Skip to main content

Sony WF-1000XM4 review

A new design, more features, and enhanced hallmarks give the Sony WF-1000XM4 mass appeal

Sony WF-1000XM4 review
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Regan Coule/Future)

Our Verdict

The Sony WF-1000XM4 is the wireless earbuds upgrade we’ve anticipated, with better aesthetics, sound, noise cancellation and battery life.

For

  • Exceptional, full-bodied sound
  • Gorgeous redesign
  • Strong noise cancellation
  • Great battery life
  • Endless number of personalized features
  • Responsive smart controls

Against

  • Call quality still underperforms
  • Unstable fit
  • No multipoint technology or NFC

After months of leaks, the Sony WF-1000XM4 is finally official. The latest addition to the in-ear Mark series welcomes several upgrades, headlined by an all-new audio processor (the Sony V1) that promises clearer sound and even better active noise cancellation. These buds also take on a completely different and more ergonomic design than its predecessor, the already-accomplished Sony WF-1000XM3.

Sony WF-1000XM4 specs

Colors: Black, Silver
Battery life (rated): 8 hours (ANC on), 12 hours (ANC off), 24 hours (with charging case), 35 hours (with charging case and ANC off)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
Processor: Sony V1
Size: 1 x 0.8 x 0.8 inches (per bud), 2.4 x 1.5 x 1.1 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.2 ounces (per bud), 2 ounces (charging case)

After days of testing, it’s safe to call the WF-1000XM4 one of the best noise-cancelling earbuds money can buy — one of the best wireless earbuds overall, in fact. ANC is better, sound is refined, battery life is longer and the inclusion of new Sony Headphones Connect app features (alongside  old favorites like 360 Reality Audio and EQ customization) make for one terrifically well-rounded package. If you’re still on the fence about what wireless earbuds to buy, read our Sony WF-1000XM4 review to see why this model comes highly recommended.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review: Price and availability

  • $279, ships from July 1
  • Black and silver color options

The Sony WF-1000XM4 is currently available to pre-order; the Sony store only lists the release date as "Available soon," but if you order from Amazon or Best Buy it looks like you should receive your pair from July 1 onwards. The WF-1000XM4 comes in two colors: black and silver.

This pair of buds shares the same MSRP ($279) as its biggest noise-cancelling competitor, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, while also listing higher than category favorites like the AirPods Pro ($249) and Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro ($199).

For all of the latest sales, bookmark our best headphones deals page.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review: Design and comfort

  • Improved design with IPX4 rating
  • However, fit isn't very secure

Perhaps wisely, Sony ditched the WF-1000XM3’s wide and elongated shape to give the WF-1000XM4 a more compact, oval design with larger circular touch panels. It doesn’t sit discretely on your ears like other models (like the Beats Studio Buds or Jabra Elite 85t), but the WF-1000XM4’s form is still less obtrusive than the previous version, and feels both luxurious and sturdy.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Detailing is some of the finest that Sony has exhibited on its headphones. The copper ring at the edge of each bud gives these buds a striking presence and doubles as the ANC mic housing. The embossed logo and mic placement are distinctive touches, too. 

If you’re thinking about exercising in these buds, take satisfaction in knowing they come with an IPX4 rating for sweat and water resistance. I’m also fond of the shiny matte finish, but you’ll want to keep these stored in the charging case when not in use because the surface can be a magnet for fingerprints and scratches.

Speaking of the charging case, it looks like the Sony took the WF-SP800N charging case and made some modifications. This version is smaller, lighter and rests the buds flat on their respective ports. The LED light on the front is longer, to indicate battery level and pairing statuses, while the Sony logo at the top is gold. It also has a smooth matte texture that feels nice in the hand.

Sony WF-1000XM4

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Fit was a major drawback on the WF-1000XM3, as its length and weight created stability issues. I thought the WF-1000XM4’s smaller design would have fixed this, but sadly that's not the case. 

The pre-installed foam tips aren’t as secure as the bundled silicone tips, and neither type can produce an air-tight seal that keeps the buds firmly locked in. Also, the elongated sound port seems a bit too long and must be pushed deep to fill the ear cavity. Having the buds shoved that far into your ears feels awkward, and the port causes discomfort around the concha after an hour of wear.

As a result, we can't recommend the WF-1000XM4 as one of the best sport headphones even with the added water resistance — the risk of them working loose during exercise is just too high.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

You’ll need to rely on Sony’s Optimal Earbud Tips test to achieve the best fit possible. The good news is that this is just as reliable Apple’s Ear Tip Fit Test; the app feature could detect improper adjustments and provided the necessary feedback to ensure the buds fit securely.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review: Touch controls and digital assistant

  • Responsive and customizable controls
  • Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri all effective

Where the WF-1000XM3 struggled to recognize taps and motion detection, the WF-1000XM4 registers them accurately. The touch panels are programmed with a full set of media controls, which includes call management, playback, voice activation, volume, and listening mode activation. What’s cool is that each of these can be assigned to either bud and have their own operation method: single, double, and triple taps or long press. Removing one of the buds from your ear automatically pauses playback as well. 

I do think Sony missed out on an opportunity to make the copper rings multifunctional — picture them as dials to cycle through listening modes or control volume. That would have been very innovative.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Quick Attention mode can be enabled in the companion app, which drops the volume down to about 10% so you can chat with someone or hear what’s happening around you without removing the buds. The feature works like a charm and can be easily activated by performing the long press command on the left bud. 

The WF-1000XM4 also borrows the Speak-to-Chat feature of its outstanding ocer-ear cousin, the Sony WH-1000XM4. This uses the mics and advanced signal processing to recognize your voice and pause music when you’re speaking. As useful as it sounds, it’s also annoying if you forget to disable it, as music will pause every time you utter a word or even hum.

Google Assistant and Alexa integration let you access either AI bot by speaking their action phrases — “Hey Google” or “Alexa,” respectively — instead of requiring manual activation via touch input. Siri is available for iOS/macOS users as well. All of them work extremely well, with Sony’s mic array demonstrating great speech recognition. I had no problems firing off voice commands to handle basic daily tasks, searches, and music operation hands-free.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review: Active noise cancellation

  • Very effective ANC
  • Highly tuneable ambient mode

Bose pulled off quite the feat by squeezing class-leading ANC technology, previously used by the Bose 700, into the tiny QuietComfort Earbuds. Sony seems to do the same, bringing the WH-1000XM4’s adaptive noise-cancelling circuitry to the WF-1000XM4, which was designed to adjust on the fly based on your surroundings. Was it as successful as Bose’s move? Not quite. However, that doesn’t make ANC on these buds any less impressive.

The WF-1000XM4 minimized the impact of incidental sound extremely well when listening to music. Common noises around the house such as doorbells, kitchen appliances, and the humming noises from my centralized AC all went silent. The buds served me best during work hours while the missus watched over our baby boy. His grunting never made it through the soundscape, though the same couldn’t be said about his loud cries, which surprisingly weren’t distracting unless occurring in the same room.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Sony’ also tweaked its noise cancellation to better deal with louder frequencies and rumblings. For instance, the barge work taking placing right across my street wasn’t noticeable during walks, nor were sirens or car horns coming from several blocks away. Loud joggers taking calls on their Apple AirPods were ghosts. There's also an Automatic Wind Noise Reduction setting that adjusts ANC to decrease wind presence. It’s decent, and while that doesn’t sound quite so flattering, it’s actually a compliment considering how bad wind resistance is on all other Mark series headphones.

Ambient Noise Control returns with 20 levels of adjustable ambient noise. Raising it each level opens up the mics to pipe in more external sounds; you’ll want to keep it somewhere in between 10 and 20 for heightened awareness. Max level worked best for communicating with my wife and keeping tabs on the baby via baby monitor. Being able to hear all of the hoopla outside of the house was rewarding too, from bicyclists ringing their bells on the walkway to whisking cars. There's also an option to focus on voice, should clearer conversations be something you value. In addition, you can turn on automatic switching, which adjusts the feature based on your actions the locations you frequent.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review: Sound quality

  • More balanced audio than WF-1000XM3
  • Immersive even outside of 360 Reality Audio

Sony could have just carried over the same audio performance from the WH-1000XM3 and I would have been satisfied. Fortunately, the company refined its sound profile, giving the WF-1000XM4 a more dynamic, well-defined sound profile that complements all media formats, from music and movies to podcasts and eBooks.

The stereo imaging on these buds is phenomenal, with instruments accurately placed and localized on tracks. I pulled up Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and it was a revelation to hear the gently tapped hi-hats coming out of the left channel and the iconic, looming bassline out of the right channel. There was an immersive quality to the recording that almost felt surreal, as if the musicians were playing in my living room. More astounding was the crispness and prominence of Gaye’s strained harmonies; you can feel the pain in his voice.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Monstrous bass is synonymous with Sony audio products, and if you’re looking for head-rattling lows to bang against your eardrum, you’re in for a surprise: The low end is much calmer on these buds than previous models. That’s because the default EQ was engineered with balance in mind, which translates to a pleasant blend of lows, mids, and highs. The pounding drums on Justin Timberlake’s “Summer Love” won’t hit as hard as they do on the WF-1000XM3, but the overall presentation is satisfying nonetheless, as the soundstage widens to pick up on sonic characteristics that would go unnoticed on other wireless earbuds. 

Toggling on DSEE Extreme does make a difference on low-fi tracks. You would swear Sony accepted the challenge of making an early Wu-Tang Clan record sound even more realistically gritty, which the WF-1000XM4 pulls off with finesse as exemplary on “Protect Ya Neck.” The novelty censored effects and Kung-Fu flick samples sounded clean and sharp. Even poor conversions of ripped YouTube tracks that I had in my library were given a boost in fidelity. 

The WF-1000XM4 also supports 360 Reality Audio, which is basically Sony’s answer to Apple’s spatial audio and brings a 3D effect to supported music. It’s noteworthy and delivers a compelling musical experience on compatible music streaming services, which include Deezer. These buds also support LDAC, AAC, and SBC codecs.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review: App and special features

  • Both new features and trusted utilities
  • No multipoint or NFC, though

The Sony Connect Headphones app is the hub for all extended functionality on Sony wireless headphones and earbuds. Users are gifted numerous customized features and modes that spread across multiple categories, including audio, controls, connectivity, listening modes, and fit. I already touched on a few of these: 360 Reality Audio, ANC, ambient listening, DSEE Extreme, Speak-to-Chat, and Quick Attention to just to name a few. Now let’s break down the rest of the app.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review: Headphones Connect app

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The built-in equalizer is a Sony hallmark that lets you create your own sound profile or pick from a wide range of well-engineered presets: Bass Boost, Bright, Excited, Mellow, Relaxed, Treble Boost, Speech, and Vocal. The default EQ is already stellar, but also having the freedom to play around with the frequency levels for personalized sound is a gift that should never be taken for granted. Underneath the EQ is a Bluetooth Connection Quality setting to prioritize sound quality or connectivity; it’s a serviceable option based on preference.

Other details like battery level indicators for both earbuds and the charging case, toggle controls for multiple functions, a music player, and firmware updates are highly appreciated.

After Sony finally added multipoint connection support to the WH-1000XM4, I had hopes of this feature being part of the WF-1000XM4 as well. No luck. This isn’t much of a loss if you’re someone who can live without pairing these buds to two devices simultaneously. The lack of NFC stings much harder; not having the option of effortlessly pairing the WF-1000XM4 by tapping the charging case on the back of a compatible smartphone is unfortunate.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review: Battery life and charging case

  • Not exceptional, but still an improvement
  • Case now supports wireless charging

The WF-1000XM3 originally set the standard for battery life on noise-cancelling earbuds at 6 hours with ANC playback. Times have changed and standards have risen, but accordingly, Sony has upped the WF-1000XM4's longevity.

This set of buds gives you up to 8 hours with ANC on, which can also be extended to 12 hours when switched off. Factoring in volume, heavy streaming, and calling, playtimes drop by about 45 minutes to 1 hour, which is still longer than the AirPods Pro (4.5 hours) and QuietComfort Earbuds (6 hours). 

Higher-end earbud rivals like the Master & Dynamic MW08 may hold longer charges with ANC on (10 hours), but I found the WF-1000XM4 has better battery optimization, squeezing every bit of juice out before having to recharge. And if you’re the type who hates hearing low battery notifications, these buds come with some of the strongest quick-charging technology out there: a 5-minute charge equals 1 hour of use.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The charging case also receives a generous bump in total playtime, holding between 24 to 36 hours, depending on how you use the buds. That's impressive when considering how much smaller this case is than the previous version. Qi-enabled wireless charging comes part of the package too, though be mindful that the case gets extremely hot when using wireless charging.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review: Call quality and connectivity

  • Call quality needs further work
  • Bluetooth 5.2 performs well in general

The one area Sony needed to fix still requires some serious attention. Call quality on the WF-1000XM4 is marginally better than the WF-1000XM3, but don’t mistake that for great or even good. According to my wife, it was difficult to communicate with me due to muffling and the mics picking up so much ambient noise. Wind resistance is subpar too, though taking calls inside the house didn't produce much better results.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The WF-1000XM4 performs decently for video chats, however. I received positive feedback from a few clients during Zoom calls, though the mics couldn’t resist letting through my baby’s cries from the opposite room.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

More positively, Bluetooth 5.2 grants you strong and steady connectivity. Opening the charging case will enable Pair Mode and the buds will automatically pop up on your available devices list. Google Fast Pair expedites the process on Android smartphones, letting you pair with the touch of a button. This feature even offers suggestions to set up your native digital assistant or download the companion app, if neither has already been done.

Sony WF-1000XM4 review: Verdict

The Sony WF-1000XM4 is a sweet upgrade that packages elite sound, noise cancellation, and awesome features into a fancy, revamped design. Pricing might be a deterrent, but the fact that this set of buds offers greater overall functionality than every other model in its price class makes it well worth the splurge. Add longer battery life and stronger specs to the equation, and you can see why it’s a top contender for the best wireless earbuds rankings.

However, not all changes went according to plan. While the new design is an eye-grabber, it doesn’t provide the most secure fit or comfort. Stronger mics don't equate to better call quality either.

But let’s be honest: You’re likely considering the WF-1000XM4 for its audio and noise-cancelling performance over its use as a calling headset. In which case, yes, Sony’s newest set of flagship buds is an excellent choice and a prime alternative to heavy hitters like the AirPods Pro and QuietComfort Earbuds.