Sony’s latest true wireless earbuds improve on every aspect of what was already a category-leading product in the noise-cancelling space, if you can live with the fact that they’re also now a bit more expensive.

The WF-1000XM3 of 2019 were an impressive miniaturisation of a lot of the tech used in Sony’s full-sized active noise cancelling cans. But in the years since rival products from Apple, Bose and others offered sleeker looks and more convenient features, even if they couldn’t touch Sony for ANC. With the new $450 WF-1000XM4, Sony’s looking to move back to the top of the pile.

Sony’s earbuds retake the audio quality and noise cancelling crown

The WF-1000XM4 are by no means small, but they don’t hang out of your ears like a pair of Bluetooth headsets as did their predecessor.

First impressions are that these are very pretty buds, with an eggshell textured finish and jewellery-like metallic ports. They come in the familiar 1000X colourways of black and copper or beige and brass, are a little smaller and lighter than the WF-1000XM3, and the new foam tips paired with the round design make for a snug fit without going too far into the ear. They’re also IPX4 waterpoof.

Most importantly, these are the nicest sounding true wireless buds I’ve tested to date. Bass is deep and rich, mids are clean and detailed, and the texture on everything from acoustic sets to heavy distorted guitars comes through perfectly.

The WF-1000XM4 support Sony’s LDAC Bluetooth protocol, which improves wireless transmission rates when you have a good connection so can result in more clarity, but there’s no aptX support so you only get the benefit with certain Android phones. Yet I tested on a high-end Oppo phone with LDAC support, as well as a Samsung Galaxy and recent iPhone where the connection dropped back to AAC, and it sounded excellent regardless.

Sony’s earbuds retake the audio quality and noise cancelling crown

The WF-1000xM4 have no problem drowning out noisy public transport.

I found the Bluetooth connection to be generally excellent, although it would have been nice to connect to two devices at once like some rivals can. As it stands there is support for Google and Microsoft’s respective fast-pairing technologies, which makes connecting to a new Android phone or Windows PC quite painless.

Even though both the buds and the case are smaller this time, battery performance is better than before. With noise cancelling on you get eight hours of constant music per charge, and the case (which is around half the size of the WF-1000XM3 case to my eyes and now supports Qi wireless charging) holds three charges for a total of 24 hours. Leaving ANC off will take that to 36 hours.

And speaking of ANC, it’s notably stronger than Apple’s AirPods Pro and comes with a lot of the same flexibility you get in Sony’s over-ear WH-1000XM4 headphones. It can comfortably silence a train or noisy office fan, with the option to invert and silence wind noise (at a cost to battery life), and at a touch or hold of the left bud you can activate ambient mode to hear what’s going on around you. Using Sony’s app, you can even adjust this on a 20-point scale or set it to only let through voices.


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