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Sony WF-1000XM4 review: exceptional performance

Sony WF-1000XM4 is almost a year old but yet manages to stay fresh. It is rather shocking to me that Sony took more than six months to bring the WF-1000XM4 to India. But when you hear them for the first time, they sound really good. They sound so good that the long wait seems worthwhile.

Also Read: OnePlus Buds Pro review: doesn’t settle

The excellence of WF-1000XM4 stems from the fact that Sony did not jump on the iteration bandwagon like many others. It took nearly two years after the launch of WF-1000XM3 to introduce the WF-1000XM4 with powerful noise cancellation, refined sound quality, and IPX4 rating. So, in the current landscape of TWS earbuds, the WF-1000XM4 is about setting the bar high for technological excellence. Does that make it worth Rs 19,990?

Design and Comfort

Sony WF-1000XM4 Review

Sony WF-1000XM4 comes nearly two years after the release of WF-1000XM3 becomes evident when you look at the design. It looks nothing like its predecessor and I mean it in a good way. Sony has ditched the bulky case seen with the WF-1000XM3 in favour of a shrunken down case. The case is apparently 40 percent smaller than its predecessor and I would say it seems to be in the same league as Jabra Elite 85t now.

The look and feel of the overall package has also changed drastically. The all-matte style of the WF-1000XM4 feels refreshing when compared to the pill shaped design from previous earbuds. While the case is much smaller, the earbuds are not exactly shrunken down in size. Sony claims that the WF-1000XM4 earbuds have been downsized by 10 percent but since they don’t stick out near your face, they look much smaller.

Like the Elite 75t series from Jabra, they pop out from your ears and will be immediately recognised by those with focussed eyes. With the WF-1000XM4, Sony is offering earbuds that go inside your ear canals and have circular touch controls outside. The standout design of these earbuds is the circular accentuated microphone inlet. Sony has also moved its logo to the side of the buds, which makes them not directly visible when you wear them. Clever.

Sony WF-1000XM4 Review

The change is not just restricted to the smaller earbuds or the shrunken down case but also the ear tips shipped with the device. With 1000XM3s, Sony shipped three pairs of silicone tips and three pairs of foam tips. With the WF-1000XM4, Sony is offering new memory foam tips, which are kind of like a hybrid between silicone and foam tips. Firstly, they are thicker in design and less rounded than the ones seen with the WF-1000XM3.

These foam tips come in small, medium, and large size and offer a strong seal with a squeaking sound. These foam eartips give a squishy feeling once inside your ears and while they are not as comfortable as a custom mould, they are definitely among the best for comfort. With IPX4 rating, you can wear them during workout or in the rain without worrying about their survival.

The case has a small LED strip at the front to indicate battery life, light up whenever you open or close the lid. There is a USB Type-C port for charging and the case supports wireless charging as well. I found the earbuds to stay latched into the case but the lid does move a bit

Sound and voice calls

Sony WF-1000XM4 Review

All those design tweaks to the earbuds and the case mean nothing if the Sony WF-1000XM4 does not mean business and that business is to sound the best. Few moments is all it takes to understand that excellence in sound quality paired with brilliance in noise cancellation. For the audio test, the first song I played is “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from Disney’s Encanto.

This song has so many elements to it – Salsa, Hip-hop/Latin Trap, Ballad, Electronic Drum Machine claps – that most audio devices will struggle to get every detail right. It opens with a piano note that is disorienting and on WF-1000XM4, you disorient before the first verse takes you to Salsa and even when the bass becomes 808, this Sony headset stands out.

Honestly, it thrives in an acoustic environment like this, comprising many different genres. I would still argue that the subtlety of audio is best done by Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2. I like that sound signature but there is that zeal, progression that Sony just nails. It truly excels in keeping you in that moment with the sound. Like when listening to Adele’s “Love Is a Game” from her album 30, you immediately get into that motown vibes.

Sony WF-1000XM4 Review

I also listened to Laurel Hell, the new album from Mitski and the opener “Valentine, Texas” starts quiet but erupts in the middle and so does WF-1000XM4. Whether you are listening to Fleet Foxes or Sam Cooke, whether it is Arijit Singh or Sid Sriram, you can even throw in Prince’s Purple Rain for good measure and Sony WF-1000XM4 surprises with its ability to stay true to the sound.

Sony WF-1000XM4 is a sign of all-round excellence with its ability to deliver clean vocals, rich bass, and impressive range across genres. That beautiful sound is further complemented by industry leading noise cancellation. In order to make the noise cancellation better, Sony has equipped its earbuds with a new chip called V1. During my time testing them, I found the noise cancellation to be better than Jabra Elite 85t, Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, and AirPods Pro.

 

I could not compare them with Bose QuietComfort Earbuds but found them really good at cancelling noise on a plane. I am not quite sure that they are in the same league as the WH-1000XM4 but these are definitely setting the benchmark for others when it comes to noise cancellation on true wireless earbuds. Sony has built a dedicated chip for noise cancelling and used memory foam tips to create a seal allowing for better isolation.

You can find good sounding true wireless earbuds with decent noise cancellation without spending a lot of money. However, if you want to see what is technically possible in a form factor like this then look no further than Sony WF-1000XM4.

Battery life and app

Sony WF-1000XM4 Review

The industry standard for true wireless earbuds in this price segment is to offer five hours with noise cancellation enabled. The Sony WF-1000XM4 can be used for eight hours of continuous playback with NC enabled. With NC disabled, these earbuds can be used for twelve hours of continuous playback. The charging case can top up the battery two times, which brings the total listening time to 24 hours with NC enabled and 36 hours with NC disabled.

Surely, Sony has pulled all stops when it comes to WF-1000XM4 and we wouldn’t have settled for anything less when it took the company this long to release a successor to WF-1000XM3. It supports wired charging with the help of USB Type-C port on the back and also has support for wireless charging. The WF-1000XM4 also supports LDAC, Sony’s own proprietary codec capable of transmitting music at up to 990kbps.

Sony WF-1000XM4 Review

With lossless music becoming standard, the support for higher bitrate is nice to have but I am not sure how many of us will truly be able to appreciate the difference. It is important to note here that LDAC tends to negatively affect battery life. One of the features missing from Sony WF-1000XM4 is support for Bluetooth multipoint. I really like having the support to simultaneously connect Jabra Elite 85t or OnePlus Buds Pro to two devices.

On the sound front, I still find the AirPods Pro to lead the way when it comes to microphone performance. Even with ambient sound, it feels less natural, which could be because of the fact that these buds are not vented. The Sony | Headphones Connect app offers a number of features including customisation for NC and ambient sound, and an option to focus on voice with ambient sound mode.

There is also a speak to chat feature, which I found to be annoying after a point. I am someone who hums to the music playing in my ears and there were times when it mistook me to be talking. There were times when it failed to enable transparency mode and lower the volume of my music even when there were people talking in the background. I do think this to be a feature that can be improved overtime.

Bottomline

Sony WF-1000XM4 Review

With WF-1000XM4, Sony has started from a clean sheet of paper and brought its audio expertise to the table. The resulting product is one that delivers the best true wireless earbuds in terms of sound quality, noise cancellation, and battery life. Sure, it fails to match Sennheiser MTW-2’s subtleness or AirPods Pro’s microphone performance.

It even lacks multipoint, which is a big miss for someone juggling between devices. However, when you look past these small quibbles, the WF-1000XM4 shows that it sits at the pedestal of premium experience in the true wireless category. It will take something extraordinary to dethrone these earbuds. At Rs 19,990, it is premium but it also does enough to justify that premium pricing.

Pricebaba’s rating: 9/10

What works

  • Good sound quality
  • Excellent noise cancellation
  • Solid battery life
  • Foam ear tips
  • Codec support

What doesn’t

  • Huge size
  • Lack of Bluetooth multipoint
  • Microphone performance lags AirPods
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Karthekayan Iyer

Karthekayan is an Assistant Editor at Pricebaba. He covers consumer technology for Pricebaba and leads the development of the deals section. With a degree in Instrumentation Engineering, Karthekayan spent three years working for an engineering firm before becoming a tech reporter. He writes news, features and reviews the latest gadgets. He has over 8 years' experience and has worked with Indian Express, Digit.in and BGR India in the past.