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Sony WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds review: So close to perfect

By Kenny Yeo - 19 Dec 2021

Performance & conclusion

Wireless & audio performance

Once they are set up, the WF-1000XM4 earbuds connect very quickly. That has to do with its new Integrated Processor V1 chip. This chip supports independent transmission – that is to say signals are streamed independently to each earbud. This approach reduces latency and allows for a more stable connection.

I tested the earbuds with an iPhone 12 Pro Max and a M1 MacBook Pro and I found that connection was generally stable. There was the odd dropout here and there but nothing persistent nor serious. Range was decent. I could get about 8 to 10 metres away in my apartment before the earbuds struggled. And no, I didn’t encounter issues with the TraceTogether app running.

The WH-1000XM4 earbuds are supposed to support Swift Pair with Windows devices but I couldn’t get them to work with a Surface Laptop 4 that I happened to be testing. Latency wasn’t an issue either, I watched two episodes of the thus far excellent Loki and I couldn’t detect any syncing issues.

The little gold circles are microphones.

One glaring shortcoming of the earbuds with regards to connectivity is the lack of multipoint support so they only connect to one device. If you want to switch source devices you’ll have to go through the pairing process again. This is perplexing because multipoint is supported by the WH-1000XM4. But to be fair, multipoint support is a feature that is missing on other flagship true wireless earbuds including those from Bose, Sennheiser, and Apple – though Apple mitigates this somewhat by using iCloud as a crutch to enable auto-switching of devices. If multipoint is important to you, it seems that only Jabra earbuds do it.

Codecs supported are SBC, AAC, and LDAC. aptX is curiously missing which could be an issue for Windows PC users at least until AAC support comes later this year. LDAC support should be tantalising to audiophiles because of the higher data transfer rates (up to 990kbps). In the app, you can prioritise between sound quality and stable connection. AAC and LDAC is called on when you select the former while the latter relies on SBC. Because I was testing with an iPhone and Mac, I made sure I used AAC.

Battery life was impressive. Sony claims up to 8 hours on a single charge with ANC and that goes up to 12 hours if you turn ANC off. That claim seems to be spot on, I managed to get through an entire day from morning till the night with on and off listening with no problems. The charging case provides an additional two charges so you can get up to a whole day’s worth of music listening.  And if you are out of juice, five minutes is all it takes to give you up to an hour of listening time. 

Inside the earbuds are 6mm dynamic drivers. (Image source: Sony)

Inside the WF-1000XM4 are 6mm dynamic drivers. It sounds small in comparison to rivals like the FreeBuds Pro have massive 11mm drivers. But as it is often said: size doesn’t matter, it’s what you do with it that counts. 

Tonality and timbre are excellent. The overall signature is slightly dark with tastefully elevated and powerful bass, balanced mids, and somewhat recessed but easy-to-listen-to highs. But you can pick holes, these are the first word in clarity nor are they the most detailed or resolving. Consequently, you hear the notes and don’t you don’t quite feel them like the very best-sounding earbuds help you to. Still, there’s also a naturalness to the way it sounds. And ultimately, these are easy earbuds to kick back to and enjoy.

 

Against the WF-1000XM3

No contest, the WF-1000XM4 are the better earbuds.

The WF-1000XM4 earbuds are incontestably the superior earbuds. They are more compact and portable, more comfortable to wear, have better mics, and crucially, deliver better noise cancellation. If you are wondering if you should upgrade. The answer is an emphatic yes.

 

Against the WH-1000XM4

The WH-1000XM4 are more convenient for use on a plane.

This probably isn’t the fairest match up but one worth considering since both are Sony’s flagship ANC personal audio devices. In terms of noise cancellation, the two are very close but the larger WH-1000XM4 has a very slight edge – that’s how good the WH-1000XM4s are. As for sound, I prefer the WF-1000XM4s’ more laidback sound as opposed to the WH-1000XM4’s more aggressive approach. The WF-1000XM4 are irrefutably more portable. However, if you are thinking of using them on a plane (yes, one can always plan ahead and dream about flying again) then the WH-1000XM4 are more versatile since they come with an airline adapter and will plug into the in-flight entertainment system. If you intend to use the WF-1000XM4 earbuds on a plane, you’ll either have to use them only with your own devices or get some sort of an airline Bluetooth transmitter

 

Against the AirPods Pro

Apple users should go with the AirPods Pro for their sheer convenience.

If you have multiple Apple devices and often switch between them, I think the AirPods Pro are the better option. Automatic switching, when it works (yes, it can be buggy at times), feels like magic. Furthermore, the AirPods Pro are more portable, more comfortable to wear, and more affordable. However, if you only use one or two Apple devices, then the benefits of auto-switching are not so obvious and you might want to consider the WF-1000XM4. The WF-1000XM4 sound better, have superior noise cancelling, and longer battery life.

 

Against the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2

Pick the Sennheiser True Momentum Wireless 2 if sound quality is a priority.

The Sennheisers sound better. Their tuning is more refined and balanced, the soundstage is wider, and their drivers extract that little bit more detail. And for users who need aptX, it’s one of the few earbuds to support it. The Sonys counter with better noise cancellation and superior battery life. They cost about the same. If you find yourself in noisy environments often, I think you will be happier with the Sonys.

 

The new yardstick

The WF-1000XM4 earbuds aren’t perfect but they get really close. Comfort has room for improvement, the mics make you sound muffled, and the lack of support for multipoint connection is a real disappointment. But really, these are the only noteworthy niggles for me.

The WF-1000XM4 earbuds are very good.

At S$379, they are a little bit pricey – the same can be said for any flagship-class product these days – but at least these earbuds back up their price tags with some truly impressive performance. Their new design has done much to improve portability – I can now easily fit them in my pocket without looking like I have a questionable bulge in my pants. Noise cancellation is superb and the way they sound is just so alluring and enjoyable. Battery life is outstanding too. 

We might be only halfway through the year but I see these earbuds as the forerunners in the Best True Wireless Earbuds category in our next Tech Awards. Rival brands will need to pull something very special out of their hats to stand a chance. That’s how good Sony’s new WF-1000XM4s are.

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9.0
  • Design 9
  • Performance 9.5
  • Features 9
  • Value 8
The Good
Incredible noise cancellation
More compact and portable design
Great sound, pleasing tonality
Supports wireless charging
Class-leading battery life
IPX4 water resistance rating
The Bad
No multipoint support
No aptX support
Mic makes users sound muffled
Ambient sound mode sounds digitised
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