Back in 2019, Sony shook up the ear bud market by offering the oddly shaped but highly effective WF-1000XM3''s. They offered great sound with, at the time, effective Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), decent phone call quality, and so much more. If you need evidence of how...
Back in 2019, Sony shook up the ear bud market by offering the oddly shaped but highly effective WF-1000XM3''s. They offered great sound with, at the time, effective Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), decent phone call quality, and so much more. If you need evidence of how good these are, Google "best wireless ear buds" and you will still find them on most lists some two years later. I used them for about a year before gifting them to my sister. They were ahead of their time in 2019, on par with the best in 2020, but now find themselves with some serious competition in the premium ear bud space. Since 2019 Apple, Bose, Master&Dynamic, Klipsch, Sennheiser, Samsung, Bowers&Wilkins, and so many more are all offering premium buds with serious tech packed inside of them. Sony had their work cut out if they wanted to regain the title. If you want to skip a long review, Sony has accomplished a great deal here. The buds are outstanding. Sound, ANC, battery, and form factor are all significantly improved and this is coming from the aforementioned great foundation of the 1000XM3''s. They aren''t perfect but they are really good. I usually do bullet points of my pros and cons but there aren''t many cons and I think you guys will likely get the most benefit from comparing these to other premium buds in the market. So here we go.
-Sound: Sony is featuring a single very well tuned 6mm driver here. They are really good. Natural is what come to mind here. For buds, they have a nice wide sound stage, rich lows, present mids, and nice crisp highs. Sony has their proprietary 360 surround here again which is really cool when it works. Only certain high quality streaming music apps like Deezer, Tidal, QoBuz, Amazon HD, etc can take advantage of it and then only certain tracks are engineered to work with it. Apple and Samsung''s Spatial Audio options are better but it sounds very cool when you experience it. Speaking of premium streaming apps, I need to stop and say this now: Sony is only offering one premium Codec with these and that is their very own LDAC. There is no AptX HD/Adaptive here. It is LDAC, AAC, and SBC. In order to really get the most out of these, you need to upgrade to a service like Tidal, for example, that will put out LDAC audio. It is a noticeable improvement even to my old ears. Apple users are stuck with AAC which is okay and certainly an improvement over the SBC default option. Comparing these to the other premium buds available gets tricky. To me, the new Dual Driver Bowers&Wilkins PI7 are in their own class and at $400, they should be. These compare very nicely to the M&D MW08s and the Klipsch Mclarens. In regard to sound, these nudge out the Bose QuietComforts, the latest Sennheisers, and the UE Fits for me but it is close. Sony bests the Airpod Pros, Samsung Buds Pro, and the Jabra 85ts more easily. Overall, most folks should be happy with sound here.
-ANC: It is good here. Very good for buds. In my experience, ear buds are hindered by their lack of physical size and the need for a seal in your ear. Over ears are always better for this reason. To me the Bose QuietComfort buds are the kings of ANC and Sony hasn''t done enough to dethrone them. Man it is close though! All of the other premium buds I have mentioned fall in line behind Sony here. It pretty much wipes out everything around you only allowing the most jarring sudden noises in. Music, televisions, conversations, fans, presumably airplane engines are nearly 100% erased. The buds can adjust based on the noise around you. It is all just very well done. It feels right to me to have Sony and Bose lead the ear bud category in ANC quality. After all, they own the over ear category. Well done here.
-Calls: This was an area the 1000XM3''s showed their age to me. The 1000XM4''s fix all of that. To me, these are among the very best in the business on call quality. Apple still owns the crown but, after that, no other bud I have used sound as good on either end of a call. I need more time here to be sure but after handling a handful of calls today, I feel comfortable giving high marks here. I always test calls outside to see how bad wind interference is. Sony really nailed it here. I think. More to come, I promise.
-Form Factor: Okay so, for me, this is where the pure glow of the review fades a bit. If there is an area that Sony missed here, it is in pure physical design. They definitely stick out of your ear and they aren''t the lightest buds around so they don''t feel great in ear for me. For the record, ear buds that hang out of your ears like pegs are a pet peeve of mine. These are not as bad as the Melomania buds (the kings of peg design) in that regard but they are noticeable. Quite noticeable. These aren''t as big as the Bose QCs but the Bose have a slimmer profile opting for more of an elongated look that is actually more in line with the last gen Sonys. They come with sort of a hybrid finished foam tips. I don''t love them. I will have my own silicone tips on here by the weekend. The touch pad buttons work flawlessly, almost never failing to register a tap. Sony finally gave these an waterproof rating. IPX4 is here so they are sweat and dust resistant. Not best in class but I am glad to see them fix the omission of the last gen on these new $279 set of buds. Lastly, I don''t know about the gold accents. Totally subjective I know and I get what Sony is trying to do. I think they are trying to add a little bit of class while breaking up the montony of all black or all white buds. It just feels a little too ostentatious to me. Not a deal breaker but it does make me a bit self conscious.
-The App: Sonys app is highly customizable. It allows you to control so much including ANC levels, ambient sound levels (by the way ambient sound here is really good), EQ, and more. You can also mange your personal assistant. If you are an Alexa fan, she is built in and works really well. Google and Siri play well here to. Just depends what you prefer. However, in spite of all of this and in spite of using this app for now two years, I still find it to be one of the least intuitive apps out there. I bring this up because to get the most out of these, you need to use this app especially initially. You will want to use the sound app to start here and you will likely have a little more of a learning curve than many other apps you have used. It''s all here it is just a little convoluted.
- Battery: Sony''s eight hours on bud claim shouldn''t really be a win but it is. That is with ANC on. Here are some of the competitors battery life roughly with ANC active and mixed use (my experience not the spec):
Airpods Pro: Around 4 hours.
Bose QC: 5.5 hours.
M&D MW08''S: 9 hours (the best)
Wilkins PI7''S: 4.5 hours.
Samsung Buds Pro: 4.5 hours.
Jabra 85t''s: 6 hours.
Sennheiser Momentum TW 2: 4.5 hours.
I have only ran these down once but in mixed use (an hour of video and calls / lots of music) I managed just over 7 hours. Now wait, you are probably wondering why only 7 hours? I know I was. Then I realized that I was streaming LDAC for quite some time. No doubt the higher audio quality stream was to blame. Regardless, when you see how these stack up, battery here is close to class leading. The Case gives you another 2 charges before you need to plug in. Very good stuff here.
- The Case: I hated the last gen Sony case. Frankly, I think that case design is very important to a good set of ear buds as that is what we really interact with most. Fortunately, Sony took the case design seriously here. You get charging via USBC or Qi wireless. It is made of a soft matte plastic that feels good in your hand. The magnets are strong in the case and on the hinge. I haven''t recharged yet and will update times when I do but, for now, suffice to say that Sony has a good case here.
I will update as I get more time with these but, for the moment, I am very pleased with what Sony has done here. They have upgraded these in almost every possible way. Sound, connectivity, battery, ANC, and more. All better. Of all of the premium buds we have discussed, I think these are the ones I would pick for most people. The Wilkins sound better but the ANC isn''t quite as good, the battery isn''t close, and they cost an astounding $400. The Bose have better ANC but don''t sound as good. The price is a push there. The M&Ds are maybe the most well rounded competition for these. They sound a little better maybe. They have even better battery life as well but the ANC is very much inferior to these. I have some nitpicks. I wish AptX was here. I wish they could have slimmed these down. They could have gone with silver accents instead of gold. However, when you add everything Sony has put together here up, I just don''t think there is a more well rounded option on the market. I will tweak and update this review as I go but you should buy the WF-1000XM4'' s with complete confidence. Well done here Sony!
***Update***Okay, so there are a number of additional things. First off, my S21 Ultra will not connect LDAC with these. Working on it. I have been through every step concievable. The irony is that my LDAC capable Soundcore buds, whom license the codec from Sony work fine. Hmm. Not ready to ding a star yet but close. I do allow Sony location access. The buds are capable of remembering how you like your ANC in a particular environment. Say gym versus office. Love that! Speaking of gym, I threw these on for a 30 minute HOT beach run today. Waterproofing is solid so far!! There is more to unpack here for sure. Stay tuned.
Also, I think Sony really nailed the voice to pause tech here. Their over ears has this as does the Samsung Buds Pro. Sony''s is so much better than the Samsung version. With Samsung''s, a cough would often pause my content. Here, only my voice. Say hello to someone and it pauses. Very well done. The sensitivity is adjustable as well of you find it to be to much. So good Sony!
***One month update*** So it has been a month. In the last few months I received the afformentioned Master & Dynamic buds, the latest Amazon buds, and the Bowers & Wilkins buds. As someone that has way too many buds, one of my favorite ways to rate my enjoyment of a set of buds is how often I reach for them. I have used these almost every single day since receiving them. I have grabbed the others occasionally but these have been my primary daily drivers. Sony has just nailed so much here. The ANC, sound, and overall functionality is just so well rounded. These are clearly the best all around buds on the market today. There are others that serve different specific purposes better but none that do everything as well as these. Sony has built something pretty special here. The LDAC connectivity is still spotty for me with my phone but, other than that, there is no area these struggle with. I have even grown to appreciate the look. Mostly anyways. Unlike any other set I own, I don''t think it matters what phone you use. Folks on iOS should get these over the Airpod Pros because they sound better and the ANC is better. The Pro''s still connect and work better with your iPhone but really, who cares? These just perform better in almost every meaningful way. Folks on Android should get these because there isn''t a better all around bud that plays as nice in this ecosystem. We don''t have Airpods to fall back on. These are the ones! Buy with complete confidence!
July 28th Update: So, a couple more things here. First, I received my second software update for these. Considering that they have been out less than two months and were pretty polished out of the box, that is an impressive level of support from Sony. No other buds I own have been this aggressive with updates. Just so good. Lastly, this thought occurred to me a few days ago and I wanted to share it with you guys: In the last six or so weeks, I have been almost exclusively using these buds. I never do that even when I get something new. A few weeks maybe but I don''t think I have ever used one set of buds this exclusively. When I get up in the morning to work out I use my Klipsch Mclarens because they have an IPX7 waterproof rating. When I leave to the office, the Sonys are the ones in my pocket. If these aren''t the perfect pair of daily drivers, they are very close. Just so good. Buy them.