Sony WF-1000XM4 review
When it comes to genuine wireless earphones with active noise reduction, there are good ones that are good and there are Sony’s WF series – the gold standard.
This is the second generation, the WF-1000XM4, which aims to take the place of their predecessors as the go-to for high-fidelity TWS earphones with NC. We review how they compare to the WF-1000XM3 after we have done an unboxing.
You get the new redesigned bag, the knobs themselves, two extra sets of earplugs in different sizes and a USB cable.
The new case supports both fast USB-C charging and Qi wireless charging, bringing Sony’s earbuds to current industry standards. The case is quite simple but robust.
The ear tips are among the biggest improvements in this generation. Sony chose to go with polyurethane foam instead of silicone, which does a few things. Foam insulates noise significantly better than rubber, and it adapts more easily to the ear, providing a better fit.
You get the usual infrared sensor for automatic pause and playback when you remove the buttons or put them back. There are four beam-forming microphones and a bone-forming sensor that work together for better voice recording during phone calls.
Each knob has a touch-sensitive area – a touch of left circles through ambient sound mode and noise reduction. Pressing right plays and pauses playback. Double-click for the next track and double-tap for the previous one.
The list of improvements of WF-1000XM4 over XM3 is large. The old QN1e chip is replaced with V1, which integrates both the ANC processor and the Bluetooth SoC.
V1 has new Digital to Analog conversion circuitry, an amplifier, DSEE Extreme, which upscales music to almost Hi-Res level and uses AI to reproduce lost frequencies.
The WF-1000XM4 are also the first earplugs to have Sony’s LDAC codec. LDAC can send Hi-Res audio via Bluetooth – up to 990 Kbps compared to 328 Kbps of standard SBC codec.
The WF-1000XM4 is also physically improved over its predecessors. The buttons themselves are 10% smaller in volume and lighter – a step in the right direction, although these are not the most compact TWS earphones you can buy.
Like the over-the-ear Sony WH-1000XM4, the WF model has Speech to chat. The buttons recognize that you are talking to someone and automatically activate ambient sound mode so you can have your conversation.
Adding to their hands-free capabilities, the WH-1000XM4 supports both Alexa and Google Assistant. Just say the prompt – Hello Google / Alexa – and the buttons activate the assistant. This is especially nice because it works to check the buds’ battery, activate ANC or Ambient Mode.
In our test, callers said we came loud and clear through the WF-1000XM4’s microphones.
Finally, there is fast pairing with Android phones – a pop-up window on your screen asks you to connect to the WH-1000XM4 when in pairing mode.
Sound quality, noise reduction, fit and battery life
The Sony WH-1000XM4 is easily the best sounding earphones we have ever tested here at HQ. The 6 mm driver delivers better sound thanks to a 20% larger magnet and a new diaphragm with high compliance.
Music comes in rich and bold from end to end. Bass is always present, giving music a good foundation without becoming overbearing. The middle area is very detailed everywhere and there is volume to spare. Seriously, these are by far the tallest earphones we’ve had here, which easily dampens the blaring Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro.
Sony has ideally tuned the WH-1000XM4s – a good balance between crowd-friendly bassy and loud, but also mature. Instruments and vocals are a standout.
The sound quality of WH-1000XM4s feels like it belongs in much larger cans. There is none of the thin stretched-thin sound you get from earplugs trying to be more than they are physical.
Ambient Sound mode has seen a huge improvement in fidelity. It is no longer an artificial lift of human voices that made you feel both uncomfortable and as if you have super hearing at the same time. We can use WH-1000XM4 in ambient sound for hours, it is natural and allows us to have conversations without the need to take the buds out.
But it’s noise reduction, it’s Sony WH-1000MX4’s true trump card. To begin with, the knobs themselves have better passive insulation than other in-ear models we’ve tested, which is probably due to the foam tip and the over-design.
As soon as you activate noise reduction, the sound disappears from the surrounding world. The feeling is a bit jarring at first. It is something we cannot explain, it must be felt or heard as it is.
Sony claims up to 40% improvement over the already solid WH-1000XM3s, which is just insane. We say it – Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Pro and Apple’s AirPods Pro have nothing on these Sony when it comes to the ANC.
It’s weird to say, but the WH-1000XM4 can even give their larger counterparts the WF-1000XM4 a run for their money when it comes to noise reduction. Maybe it’s because of the superior insulation you get by inserting a foam tip into your ear canal.
It’s just as good a transition as any for the great sake of these otherwise excellent earphones – fits. It does not go around – WH-1000XM4 are big, too big for some people. We tried to demonstrate the buds to a few ladies to no avail – they would not even give them another look.
This reviewer had his fair share of discomfort with the WH-1000XM4s after approx. 30 minutes use of them. The pain is concentrated in the so-called ear cone, but the fact that you need to push the buds close into your ear canal is a matter in itself for some people.
Bottom line – try these if you can before you buy them, or make sure you can return them for free as they do not fit everyone’s ear.
Sony claims up to 36 hours of combined battery life from the WF-1000XM4, which is a 4 hour improvement over its predecessors. What is more impressive is the claim of 8 hours from the buds with the ANC on, up from 6 hours on the outgoing pair.
We got close to Sony’s numbers. 7 hours of continuous music playback at full volume with ANC on. You can expect up to 12 hours without ANC.
Fast USB-C charging provides one hour of playback from 5 minutes on the cable. A complete filling took about an hour and 20 minutes.
So you need to buy Sony WH-1000XM4? As long as you can afford them, it’s a resounding yes! We have not listened to better-sounding earplugs, nor have we experienced better noise reduction in a TWS form factor. We could go further and say that both sound quality and ANC are on par with major headphones. The WH-1000XM4s are as big as they come.
But while it’s worth it in our minds, these are among the most expensive in their class at € 280. Apple’s AirPods Pro is down to € 195 at the moment, though we would not recommend getting them over Sony’s unless they happen to fit better with yours. ears.
If you are serious about music on the go, or if you want the absolute best noise reduction in a portable package, this is it. Just make sure it fits your budget and your ears.