear tips, and phenomenal audio quality.
They aren’t perfect, though. In particular, they’re missing the
Multipoint feature that lets you connect the buds to two devices at the same time, like a laptop and a phone. But, if you can afford them, the WF-1000XM4 are easily the best wireless earbuds in their price range.
Design and comfort
The WF-1000XM4 have a sleek and modern design available in black and Sony’s take on the color silver, which looks more like a beige. They’re not the most compact wireless earbuds we’ve tried, but they’re discreet enough that they don’t stick out of your ears.
The wireless charging case is fairly standard in size and function. It features a
port on the back, and the wireless charging surface is located on the bottom.
You get three earbud tips in different sizes, including small, medium, and large. The WF-1000XM4’s eartips are made of a polyurethane foam rather than the usual soft silicone tips we typically see in earbuds. Sony says the foam helps isolate noise and “improves adhesion to the ear canal” by maximizing the surface contact area between the tip and your ear canal. I’m inclined to agree; due to their ear-plug style and foam tips, the WF-1000XM4 stay in my ears more securely than most earbuds I’ve tried.
Still, while the foam tips might be great for a secure fit, I wonder how long they’ll last after some wear and tear, as foam doesn’t seem as durable as silicone tips. That said, we haven’t faced any issues yet.
It’s also worth considering whether you prefer lighter fitting tips like those found on the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds or AirPods Pro. Those don’t fit as securely as the XM4’s ear-plug style, but they are more comfortable.
Something else to note — the Sony Headphones app measures whether the tip size you’re using makes a good seal in your ears, but I found that feature to be inaccurate. The app said the medium size tips created a good seal, but noise-cancelling performance was better with the larger size.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 are at the top of their class here, and their sound quality is unbeatable for wireless earbuds. Sound is clear, rich, and extraordinarily well balanced for all sorts of music out of the box. That’s to say they don’t have a flat studio sound — instead, they offer a pleasing balance of bass, mids, and highs that delivers for both softer and exciting music.
To be sure, the way sound actually sounds is subjective — some like more bass while others look for less, among other preferences. With that in mind, you may not actually like the way the WF-1000XM4 sound out of the box. If that’s the case, you can use the EQ settings in the Sony Headphones app to further shape the sound profile to your liking. This makes the WF-1000XM4 versatile for listeners with different tastes.
To test the WF-1000XM4, I listened to several tracks in a wide variety of genres, including classical, jazz, flamenco, reggae, rock/metal, and electronic.
I tested noise cancellation under a bridge where a major highway ran above me. The average decibel level with the highway’s traffic was around 75, and when cars drove by, the decibel level would jump to 88.
Noise cancellation is excellent on the WF-1000XM4, and they’re certainly among the top performing noise-cancelling earbuds we’ve tried. They easily handle lower frequency rumbles and do away with a surprising amount of higher frequency noise, too.
It’s a tough call between the WF-1000XM4 and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, as both are comparable. Without a doubt, the WF-1000XM4 will make any commute or location quieter and significantly more comfortable. Plus, noise-cancelling technology in general lets you hear music better at lower volumes, which reduces the risk of hearing loss over time.
Battery life is rated by Sony at eight hours on the buds themselves with ANC, which is class-leading. Combined with the 16 hours of charge in the case, you get 24 hours total. With noise cancellation off, Sony says you can get up to 12 hours with just the buds. And for phone calls, the company says you can get five and a half hours of talk time. A five-minute charge delivers an hour’s worth of listening time, the company claims.
We’re still figuring out the best way to test these claims, but so far, I have no reason to believe that Sony’s numbers are off.
Sony improved the tech for phone calls in the WF-1000XM4 with bone conduction and beamforming technology to better pick up your voice.
I tested phone calls under the same highway bridge where I tested noise cancellation. I called someone to see whether they could hear me comfortably among all the traffic noise. The person I called could easily hear me without noticing any ambient noise, but cars whooshing by were still audible to the callee. She was able to hear and understand me, but said that it could be problematic in a busy city, where cars are constantly driving past pedestrians.
The WF-1000XM4 also work great for video calls, which is worth noting since Apple’s AirPods Pro are notoriously bad for video calls.
App and other features
The Sony Headphones app is comprehensive, but it could do with a cleanup to make it easier to use. Odd language like “Suppresses headphone battery consumption” when you turn off noise-cancelling could be reworded to “Saves battery life” to make the feature easier to understand.
Otherwise, the WF-1000XM4 have ample features. I was dubious about “Speak to Chat” in my Sony WH-1000XM4 review, but I’ve grown to like the feature. It automatically turns on Ambient Sound mode to amplify ambient noise when the earbuds detect that you’re talking. It’s a great feature if you’re in the zone listening to music with noise-cancelling enabled, and someone is trying to get your attention. Just saying “what’s up” (or anything else) lets you hear what the person is saying. Once you’re done speaking, the earbuds return to whatever setting you had.
You’ll also find the equalizer in the app, which, while a little involved, is truly excellent. The WF-1000XM4 have a malleable sound and are eager to please. You also get options for giving priority to sound quality or a stable wireless connection, but I’ve never felt the need to enable the latter. You can also enable or disable Sony’s DSEE Extreme feature that upscales compressed music (most music you stream, unless it’s from high fidelity services like Tidal). More often than not, it’s hard to tell if it makes a difference. I usually leave these kinds of upscaling features off to prevent additional processing.
Sony boasted improved wind noise reduction with the WF-1000XM4, but this feature is in dire need of tweaking. It does seem to work, but it also seems to reduce or disable regular noise cancellation, which lets in ambient noise. You’re basically replacing one evil with another. Plus, you need to enable the wind reduction mode in the app, and there’s no way to enable it by tapping the touch sensors on the buds.
And finally, there’s Sony’s 360 Reality Audio. It supposedly delivers surround sound, but it only works with an utterly limited number of apps, including Deezer, Artist Connection, nugs.net, and Tidal. This feature shouldn’t be a consideration when you’re thinking about buying the WF-1000XM4.
Outside of the app, the WF-1000XM4 have an IPX4 water-resistance rating, making them a suitable option if you want wireless earbuds for working out, or anticipate using them outdoors when there’s a chance of rain.
Unfortunately, the WF-1000XM4 don’t offer Bluetooth Multipoint. This feature lets you connect to two devices simultaneously, and there were times during my testing when I wished it was included.
I found myself watching a video on my laptop with the WF-1000XM4 and getting a call on my phone, but I couldn’t use the earbuds for the call because they were only connected to my laptop. You can switch the connection to another device fairly easily, but not quickly enough for unexpected events like a phone call.
To be fair, most wireless earbuds don’t have this functionality, save for Apple’s AirPods that easily switch between other Apple devices, and Jabra’s Elite 75T and 85T wireless earbuds. If that kind of functionality is important to you in noise-cancelling headphones, your best bet will be one of those aforementioned earbuds, or full-size headphones, like Sony’s excellent WH-1000XM4 or the Bose 700.
If sound quality and noise cancellation are important to you, and $280 is within your budget, you should absolutely buy the Sony WF-1000XM4.
If you know you don’t like ear-plug style earbuds, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds are nearly identical in performance, and they have a lighter fit. Just note, they’re not water resistant.
Otherwise, for about $100 less than the Sony WF-1000XM4, the Jabra Elite 85T come highly recommended, and they include Bluetooth Multipoint tech for connecting to multiple devices, too.
Pros: Excellent sound quality, impressive noise cancellation, long battery life, wireless charging case, comfortable fit, water resistance, versatile and malleable sound for personal preference
Cons: Can’t connect to more than one device at a time (Bluetooth Multipoint), pricey