AirPods Pro 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4: Which noise-cancelling earbuds are better?

Airpods Pro 2 and Sony WH-1000XM4 side-by-side in charging case on pebbles
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

When considering the best noise-cancelling earbuds to recommend, two models are often mentioned: the AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM4. Well, that conversation has just been updated to include the recently launched AirPods Pro 2.

The two earbuds have similar feature sets: we’re talking adaptive active noise cancellation (ANC), intuitive controls, serviceable playtimes, and terrific 3D sound capabilities. They also boast unique designs and have special features that set themselves apart from the rest of the true wireless crowd.   

Can’t decide between them? Read our full AirPods Pro 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4 breakdown to find out which is the better overall choice.

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4: Specs compared

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Apple AirPods Pro 2Sony WF-1000XM4
Price$249$279
Wireless charging caseYesNo
ChipH2Sony V1
Battery life (rated)5.5 hours (Spatial Audio and Head Tracking on) 6 hours (ANC on); 7 hours (ANC off); 30 hours (charging case with ANC on); 34 hours (charging case with ANC off)5 hours (ANC on); 8 hours (ANC off); 20 hours (charging case with ANC on); 30 hours (charging case with ANC off)
Water resistanceIPX4 (buds and charging case)IPX4 (buds only)
Size1.22 x 0.86 x 0.94 inches (per bud); 1.78 x 2.39 x 0.85 inches (charging case)0.88 x 0.87 x 0.93 inches (per bud); 0.98 x 1.97 x 2.49 inches (charging case)
Weight0.19 ounces (per bud); 1.79 ounces (charging case)0.22 ounces (per bud); 2.2 ounces (charging case)
Special featuresANC, adaptive transparency mode, adaptive EQ, personalized spatial audio, automatic switching, Ear Tip Fit Test, physical volume controls, audio sharing, announced messages with Siri, Find My (AirPods), “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistance, Live Listen, MagSafe charging case with built-in speaker, Apple Watch charging, lanyard loop supportActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, customizable EQ, 360 Reality Audio, DSEE Extreme upscaling, LDAC, Bluetooth 5.2, Speak-to-Chat, digital assistant support, quick charging

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4: Price and availability

You’re going to spend big no matter which option you got for. The AirPods Pro 2 ae on sale for $249 (£249 / AU$399) via the Apple Store (opens in new tab), which is the same price as the original, while the WF-1000XM4 were listed at $279 (£250 / AU$450) when they launched in 2021, although they can currently be found for less.

Amazon is selling the AirPods Pro 2 for $10 less (opens in new tab) at the time of publishing, and we have seen the WF-1000XM4 go for as low as $198 during special shopping holidays like Amazon Prime Day.

Both are undoubtedly pricey options, but performance alone makes either one worth the splurge. 

Bookmark our best AirPods deals and best headphones deals pages to stay notified of the latest wireless earbuds sales.

WinnerTie

Sony WF-1000XM4 with charging case placed on rocks

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4: Design

Sony flexed serious creative muscle when redesigning their flagship buds. The WF-1000XM4 takes on a more traditional form, donning a sleek oval shape that provides better comfort and stability than the wide, protruding WF-1000XM3. Using the bundled foam tips and Sony’s Optimal Earbud Tips test help enhance fit. Construction is solid with IPX4 sweat and water resistance. Striking details like the copper mic housings give these buds a distinctive look. The charging case is also smaller, lighter, and just as attractive as the previous version.

Any major design changes made to the AirPods Pro 2 apply to the MagSafe charging case. This time around, Apple integrated a lanyard loop and speaker unit at the bottom that sends out a tone to inform users of charging statuses, low battery, pairing or to find the case when misplaced via the Precision Finding feature. It’s still not the most durable case out there, though it now comes IPX4 rated, like the buds. The same cheap plastic used to construct past entries is employed on this model. At least the AirPods Pro 2 extends the company’s hot streak of developing comfortable, well-fitted buds, thanks to new tips and Apple’s often-accurate Ear Tip Fit Test.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM4

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) with single pod in palm

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4: Controls

Nothing beats the AirPods Pro 2’s control scheme. The force sensor is the best input method for wireless earbuds and adding touch volume controls to it only enhances operation; the slide gestures work very well. Apple’s skin-detect sensors initiate auto-pause/play in a second. “Hey Siri” voice activation is flawless, firing up instantly when speaking the wake phrase and executing voice commands with precision. Also, having Siri send incoming updates via Announce Messages and Announce Notifications is awesome. If only Apple made the digital assistant functional with Android devices.

Sony gave the WF-1000XM4 their own set of special controls that make using these buds a breeze. Google Assistant and Alexa integration let you activate either AI bot when speaking their respective wake-word phrase, while Sony’s mics demonstrate superb speech recognition for proper voice command execution. Siri and Bixby are compatible with these buds as well. Quick Attention lowers the volume to 10% whenever you talk, while Speak-to-Chat uses mics and advanced signal processing to recognize your voice and automatically pause music. We just wish the touch controls were as responsive as Apple’s force sensors.

Winner: AirPods Pro 2

Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones inside open charging case placed in palm of reviewer's hand

(Image credit: Tom's Guide )

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4: Sound quality

The WF-1000XM4 offer LDAC codec support over wireless Bluetooth 5.2, and as such are listed as one of our best earbud choices in our guide to the best audiophile headphones. Stereo imaging is spectacular, with instruments accurately placed and localized on tracks. Bass is toned down, but it has been engineered with balance in mind, translating to a nice blend of impactful lows, crisp mids, and striking highs. Sony’s EQ is one of the best, hosting several well-engineered presets and allowing you to create your own audio profile by manually adjusting frequencies. Then come high-end features like 360 Reality Audio to enjoy compelling 3D sound on select music tracks, Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) for upscaling lo-fi recordings, and LDAC that ensures high-quality streaming over Bluetooth.

Sound on the AirPods Pro 2 has improved, but it still doesn’t meet audiophile criteria. As for the positives, that would be the new low-distortion driver and custom amplifier for richer, livelier sound, as well as underrated features like Headphone Accommodations to tune balance/range/brightness. You can access numerous EQ presets on iOS. Personalized Spatial Audio also lives up to its billing, scanning your ears and head to create a personalized profile that optimizes 3D effects when indulging in Dolby Atmos-supported content. We still find the bass levels subdued compared to other models, and the lack of lossless codec support holds the buds back from their true potential.

Winner: AirPods Pro 2

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) with single bud in ear

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4: Active noise cancellation

We prefer Sony’s noise cancellation to Apple’s. These buds handle noises across the frequency spectrum with ease, especially high frequencies. Any distractions that enter the soundscape will sound like background effects on songs. With up to 20 levels of ambient listening, you have full control over how much noise you want to let in or block out. Sony’s mics pick up everything from conversations across the street to loud construction work a few blocks away. There's also an Automatic Wind Noise Reduction setting that adjusts ANC to decrease wind presence. 

Despite what Apple says, the AirPods Pro 2 don’t reduce twice as much ambient noise as the original AirPods Pro. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a fantastic noise-canceller. You can wear these buds in any environment and enjoy peaceful listening. Low and mid frequencies are practically nonexistent, while high frequencies and wind are significantly decreased. Where the technology really excels is ambient listening, as the new Adaptive Transparency mode is stellar for keeping tabs on your surroundings. Most importantly, the feature reduces harsh environmental noise, so you can still hear these sounds clearly. Remember too that Apple provides other ambient listening options: Conversation Boost emphasizes vocals to assist those with mild hearing impairments and Live Listen captures sounds using the iPhone mic and sends them to your AirPods.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM4

Apple AirPods Pro in charging case in palm of reviewer's hand with pool in the background

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4: Special features and apps

Apple has done a tremendous job expanding their ecosystem, which continues to introduce features through iOS updates. We have already touched on the AirPods Pro 2’s newest additions, including Adaptive Transparency, Personalized Spatial Audio, Precision Finding for the MagSafe charging case, and the skin-detect sensors. Favorites like automatic switching, audio sharing, announced messages with Siri, Ear Tip Fit Test, Find My, “Hey Siri,” Headphone Accommodations, Headphone Levels, and Live Listen have all returned. Let’s not forget these AirPods Pro tricks either. A new dedicated AirPods section has also been introduced in iOS to easily adjust device preferences.

The WF-1000XM4 may not have more features, but they have the more enticing ones. Sony’s Headphones Connect app is the hub for extended functionality, granting access to high-end extras such as 360 Reality Audio, ANC, ambient listening adjustment, DSEE, Equalizer, LDAC, Optimal Earbuds Tips, Quick Attention, and Speak-to-Chat. There’s even a Bluetooth Connection Quality setting to prioritize either sound quality or connectivity. These buds don’t come with their own Find My Buds function, but support Google’s Find My Device feature.

Bluetooth 5.3 is available on the AirPods Pro 2, and combined with Apple’s H2 processor, the technology achieves high-bandwidth connectivity and instantaneous pairing with iOS/macOS devices. Unfortunately, these buds were not platform-neutral; audio performance and pairing issues are common on Android devices.

Despite the WF-1000XM4 running on Bluetooth 5.2, it operates fast and establishes connections with devices in a jiffy, no matter the platform. Having one-tap Google Fast Pair expedites the process on Android smartphones.

Neither set of buds comes with Bluetooth multipoint (to pair to two devices simultaneously).

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM4

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4: Call quality

Expect muffle, occasional background interference, and weak wind resistance when using Apple or Sony’s buds for calls. If we must choose one, then the more serviceable calling headset would be the AirPods Pro 2. It provides stronger vocal capture in less noisy settings and comes with headtracking support for FaceTime calls, which makes conferencing chats feel more in-person.

Winner: AirPods Pro 2

Apple AirPods Pro 2 with charging case placed on a table outside

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4: Battery life

Battery life is one of Sony’s strengths, so it comes as no surprise that the WF-1000XM4 holds a longer charge. You can get 8 hours with ANC on and 12 hours with ANC off, though bear in mind that high volume and LDAC can drop playtimes by about 2 hours. The charging case can hold up to 36 hours.

Apple finally increased the battery life, but playtimes still fall short compared to near competitors. A full charge holds between 5.5 to 7 hours, depending how you use the buds, and the charging case holds up to 34 hours when ANC is not in use.

Both charging cases come with wireless charging and quick charging (5 minutes = 1 hour of listening time). However, the AirPods Pro 2’s case supports more charging solutions, including MagSafe and Apple Watch charging.

We favor longer playtimes, thank you very much.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM4

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4: Verdict

Despite being a year older, the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds remain a remarkable noise-canceller. They have a massive feature set, powerful ANC, and audiophile-grade sound give these buds mass appeal. The updated design is also an exceptional representation of the brand’s legacy craftsmanship.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 Apple AirPods Pro 2Sony WF-1000XM4
Price and value (5)54
Design (15)1213
Controls (10)108
Audio quality (20)1819
Active noise cancellation(20)1718
Special features and apps (15)1314
Call quality (5)32
Battery life (10)89
Total score (100)8687

The AirPods Pro 2 are an outstanding follow-up with better battery life, smarter ANC, and slightly improved sound. New features like Precision Finding compatibility with the MagSafe charging case and Personalized Spatial Audio are strong selling points as well.

In the end, Sony wins based on the WF-1000XM4’s audio and noise-cancelling merits.

Next: Check out the best noise-cancelling earbuds to find out where each ranks compared to the rest of the models we've reviewed.

A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.

  • emton
    The Sony does have wireless charging case. Please correct in the table.
    Reply
  • GeekyMcFly
    This article tries to favor Apple over Sony. The WF1000xm4 offers more than the APP2. Apple hasn't even thought to touch their codes, Sony supports LDAC. Apple offers AAC. The only thing the APP2 can beat Sony in is comfort. That's it.
    Reply
  • emton
    The bias is so obvious they don't even try to hide. From the sound quality paragraph, it clearly shown the writer don't even own/used the Sony. The features like ear scanning, spacial audio have been implemented long ago by Sony. When the paragraph says the Sony is better at sound quality, the result gives Apple the win.

    Tom's parent company is listed, not surprised every article is just another ad. Now i remember why I've left Tom's to other reviewers.
    Reply
  • Yiggles
    Obviously written by an iPhone user that is pretty much biased.. for example the price.. the Sonys are stated as being generally available for $50 less or more yet the category is a tie. Then as others have said the Sony buds case IS capable of wireless charging. Then the biggest thing that isn’t mentioned is that if using the AirPods with an android device nearly all of the features are unavailable. Btw if anyone thinks I’m an android fanboy, I’m typing this on my iPhone…
    Reply