Sony WF-1000XM4 full review
Sony’s latest flagship wireless earbuds are here and the WF-1000XM4 arrive with high hopes of being the best you can buy, taking on Apple, Bose and plenty more.
As well as a new, more compact design, the XM4 have a ton of new smart features including Ambient Sound Control and Speak-to-Chat.
Design & Build
- 10% smaller earbuds
- 40% smaller case
- IP4X water resistance
If you are familiar with Sony’s previous earbuds, you’ll notice that the XM4 introduce an overhauled design. Gone is the elongated oval shape of the WF-1000XM3, replaced with a circular bud with a bump on the side where the ear tip protrudes.
I’ve tested the black colour but you can choose silver if you like, with both sporting a gold trim. Importantly, they are 10% smaller than the previous gen and weigh 7.3g each.
I prefer the new shape – which is designed to fit the ear cavity - but there are smaller/lighter earbuds out there, so anyone with small ears might find them to be a little bulky. You get three sizes of tips in the box, and they are a memory foam type material to achieve a comfortable and air-tight fit.
I found the buds to sit in my ears quite nicely and although I have somewhat unusually small ear canals, the smallest size of tip was sufficient. The XM4 never fell out, even when chasing my dog around the garden, which surprised me.
When you deliberately remove the buds, sensors will ensure the music is automatically paused and then resumed when you put them back in.
On the outside of the buds are touch-sensitive buttons that work really well and although it’s not a higher rating, the IPX4 water resistance should be enough for most people, meaning they can cope with splashes and sweat.
Like the buds, the case has been shrunk, although a lot more at 40% smaller. It’s a great little case with an LED on the front, USB-C on the back and wireless charging. I found getting the buds in and out effortless.
Lastly, it’s nice to see eco-friendly packaging here of which 99% is made from recycled and sustainable materials. There’s no plastic in sight.
- 6mm drivers
- LDAC with Hi-Res Audio Wireless
- DSEE Extreme
Sony has proven that size isn’t everything by sticking with 6mm drivers when you can get earbuds with drivers twice the size, or even bigger. However, it really is what you do with it that counts here as the WF-1000XM4 sound nothing short of breathtaking.
The firm says they "reproduce a dynamic sound despite their small size, and the high compliance diaphragm reproduces a rich bass range." and I’m in no position to argue considering how good they sound.
Hidden under the stealthy shell is a lot of tech to make this happen including Sony’s Integrated Processor V1 which, in part, reduces distortion. The XM4 support the LDAC codec which can transfer three times more data than conventional Bluetooth and enables Hi-Res Audio Wireless. You will need to connect to a device that also supports LDAC, mind, although that's not too difficult as it's available on phones running Android 8.0 or later. For iPhone users, the XM4 supports AAC.
DSEE Extreme (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) technology means the earbuds can upscale compressed audio in real-time.
I tested the XM4 earbuds with a range of devices and audio sources and they simply sound amazing whatever you decide to hit play on. The audio quality is rich, crystal clear and balanced.
Furthermore, they support 360 Reality Audio which is Sony’s spatial audio technology for a surround sound experience. Just note that you’ll need to use a streaming service that supports it like Deezer or Tidal with the correct subscription plan.
The app can help you find the right ear-tip size by testing the fit and there’s an EQ if you want to customise the sound.
Noise Cancelling & Smart Features
- Ambient Sound Control
- Customisations galore
Sound quality is one thing, but many people will be buying the XM4 for the active noise cancelling (ANC) and other smart features. And let me tell you, Sony has not held back here.
As we’ve become accustomed to with Sony headphones, the noise-cancelling technology is insanely good and arguably the best you can get. The only wireless earbuds that I’ve tested that come close are the Bose QC Earbuds.
However, the WF-1000XM4 come with so many extra smart features that they really stand out from the crowd.
Of course, you get things like an ambient mode to hear your surroundings with an adjustable level (20 levels to choose from, no less) and wind reduction on the main mode, but there’s so much more here with the same features of the over-ear WH-1000XM4 packed into earbuds.
The main feature is called Ambient Sound Control and can automatically adjust the profile depending on where you are or what you’re doing. For example, ambient sound will be engaged when you start walking and noise cancelling when you stay still - these are defined as actions with running and transport having presets.
Sony has also enabled specific locations to be registered such as your office, a café you frequent or the gym. In the Headphone Connect app, you can register places from learned locations or just set your own via a map. And like a lot of things in the app, if you don’t like either actions or locations can be switched off and you can customise just about everything with fine-tuning if you like.
It almost goes without saying that the headphones support digital assistants – Alexa and Google – but there are still more smart features to talk about, with talk being an apt word.
Speak-to-Chat does what it says on the tin, so the earbuds can detect when you’re speaking in order to both pause your music and switch to ambient mode if it’s not already on. Talking to someone I know, I’d rather take at least one bud out, but I can imagine them being handy for situations like ordering a coffee before getting a train when your hands are full and it’s difficult to remove an earbud.
Battery Life & Charging
- 24 hours total with ANC
- Wireless charging case
- Fast charging earbuds
One area that hasn’t had an upgrade compared to the last model is battery life with Sony touting a total figure of 24 hours – that's eight from the buds and then a further 16 from the charging case.
While there are earbuds that can go longer, these figures are still very respectable and, perhaps crucially, are better than Apple and Bose rivals. And those numbers are with ANC on so with it of the XM4 can last an impressive 36 hours.
In my testing, the battery life held up very well often getting around one hour per 10% of juice even with ANC on – albeit sitting in my fairly quiet office.
As mentioned earlier the case now has Qi wireless charging making it easier to top them up. Fast charging means you can get an hour of playback from a short five-minute charge.
As you might expect, Sony’s flagship earbuds come with a flagship price. At £250/US$280, they are more expensive than their predecessors but match rivals like the Bose QC Earbuds and AirPods Pro.
If you’re still unsure about a pair of buds check our best wireless earbuds chart for a selection.
You’ve got to have the cash to splash, but if you do then you really can’t get better than the Sony WF-1000XM4 for wireless earbuds. Although I can understand the argument of AirPods Pro for iPhone users.
Still, the XM4 are worth considering no matter what phone OS you’re loyal to. The new design is more compact and lighter and that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
On top of top-notch sound quality and noise cancelling as standard, the XM4 are packed to the rafters with additional tech and smart features. Ambient Sound Control can automatically switch between different modes as you move or arrive at a particular location.
The V1 processor handles DSEE Extreme upscaling, wind reduction and a lot more, then there’s the LDAC support for Hi-Res Audio Wireless as well as 360 Reality Audio spatial audio. The list of features goes on with Speak-to-Chat, ear detection and more.
Almost everything can be customised in the app, too, so you can get things just how you like them – or simply turn anything off you don’t get on with.
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