Sony find more improvements with their premium true wireless in the WF-1000XM4. It’s better in terms of and comfort; the feature set is extensive, the noise cancellation is impressive, and they sound fantastic.
- Impressively rich sound
- Excellent noise cancellation
- Compact design
- IPX4 rating
- Comprehensive feature set
- Beaten by Bose for noise cancellation
- More expensive than before
- Call quality suffers in noisy areas
- UKRRP: £250
- EuropeRRP: €280
- CanadaRRP: CA$399
- AustraliaRRP: AU$499
- V1 processorNew processing chip for noise cancellation
- LDAC supportOffers support for higher quality audio
- New look designSmaller earbuds and smaller charging case
- Battery life8 hours battery life per earbud
The true wireless market sprung into life in 2016, and arguably no-brand has channelled its potential as much as Sony.
Sony’s first effort arrived with the WF-1000X in 2017, which divorced themselves from the safety-first approach of first-gen efforts and placed sound quality at the forefront. The WF-1000XM3 came two years later and at time where true wireless was beginning to fulfil more of its potential.
The WF-1000XM4’s entry marks a moment where the true wireless market is booming, earphones pushing against their full-sized counterparts for features, and sound reaching ever higher levels of quality.
The WF-1000XM4 are Sony’s best true wireless pair yet, but given the increase in competition and quality – are they the best true wireless earbuds?
- Improved fit
- More compact design
- Smaller, more convenient case
Aesthetically, the WF-1000XM4 have undergone a big change from the WF-1000XM3; they’re more compact – 10% less volume – and the result is the earbuds sit within the ear than bulge out. The more ergonomic shape fits the contours of the ear better, making the XM4 feel more stable than the XM3.
Once the right position has been found, they stay planted. Would I recommend them for workouts? I’ve not taken them for a run, but potentially yes, the IPX4 rating protects them against some sweat and rain, and unlike their predecessor these earbuds don’t require pushes after the fact to keep them seated.
I find there is a settling in period though but once that passes, they feel fine. If anything, the longer I wore them, the more comfortable they became.
The fit is helped by Sony’s new polyurethane noise isolation ear-tips. With small and large options alongside default medium, the ear-tips feature little bubbles that dissipate noise, and mould themselves to the contours of the ear for a tighter fit.
You could source other ear-tips, but Sony says that could affect the strength of noise isolating design. You can swap sizes for each ear (they’re colour coded) for a better fit.
The matte black (or platinum silver) finish is not as alluring as previous models, though the gold accents, especially on the external microphone, do make them distinctive. I do like what Sony has done with the ‘feel’ of the touch control area. The rubbery aspect provides a tactile sense of interaction, and like the PI7, the effect is subtle but enhances the connection between you and earbuds.
The controls are responsive, with a range of options that includes activating noise cancelling/ambient sound/Quick Attention, playback (a combination of taps for play/pause, skipping and a long press for voice assistance), and volume control.
Which function is assigned to which earbud can be configured in the Headphones app. You must choose between the three options (one for each side), which means you will have to fish your smartphone got one of those actions – a slight inconvenience.
The charging case has been reduced in size and is all the better for it. Where previous cases were chunky, the WF-1000XM4’s case is petite and pocketable, making them more convenient for transport. The packaging for the earbuds has also been revamped; reduced in size and made from sustainable sources.
- More efficient V1 processor
- Improved battery life
- Feature list matches WH-1000XM4
The XM4 siblings no longer share a processor between them like the XM3s did, the WF-1000XM4 featuring Sony’s V1 processor. It integrates noise cancelling processing and Bluetooth SoC (System on Chip), producing efficiencies across the feature set.
One impact is battery life efficiency. With noise cancelling on, the number quoted matches the XM3 – 24 – but the charging case is smaller (40% less volume), so XM4s offer the same amount of stamina from a smaller case.
Otherwise, the WF-1000XM4 pack more hours per charge – from 6 to 8, and with noise cancelling off, battery life is quoted at 12 hours. With three charges supplied by the case, max battery life is 36 hours, four better than WF-1000XM3.
Noise cancellation is an improvement on previous earbuds, the WF-1000XM4 stifles sounds with more skill. Though Sony claims the XM4’s noise cancellation is industry leading – I wouldn’t agree. To my ears, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds suppress more effectively.
The Ambient Mode filters audio through as if you’re not wearing them at all. It’s very clear sounding and offers a great situational awareness. If ‘traditional’ earphones that plug the ear aren’t really your speed and you want awareness of your surroundings, Sony’s LinkBuds are an convenient alternative to the XM4.
Sony’s Headphone app can measure how air-tight the seal is by playing a series of sounds. My left ear always seemed to be a problem, but then that’s the point – it’s good to know where you can tweak things for the best performance.
The app offers a big range of customisable features, including Ambient Sound Control that enables toggling between noise cancelling, ambient mode or Off. You can fiddle with the EQ settings, enable the Adaptive Sound Control so the headphones recognise frequent haunts and adapts noise cancelling on the fly among many more customisations. It’s a very comprehensive app.
Other features include Speak to Chat, which a) quickly detects when you’re talking and pauses music and b) works smoothly. Quick Attention Mode achieves a similar effect but nudges the volume down with music still playing. Wear detection stops and restarts music when the earbuds are taken out, and Alexa and Google voice assistants can be activated through a wake word.
Fast pairing with Android devices makes for a quick and easy connection out of the case. The Sony WF-1000XM4 also supports the ‘Find My’ feature in case they go missing, so you can ring them or view their last known location.
Another area Sony says they’ve improved is call quality. The XM4’s microphones and sensors – including that gold ‘chimney’ – are designed to pick up voices through beamforming and bone conduction.
On a busy main road, the person on the other end said it was hard to make out my voice from the background noise. A move to a quieter road and my voice came through with clarity, suggesting the WF-1000XM4 are still sensitive to background noise in very noisy areas.
Bluetooth is the 5.2, and codec support runs from SBC, AAC and LDAC – LDAC allows higher quality music to be funnelled through, and with the DSEE Extreme toggled on, Sony alleges the XM4 upscale lower quality streams to near high-res quality.
Where wireless connectivity is concerned, the V1 processor efficiency purports to invoke a more stable connection and fewer audio skips. I only encountered a few minor blips during testing, and in the months since launch there have been no dropouts or sketchy connections.
- Musical, natural, balanced presentation
- Versatile performance
Each premium true wireless Sony has put out have often become one of the finer-sounding offerings of their generations and it’s not different with the latest model. The WF-1000XM4 are the finest-sounding earbuds I’ve heard yet.
Like the WF-1000XM3, they’re a versatile performer that can relay any musical genre you like. From Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice, to Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain or Rage Against the Machine’s Bulls on Parade, they are wonderfully eloquent.
Instruments have a natural timbre and quality to them – a great sense of fidelity – to the point where it sounds like you’re among the orchestra itself. Forget spatial sound with Dolby Atmos or Sony’s 360 Reality Audio (supported here too), the WF-1000XM4 immerse on the strength of their presentation.
They’re energetic when required and subtle when called for. The mid-range is excellent, while high frequency notes are sharply rendered and bracingly clear in a track like Gogo Penguin’s Raven. Bass is big, taut, punchy, the Sony adept at conveying all types of low frequencies.
Tonal balance is impressively naturalistic – everything sounds as it should. The energy and bombast of Rob Zombie’s Dragula pulled me in right into the track (and whatever Zombie is saying) right from the off; even Maroon 5’s This Love had me bopping my head in a Sainsbury’s superstore.
Compared to the B&W PI7 and there’s a more marked sense of dynamism, flow and width to the WF-1000XM4’s approach, with voices described with much more emotion than other true wireless earphones I’ve listened to. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds’ take on Regina Spektor’s As My Guitar Gently Weeps cover is clear but rather flat, an approach that contrasts with the Sony’s richer sense of expression, her voice pulled forward and filling out the soundstage.
Their character and tone of their sound is not dissimilar to the WF-1000XM3, which still stand up even in 2022; but the XM4 eke out more dynamism where the XM3 sound a tad heavy-handed. There’s a surer sense of bass handling, more focus and better organisation. I could sum up the difference as crashing cymbals have ‘tsk’ sound on the XM4 rather than the XM3’s ‘tch’. It’s a finer and subtler performance.
Should you buy it?
Because you want the best-sounding earbuds These earbuds present music as it is, rich, inviting and musical
Because there are better ANC earbuds I’m not quite sure whether the ANC is better than Bose, but it’s certainly an improvement on before and of excellent quality, too
While I have a few quibbles about whether the Sony WF-1000XM4 offers ‘industry leading’ noise cancellation, the XM4 are – in my mind – the finest-sounding wireless earbuds yet. Nothing else – and there have been some terrific efforts – come as close to the WF-1000XM4’s sense of refinement, musicality and drama.
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Tested for a week
Tested with real world use
Tested with range of audio files and streaming services
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No, the WF-1000XM4 does not support any wing-tips.
Yes. Support for LDAC allows the headphones to receive bitrates up 990kbps for higher fidelity audio.
In terms of the earbuds, the battery life is 8 hours with noise cancelling on/12 with it off. Including the case, there’s 24 hour of battery with ANC switched on or 36 without it.