One minute review
The latest in Sony’s hugely successful WF-1000 line of true wireless earbuds, it’s smaller, lighter, and greener than ever – oh, and the Sony WF-1000XM4 sounds even more articulate and immediate than the model it is on replace the top of the row.
It is true to say that there is no area (other than Control-App Excellence) in which they are truly leaders; But if you want to beat them for their combination of sound quality, noise cancellation, and battery life, you have to buy three pairs of true wireless earbuds.
In all respects, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are either “very good” or “actually very good” – and taken as a whole, they are very difficult to wear.
Compared to their predecessors, the Sony WF-1000XM3, the new wireless earbuds offer enough quality of life to be worth an upgrade, even if they are a bit more expensive.
A more compact design means the Sony WF-1000XM4 is more convenient and easy to carry, while the accompanying app makes it easy to customize the controls and your EQ settings.
The over-ear Sony WH-1000XM4’s features, including speak-to-chat, DSEE Extreme audio upscaling, and adaptive noise cancellation, make it hard for you to find a more complete pair of wireless earbuds.
While other true wireless earbuds outperform the Sony WF-1000XM4 in certain areas – for example in terms of noise cancellation – no other model offers anywhere near as good quality across the board. Because of this, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are hands down the best true wireless earbuds that you can buy today.
Sony WF-1000XM4 price and release date
- Available now for $ 279.99 / £ 250 / AU $ 499.95
The Sony WF-1000XM4 is available now priced at $ 279.99 / £ 250 / AU $ 499.95, and considering the outgoing WF-1000XM3 is available in 2019 for a nominal value of $ 230 / £ 220 / AU $ 399 $ was launched, with the last couple of last pairs currently priced at around $ 170 / £ 150 / AU $ 190, that price seems fair – it’s pretty compared to alternative designs from Bose, Grado, and Sennheiser cheap and looks a bit of a bargain (and dizzying prices) next to the standout Bowers & Wilkins PI7.
Design and control
- Smaller than its predecessor
- Excellent control app
- Touch controls
The outgoing WF-1000XM3 gave us plenty of reasons to recommend it, but “discretion” wasn’t high on that list. The earbuds were big, and their charging case was big, and Sony wisely chose to cut some of that volume down in the messaging model.
The charging case is 40% smaller, while the earbuds themselves are 10% smaller. The fact that they are still among the sturdier specimens of their kind only illustrates how big the WF-1000XM3 were – but at least the new charging case could slip into a trouser pocket while the earphones don’t protrude from the wearer’s head like a prop in a Science Fiction film.
(Sony has also removed a large part of the packaging. The box the WF-1000XM4 arrives in is 40% smaller than the WF-1000XM3 box, and it’s entirely paper-based, recyclable, and environmentally friendly.)
The WF-1000XM4 includes some of the same features that were first introduced at last year’s WH-1000XM4 Over-Ears: active noise cancellation that can determine what you are doing and where you are doing it to suit your circumstances; fast pairing for Android and Windows devices; and “Talk to Chat” where all you have to do is make a sound to pause your music so you can have a quick chat without removing your earbuds. Noise cancellation is improved with new polyurethane earbuds (small, medium and large are all included) that offer improved passive noise cancellation.
Your one-stop-shop for controlling the WF-1000XM4 is the fully functional, fully stable headphone app from Sony. Here you can experiment with all the features (both large and small) that are partially present on the capacitive touch surface of each earbud. In the app you can decide what the left and right earbuds should control: “Volume up / down”, “Play / pause / jump forward / jump backward / call up voice assistant”, “Active noise cancellation on / off / adaptive” or that rather less helpful ‘nothing assigned’.
There are also EQ adjustments (the many presets include one with the racy title “Excited”) with space for a custom preset or two and the ability to toggle Auto-Pause and DSEE Extreme on or off. This is also where you can submit pictures of your ears to help Sony tweak the music streaming apps that 360 Reality Audio or Dolby Atmos offer and where to decide whether your Bluetooth connection will prioritize sound quality should or connection stability.
It is also controlled via the three large voice assistants – Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa – which can be called up using their established “wake-up” words. Whichever assistant you choose, the WF-1000XM4 proves to be a keen ear and attentive to instructions even in less promising environments.
There are three microphones in each earbud that provide active noise cancellation, call quality, and interaction with voice assistants. A combination of feed-forward and feedback microphones pick up the wearer’s voice directionally (from the mouth), although the feed-forward microphones are automatically muted when adverse conditions (most likely wind noise) are detected. Sony has also built in a bone conduction sensor that picks up voice vibrations but does not register it as ambient noise.
Audio performance and noise cancellation
- Balanced, driving, confident and convincing sound
- Pretty good noise cancellation
- Great dynamic and rhythmic skills
Positioning the WF-1000XM4 comfortably takes a little longer than it should – we found it a bit fiddly to insert and found it should sit lower in the ear than it does – but when it’s done you can set up touch controls , EQ levels and countless other options to suit your needs. All done? Well. Time to put some music on.
We started our testing with a Tidal Masters file from Burner by Ross From Friends, and the WF-1000XM4 impressed immediately. They don’t unduly emphasize any part of the frequency range, they don’t leave any details unnoticed, they don’t let rhythms or tempos hang around. Your presentation is energetic and enthusiastic, but it is tempered by undeniable control.
At the bottom at the bottom, the earphones deliver bass sounds with substance, texture and an absolute wealth of detail. There is drive and momentum to spare here, but the WF-1000XM4 never loses its course – there is just as much self-confidence. The entry and exit from the bass notes is clean and clearly defined, which prevents the lower end from being smeared into the midrange.
The midrange itself is equally rich in information – listening to Kate Bush’s Lake Tahoe, the WF-1000XM4’s ability to pick up the smallest details or the most fleeting transients and incorporate them into a much wider picture was evident. “Communicative” may be a redundant word when it comes to a person’s singing voice, but it’s absolutely appropriate here: If they’re anything, the WF-1000XM4 are communicative.
The transition from the midrange to the high end is smooth and naturalistic, and the highs themselves have plenty of shine and bite without ever being yelled over them. Both Kate Bush and Ross From Friends like to pile up the high frequency information, but the WF-1000XM4 controls it just as skilfully as the rest of the frequency range.
(All of this assumes an unchanged EQ setting, we should point this out. Sony is a bit unusual in allowing the end user to play around endlessly with the sound of their earphones, but the most natural and compelling sound comes from the WF-1000XM4 when their EQ is flat.)
There is also little to criticize dynamically. The WF-1000XM4 are capable of switching from “deafening” to “almost silent” and back again in no time, and even the most subtle harmonic dynamics of Bush’s piano playing are detailed. When it comes to rhythmic security and expression, their combination of control and attack ensures that they, like James Brown, are always on good terms. All of this is supported by convincingly natural timing and a consistent presentation.
Active noise cancellation is a somewhat more skilled kind of success. The problem with any other pair of true ANC earbuds is that the Bose QuietComfort earbuds have proven that it is possible to completely reject external noise without leaving any counter-signal and without affect the quality of the music you are listening to.
The WF-1000XM4 can’t quite do the same trick – but it certainly minimizes the impact of ambient noise on your listening experience. They may not be the leader when it comes to noise cancellation, but for most people they are extremely powerful most of the time.
Battery life and connectivity
- Eight hours of battery life on board
- Wireless charging
- Bluetooth 5.2
Even in the new and reduced dimensions of the WF-1000XM4, there is a lot more going on than before. Connectivity is now via Bluetooth 5.2, which means simultaneous transmission to the left and right earbuds, and (when using Sony’s custom LDAC codec) Hi-Res Audio Wireless certification.
Bluetooth 5.2 should, in theory, also mean better battery life – but the best scenario is 24 hours (between eight and 12 in the earbuds, depending on whether Active Noise Cancellation is on or off, plus a few more charges in the case) really nothing special. Nonetheless, at least the WF-1000XM4 are Qi charging pad compatible, and five minutes on a socket provide another hour of action.
In addition to LDAC, the WF-1000XM4 are compatible with SBC and AAC codecs – but there are no signs of aptX in any form. They also include the DSEE Extreme capability in case you believe an algorithm supposedly capable of extracting high resolution sound from a standard definition digital audio file (we were never entirely convinced).
Should I buy the Sony WF-1000XM4 wireless headphones?
Buy them when …
You need the best all-round true wireless earbuds
The WF-1000XM4 can (just a little) be beaten in terms of sound quality, noise cancellation, and comfort – but only by a combination of alternative models.
You know a great control app if you use one
The Sony Headphone App is an absolute powerhouse in terms of stability, functionality and general use.
You love the little comforts in life
‘Talk to Chat’. Adaptive noise cancellation. ‘Quick Attention’. IPX4. The WF-1000XM4 aims to make your life easier.
Don’t buy them if …
Noise canceling is more important than sound quality
By itself, the WF-1000XM4 attenuates noise well. But other true wireless headphones – especially the Bose QuietComfort earbuds – do better.
You have been away from an electrical outlet for a long time
24 hours of battery life are not bad at best, but nothing special either.
They think aptX is the pinnacle of wireless sound quality
Sony disagrees, but their LDAC is a good alternative and is supported by most newer Android phones (sorry iPhone users).
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