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Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: What's new?

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs WF-1000XM3
(Image credit: Sony)

Now that the Sony WF-1000XM4 is officially unveiled, and releasing this month, it’s time to take a detailed look at how Sony’s newest pair of true wireless earbuds shapes up against its predecessor. 

The Sony WF-1000XM3 has long been one of the best noise-cancelling earbuds around, so the WF-1000XM4 will need to improve on an already-impressive set of headphones. We’ll have our full Sony WF-1000XM4 review as soon as we can; for now, here’s how the new earbuds compare to the WF-1000XM3 on paper.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: Specs compared

Sony WF-1000XM4Sony WF-1000XM3
Price$279$175
Wireless Charging CaseYesNo
ChipSony V1Sony QN1e
Rated Battery Life (ANC)8 hours (16 from charging case)6 hours (18 hours from charging case)
Water ResistanceIPX4No
Case Size2.4 x 1.5 x 1.1 inches3.2 x 2.2 x 1.3 inches
Case Weight2 ounces2.8 ounces
Special FeaturesActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, Speak-to-Chat, companion app with customizable EQ, DSEE Extreme upscaling, LDAC, NFC connectivity, digital assistant support (Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri), touch controlsActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, companion app with customizable EQ, DSEE HX upscaling, NFC connectivity, digital assistant support (Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri), touch controls

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: Price

Sony WF-1000XM4

(Image credit: Sony)

The Sony WF-1000XM4 costs $279, which would be a big jump even if the WF-1000XM3 was still selling at its launch MSRP of $230. As it stands, you can pick up the older buds for as little as $175, making the WF-1000XM4 a full $100 upgrade.

It’s also more expensive than the AirPods Pro and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, both close rivals in the ANC earbuds arena. Of course, Sony is bringing a host of upgrades to bear with the new model, but this price disparity does suggest you should keep the WF-1000XM3 in mind as a cheaper alternative.

At the time of writing you can pre-order the Sony WF-1000XM4 from Best Buy, though it hasn’t been fully released yet.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: Design

Sony WF-1000XM4 leak

(Image credit: Sony)

One of the most exciting aspects of the new WF-1000XM4 is its completely revamped design. Like the WF-1000XM3 it’s still a pair of true wireless earbuds, complete with replaceable ear tips, but the ugly and unwieldy pill shape of the previous model is replaced with a much better-looking, more rounded design.

The WF-1000XM4’s buds are lighter, weighing 0.2 ounces to the WF-1000XM3’s 0.3, and their compacted profile has also allowed the charging case to be shrunk significantly. And besides being easier to fit in your pocket, the WF-1000XM4 also gets IPX4 water resistance: enough protection to shrug off rain or sweat. The WF-1000XM3 lacks any IP-rated ingress protection at all.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: Controls

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: Controls

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Despite the design changes, the WF-1000XM4 and WF-1000XM3 operate similarly when it comes to their touch controls. As on the older model, the WF-1000XM4 can play, pause and skip through tracks from a tap on either buds’ touch sensor, and Sony’s mobile app grants a degree of control over which commands are assigned to which sensor. Thankfully, Sony has finally included the ability to control volume from the touch sensors as standard; the WF-1000XM3 strangely omitted this at launch, and only added it via a later firmware update.

The WF-1000XM4 also copies the WF-1000XM3’s digital assistant functionality, offering support for the big 3: Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: Active noise cancellation

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: Active noise cancellation

(Image credit: Sony)

We can’t yet say if the WF-1000XM4’s active noise cancellation is an improvement on that of the WF-1000XM3. While not as effective at silencing sounds as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, the older Sony buds still manage a competitive level of ANC power; even if you choose to stick with the WF-1000XM3, you’d be getting a fine set of noise-cancelling headphones.

Still, Sony has made some ANC-focused changes to the WF-1000XM4. The aforementioned 6mm driver is one: it can apparently produce high-frequency sound that’s more effective at cancelling out the sound waves produced by certain ambient noises. 

The WF-1000XM4’s ear tips also use a newly-developed foam that Sony says produces better isolation from outside noises, and the V1 processor is supposed to boost ANC effectiveness, too. We look forward to seeing, or hearing, how these improvements translate into real-world performance.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: App and special features

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: App and special features

(Image credit: Sony)

It looks like Sony’s Headphones Connect mobile app will work very similarly for both pairs of earbuds. That’s fine by us: it means you can get EQ adjustment, touch control customization, ANC and ambient controls and Sony 360 Reality Audio setup regardless of which pair you choose.

The newer WF-1000XM4 does, however, get a few extra… extras. For instance, in addition to measuring your ears for use with 360 Reality Audio, Headphones Connect can also advise you on which size of the new foam ear tips you should wear.

The WF-1000XM4 also builds on the WF-1000XM3’s ambient sound mode with its new Speak-to-Chat feature. Borrowed from the excellent Sony WH-1000XM4, currently the best over-ear headphones you can buy, Speak-to-Chat can automatically pause your music and activate ambient mode when the onboard microphones think you’re entering a conversation. 

This could be very handy; the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro has a very similar feature, though hopefully it works quicker and more reliably on the Sony buds.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: Call quality

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: Call quality

(Image credit: Sony)

Speak-to-Chat isn’t the only way Sony has tried to make the WF-1000XM4 better for conversations. Like the WF-1000XM3, the new model has two microphones for use with phone calls, but has also added a bone conduction sensor. This essentially detects the vibrations of your face as you speak, which in theory could make for clearer calls as the WF-1000XM4 can more accurately pick up what you’re saying.

If it works, it would be a very big improvement indeed. Call quality is one of the few areas in which the WF-1000XM3 is lacking, its mics being too prone to picking up speech weakly or patchily.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: Battery life

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: Battery life

(Image credit: Sony)

Anyone hoping for a clear and significant boost to the WF-1000XM4’s battery life may be disappointed: with a rated 8 hours of ANC playback per charge, plus an additional 16 hours available from the case, the WF-1000XM4’s grand total of 24 hours is exactly the same as what the WF-1000XM3 manages.

However, the older model splits this up differently, maxing out at 6 hours per individual charge with 18 hours available from the case. So although case capacity has dropped, you could get a couple more hours from the new buds without them needing a top-up. This might actually be preferable if you’re on a long flight, or want to go through a full work day without recharging.

The WF-1000XM4’s charging case isn’t strictly a downgrade, either. Unlike the WF-1000XM3’s case, it supports wireless charging with any Qi-compatible charging pad. Smartphones with Qi-based reverse charging, like the Sony Xperia 1 III, can act as power banks for the WF-1000XM4 case, too.

Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. WF-1000XM3: Outlook

Sony WF-1000XM4 leak

(Image credit: Sony)

As good as the WF-1000XM3 is, the new WF-1000XM4 definitely provides lots to be excited about. Obviously we’d need to fully test it before delivering a verdict on which is better, but Sony hasn’t rested on its laurels, and the WF-1000XM4's many upgrades and improvements could feasibly see it joining the ranks of the best wireless earbuds.

That said, remember how cheap the WF-1000XM3 now looks next to the new model? The Sony WF-1000XM4 seems great on paper, but high prices invite high standards. We’ll see shortly if the WF-1000XM4’s arsenal of upgrades makes it worth paying more for, or if the WF-1000XM3 can remain as a thrifty alternative.