The brand new WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds from Sony are available now for $ 279.99. These aren’t the smallest earbuds in the world, but after a week of testing, we found them to be very comfortable to our ears, with rich sound quality and strong Active Noise Cancellation (ANC).
Who are these for: If you’re willing to spend a little extra on earphones, you’ll find that the WF-1000XM4 offers a rich and clear sound experience that is suitable for any genre. You can also adjust the mix using an equalizer in the companion app. These don’t have an elongated stem from the ear like AirPods or AirPods Pro, which makes them a little more comfortable for longer use. And if battery life is a top priority, the WF-1000XM4 are the longest-lasting earbuds we’ve turned on or off with ANC.
What you need to know: The WF-1000XM4 earbuds are more expensive than the Galaxy Buds Pro and AirPods Pro, but for those looking for more control over the sound of the playback, the custom EQ mix could make the price more digestible.
How they compare: ANC on the XM4 zooms past the Echo Buds, Galaxy Buds Pro, and AirPods Pro for an experience that really leaves you alone with your thoughts and your music. Compared to the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds – our pick for the best noise-canceling earbuds – noise cancellation is a challenge. the Bose buds provide a better seal in the ear, while the Sony buds block higher-frequency sounds better. Sony goes one step further when it comes to sound by offering better instrument separation on a track and stronger bass compared to other leading earphones such as AirPods Pro or the Bose QuietComfort. The XM4 shines with the longest battery life with ANC on or off (eight or 12 hours) compared to other earphones we tested.
Jacob Krol / CNN
Unlike other true wireless earbuds (like the Bose QuietComfort earbuds), you can quickly adjust the audio mix in the companion app. Sony offers several presets (like bass boosts or a live concert mix) and you can create your own dedicated mix.
You navigate to the Headphones Connect app on Android or iOS and open the “Sound” tab. Scroll down to the Equalizer and you can scroll through the presets. The adjustment of the current mix takes less than a second and can be evaluated in real time. When you tap Custom 1 or Custom 2, a sort of digital mixer will appear. Here you can manually adjust the levels in the entire sound spectrum. Sony also has a special bar for bass adjustments.
It is very similar to the experience with the class-leading WH-1000XM4 headphones. With so many mixes possible, you can make the buds work for any genre of music. Sony’s customizations allow you to pretty much specify how you want a song to sound. It’s also the most technical, with no markings for bass, mids or treble, but rather frequencies on the digital board itself. You can also make your settings more precisely compared to the EQ mixer for Echo Buds.
Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U” starts with a powerful bass beat that doesn’t crackle or sparkle like some cheaper earphones. The XM4 plays the track with clear instrument separation so you can hear the guitar riff, medium to high vocals, and a loud snare.
However, there is a fair amount of sound loss at higher listening volumes.
For a small earphone, the 6 millimeter drivers in each earphone deliver a wide range of sound. This custom driver works in conjunction with a new built-in V1 processor. This mixes the music in real time, takes over the noise suppression and even the connectivity. Like Apple’s M1 chips, Sony delivers a complete system on one chip.
Sony’s mix leaves little, if anything, to be desired. The WF-1000XM4 delivers an all-round pleasant sound experience in which no part of a track is sacrificed.
Jacob Krol / CNN
The XM4 offers full active noise cancellation and a variety of ambient noise modes. And while we’re not ready to say that these outperform the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds (our current pick for the best noise-canceling earbuds), it’s an incredibly close call.
Let’s put a little on the scales: earbuds don’t have the same level of active noise cancellation as over-ear headphones. The latter physically wrap around your ears and work to passively block the noise around you. Here, the WF-1000XM4 earbuds sit in your ears with tips that create a tight seal and have four microphones on board with the V1 processor to detect and block noise.
With noise cancellation activated, it reduced a loud HVAC system in our apartment to a relatively low hum, even when standing directly next to the fan. It’s pretty impressive and largely matches our experience with the Bose QuietComfort earbuds. Bose offers 11 levels, and Sony has a bevy that ranges from quiet noise cancellation to an ambient noise mode where you can hear the loud fan. Ambient sounds are ideal when you are out and about. We could hear people chatting as we passed them on the street. It’s a pretty incredible experience, and if you want to turn people off, you can set the mode to noise canceling
Sony also offers a Speak to Chat feature, which we first saw on the WF-1000XM4. When it picks up your voice it pauses the music and waits a few seconds for it to mute and resume – quite a handy feature when you’re traveling, in a common room, or in the office. You can turn this on or off in the Companion App.
Similarly, the buds use four built-in microphones (two in each bud) for speech recognition. During cellular or WiFi calls, we’ve found our voice to be clear and with minimal echo. The same was true for VoIP solutions such as WebEx, Zoom, Teams and Slack Calls.
Battery life is usually an issue with noise-canceling headphones, as you can expect to average between four and a half to five and a half hours. With the XM4, however, we had eight hours and 10 minutes of running time with active noise cancellation activated. With the ANC switched off at an average volume of 50%, Sony promises 12 hours; We got to 12 hours and 30 minutes with no modes activated, just playback.
Jacob Krol / CNN
Compared to their predecessor, the WF-1000XM4 from Sony are more rounded in design than the long oval design that Sony previously opted for. They’re still decently compact as the outer portion of the 1000XM4 fits in a quarter diameter and has room left over. That makes them smaller than the previous 1000XM3 and pretty close to the chunky Bose QuietComfort earbuds. Sonys are a bit wider, while Bose is a bit longer.
The buds are sensitive to the touch – and Sony finally added volume controls. It’s a single tap to raise and a long press to lower. This feature combines tapping to play or pause, as well as the ability to activate ANC. You can also adjust these a little in the accompanying Headphones Connect app for Android or iOS. Under “Touch Sensor Function” you can set what a tap or hold on the left or right earphone does. The WF-1000XM4’s touchpad was quite sensitive, but not so far that it resulted in accidental commands.
The WF-1000XM4s stand out well, but they never strained our ears. Most of the pressure we felt after about two days of use was relieved – that’s pretty average for a pair of earbuds, especially a pair that has a long earbud tucked in your ear. Sony’s upgraded earbuds provide adequate cushioning and shape for your ear. The tips of a memory foam-like material held the shape of our ears as they tried to fill that space. When they were out of ears, they eventually expanded back to their original shape.
You get two extra sizes (small and large) in the box, in addition to the medium-sized tips installed out of the box. As with the second-generation Echo Buds, Sony color-codes the sizes so that the earbuds are easy to identify. Small is orange, medium is green, and large is light blue. You can use an adaptation test in the accompanying Android or iOS app to determine which earplug is best for your ears. We tested a pre-production version and like the Ear Tip Fit test on AirPods Pro, different tones are played to test the fit.
The case of the WF-1000XM4 fits comfortably in the palm of our hand. It’s on par with AirPods Pro and is much smaller than the WF-1000XM3 and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. You can charge the case using a USB-C port or a wireless charger. It’s a simple case with bright branding (just a Sony logo on top) and an LED indicator bar on the front.
Sony also added something we missed about the WF-1000XM3: Both dust and water resistance thanks to IPX4 resistance, which means they can withstand sweat and some rain.
Jacob Krol / CNN
Sony’s WF-1000XM4 combines great sound with super long battery life and a host of other features. If you are looking for a pair of earbuds that can outlast any other pair in terms of run time, the WF-100XM4 is the best option for you.
The active noise cancellation experience is comparable to our top picks and we will continue to test them side by side. While we prefer the Bose earbuds, those from Sony offer a comfortable experience that takes a little longer to get used to. If $ 279.99 is a bit high but you want the Sony audio experience, then we’d look at the WF-1000XM3. They’re still on the market for $ 229.99.
Sony’s WF-1000XM4 is available to order now for $ 279.99 in black or white.
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