There’s no dearth of truly wireless earphones (TWS earphones) in the market, with options like the Nothing Ear 1 (watch our review), Realme Buds Q2, and others offering plenty of options to potential buyers. However, in the flagship segment, there are but a few choices to choose from. This includes the almost omnipresent AirPods Pro (Rs. 20,900), the Bose QuietComfort TWS (Rs. 26,900), and now, the newly launched Sony WF-1000XM4 (Rs. 19,990). So, if you’re wondering whether the Sony WF-1000XM4 are worth the money, and if you should buy them against the AirPods Pro, read on. This is our review of the new Sony flagship TWS.
Sony WF-1000XM4 Review
Although I’d recommend that you read this review thoroughly before making a purchase decision, if you’re looking for a particular feature or aspect of these earbuds, feel free to click through the table of contents below.
What’s in the Box
Sony has done a decent job at packaging its flagship earphones. The box is nothing extraordinary, but it does look quite different from what you’d find in most other earphones. Inside the box, you’ll get the following items:
- Sony WF-1000XM4 earphones
- Charging case
- USB Type-C cable
- Small and Large earbud-tips (medium size earbud tips come attached to the earphones)
- User manuals
Looking at the case of these earphones, you’re more than likely to expect a stealthy, understated design language this time around. Unlike the WF-1000XM3 which were launched in India in 2020, and that had a case that stood out thanks to its copper-coloured case-lid, this year, Sony has opted for a case that’s matte-black (or white, depending on the colour you opt for) and without any accents whatsoever. There’s a USB-C port on the back for charging, and that’s all.
However, once you open the case up, that assumption falls flat. The WF-1000XM4 are definitely less flashy than their highly acclaimed predecessors. But they definitely don’t look like they’re trying to hide away in your ears. In fact, they very easily stand out when you’re wearing them. The earphones’ chassis is considerably more bulky than options like the AirPods Pro, and with the copper accents, it stands out even more.
All that said, the earphones do look pretty good. In fact, they are one of the few TWS earbuds that I really like the appearance of. The matte finish, and the generally less-flashy design makes these earphones easy on the eyes.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 don’t disappoint on the build quality either. True to their flagship origins, the earphones (and the charging case) are build very well. There’s a tactile feedback when the case is opened and closed, and the earphones sit firmly in their enclosure inside. The magnet that holds the earphones in place is stronger than most I’ve observed, and allowed me to easily put the earphones back in the case once I was done using them. Bonus points for more tactile feedback while putting the earphones back in the case.
The earpieces themselves are very well built as well. Everything is plastic, of course, but it feels strong and doesn’t flex unnecessarily. The earbud tips are made from noise-cancelling foam, and it results in a tight air-seal once you wear the earphones. This can also be tested from within the Sony Headphones app, using the fit-test.
They are also IPX4 rated, so they can handle splashes and sprinkles of water without dying, making them good for workouts, or excursions in light rains.
Comfort and Fit
My one and only complaint with the WF-1000XM4 is the comfort that they offer. While you can customise the fit thanks to the extra earbud tips included in the box, wearing the earphones doesn’t really inspire the kind of confidence I was expecting from a pair of TWS of this class.
For starters, the Sony WF-1000XM4 aren’t the easiest earphones to wear. I have to place the earphones in my ear and then twist them around for a few seconds before they will sit comfortably snug. What’s more, I can’t shake off the feeling that the earphones don’t do a good job of distributing their weight. Thanks to the heft, and the fact that the earphones stick out considerably from the ears, I always feel like they will fall out.
To be fair, they don’t actually fall out of my ears while I’m using them. However, they do feel like they will, and that’s a matter of concern. Especially because I have never felt this way while using the AirPods Pro over the last couple of years.
Once I had used these earphones for almost a week, I didn’t mind the weight distribution as much. However, every now and then, I do feel like I need to re-adjust the earphones in my ear to ensure they don’t fall out of my ears while I’m in the middle of a call, or waiting for that perfect crescendo of music that gives me goosbumps.
Sound quality is one area where Sony has seldom disappointed me, and the WF-1000XM4 are no different. The earphones are very well tuned, and they offer a soundstage that’s one of the widest in truly wireless earbuds that I have tested so far. That includes the AirPods Pro, by the way.
The 6mm driver within the earphones delivers really good sound. There’s simply nothing bad about the sound quality on this offering from Sony. Their predecessors, the WF-1000XM3, were exceptional in themselves, and Sony has outdone itself with the XM4.
Whether I listen to EDM, classic rock, metal, or old classics from Frank Sinatra, the Sony WF-1000XM4 have done justice to every genre of music. The bass is well defined and thumpy without overpowering the rest of the music, the treble is clear and loud, and the mids are well balanced as well. In comparison to the AirPods Pro which are my daily drivers, the WF-1000XM4 are simply better in almost every way when it comes to the sound quality.
Active Noise Cancellation
One of the primary features of the Sony WF-1000XM4 is the active noise cancellation. The older XM3 earphones from Sony were already pretty much the best out there in terms of ANC on TWS earphones, and the new XM4 does not disappoint either. The noise cancellation on the earphones is really impressive. Turn it on, and you’re likely to not hear anything around you.
Unlike their predecessors which used the highly acclaimed QN1e chip for noise cancellation, Sony has developed a new V1 processor this time around for the XM4, and it looks like it’s doing the job very well.
Though the AirPods Pro offer fairly good ANC as well, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are a touch better at it. What’s more, the ANC feature on the Sony WF-1000XM4 offers even more control over what you want it to do. For one, you can choose to enable ANC or Wind Noise Reduction.
You can also choose to use Ambient Sound Mode, which allows you to adjust the level of ambient sound allowed in a scale of 1 to 20. You can also enable the ‘Focus on Voice’ feature which lets in voices, while still keeping the noise out. This is a very useful feature in work environments, where you want to be able to hear your coworkers, without any ambient noises coming in.
Though the AirPods Pro offer a transparency mode as well, and it’s pretty good at its job, it doesn’t offer the kind of control that Sony’s earphones bring.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 are perfect for making calls as well. The beam-forming microphones on the earbuds were great at picking up my voice. Even in noisy conditions, the mics easily and accurately picked up what I was saying, which means taking and making calls with these earphones is a nice experience.
Apart from the standout ANC, and the impressive sound quality, the WF-1000XM4 also bring a plethora of additional features that are worth noting (and using).
Speak to Chat
Speak to chat is a feature that I both love and hate. It’s great because the moment you start talking to someone, the earphones automatically enable ambient sound mode, so you can have a conversation without taking out your earphones. On the other hand, if you’re like me and you sometimes sing along with your music, this feature is nothing short of annoying.
For what it’s worth, you can adjust the voice sensitivity, but it’s still a feature that I found myself disabling because of the sheer annoyance of my music being interrupted from my own singing.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t something that’s wrong with the earphones, and the feature itself works very well. However, I found it to be an annoyance with my usage habits, and you might too, if you sing along.
Earphone Fit Test
The Sony Headphones app also includes a feature that lets you test whether the earbud tips you’re using with your WF-1000XM4 earphones are creating an optimal air-seal in your ears for the best experience. The feature, which is also available on the AirPods Pro, lets you use different earbud tips and see which one works the best for your ears.
For me, the small earbud tips worked the best (which is always the case with every pair of earbuds I’ve tested), and the difference that a well fitting pair of earbud tips will make to your listening experience is massive. So, make sure you check out all the options available to you, and use the earbud fit test to get the best experience with these earphones.
Customisable Touch Actions
Similar to the WF-1000XM3, and the WH-1000XM4 headphones, the WF-1000XM4 earphones also bring a touch surface on the earphones. By default, the following controls are enabled:
- Left: Ambient Sound Control
- Right: Playback Control
However, if those aren’t the controls you like using on your earphones, you can easily customise the touch actions on your earphones using the Sony Headphones app. You can choose between the following options:
- Ambient Sound Control
- Playback Control
- Volume Control
Honestly, throughout my usage of these earphones (and it’s been a lot of usage), I have been very happy with the default sound settings that Sony sends them out with. However, if you’re looking to customise the sound, you can do so with the handy equalizer within the app.
There are a bunch of preset options that you can use, and unlike most earphones which offer a very limited number of options, the WF-1000XM4 offer quite a lot of presets.
- Treble Boost
- Bass Boost
Apart from these, there are also a couple of Custom equalizer settings that you can create and save based on your needs, and a manual equalizer.
One of the really cool things available here is the ‘Clear Bass’ setting, which you might remember from the Sony Walkman days. This feature lets you get deep bass without distortion. The app allows you to adjust this setting within the equalizer within a scale of 1 to 10, so you can play around a bit and find a setting that works the best for you.
360 Reality Audio
Sony also offers the 360 Reality Audio feature on the earphones, but it feels like nothing more than a gimmick. For starters, the feature is only supported on two apps (at least in India). Moreover, setting the feature up is just weird, you have to take pictures of your ears for ‘analysis’ — something I didn’t even bother with because the apps that support 360 reality audio aren’t one of the many streaming services I use.
Let me preface this section by saying that the battery life on the Sony WF-1000XM4 is very impressive. The earphones offer 8 hours of continuous listening time with Active Noise Cancellation on, which goes up to 12 hours with ANC turned off. With the charging case, you can get up to 24 hours of listening with ANC on, and 36 hours with ANC turned off.
In my normal day to day usage, that 8 hours of listening time is the kind of value that means I never once ran out of juice while using the earphones. Plus, if you’re in dire need of longer playback time, you can turn ANC off and get the kind of battery life that one might normally expect in headphones, not TWS. Impressive job, Sony.
Compare that with AirPods Pro, and Apple’s offering just looks lacklustre. Those earphones offer a battery life of 4.5 hours with ANC turned on, and up to 5 hours with ANC turned off.
As far as charging is concerned, the case charges in 1.5 hours when connected with a USB Type-C cable, though it also supports wireless charging over the Qi standard. There’s also Quick Charge, so a 5 minute charge in the case will give you an additional 60 minutes of listening time, which is pretty impressive.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs AirPods Pro: Comparison
If you’re confused between getting the AirPods Pro and the Sony WF-1000XM4, here’s a quick comparison between the two.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 have a considerably better sound quality than the AirPods Pro. The XM4 also brings a lot more control over the audio experience, whether it’s with the equalizer, or the Clear Bass settings.
Comfort and Fit
In terms of comfort and fit (and this is purely subjective), the AirPods Pro are leaps and bounds ahead of the Sony WF-1000XM4. The AirPods Pro just fit more easily into my ears, and the weight distribution on those earbuds is very well done. I never feel like they might fall out of my ears — a confidence that the Sony WF-1000XM4 fail to inspire.
It’s also just easier to wear the AirPods Pro. You can simply put them in your ears and you’re ready to go. With the WF-1000XM4, I had to push the earphones quite hard and then twist them around a bit before they would make a proper air-seal.
Active Noise Cancellation
Both the AirPods Pro and the Sony WF-1000XM4 offer active noise cancellation that’s good enough to get the job done. However, between the two, the ANC offered by the WF-1000XM4 is definitely a notch better. What’s more, the Sony earphones also offer more control over the noise cancellation and ambient sound mode features.
I also appreciate the ‘Focus on Voice’ feature that’s available on the Sony WF-1000XM4.
There’s simply no comparison between the battery life of the Sony WF-1000XM4 and the AirPods Pro. Sony’s earphones and headphones have always offered a good battery life, and the 1000XM4 takes this to the next level. The earphones offer 8 hours of listening on a single charge with ANC turned on, and 12 hours with ANC turned off.
AirPods Pro or WF-1000XM4: Which One is Better?
There’s no doubt that the Sony WF-1000XM4 is a better pair of TWS earphones when compared against the AirPods Pro. Barring the weird weight distribution of the earbuds themselves, the XM4 does everything else much better than its competition from Apple.
However, if you’re an iPhone user, the AirPods Pro are still tough to beat, primarily because of the experience they offer when used with an iPhone. At around Rs. 20,000, there’s little doubt that you’re looking for a pair of earphones that can not only offer good sound quality and noise cancellation, but also a great experience when you use them and for iPhone users, the Sony WF-1000XM4 doesn’t seem to hold up that well against the AirPods Pro.
That said, if you’re willing to live with the one-time pain of pairing the earphones manually, and the fact that you need a separate app to control the features of the earbuds. Plus, if you’re okay with the weight distribution being slightly off, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are definitely the better overall choice.
Sony WF-1000XM4: Worth the Money?
All of this review culminates to this: are the Sony WF-1000XM4 worth their asking price of Rs. 19,990, or would you be better off buying another pair of flagship TWS earphones?
The answer is slightly complicated. Simply put, Sony’s offering here is definitely worth the price. The earphones are packed with features, and the sound quality and noise cancellation are definitely among the highest quality I have tested so far. Plus, the battery life is really impressive and you’ll be hard pressed to completely discharge these earphones without deliberately trying.
However, the AirPods Pro offer a comparable sound quality, and the noise cancellation is good enough there as well. Plus, you get spatial audio, which just seems to be a better deal than the 360 Reality Audio available on the XM4. All of that makes for a very enticing package for iPhone users, and for people who are in the Apple ecosystem, because the AirPods Pro fit really well within the ecosystem of an iPhone, a MacBook, an Apple Watch, and an iPad.
My recommendation would be this: if you’re an Android user, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are definitely worth your money. Or you can consider the Bose Quiet Comfort TWS (Rs. 26,900) earphones as well. On the other hand, if you’re an iPhone user, and further if you use an iPhone along with a Mac or another couple of Apple devices, the AirPods Pro (Rs. 20,900) will offer a better experience overall.
Buy the Sony WF-1000XM4 from Amazon: Rs. 19,990