I hate using the word “killer” when it comes to tech; it’s a bit dramatic for my taste. But in the case of the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds, I can’t find a better word (Maybe slayer?) because these are indeed AirPods Pro killers. Sony took everything I loved about the WF-1000XM3, such as its ridiculous amount of smart features, and put it in a lighter, more comfortable housing. You still get the fantastic companion app that allows you to tweak just about every setting to your liking.
But it didn’t stop there; the company improved the microphones and developed a more powerful chip that makes for better sound across the board whether you’re listening to music, watching videos, or talking on the phone. Sony even found the time to throw in a fit test. And you get eight hours of battery life. However, for $279, I’m not happy that Sony still doesn’t have a “Find my earbuds” feature, but I’m willing to overlook the omission for everything else the WF-1000XM4 has to offer.
Read on to learn why the Sony WF-1000XM4 are the latest entrants to our Best wireless earbuds page.
Sony WF-1000XM4 pricing and availability
As of this writing, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are available at Amazon, Best Buy and other retailers for $279. That puts them on a par with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds which also cost $279. The AirPods Pro are currently on sale for $197 while the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro are available for $199.
Sony WF-1000XM4 design
When it comes to WF-1000XM4’s design, Sony is thinking small. But that’s not a detriment to these earbuds. The previous buds, the Sony WF-1000XM3, were massive by wireless earbuds’ standard at 0.29 ounces, the XM4 are absolutely tiny by comparison at 0.26 ounces. Compare that to the 0.19-ounce AirPods Pro, which measure 1.2 x 0.9 x 0.9 inches, and the QC Earbuds (3 ounces, 1.5 x 1 x 1.1 inches). The Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro (0.2 ounces, 0.8 x 0.8 x 0.8 inches) are the only buds smaller than the 1000XM4. How Sony managed to trim so much fat from the design is thanks to the company’s new integrated V1 processor (more on that later).
But the biggest change is the ginormous charging case which has been shrunk down to a more manageable size. The new case is 40% smaller than its predecessor, having shrunk down from 2.7 ounces to 1.5 ounces.
Now that we’ve talked about how small the 1000XM4 are, let’s dive into their looks, shall we? With copper-colored microphones along the sides, the earbuds have a steampunk aesthetic that I’m digging. The rest of the housing is made from an inky black matte plastic. You’ll see Sony prominently printed in copper along the sides and a copper-lined bass port mere millimeters away. Flip either of the buds over and you’ll see a glossy bit of plastic for the proximity sensor along with a trio of charging pins. A red R or a white L helps you determine which bud goes where.
Following the current trend, the 1000XM4 buds are rounder than their predecessors. And like many of their competitors, the buds have an IPX4 rating, meaning they’re water and sweat-resistant.
Sony’s taken a more subtle approach to the charging case this time around. Although it retains its ovular shape, it’s much smaller than its predecessor and lacks the opulent copper lid. Instead, the Sony logo is stamped across the top of the lid in copper lettering, just like on the buds. There’s still a slim status light along the front seam for charging and battery life. The case’s interior is lined in a semi-gloss black plastic and gold connector pins are the only accent. When it’s time to charge, you’ll find the USB-C charging port along the back of the case.
While my review unit of the 1000XM4 is black and copper, the buds are also available in ivory and gold.
Sony WF-1000XM4 comfort
I wore the Sony WF-1000XM4 for nearly an entire work day in relative comfort. I say relative because wearing the earbuds isn’t uncomfortable, but my ears feel full while wearing them. Outside of my earlobe, the only other parts of my outer ear not covered by the earbuds were my helix, anti-helix, scalpha and triangular fossa. However, that full feeling disappeared soon after I put the buds in –– kind of like how all the ambient noise went away when ANC is enabled.
The default medium eartips felt OK, but the foam eartips placed a bit of pressure on my ear canal. I switched over to the small ear tips included in the box and ran the Fit Test in the Sony Headphone App (more on that later). Once initiated, the test prompted me to go to a quiet area while wearing the buds as the app took its measurements. I was treated to a pleasant tone during the five-second test. The test confirmed that both ears had a tight seal as designated by checkmarks.
Sony WF-1000XM4 setup
The WF-1000XM4 are compatible with both Google’s Fast Pair and Microsoft’s Swift Pair for near-instant connection with Android or Windows 10 devices. I got a taste of that speed when I opened the charging case. My Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra immediately lit up with a prompt, letting me know the earbuds were ready to pair. After tapping a button, there was a brief initial setup before the WF-1000XM4 were ready to jam.
Sony WF-1000XM4 controls
Sony designed the WF-1000XM4 with enough surface space to comfortably tap out commands. The right earbud takes care of music and phone duties, while the left bud handles ANC commands. Similar to most tap-based earbuds, a single tap on the right WF-1000XM4 pauses or plays music. Two taps skip the track forward and three taps skip backward. A double-tap answers a call, while a long press on the right earbud summons your digital assistant.
One tap on the left earbud lets you toggle between active noise cancelling and ambient sound modes. And finally, a long press activates Quick Attention mode.
When it’s time to queue up your digital assistant, the earbuds respond lickety-split if you say “Hey Google” or “Hey Alexa.”
Sony WF-1000XM4 features
Sony loaded the WF-1000XM4 with many of the same features found on its WH-1000XM4 headphones. Speak-to-Chat uses the bone conduction sensor and Sony’s Precise Voice Pickup technology, a combination of four microphones and sensors and advanced audio signal processing to figure out when you’re speaking. From there, the feature immediately pauses so you can conduct a conversation without removing the earbuds. Once you’re done, whatever you were listening to starts without any prompts. It’s super accurate, quickly pausing music even when I mumbled to myself.
If you’re looking for more fun with sensors, there’s Adaptive Sound Control. Utilizing the earbuds microphones, Adaptive Sound Control determines whether you’re indoors or outdoors or if you’re walking or just waiting around. From there, it automatically adjusts the level of the ambient noise accordingly. In practice, you’ll hear a beep and then an announcement of the mode (i.e. walking or running). And if there are places that you tend to frequent, such as your house, office or gym, you can set the feature to adjust as soon as you’re in range.
And last but not least, there’s Instant Pause and Play. Thanks to more sensor magic, the WF-1000XM4 will immediately pause when taken out of your ears. And when you’re ready to commence the jam session, you just put them back in and they immediately start playing again.
The one feature that continues to elude Sony is a locator feature in the unfortunate event that you leave your buds somewhere or one of the tiny rascals goes missing. If I’m paying $279 for something that’s so easily misplaced, I want a way to find them.
Sony WF-1000XM4 app
The free Sony Headphone app continues to be one of the best companion apps out there. It comes loaded with features designed to deliver optimal audio performance as well as a few housekeeping tasks.
One of the more interesting aspects of the app lets you set Bluetooth connection priority (sound quality vs. stable connection). You can also switch between Noise Cancelling and Automatic Wind Reduction Modes as well as switch between Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. This is also where you enable/disable Speak-to-Chat, adjust the touch sensor functionality, power and pause settings.
And just like the WH-1000XM4, the earbuds also utilize Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) Extreme, Sony’s technology to enhance compressed audio by restoring high-range audio via the company’s proprietary Edge-AI.
And if that isn’t enough, the app also has an equalizer with 12 presets. Plus, you get Sony’s 360 Reality Audio functionality, which creates a 360-degree soundscape to give the illusion of being in a personal concert hall.
Sony WF-1000XM4 active noise cancellation
So quiet, you could hear a pin drop –– well maybe not. Enabling the WF-1000XM4’s ANC is like soundproofing your ears. It’s definitely powerful, reducing the outside world including passing trains, loud conversations and construction work into mere whispers of their actual volume. And this is before I even turned on any music. When I started listening to Spotify or Tidal, the offending noise just faded away.
And when the wind picked up, switching to Wind Reduction mode immediately shushed the sounds of aggressive zephyrs. In case you want or need to be aware of your immediate surroundings, the WF-1000XM4 feature 20 levels of Ambient Sound Controls similar to the WH-1000XM4 headphones so you can control just how much outside noise is introduced into the soundscape. It’s a great feature, as it allowed me to pipe in just enough ambient noise to hear the blaring horns of NYC traffic.
Wearing the earbuds in my house, they completely muted my LG TV when the volume was set to 14, which is slightly better than the AirPods Pro (13), but not the QC Earbuds (15).
So just how is Sony doing this? It’s all thanks to the company’s new Integrated Processor V1 chip. It builds upon the success of the company’s QN1e chip and surpasses it. Using a feed-forward and feed-back noise sensing microphone on the surface of each earbud, the chip works to analyze ambient noise and provide highly accurate noise cancellation. And it does it without introducing any white noise into the mix or any uncomfortable pressure. The chip is also smaller than the QN1e, which allows for a smaller overall design.
The earbuds also have the WH-1000XM4’s Adaptive Sound Control feature which makes them incredibly smart. Using the V1 chip and mics, Adaptive Sound Control detects your current state of movement and categorizes it into one of four classifications: Staying, Walking, Running and Transport. It then adjusts the ANC automatically according to the situation. For instance, Staying and Transport gives you full ANC, while Walking and Running will give you level 12 and 20 of Ambient Sound control, respectively. A soft beep signals when the WF-1000XM4 is making the switch.
The app also has an option to keep track of your frequent locations and activities so it can learn which ambient settings work best in the situation. That meant after a few days of working at my home, the earbuds knew to switch to full ANC once I arrived from running an errand. I still think Sony has some fine-tuning to do with this feature as it continues to be very sensitive, switching between modes frequently when I was walking. It will switch from Walking to Staying if I’m waiting at a crosswalk or from Walking to Running if I slightly pick up the pace. The switch from total ANC to Ambient Noise can be a bit jarring in those cases as you hear a beep and a second of silence every time the app adjusts.
After using the 1000XM4s in my home for several days, I received a notification asking to register the location. Since I tended to be sitting when wearing the cans, the app created a profile with the setting preset to maximum noise cancelling. But about 2 minutes into my daily walk, I heard a beep and Adaptive Sound Control automatically switched to the Walking profile, which then transitioned to 12 on the Ambient Sound Controls and when I picked up the pace, it switched to Running, which increased the Ambient Sound Controls to 20.
Sony WF-1000XM4 3D audio
The company’s 360 Reality Audio technology creates a spatial 3D audio soundscape. As cool as the feature is, it’s currently limited to three music services: Tidal, Deezer and nug.net. Sony needs to partner with Spotify and YouTube Music so everyone can experience it. It’d also be cool if the technology could be integrated into movie streaming services as a relatively inexpensive way to get that surround sound effect from your laptop or smartphone.
I started testing the technology by listening to Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones, Pt. II” which is featured on Tidal’s 360 Reality Audio playlist. The snare that opens the classic track was strong and familiar. It had a proximity that made me feel like I was in the studio or at least a concert hall. The deep bass was a little diffused, but as I listened to the gritty track, it sounded like rappers Prodigy and Havok were giving me a private performance.
When I switched over to Doja Cat’s “Streets,” the dank, tantalizing instrumentals that fueled many a Silhouette challenge on TikTok, I was enveloped by the rich bass and playful strings. The rapper’s vocal wasn’t as prominent as I expected from 360 audio, but it was still loud and clear.
I had a better result on “Can’t Hide Love.” The instrumentals of the Earth, Wind & Fire classic had specific positions. The strings were along my right while the horns were situated on my left with the drums and vocals sitting in the middle.
Sony WF-1000XM4 performance
The WF-1000XM4 might be small, but they pack quite a punch. The 6-millimeter drivers produce deep, rich bass paired with dynamic highs and lows. In addition, you have the Integrated Processor V1 chip working to simultaneously reduce distortion and enhance the overall audio quality. The chip also facilitates the processing of the LDAC codec, Sony’s audio coding technology which enables High Resolution Audio Wireless by transmitting three times more data than conventional Bluetooth. The result? Gorgeous sounding high-res audio.
The chip also enables DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) Extreme, Sony’s proprietary technology that upscales compressed digital audio files. The upscaling restores some of the detail typically lost in lower-res MP3s.
Processors, codecs and technical jargon aside, the WF-1000XM4 sound amazing. Whether I was listening to masters or regular MP3s, the earbuds never dropped the ball. I started with “LOST YOU,” a steamy track of bad love by Snoh Aalegra; the strings gently cascaded over my ears without losing the keyboard or the bass. The drumbeat was crisp and steady while the warm soprano made me think of long, steamy nights. The song sounded good on the AirPods Pro, but the keyboard wasn’t as forward as I would have liked and the bass was a bit muted.
Next, I switched to the bass-heavy Jersey Club banger “Vibe (If I Back It Up).” The WF-1000XM4 didn’t falter beneath the bombastic lows. The snaps, cawing crow, whip and handclaps were nice and crisp. The keyboard was smooth despite the frenetic vocal and sound effect. The same track didn’t have nearly the same energy on the AirPods Pros; the bass was much more restrained on Apple’s earbuds. Most of the percussion in the background was clear except for the claps, which were a little muddy.
Lastly, I listened to Aryon Jones’ “Supercharged,” and was immediately hit with an aggressive electric guitar, powerful drums and gritty vocals. I clearly heard the bass guitar along with the screeches and other sound effects filling out the track. Even though I kept both sets of earbuds at approximately the same volume, the AirPods Pro were the quieter of the two. I heard every detail of Jones’ track, but it was nowhere near as forward as the Sonys.
Sony WF-1000XM4 battery and Bluetooth
The Sony WF-1000XM4 is rated for eight hours of battery life with an additional two charges from the case, bringing the total to 24 hours. With the ANC disabled, the estimated battery life jumps to 12 hours. That’s much longer than the AirPods Pro (4.5 hours, 24 hours), Galaxy Buds Pro (five hours, 18 hours) and the Bose QC Earbuds (six hours, 18 hours).
Between listening to music, participating in video conferencing and talking on the phone, I got 7 hours 39 minutes of battery life.
And when the time comes to finally recharge the earbuds, five minutes of charge will net you 60 minutes of battery life. And while you can charge the charging case via a USB Type-C cable, you can also top the case off via a Qi-compatible wireless charger.
Thanks to the Integrated Processor V1 chip and Bluetooth 5.2, movie and video watchers can expect much lower latency when watching content. That means you won’t have to worry about that jarring lip-synching problem you encounter with other earbuds. Instead, you get smooth video playback whether you’re watching the latest episode of Loki or the new Megan Thee Stallion video.
As for Bluetooth stability, the WF-1000XM4 is one of the best I’ve tested. Whether I was downstairs working out or outside grilling dinner, the earbuds never dropped the connection. They even maintained the connection when I left the ramp in front of my apartment. It’s not much, but it’s better than most headphones and earbuds that cut out as soon as I step out the door.
Sony WF-1000XM4 call quality
These are some of the best-sounding earbuds I’ve used on a call or video conference. Using a combination of its powerful mics and Sony’s Precise Voice Pickup Technology, the WF-1000XM4 deliver and receive loud, clear audio regardless of the environment. I called my mom during my daily walk around the neighborhood with the Automatic Wind Reduction enabled and outside of a construction site. She couldn’t tell that I used a pair of earbuds. And I didn’t hear any pesky wind or ambient noise as she caught me up to speed with her job and my niece’s upcoming dance recital.
I also spoke with my brother, who had his own pair of WF-1000XM4s. We were impressed with how good the conversation sounded despite both of us using headphones. I couldn’t hear any background noise on my end, and while he heard the siren of a passing ambulance, he reported that I sounded loud and clear.
Sony managed to squeeze a lot of big ideas into an incredibly small package. Thanks to a smaller processor, the Sony WF-1000XM4 reduced the size, but not the performance. You still get that excellent Sony audio you’ve come to expect, improved by 360 Reality Audio for immersive spatial audio. The active noise cancelling is on a par with Bose and with an eight-hour rating, it’s one of the longest-lasting wireless earbuds on the market. And then there’s the free companion app for adjusting between 20 levels of Ambient Sound, enabling Speak-to-Chat, and accessing a few other cool features. Moreover, the call quality of the WF-1000XM4 is something to be lauded.
However, for $279 and with all the bells and whistles it has going for it, I’m annoyed that there’s no “Find my earbuds” feature in case these pricy buds go missing. But while it’s a glaring omission, it’s not enough to keep me from highly recommending the WF-1000XM4. If you want a pair of cheaper buds, the $197 Apple AirPods Pro are still a great option. And if you want the most powerful ANC, there’s the $279 Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. But if you want the smartest, best sounding, longest-lasting wireless earbuds on the market, you have to invest in the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds.