Sony’s WF1000-XM4: Phenomenal Fidelity and Fantastic Features…at a Price

Max Chruszczyk, Writer

Sony’s latest and greatest truly wireless earbuds, the WF-1000XM4, were released June 8, 2021. They are the successor to Sony’s previous iteration of the WF-1000XM lineup, predictably named the WF 1000XM3. Sony had their sights set on Apple’s Airpod Pros when they created the unfavorably named earbuds; their product was initially priced $40 higher than Apple’s own, but has since dropped to $248, making it only $8 more than the Pros.

In terms of styling, the XM4s come in two colorways, Black and Silver, the latter which looks more like a cream color. The outer shell features a copper metal ring, which houses the main microphone, two of which are on each earbud. More copper-esque styling can be found on a top cutout, which is used partly for the Ambient/Transparency Mode. The matte black plastic on my pair, while certainly looking sharp, did present the problem of being a grease magnet. I’d recommend cleaning the earbuds with at least a microfiber cloth after each session to preserve a new, well-maintained look.

Furthermore, Sony’s buds feature phenomenal active noise canceling. Comparing them to my now 6 year old pair of Bose QC35s presented a significant improvement, so much so that people have had to yell to get my attention while I had them in. This astonishing ANC (active noise canceling) is powered by Sony’s new in-house V1 processor, as proudly touted on their website. The provided rubber-coated foam eartips also help block out ambient noise well, although I did find them to be a bit uncomfortable for long periods of time.

The bottom of the buds have proximity sensors, which detect when they are taken out and put in, in turn automatically pausing/playing music, and turning on ANC/ambient sound modes. Meanwhile, the top of the XM4s have capacitive touch buttons, which by default control the play/pause, forward/backward, and the ambient sound/ANC functions.

The sound quality is what really blew me away. The bass was deep and clear enough without muddying out the mids and highs, which is typically a problem with bassier audio gear.

The vocals in Gus Dapperton’s “Palms” were crystal clear, while the ensemble of violins and synthesized instruments in Virtual Riot’s “Remedy” felt wide and cohesive. If your smartphone or digital audio player has sufficient specs, you can reap the benefits of the XM4’s Hi-Res Audio certification, which  allows for a bitrate of 990kbps, granting the user audio quality 3 times better than typical bluetooth audio streaming, according to “WhatHiFi?”.

However, if the original sound signature isn’t to your taste, you can always use Sony’s baked in equalizer in their Headphones Connect app. While many of these manufacturer apps get flak for being subpar, Sony’s is simple to use and features support and controls for many of their products.

One unique feature of these buds present in this app is Sony’s brand new DSEE Extreme technology, which uses AI and the V1 processor to enhance low quality audio. However, my experience hasn’t been all pink and rosy. As much as I don’t like to admit this, I’m on my third pair of earbuds. My first set experienced a pinging noise whenever speech was played with ANC turned on, so I returned them to the retailer I bought them from. My second set suffered from a hissing noise that would arbitrarily play through the left earbud.

However, Sony was quick to acknowledge fault, apologize, and ship out a replacement once I returned the old pair. Sony’s competence, unlike some other brands (HP being among them), mostly made up for my bad experience.

Overall I’d give the WF1000-XM4s a 7/10 for their overall features and convenience of use, with 3 points deducted for my partly sour experience, ranging from the uncomfortable eartips to audio related issues.