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Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds review

The Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds are fantastic all-round performers, offering knock-out sound quality and some great features. Are these the best wireless earbuds available right now?

Our rating 
4.9 out of 5 star rating 4.9
£249
Sony WF-1000XM4

Our review

Pocketable audio powerhouses, the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds deliver fantastic sound, build quality and ease of use. There are one or two small hiccups, but nothing that really detracts from their overall appeal if you can live with the price.
Design
5.0 out of 5 rating 5.0
Functions
5.0 out of 5 rating 5.0
Battery
5.0 out of 5 rating 5.0
Value for money
4.5 out of 5 rating 4.5
Ease of set-up
5.0 out of 5 rating 5.0
Pros: - Amazing sound quality
- Great battery life
- Reliable connectivity
- Good build quality
- IPX4 rating
Cons: - Only two tip choices
- Lack multipoint pairing facility
- Adaptive sound control frustrates
- Can't use left earbud on its own
- Expensive

Sony is a brand that’s generally known for producing quality at a price, and the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds are no exception. The buds produce fantastic sound quality, fit nicely in the ear and come in a compact, tactile charging case.

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There are some premium touches that help these earbuds to justify their price tag – the dedicated app and overall build quality, for example – but really, what you’re paying for is sound quality. That’s the most important metric for any set of earbuds or headphones unless you’re buying some for a specific use-case like running or phone calls, so it’s a positive that that’s where these buds excel.

During our tests, we found the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds to be fantastic performers all round, generally living up to the expectations we have of Sony’s audio equipment. They fit nicely, are relatively simple to pair before use and produce great sound.

There were some stumbling blocks, though, largely surrounding less-than-essential features. These will be discussed in more detail later.

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Sony WF-1000XM4: summary

We’ll go into more detail in the remainder of this review, but the headline summary of the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds has to be their knock-out sound quality. They create a wonderfully rendered soundstage that you’ll want to spend time in, listening to your favourite music and to crystal clear audiobooks and podcasts with a good volume range.

While there is a good feature set, including great quality ANC, the sound quality really steals the show and makes up for the one or two small drawbacks that users will encounter.

What are Sony WF-1000XM4?

The Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds are Sony’s latest and greatest wireless earbuds. They’re well suited to all music and audio playback, and they’re highly portable, so they make a great partner to your smartphone for audio on the go.

They’re also the successors to Sony’s highly rated – though not catchily named – WF-1000XM3 earbuds.

How much are Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds?

The Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds retail at £249 and only arrived earlier this year, so we’re not likely to see any big discounts yet. There may be chances to save on the previous iteration, though – the WF-1000XM3 – so stay tuned to our Black Friday earbuds deals page for the latest updates.

Of course, that hefty price tag places these earbuds right at the top of the market, alongside some other great-sounding contenders. Proudly rocking similar prices are the Grado GT220 (£249) and the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 (£279). Read more on these in our full Grado GT220 review and our Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 review.

The Sony earbuds more than hold their own in this esteemed company and are amongst the very best when it comes to sound quality.

Sony WF-1000XM4

Design

The buds fit really nicely in the ear, though some users may need to purchase extra tips as there are only two sets included out-of-the-box. As with any pair of earbuds, the fit is very personal and getting it right can be crucial to your experience of the earbuds, so it’s worth making sure your tips are the right fit for your ears.

The buds’ case is a fantastic design. It’s compact, pocketable and well-made. A small light occasionally appears when opening the case to let you know how much charge it has, and generally, it’s fantastically tactile.

If you’re planning to use the buds while running or at the gym, then they are one of the better options out there. We found that they stayed in comfortably during short runs or during light exercise. However, a slightly longer distance saw them become dislodged and fall out once or twice. They do compare well to many similar earbuds in this field, but if you are specifically looking for gym or running earbuds, then it’s best to pick a pair with over-ear wings, like the Beats Powerbeats Pro, which we listed as the ‘best earbuds for workouts’ in our best wireless earbuds round-up. Take a look at our full Powerbeats Pro review for more on those, or browse the latest deals on them below.

Features

One of the central features of the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds – and any earbuds in this price bracket – is their active noise cancelling, or ANC. The ANC is effective and easy to switch on or of using the touch controls. A tap on the left earbuds will see the buds switch between ANC mode and ambient sound mode.

There is an Adaptive Sound Control option, which automatically switches between ANC mode and ambient sound depending on where you are and the noise of your surroundings. However, this feature is rendered almost unusable by the frustrating notification sound, which overrides whatever you’re playing at the time and loudly beeps to inform you that the earbuds have switched modes. The earbuds’ app asks you whether you want to turn Adaptive Sound Control on during setup, and we would highly recommend leaving it switched off, if only for your sanity. Besides, it’s easy to switch between ANC and ambient modes using the touch controls on the left earbud, so the need for this to be automated really is minimal.

Sony’s ‘Headphones’ app offers one or two unusual features, including the option to analyse the shape of your ears and tailor sound to suit their shape – a feature Sony calls ‘360 Reality Audio’. However, this feature only works on a limited number of smaller music apps (360 by Deezer, Artist Connection, nugs.net and Tidal at time of writing). The likes of Spotify and Amazon music aren’t included.

One small bugbear with the earbuds is the fact that the left bud can’t be used on its own. The right can, and it’s not a huge issue – especially with ambient sound mode being available to help users be aware of traffic and their surroundings. However, when the cheapest £20 pairs of earbuds manage to work independently of each other, there doesn’t seem to be too much of an excuse for this small chink in the WF-1000XM4’s usability.

Another small footnote is the fact that the earbuds lack a multipoint pairing facility. It’s another small ease-of-use feature that is far from essential but would be nice when shelling out £250 for top-of-the-range earbuds.

Sound quality

This is where the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds really excel. In terms of sound quality, it’s hard to get much better in this form factor.

For the uninitiated, though, it is worth noting that wired headphones and over-ear headphones can generally produce similar or better quality sound at lower price points. That’s simply because they can pack in larger drivers – or speakers – allowing for higher highs and lower lows. However, for something you can pop in your pocket, these are very hard to beat!

With that acknowledged, let’s give these Sony earbuds the praise they deserve. The sound quality is absolutely fantastic and can actually compete with some over-ear headphones.

We’re yet to find a genre that these earbuds don’t deliver fantastically well. We tested the earbuds across a range of genres and were as impressed with bass-y beats of Bicep and Photek as we were with the well-rendered mid-tones of classic folk-rock, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and more. Vocals are clear, crisp and well-realised too.

The Hot 8 Brass Band’s cover of Sexual Healing perfectly demonstrated the earbuds’ ability to produce an immersive soundstage. The listener feels ensconced in the middle of the performance, with different elements of the eponymous brass band, each sounding distinct and taking its own place within the overall soundstage.

When it comes to the quality of the noise cancellation, this is also impressive and ranks among the best available. It will easily help you manage calls during a busy commute or block out unwanted noise while you soak up your favourite album. The ambient sound setting is great, too, allowing you to hear more sound from your surroundings when you need to hear traffic to cross a road or similar. However, whether the ANC is quite top of the pile – as Sony claim – is debatable.

Battery life

The earbuds offer up to eight hours of audio playback on one charge, with two more full charges – or 16 hours – in the case. That’s a solid offering and a noteworthy improvement on the six hours of playback that the WF-1000XM3 offered.

The case is charged with a standard USBC port and provides charging prompts using a traffic light system when opened. Green – fully charged, orange – some charge, red – please charge. This is a subtle and handy queue that’s hard to overlook and adds to the aesthetics of the charging case.

The battery life seems even more impressive when compared with Apple’s £249 AirPods Pro, which offer up to 4.5 hours of battery life, though there is 24 hours worth of charge in their case. For more information, read our full Apple AirPods Pro review.

Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds

Set-up

The earbuds require you to install Sony’s ‘Headphones’ app. This provides a little more information than just connecting via the phone’s settings menu but doesn’t revolutionise the user experience.

As discussed in the features section, the app does contain a ‘360 Reality Audio’ tool that uses photos of your ears to tailor the earbuds’ output to you, but this feature is only compatible with a very small amount of music provider apps at present.

Our verdict

Whether or not these are the right earbuds for you will depend heavily on your budget and what you really need from your buds. Really, if you’re looking for a pair of running headphones, or you don’t fancy spending £250, then look elsewhere. For anyone with a focus on top-quality, portable sound, though, the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds are absolutely ideal.

You’ll like them as soon as you take them out of the box, thanks to that pleasing premium build quality. Then, prepare to be wowed by the sound. Whatever genre you’re craving, these earbuds will deliver top-notch audio and reliable connectivity.

While there are one or two small chinks in the armour, they ultimately don’t stand in the way of the buds’ main appeal and – as a result – they haven’t impacted heavily on our rating of the earbuds.

Where to buy

If you like the sound of these pocketable powerhouses, take a look at the best deals available right now in the panel below.

If you’d love a pair of similar Sony earbuds but can’t quite stretch to the price of the Sony WF-1000XM4 buds, then try their predecessor, the Sony WF-1000XM3 pair. Take a look at the latest deals on those below.

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If you’re looking to bag a bargain in this year’s Black Friday sales, stay tuned to our Black Friday 2021 pages and check back as the huge seasonal sales move closer. We can’t wait to help you save money on earbuds and a whole range of tech.