Sony’s latest true wireless earbuds are available and, spoiler alert, the WF-1000XM4 are its best yet.
But the WF-1000XM3 are still available and much cheaper, so there’s still a case to be made for choosing either one, depending on your budget and requirements.
So, which of the Sony WF-1000XM4 vs WF-1000XM3 should you get?
Price and availability
The WF-1000XM3 were released in 2019 for £220. The price has been dropping since mid-2020 to its current level of £170, but if you look around you can find them even cheaper.
The WF-1000XM4 are, of course, much newer and therefore command a higher price. The XM4 are more expensive that the XM3 ever were at launch – priced at £250.
Arguably the increase in price is fair, given the added features and performance the XM4 offer over the previous model. If you wanted one of the best noise cancelling earbuds without having to pay over £200, the WF-1000XM3 are certainly worth consideration if you have a smaller budget to play with.
What’s the difference between the Sony WF-1000XM4 vs WF-1000XM3’s design?
The WF-1000XM4 take on a more traditional earbud look than previous earbuds compared to the more angular and protruding look of the XM3.
The shape is more ergonomic, they bulge out less than the XM3 did and they’re 10% more compact. 10% might not sound like much, but the new Sony earbuds settle into the ear better than older models.
They’re also more comfortable to wear, though we will say that comfort is likely to be a specific case for each individual. Comparatively, the WF-1000XM4 held firm in our ears better than the XM3 (which always required a few pushes to keep them in), and didn’t produce the oily feel the WF-1000XM3 could do on occasion.
Part of this is down to the new polyurethane ear-tips that mould themselves to your ear canal for a tighter fit. While the XM4s do support other ear-tips, these new tips are made specially to aid the XM4’s noise isolation. The other improvement is in terms of the shape, which is smaller and better fits the contours of an ear.
The charging case has been reduced in size, making it much more pocketable than before without sacrificing any battery life (which we’ll get to later).
And in terms of look, the WF-1000XM4 are quite stylish with their gold accents. They’re not quite as distinctive as previous models, but what they lose in that regard they gain a lot more in terms of fit and comfort.
What’s the difference with features?
The core feature set remains the same between the two earbuds, but Sony has added a number of new features that only work with the latest model.
That includes the ear-tip sizing test. Available in the Sony Headphones companion app, it plays a sound to measures how tight the seal is between the earbuds and your ear. If it’s airtight, you’ll see two ticks and you can be confident that the noise cancellation will be working at its most optimum.
Other new tricks include being able to configure the headphones to cycle through noise cancellation, ambient mode and off (which you couldn’t customise before), LDAC support (for higher quality streaming over Bluetooth) if you’ve got an Android phone, and voice assistant support by using a wake word (the XM4 features native support for Google Assistant and Alexa).
Other new features include Speak to Chat, which pauses music when you start speaking; and IPX4 resistance, which means that the XM4 can withstand some water or rain (the WF-1000XM3 had no water resistance).
Noise cancellation is improved thanks to the new noise isolating ear-tips, but also from the more precise performance of the V1 processor chip, which suppresses more sounds more assertively (though the XM3s are still pretty good).
Battery life has been improved over the older model from 6 hours to 8. While the battery life with noise cancelling remains hits parity at 24-hours, the WF-1000XM4 stretch their legs in the overall battery terms (noise cancelling off), with 36 hours compared to the XM3’s 32.
Given that it achieves that number from a case that’s 40% smaller, that’s quite an impressive figure. You don’t lose any battery life over the previous model, and you gain some more hours, too.
Other features the WF-1000XM4 boast over the older model include Android Fast Pair and the Find My feature, so if you lose the earbuds, you can track where you last left them.
Much like the design aspect of these two earbuds, the WF-1000XM4 are clear winners. There’s an abundance of new features, improved noise cancellation and better battery life.
Is there any difference in the sound?
In terms of sound quality, it’s not a case of huge improvements – the WF-1000XM3 have a fantastic foundation, but the new model offer more refinement, nuance and engagement with music.
The tone and character of the two earbuds are similar – you can tell they’re from the same family – and like the WF-1000XM3, the new earbuds are versatile in terms of relaying any musical genre you like. From old classics to folk music or drum and bass, the XM4 earbuds are wonderfully eloquent.
The XM4 eke out more dynamism, both in broader terms and with voices, where the XM3 come across as a tad heavy-handed. They also have a surer sense of bass handling, more focus and better organisation.
Detail is conveyed better, too, and while both have a natural sense of how voices and instruments sound, the WF-1000XM4 take it to another level. The sound is a finer, subtler and all round more brilliant performance.
The improvement is helped by the support of LDAC, which helps the WF-1000XM4 deal with higher quality streams in a better fashion than its predecessor could. There’s also the presence of the DSEE Extreme feature (over the XM3’s DSEE HX) that can upscale tracks to near high-res quality, as well as the new V1 processor that delivers a clearer sound over a wider frequency and the new drive unit that boosts sound across the frequency range.
While the two earbuds share similar characteristics, the Sony WF-1000XM4’s audio performance is a case of small improvements adding up to bigger gains and a much more impressive sound.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 are not just one of the best earbuds currently available, but one of the best earbuds the headphone market has seen (and heard) yet. There’s a feeling that these earbuds fulfil the promise of wireless convenience, combining that with excellent sound and a wide-range of features.
Of course, they are pricier than the WF-1000XM3, but if you can afford it we’d certainly recommend going for the XM4. There’s more features to be gained with an Android smartphone over an iPhone, but they sound great on iOS devices, too.
The Sony WF-1000XM3 are no slouches though, and are still better than the majority of true wireless earbuds. We can’t see beyond the WF-1000XM4 as our new favourite pair, and if you can’t afford them, it may be worth waiting for the price to drop. They are that good.