It’s just less than two years since I tested the WF-1000XM3, and around that time Sony headphones have never ceased to be the benchmark for high-end headphones. Seriously, I saw a new pair again like a month ago and still made the usual reference.
It’s a rarity in these days of the annual upgrade cycle. And that’s going to double for the wireless headphone space. It was already quite crowded when Sony entered it for good in mid-2019, and things only got worse on that front. But the M3s were a breath of fresh air. With so many companies competing for the middle and lower end of the spectrum, Sony has given up on something really premium.
Six months before the AirPods Pro arrived, the M3 hit the market with excellent sound and noise cancellation. The latter of course became standard across the category, but when Sony brought it in, it was almost unheard of. Despite the earbuds’ warm reception, however, the company waited two years to provide proper follow-up. Understandable, I guess. Improving the very good is difficult.
I’m happy to report that the WF-1000XM4 is worth the wait. Sony excels in high-end headphones, and these are no exception. The new buds represent an improvement over their predecessors in several respects. Unfortunately, their price matches. If you thought M3s were expensive at $ 230, I have bad news for you, my friend. The new ones cost an additional $ 50.
The result is that new headphones mean a price drop on older units. A quick search shows them for around $ 178 from a number of places, bringing them more in line with standard headphone pricing. At $ 30 more than the AirPods Pro, Sony really leans on the premium end of the spectrum. If anyone has the resources and the scale to keep prices low, it’s Sony.
Are the WF-1000XM4s worth the price? This is a pretty subjective question, of course. What I can definitely say is that they are some of the loudest pair of headphones you can buy. I’m still not convinced that anyone can really duplicate the on-ear headphone experience in a pair of headphones – the form factor is just too limited right now. But there are definitely some perks to going with buds – namely, portability and on these insanely hot summer days, a chance to let your ears breathe.
Heads are, of course, better suited for fitness. However, if you are specifically looking for a pair to practice on, this one probably shouldn’t be your first choice. I mean, they’re IPX4 water resistant which is great for sweat, but it’s more of a long plane ride or sitting at your desk and really enjoying some kind of jazz record headphones .
Partly because they are fat. Granted, they’re a bit smaller than their predecessors, and switching from a paddle-wheel design to placing components above the ear canal is a definite advantage, but they’re still a bit too big for a long time. And while this is one of those things that varies widely from person to person, I have found that headphones tend to cause ear pain after wearing them for long periods of time. I found the pressure a bit released when I replaced the medium foam tips with a small one (I am a medium in pretty much all varieties of earbuds), although the small ones were much worse at forming. a seal in my ears – a necessity to really benefit from active noise cancellation. And even still, the eventual dull ache was not nonexistent.
It should also be noted that I have had less than spectacular experiences with the foam tips. They tend to be more prone to wear and tear than silicone and have a habit of getting a little knotty in the earwax department (listen, this job isn’t always pretty). Although I understand why high-end manufacturers go this route, from a comfort standpoint.
Also, kudos to Sony for choosing sustainable paper packaging. It’s not much to look at, but how often do you really look at the packaging of your electronics? Anything that is even slightly better for the planet is a big plus in my book. And besides, the charging case looks great.
It is significantly smaller than the W3. These are much more pocket-sized. It’s an understated matte black, but with a fairly strong white Sony logo on top. The magnets are strong and the heads snap into the case with authority – they will attach to each other as well. A thin LED strip directly under the cover lights up green or red, depending on the load. The case is wide enough to stand upright, so the USB-C port is on the back – or you can charge it wirelessly with a Qi pad.
Interestingly, the stated charging time is the same as the M3s, although the numbers have been moved. With the originals you have six hours on the heads and another 18 on the case. Here, it’s eight o’clock on the buds and 16 on the case. So a full day anyway, but I definitely prefer the extra two hours on the real headphones.
The buds themselves are a bit flashier than the case. The design features two intersecting circles, the uppermost of which is designed to be flush with the ear. The exterior is accented by a metal microphone, with a second built-in microphone at the top.
The sound of the buds is really excellent. It has the kind of instrument separation that opens up new details on familiar songs you missed with inferior heads. The default balance is also excellent. Sony does not lean too much on the bass because it is not necessary. The headphones sound great on a wide range of music varieties, as well as podcasts.
Noise reduction is, once again, the industry leader. A simple tap on the left earbud alternates between ANC and ambient noise, and the difference is like night and day. I was really impressed with the sounds it was able to block out, including my extremely loud juicer. I was also impressed with the Bluetooth range of the headphones.
With headphones, it is true that you often get what you pay for. This is certainly the case here. Sony has once again managed to set the bar high for premium buds with the WF-1000XM4.