The Sony WF-1000XM4 is set to be Sony’s next pair of true wireless earbuds. As with the current-gen Sony WF-1000XM3, the WF-1000XM4 is expected to launch with active noise cancellation (ANC), though Sony has remained tight-lipped ever since its last major headphones release: the over-ear WH-1000XM4.
Still, the success of the WH-1000XM4 — it’s comfortably among the best noise-cancelling headphones ever — has also fuelled speculation over what Sony is working on next. Now, after a handful of leaks, a new pair of Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds looks increasingly likely. Here’s everything we know so far, as well as what features and improvements we’d like to see.
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Sony WF-1000XM4 release date
While there's no solid information on a specific release date for the WF-1000XM4, a recent FCC filing may have at least given us a window. This filing covers a pair of Sony-made, noise-cancelling earbuds, and includes a confidentiality agreement that ends on September 27 2021. With the relatively safe assumption that this filing does indeed cover the WF-1000XM4, we'd expect Sony to at least announce the new set of buds before that date, if not to release it outright.
Bear in the mind that the WF-1000XM4 could also experience manufacturing delays because of the COVID-19 outbreak, which is said to have already impacted several other rumored releases, including the AirPods 3. If that’s the case, then Sony could take right up until late September; an earlier Summer launch seems unlikely.
Sony WF-1000XM4 price
The original WF-1000X sold for $200, while the WF-1000XM3 launched at $230, though you can currently find it for much less. We expect the WF-1000XM4 to keep the same MSRP as its predecessor, making it cheaper than the AirPods Pro ($249) and other luxury noise-cancelling earbuds like the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 ($249).
Sony WF-1000XM4 design
So far, the biggest design hint we've seen is an apparent Sony WF-1000XM4 packaging leak that shows one of the earbuds. Take this with a pinch of salt but it does appear to show a drastic overhaul, with a much smaller and rounded in-ear bud design than the previous model.
That would be fine by us: the sheer size of the WF-1000XM3 meant it didn’t provide the greatest on-ear stability, nor was it flattering to sport when compared to smaller, more chic models like the Jabra Elite 85t.
A more compact design could also allow the WF-1000XM4 charging case to shrink a little. The FCC filing notably includes a basic, top-down image of the earbuds' charging case (see below): it has the same general shape as the WF-1000XM3's case, but considering the proportions it does look narrower. This could make it lighter as well, and we're hoping it also uses stronger magnets that keep the lid shut for optimal storage.
It’s also worth noting that on top of the new AirPods models rumored for release, Apple is said to be redesigning its current AirPods line. As reported by Bloomberg, the next version of the AirPods 2 could feature shorter stems and replaceable ear tips, while the AirPods Pro might be completely revamped and take on a more oval-shaped design similar to the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live or Google Pixel Buds 2. These rumors might have pushed Sony to flex its creative muscle and give the WF-1000XM4 a much sleeker, more modern look, as seen in the leak above.
Sony WF-1000XM4 specs and features
Details on the WF-1000XM4's specs and features are scarce, so let’s start with the givens. The WF-1000XM4 will likely keep everything available in the Sony Headphones Connect app, including 360 Reality Audio support, an EQ with numerous presets, control customization, and select options to enhance hallmark features such as Adaptive Sound Control. Ambient Sound and Quick Attention are two others you can add to the list since both are already available on the previous model.
As far as improvements, it’s expected the WF-1000XM4 will receive an advanced mic-array system for enhanced call quality (or so we hope), better touch controls, stronger active noise cancellation, and a more fine-tuned soundstage.
Again assuming that the FCC filing covers the WF-1000XM4 specifically, it also looks like the new buds will connect over Bluetooth 5.2. This improves on the Bluetooth 5.0 version used by the WF-1000XM3 with lower bandwidth and power usage when playing music, as well as the "Isochronous Channels" feature. This makes it easier for headphones to connect to several devices at once, with seamless switching between them.
The filing also references a new SoC, the MediaTek MT2822S. This is rumored to be a rebranded Airoha AB1568 chip, which would leave the WF-1000XM4 without support for the high-quality aptX Bluetooth codec but would add power management improvements on the WF-1000XM3's SoC. This, in turn, might help out with battery life.
It's also possible that enhancements made to the WH-1000XM4 over-ear headphones, from the preceding WH-1000XM3, could carry over to the WF-1000XM4 as well. Speak-to-Chat is a popular one, using the mics and advanced signal processing to recognize your voice and pause music when speaking. Sound technologies like DSEE Extreme and Edge-AI, which work to upscale compressed music and analyze music in real-time to reproduce more faithful sound, could be a go as well. Let’s not forget multipoint technology, so you can pair to two devices simultaneously and switch between them without disconnecting from either audio source.
Sony WF-1000XM4 battery and charging case
The WF-1000XM3 set the standard for battery life in the true wireless category when launched. Sony somehow figured out how to squeeze an impressive 8 hours (6 hours with ANC on) into these tiny in-ear monitors.
The aforementioned WF-1000XM4 packaging leak suggests that the new model could keep the exact same battery performance as the WF-1000XM3: 6 hours of ANC playback with 18 hours available from the charging case.
That might be disappointing to anyone hoping Sony would up it battery game, especially as more recent true wireless buds now last longer than the WF-1000XM3 with ANC on — the JLab Epic Air Sport ANC, for example. Still, this is just a leak for now, so those numbers could be different on the final product.
One of the coolest, most underappreciated features on the WF-1000XM3’s charging case was NFC, which allowed users to instantaneously pair the buds by placing the case on the back on their Android smartphone. We'd be extremely surprised if the WF-1000XM4 dropped this, and the same goes for USB-C charging. Wireless charging is something Sony has yet to introduce on any of its wireless earbuds, but we’re thinking fourth time may be a charm.
Sony WF-1000XM4: What we want to see
All of Sony’s latest headphones and earbuds offer a ridiculous amount of functionality, but consumers always want more, especially when paying a premium. Based on our testing with several Sony models, including the WH-1000XM4 and WF-1000XM3, we feel there is room for improvement in design and sound, as well as new features. Here is our wish list of upgrades that we want to see on the WF-1000XM4.
aptX HD: Hi-Res Audio support has been rumored to arrive on the WF-1000XM3 via update for months now. We’re still waiting. In the meantime, Sony can go to work integrating the Bluetooth codec into their next-gen model.
A smaller, more practical design: Sony needs to figure out how to cram all of its high-powered components into smaller in-ear real estate. Period. And if that’s not the move, and we’re stuck with the long-shaped frame, then Sony has to enhance the fit drastically. Maybe it can take a cue from the UE Fits, which molds its gel-filled tips to a person's ear in 60 seconds.
Adjustable ANC: Having 20 levels of adjustable ambient sound is cool and all, but in all honesty, our preference sways more towards having adjustable active noise cancellation. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds lets users cycle 10 levels of ANC, and the technology also blends in with ambient listening to make external sounds more distinctive. The results are magnificent. Here is hoping Sony can do the same, or something just as unique.
Enhanced LDAC support: The WH-1000XM4 supports the company’s proprietary high-res codec, but not with multipoint technology. It seems difficult to accomplish, but Sony has plenty of time to crack the code.
More extravagant colors: Black and Silver are cool, but Sony needs to experiment and release more unique, fancy colorways. We feel the WF-1000XM4 could easily pull off the bold-and-shiny look, similar to the Jabra Elite Active 75t. A Mint, Titanium or Navy version with gold accents would be fire.
Sweat and water resistance: Sony never shared the IP rating for the WF-1000XM3, but it has been confirmed that the buds lacked sweat- and water-resistant protection. The company has made strides with its wireless sport earbuds, as demonstrated on the IP55-rated WF-SP800N, so we see no reason why the same can’t be done with the WF-1000XM4.
Wireless charging: Qi-enabled wireless charging is something Sony has yet to introduce on any of its wireless earbuds, but we’re thinking fourth time may be the charm. Even better would be if Sony took a page from Samsung’s playbook and implemented reverse wireless charging to charge up the buds with any Sony Xperia (or Android compatible) smartphone.
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