After spending some time with Sony’s new wireless noise-cancelling earubds, the WF-1000XM4s, I’m once again left wondering how Sony keeps delivering such beautiful auditory BS.
When I reviewed the last generation of these bad boys, I was pretty damn impressed. In fact, I accused Sony of selling souls to Satan and stand by this comment.
But I still had a few issues to nitpick, some of which I can happily report have been addressed with the XM4’s.
Sony WF-1000XM4 Truly Wireless Earbuds
WHAT IS IT?
Sony's latest noise-cancelling wireless earbuds
Incredible noise-cancellation and sound quality, great battery life, eco-packaging
Connectivity still not the smoothest, still not the smallest or comfiest
The XM4 Noise-cancellation is excellent
The WF-1000XM3s made me believe that earbuds could deliver pretty damn good noise-cancellation. And while the XM4s are still not as good as their over-ear counterparts, they have still managed to improve upon the previous generation.
This is because it contains a new V1 processor (which is a step up from the QN1e chip in the XM3s), dual sensor microphones and a 6mm driver — all of which contribute to increased noise cancellation, but with less power drain.
And it definitely works. The driver in particular is interesting as it is said to have a 20 per cent increase in magnet volume, meaning that noise cancellation is improved at low frequencies.
I have definitely noticed while using the XM4s. The active noise-cancellation is excellent, even when I have the volume set to low. With other earbuds I find I need to crank the volume to really block out most noise — not the case here. I’m thoroughly impressed.
I also found that when noise-cancellation is activated, pressure isn’t placed on the inner ear in a way that makes you feel a bit odd or off – which is something that can happen with some headphones.
If you want to go into ambient mode, there’s a couple of options. Like the previous gen, ‘Quick Attention’ mode lets you quickly decrease the volume by placing a finger over the left earbud.
There’s also an automated Speak-to-Chat function. First introduced in the WH-1000XM4 headphones, it pauses the music and lets in ambient sound once it detects you’re having a conversation.
As is the XM4 sound quality
Unsurprisingly, Sony also delivers hard on the sound quality, even with just 6mm drivers.
There’s gorgeous balance between the low and high frequencies that deliver crisp and clear vocals and instrumental tracks.
This was particularly obvious is on of my favourite go-tos – So Hot You Hurt My Feelings by Caroline Polachek.
The XM4’s delivered the ethereal vocals to each individual bud beautifully while keeping a middling electronic beat. These were punctuated with the occasional distorted vocals that crackled like electricity across my eardrums.
And if you want to mistake your workplace for ‘da club’ I would recommend Boss Bitch by Doja Cat. The electro beat hammers both earbuds brutally as the other instruments tinkle behind it. Meanwhile the vocals dance between crisp and perfect distortion, making it difficult to believe you’re using earbuds.
As for Queen Carly Rae Jepsen, her vocals in Feels Right ring out across multiple plains of existence through the XM4s. From the her clear as glass chest voice to the whisper that sends a chill down your spine, you feel every word. Even when she strains into her head voice you can’t help but be moved by the sound quality, not to mention the punch of the piano on the track.
What else is good?
But wait, there’s more!
While the XM4s aren’t the smallest buds in the world by a long shot – they’re at least smaller than the previous generation. Similarly, the case is markedly more compact and easier to fit into a pocket.
Another marked improvement is the IPX4 water resistance rating. This doesn’t make them waterproof, but they are splash, dust and sweat resistant. The XM3s did not have this, which made working out with them slightly problematic.
The battery life is also still great with 8 hours of playback with noise-cancellation on. This is a 2 hour improvement on the previous gen. You’ll also get an extra 18 hours of playback from the charging case.
I’m also impressed by the XM4’s new eco packaging, which is made from recycled paper bamboo and sugarcane fibres. I want to see more of this in gadget packaging.
They’re still not that comfortable for extended periods
One of my biggest gripes with the previous generation was lack of comfort. And unfortunately this has still been an issue, even with the three different tips sizes that come in the box.
The XM3s took around half an hour to an hour before they became uncomfortable. The XM4s are comfortable for longer, but eventually your ears will ache after a couple of hours. They also don’t feel that secure, especially when exercising. Even while typing this story, I’ve had to take the XM4’s out to give my ears a break.
So despite the great noise-cancellation and sound, the quality of life issues will always make me revert back to my over ear WH-1000XM4s/AirPods Pro Max headphones, or the in-ear AirPods Pro.
Connectivity may still be an issue
Just like the previous generation, Sony hasn’t ironed out their connectivity issues. It took a good 10 minutes before the XM4’s paired properly, but once paired, they have been fine since the initial set up.
It’s also worth noting that I am using a pre-release model so there may be some small bugs (for example, my earbuds only pause when I remove one of the buds from my ears about 50% of the time, which is definitely not supposed to happen) that won’t be present with retail versions.
Still, it will be nice when non-Apple headphones pair to devices as quickly as AirPods do.
Should you buy the WF-1000XM4s?
With an RRP of $449.95, the Sony’s WF-1000Xm4 wireless noise-cancelling earbuds are far from cheap. In fact, they’re $50 more expensive than the previous gen.
But this is par for the course with Sony. Its over-ears tend to come in at $550 when first released and I tend to say they’re worth it. Sony’s earbuds and headphones are generally thoroughly future proofed, so your purchase comfortably lasts for quite a few years.
It’s why the three-year-old WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones are still worth buying: their sound quality and inclusions, like USB-C, mean they’re still value for money today.
And when it comes to the WF-1000XM4 earbuds, there’s a lot to love. The sound and noise-cancellation are best in class for earbuds, with solid battery life. I’d prefer if they were more comfortable for long term use during the day, but I’m still confident that any buyer will be getting years out of the XM4’s.
And hey, if you’re still not sure? Wait for a sale (like the $389 pre-order price that Amazon is currently offering). They’ll still be pretty fantastic if you buy them in 6 to 12 months.