Sony WF-1000XM4 review: Good, better, best…

If you’re on a top-tier Android flagship though, Sony’s WF-1000X range have pretty much topped the list over the past few years

author_img Tushar Kanwar Published :  15th January 2022 06:43 PM   |   Published :   |  15th January 2022 06:43 PM
Sony WF-1000XM4

Sony WF-1000XM4

The world of true wireless earphones has come to be defined by the success of the AirPods, and the appeal of the automagical pairing, the active noise cancellation and the seamless connectivity and switching between devices is hard to deny. Apple devices, that is. 

If you’re on a top-tier Android flagship though, Sony’s WF-1000X range have pretty much topped the list over the past few years with best-in-class noise cancellation and tricks in the acoustic department that are largely unmatched in its peers, including the AirPods. 

But if you’re Sony, how do you improve on arguably the best pair of true wireless earphones? You could do an iterative update that pushes the category along, or you could go back to the drawing board and come back with this, the WF-1000XM4, in their all-new design, a new charging case and a new V1 chip inside to power all of the acoustics and noise cancelling goodness. Heck, there’s even a pair of new noise-isolation ear tips in a new material, which appears on a pair of Sony earbuds for the first time. It’s a bold move to disrupt the category (and themselves), but does it pay off? Here’s my considered take on the new Sony WF-1000XM4.

Before we dive into the all-new design, a word on the packaging. Sony’s ditched the conventional packaging for one made of recycled paper – it’s environment friendly and plastic-free, but it doesn’t give you the impression you’ve just paid twenty grand for a pair of premium earbuds. Just sayin’. Inside the case are three sizes of eartips (plus the new eartip Sony India provided), the earphones in their case, and a charging cable and documentation. Skip the documentation, but you’ll want to install the Headphones Connect app from Sony to get the most out of your earphones.

Flip open the significantly (40% compared to the previous gen) smaller case, and you get to see the all-new earbud design of the WF-1000XM4. To those familiar with the XM3s, this is 10% smaller, more rounded design that sits a little more inside the ear opening. Honestly, they’re still quite large and bulky and stick out of my ears a fair bit, but since they’re anchored in place with these silicone ear tips, they don’t weigh my ears down quite as much as you’d think. Redemption comes by way of a sizeable touch surface on the side of each earbud, which lets you change various settings – such as changing volume, switch between noise cancellation and ambient sound modes - without reaching for the phone. The touch controls are super responsive, and never did I have to fumble and tap again for the command to register. 

Based on how well they fit for you, you could use them when you’re out for a walk or a run, which is where the IPX4 splash-proof rating will come in handy. The matte finish and the shiny metal accents give these a nice, premium feel, and you can pick the XM4s up in either black or silver.

You could connect these to your phone like any other pair of earbuds, but it’s the Headphones Connect app that really opens up the deep feature set on the XM4s. You get Speak-to-Chat, which listens for you speaking and pauses the music automatically, or Quick Attention which does the same via the touch controls. Or for that matter, change how the various ambient sound and noise cancellation modes based on your location. There’s a lot to dive deep into in the app settings, but it comes highly recommended. Inside each earbud a bunch of new tech, such as an improved DAC and amplifier powered by the new V1 chip, which also aids in better noise cancellation. 

Now while the earbuds don’t support the aptXHD audio codec, but there is support for Sony’s LDAC Bluetooth codec, which, when streamed over Bluetooth from a compatible source, allows hi-res audio files to be transmitted at data rates of up to 990kbps. This is a rare spec for the true wireless category, which has a very discernible impact on the sound quality. 

Speaking of, let’s get to the reason why we’re here – to answer how the XM4s fare in terms of sound quality and noise cancellation. Noise cancellation is excellent, particularly for a pair of wireless earbuds, and it’s helped in part by the noise-isolating seal on the silicone ear-tips. The upside of great noise cancellation is that you can listen to audio at saner (and safer) levels even when you’re out and about, or dial the volume way down at home and extend battery life further. Some may experience a mild degree of that ‘vacuum’ discomfort when ANC is turned all the way up, but the noise cancellation is about as good as it gets in this category.  

What’s even more impressive is that Sony’s turned on the heat on the competition by delivering arguably the most likeable sonic signature in recent times. Most notably, the quality of bass and the intelligibility of low frequencies is *chef’s kiss*! Bass heavy tracks like Radioactive and Usher’s Yeah played back confidently on the XM4s, with every element of the bassline precise and rich enough to discern. But it isn’t just all base and nothing else, this one. Across the board, the bass doesn’t steal the attention away from the vocals in Feeling Good or the energy in Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough. This pair is a masterclass in pushing a balance of warmth, detail and energy in a sonic signature that will have you moving to the beat and tapping your feet. If you’re listening to your music with high-res tracks like the lossless tier on Apple Music, the XM4s bring in their home advantage of LDAC if you’re pairing to an Android phone, to push a level of clarity unmatched by their peers. 

And finally, when you’re having this much fun, how long do they last? First, there’s this new case which charges via USB-C or wirelessly via Qi charging, and it adds a little over two full charges or around 16 hours of extra juice. The buds themselves give you a little over 7 hours of play, with active noise cancellation and LDAC enabled, which places their overall longevity above all major rivals. You could turn off ANC and get battery life, but then again, why would you? 

If it wasn’t altogether obvious by now, there’s little to fault the Sony WF-1000XM4, even with its premium asking price of Rs. 19,990. Even with the ground up redesign and all the other changes all round, Sony has nailed it with this pair, and the price is more than justified for what you get. This is a true flagship experience by Sony in every sense – great user experience and durability, good battery life, best in class noise cancellation and stunning sound quality (with the extra boost LDAC provides). Even as I highly recommend the Samsung Buds Pro (which come in at a lot less and play really well with Android phones as well), this one is an all-round package that’s hard to beat. We have a new benchmark for premium TWS earbuds.

Highlights: Sony WF-1000XM4
Pros: Comfortable design, excellent sound quality, enjoyable sound signature, best-in-class ANC, good battery life, IPX4 rating, good app controls, LDAC
Cons: Big for earbuds, fiddly fit may deter some, couldn’t get claimed multi-point capabilities to work, lack extra wing tips for runners
Rating: 9/10
Price: Rs. 19,990 

Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar