When it comes to investing in a pair of noise-canceling wireless earbuds, there are plenty of options to choose from. And while every Tom and Jane is cobbling together a cheap third-party option for you to throw your dollars at, two reliable first-party titans stand above the rest — Apple and Sony.

Contents

  • Design and fit
  • Controls and customization
  • Sound quality
  • Noise cancellation
  • Call quality
  • Battery life
  • Price and warranty
  • The bottom line

Today, we’ll be comparing Apple’s second-generation AirPods Pro against Sony’s almighty WF-1000XM4, weighing in on important factors like the overall design, sound quality, battery life, and price. Read on to see which set of buds we think is the superior option!

While we’ve yet to get our hands on the latest AirPods Pro, we’ve included projections and estimations based on our experience with the original AirPods Pro, along with Apple’s official specs and marketing for the next-gen set of buds. We’ll update this post after we’ve reviewed the new earbuds. 

Design and fit

wireless earbuds, sony wf-1000xm4, sony wf-1000xm3, airpods pro 2, airpods pro

Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Perhaps the most crucial aspects of any set of wireless earbuds are how they look, feel, and function, three important categories that Apple and Sony have tackled in earnest. Carrying over the same style from one generation to the next, the latest AirPods Pro come in a glossy white finish (for both the buds and charging case), with Apple’s trademark hanging-stem buds making a much-expected return.

In terms of overall fit, the AirPods Pro 2 now come with four silicone ear tip sizes — extra small, small, medium, and large. While the extra-small size is new to the Pro, based on our experience with the original AirPods Pro’s fit, we’re expecting the same snug and comfortable experience for the second-generation Pro earbuds.

For the Sony WF-1000XM4, Apple’s rival brings plenty to the table, but let’s get things started by calling out the, er, obtrusion in the room. The Sony WF-1000XM4 are among the biggest pairs of wireless earbuds on the market, and although Sony claims the XM4 are 10% smaller than the previous XM3, this isn’t a monumental difference.

As any constant commuter or frequent gym-goer will tell you, bulky buds are hard to keep in place, even for perfectly shaped ears. Thankfully, Sony made some design changes to the XM4, rounding out the buds and increasing the surface area of the touch controls. Compared to Apple’s silicone, the XM4s use memory foam for their ear tips, allowing for a much more snug fit, a sensation that some will like and others may find a bit uncomfortable.

Based on the AirPods Pro 2’s relatively bulk-less profile and agreeable fit, Apple wins this category.

Winner: AirPods Pro 2

Controls and customization

wireless earbuds, sony wf-1000xm4, sony wf-1000xm3, airpods pro 2, airpods pro

While the AirPods Pro earbud stems aren’t as long as they are with other AirPods products, tap controls are again relegated to a set of force sensors on the shortened tees of each bud.

Single, double, and triple taps of what Apple calls “force sensors” are what you’ll be using to control music playback and answer calls, while long presses will cycle between noise-canceling modes or Siri. The AirPods Pro 2 also include a new drag-up-and-down volume control gesture for the buds, a convenient addition that Apple fans have been sorely lacking for some time. We also love the fact that with the launch of iOS 16, AirPods settings and customizations are no longer buried within Bluetooth settings sub-menus.

Once the AirPods Pro are paired to your phone, all you’ll have to do is launch the Settings app, and there’ll be a handy AirPods tab at the top of the screen, located right below your Apple ID. In this AirPods dashboard, you’ll be able to change what a long press does for each bud, adjust noise-cancellation, launch the Ear Tip Fit Test, and, new to iOS 16, create a Personalized Spatial Audio profile (more on that later).

For iOS devotees, the AirPods Pro 2 are the perfect Apple ecosystem product, but Android users are unfortunately left in the dust when it comes to customization and features like Spatial Audio, for these are iOS device exclusives.

While the Sony XM4 use the tried-and-true single, double, and triple tap for general playback controls, Sony’s idea of customization is a bit more stringent. Whether you’re using an iOS or Android device, you’ll need to download the Sony Headphones app to personalize the XM4’s touch commands. In terms of control mapping, Sony divvies up adjustments into ambient sound control, volume control, and playback control settings. Unfortunately, the Headphones app will only allow you to group a single set of commands to a single bud at a time, so if you’re using volume controls and start/stop commands, you won’t be able to activate noise-cancellation.

wireless earbuds, sony wf-1000xm4, sony wf-1000xm3, airpods pro 2, airpods pro

Riley Young / Digital Trends

If you’re an Android user running a phone or tablet with Android 6 loaded up, you can use Google Assistant or Alexa to control volume, but it’s generally more convenient to simply tap or drag a finger to adjust those decibels in the first place.

That all being said, we’re giving another point to the AirPods Pro 2 for overall controls and ease of customization (if you’re an iOS user).

Winner: AirPods Pro 2

Sound quality

Both Apple and Sony have delivered big results in the audio department before, but when it comes to everyday music, podcast, and general media streaming, which buds come out on top?

For the most part, we loved our experience with the original AirPods Pro. The overall sound quality was clear, articulate, and beautifully balanced, with powerful bass rounding out the lower frequencies and plenty of definition in the midrange and treble zone. And with the inclusion of Apple’s all-new H2 chip on the latest AirPods Pro, and a driver and amp redesign, we’re expecting even better sound quality with the new buds.

We can also thank the H2 chip (and iOS 16) for Personalized Spatial Audio. Spatial Audio proper was introduced to certain AirPods products back in 2020, allowing listeners to engage in immersive 3D, head-tracking sound. The “Personalized” label refers to some new tech that uses your iPhone’s TruDepth camera to scan and collect data about the shape and size of your head and ears. The data is then used to adapt and optimize the Spatial Audio based on the unique properties of your head and ear shape. Not too shabby, Apple.

Over on the Sony side of the coin, the XM4 sound crystal-clear, and the bass is just as good (if not better) than what we’ve seen with the original AirPods Pro, and what we’re betting the newest model will sound like.

For the listening bandwidth connoisseurs of our readership, the XM4s give users access to Sony’s amazing LDAC audio codec, allowing for high-resolution Bluetooth music streaming (where applicable), in addition to Sony’s DSEE Extreme upscaling tech, which adds some much-needed oomph to lower-bandwidth MP3 tracks and other lower-bit streams.

The Sony Headphones app also has an EQ dashboard that allows you to assign different listening presets to your earbuds, with modes like “Bright” and “Treble Boost” to choose from.

Seeing as both the AirPods Pro and XM4 offer great listening experiences with equally great first-party bonuses and that we haven’t yet had the chance to test out the AirPods Pro 2 for ourselves, we can’t really call this key category, but we expect this one is going to be close.

Winner: TBD

Noise cancellation

Wireless earbuds are nothing without a little active noise cancellation (ANC) to block out unwanted environmental sounds, and both Apple and Sony know what’s up when it comes to dialing down on the decibels we don’t want to hear.

The original AirPods Pro have excellent ANC, reducing the noises of heavy construction equipment, HVAC systems, and other droning devices to mere whispers, with just a little compression hiss present in the quietest of external environments.

The Transparency mode is pretty great, too, and based on Apple’s claim that the second-gen AirPods Pro will deliver double the ANC and improvements to ambient listening as well (thanks again to that H2 chip), we’re betting the second-gen Pro is going to dial out sound even more efficiently. Additionally, the AirPods Pro 2 have added something called Adaptive Transparency. Made possible by the new H2 chip, this new feature ups the ante for the second-gen AirPods Pro by allowing them to boost or reduce the amount of outside ambient noise dynamically, so you don’t have to adjust the level yourself. We have yet to try this for ourselves, though, so we’re not sure how well it works.

But Sony is no straggler when it comes to noise cancellation, with many of the company’s earbuds and headphones offering excellent tune-out capabilities. In our own hands-on test of the XM4, we found that ANC eliminated the lion’s share of unwanted frequencies, and the transparency mode was rock-solid, too. We also appreciate that you can customize the sensitivity and speak-to-chat capabilities of the XM4 using the Headphones app.

In fact, the Sony WF-1000XM4 has been our No. 1 pick for the best noise-canceling earbuds for some time. But the original AirPods Pro are on also on that list, so, again, until we get down in the trenches with the AirPods Pro 2’s ANC, we’re going to hold off on calling this one — we’ll update this post as soon as we do.

Winner: TBD

Call quality

When it comes to call quality, the WF-1000XM4 eaerbudsdo a decent job at dialing down on environmental noise and cutting out wind, but they’re not the best option for the latter. As the buds attempt to out-process a breeze or a gust, they add layers of compression that sound a little funny to talk over.

The original AirPods Pro are incredible when it comes to call quality, all but eliminating wind noise completely and putting a huge damper on all the other sounds of the world we don’t want to hear. We’re not expecting the latest generation of AirPods Pro to take a step backward in this category, though.

Winner: TBD

Battery life

wireless earbuds, sony wf-1000xm4, sony wf-1000xm3, airpods pro 2, airpods pro

Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Having a set of earbuds that will last for at least one full day of listening is essential, and while the buds themselves may only top out at a few hours, the charging case should provide plenty of additional listening time.

The AirPods tend to fall behind the rest of the competition when it comes to battery life, with the original AirPods Pro only delivering up to four and a half hours of bud listening and 24 extra hours through the charging case. With the AirPods Pro 2, Apple claims we’ll get six hours of bud life and up to 30 additional hours through the charging case.

Additionally, you’ll get one full hour of extra listening on the buds just by popping them in the case for only five minutes.

Over on the Sony side of things, listeners can expect up to eight hours of bud time with ANC disabled and a mighty 12 hours with the feature turned off, along with 24 additional hours through the charging case. A quick five-minute recharge will also net you one full hour of listening time.

Congratulations, Sony. You win this one.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM4

Price and warranty

The second-gen Apple AirPods Pro sell for $249 and come with a one-year limited warranty from Apple, which can be extended to two years by purchasing additional Apple Care+ coverage.

The Sony WF-1000XM4 are $280 but can sometimes be found at lower prices if they’re on sale. The XM4 also come with a one-year limited warranty.

Winner: AirPods Pro 2

The bottom line

wireless earbuds, sony wf-1000xm4, sony wf-1000xm3, airpods pro 2, airpods pro

While we’ve yet to take them for an official spin (and we’ll be sure to update this post the moment we do), based on our vast experience with the original AirPods Pro, we’re going to give the tentative big trophy of this toe-to-toe comparison to Apple’s AirPods Pro 2.

This doesn’t mean that we dislike the Sony WF-1000XM4 by any means — they’re incredible! But in terms of overall sound and call quality, customizations, and wearability, the AirPods Pro edge ahead just enough for each criterion to net the ultimate prize.

Check out our full reviews of the Apple AirPods Pro (1st-gen) and the Sony WF-1000XM4.

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