To say the Sony WF1000XM4 was my most anticipated personal audio kit of 2021 is an understatement. If you’ve read my XM3 review, you already know that I now firmly believe in Sony’s ability to outperform the competition when it comes to headphones and earphones. Now, a lot has changed, which meant that the XM4 came under my scrutiny and had immense standards to meet. That leaves this review open to some picky observations, of course, but just be aware that all the negatives are slight and largely irrelevant. I’ll say it now so you can choose whether or not to continue reading, this is a resounding 4.5 star verdict that is slightly below perfect for several reasons.
Note that this is the same store I gave to the XM3s, but put it in context here. Now there is more competition in the space and stronger alternatives that are just as good, mainly from Samsung, Jabra, and Sennheiser. Although Sony has beaten them all when it comes to what matters most, the sound. Read on to find out more.
It is a sexy, refined and refined improvement over the predecessor. These tiny buds are clearly reduced in size and look much more stylish when in the ears. The case no longer has an awkwardly bulbous bronze bottom but is entirely black (or silvery) seamless, it’s too thinned out to fit better in a pocket and slip into a bag.
Even the packaging is better, and your first impression of the XM4 is good. This is recycled packaging that contains the small black charging case with the buttons inside and a USB-C charger with the standard instruction menu. Nothing fancy here, and while the cardboard packaging means Sony doesn’t dress its new flagship headphones with a premium first impression, it’s simple, cool packaging that’s easy to interact with.
Note that although these headphones use USB-C to charge, in their case you can also use reverse wireless charging if you have a suitable Qi charger. This means that you can also use the charging of the case as a power supply with any compatible smartphone, playing in the modern ecosystem of devices and adding another layer of convenience.
The body of each bud is rounder and more easily adapts to the ear, contributing to comfort even if they still have stability issues. These aren’t racing headphones, they’re an end-to-end lifestyle. If you want a pair of exercise headphones, you better look at brands like Jabra and Beats. These polyurethane tips are much better than straight silicone, helping to offset some of the stability and promising a better fit to help with passive noise cancellation and audio performance.
If you’re having trouble getting the right fit out of the 3 included eartip sizes, Sony has thoughtfully included an airtight test, which uses the Headphones Connect app to measure the fit. It’s worth playing around with this one if you want the best bass response and noise cancellation experience.
You have a modest IPX4 rating here, which lags behind some competitors but still maintains a decent level of splash and sweat resistance.
On each bud you have a touchpad which can be reconfigured through the app. This customization is always welcome, although right out of the box the default controls are intuitive enough. Tap the left earbud once and you’ll toggle between noise cancellation and ambient sound canceling modes, tap the right once and you’ll play the music immediately, with further rounds of taps scrolling the music to the forward or backward. Everything works pretty well and the touchpads aren’t overly sensitive, so you won’t have much of a problem with accidental touches.
You will, however, have a problem with the talk-to-chat. The feature, which was introduced with the WH1000X4, is impressive because it mutes the music when you’re talking so you can have a conversation without having to do anything extra. The problem here is that it can be too sensitive, so even a cough can trigger the mode. You can either disable this option or adjust the sensitivity through the app.
Under the hood, Sony upgraded the DAC with an upgraded V1 integrated processor and included the signature DSEE Extreme audio processor with Edge-A. Nobody beats Sony when it comes to processing, and that’s just proof as performance is virtually unmatched in both active noise cancellation (Bose still comes close) and audio performance.
The biggest performance improvement here is call quality. Sony’s microphones are now more effective at isolating a speaker’s voice and using beamforming so that ambient sounds are not an issue when you walk and talk outdoors. There’s also automatic wind reduction, and I’ve found that those on the other end of the phone can hear me much more clearly when I’m talking about what the buds are, even in contexts where the wind has increased dramatically. . There will of course always be that lack of quality on the outside, but the fact that Sony has finally managed to get it right is well worth praise.
The audio performance of this one blows me away, even months after testing them for the first time. The bass is noticeably muted and refined compared to the XM3s, and you’ll get a much better balance with the soundstage here than I think any other pair of headphones I’ve owned. Texture, clarity and resonance are stable at all volumes, giving you enough space to capture the deepest details of each track. All styles of music sound great here, from EDM and hip hop to jazz and soul, showing just how tight and confident Sony’s redesigned pilots have become.
With sophisticated sound that can reveal more detail in every song, I can confidently say that these are the best sonic headphones on the market right now. This makes the high price a little easier to swallow.
And now, a big problem. Where the XM3 had connection issues at times, the XM4 may have been overcorrected and is now desperately looking to connect just about every moment. Sometimes I would talk on the phone normally and then I realized that the earbuds connected to my phone just because the case might have moved around in my pocket, when the earbuds assumed that they were open and getting ready to leave. I even had “man, why are your headphones trying to connect to my phone?
If you use them when your favorite streaming service, you might be disappointed with Sony’s decision not to include AptX HD, which should be standard now and go a long way in helping modern content sync and manage it efficiently.
Battery life has improved as well, but the biggest improvement is seen in the speed at which the XM4 can recharge in the charging case. Leave these little beauties at home for 5 minutes and you should be able to recover 1 hour of gaming. The battery is designed for 8 hours of noise canceling and Bluetooth enabled gaming, with a total of 16 hours with the charging case. It’s not bad at all, especially considering how good these buds are.
Verdict & Value
Is $ 349 too much to pay for these buds? No. Considering the near-perfect performance, which will certainly leave you with higher expectations from Sony, and how essential music has become to everyday life, the XM4 is one of the best devices you can own right now. There is room for improvement, of course, but this is a company that – especially since the XM3 – has been taking it out of the park for years. I have no doubt that the sequel will be even better.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Strong points: Unparalleled audio performance; better design with a more portable charging case;
Weak points: Only IPX4; may be overzealous with bluetooth connection; always syncing issues when watching content; no aptX HD.
Price: $ 349