STEREO GUIDE Rating
+ Balanced, gripping sound
+ Crisp, deep bass
+ High transparency and great detail
+ Very powerful app
- A certain hunger for private data
Sound: Tonal balance / Transparency9
Sound: Bass / Dynamics9.4
Ease-of-use / Connectivity9.4
How to design a successor to a mega-seller like the Sony WF-1000XM3? We did not do a review on that one but it was always regarded to be a standard for the segment of TWS. The somewhat more compact and ergonomically shaped 4th generation called Sony WF-1000XM4 suggest that the Japanese want to improve the virtues like ease-of-use making the predecessor a hit.
The latest Sony earbuds last up to 12 hours of completely indepentend battery life with the ANC being deactivated. The adaptive noise cancelling cannot be altered in terms of intensity, but it offers a special mode to suppress low-frequency wind noise particularly effectively. And you still get an 8h period to listen to music having external noise suppressed without recharching.
However, the really cool tricks you get from the Sony WF-1000XM4 require the Sony Headphones Connect app, which is available for iOS and Android and offers a surprising variety of “wow”-features. Examples? You can upload a picture of yours ears and thus have an acoustical optimization calculated, or activate a 3D sound mode (“360 Reality Audio”). A bit less experimental: let the automatic noise analysation do the ANC job and chose which noise cancelling mode is best for the current environment.
High end tech, high end sound
The actual transducers are what one might expect offering a diameter of 6 millimetres. However, they are supposed to work very efficiently due to a particularly strong magnet and lightweight diaphragms. This provides the necessary reserves at lower frequencies to generate enough SPL to cancel ou even in the presence of strong noise coming from wind or airplane jets.
Sony points to they have now 40 years of experience with in-ear headphones. Thus, countless ears have been measured during countless research projects, and the rounded shape of the WF-1000XM4 offers, according to the manufacturer, the optimal fit for as many ears as possible.
Sony WF-1000XM4 come with solely foam adaptors, no rubber ones as usual. The polyurethane foam used is designed to provide a large-area fit to the shape of the ear canal. This provides a pretty decent acoustic isolation without the earbuds canal pressing noticeably. In addition, the foam provides maximum passive attenuation of lower frequencies.
The manufacturer emphasises particularly the sophisticated active noise cancelling (ANC) circuitry. Two microphones per side work externally to analyze the noise both in its intensity and direction. In addition, there are sensors in the internal canals closer to the eardrum. Sony’s new V1 signal processor is designed to ensure that the correction curves calculated sound provide a cancellation of the noise with as little latency as possible. It relies on both prediction by analysis of the external noise components and servo-feedback based on the actual residual noise in the ear canal.
The Sony knows where your home is
ANC intensity cannot be influenced by the user. An algorithm decides which environment you are in. In addition to the ambient noise, it even takes into account whether you are moving or sitting quietly in an armchair. If the location service is enabled, it also remembers typical locations which have been visited more than once. Accordingly, the smart Sony adjusts the noise-cancelling characteristic, which is supposed to be especially noticeable in strong wind conditions and on airplanes.
The elaborate technology should not only improve NC, but also speech quality. Thus, the array of multiple micss can differentiate quite well from which direction a particular sound is coming and keep ambient noise away from any phone conversation. Sony is in addition to the mics relying on bone sound sensors. They should be able to tell when the wearer is really talking and what he or she are saying. If you activate the Speak-to-Chat function, you only need to say something, such as greet acquaintances – the music playback stops and the ANC switches to voice-through mode. So an immediate conversation can be started whithout handling any buttons.
Finally, the WF-1000XM4 can also activate the voice assistant of the smartphone or Alexa – as long as an account is available – via touch command or dedicated voice command.
Connectivity and playback
As usual with TWS, the Sony WF-1000XM4 rely on Bluetooth. However, the manufacturer points to the latest chip technology and the system´s ability to use whichever earbud is offering a better connection to the smartphone. The earbud facing away from the smartphone is then supplied with rerouted signals. In the Headphones Connect app, you can either prioritize a connection for maximum sound quality whenever earbuds and smartphone are close enough to each other.
Bluetooth 5.2 complies with the latest standards. Besides the SBC codec, the WF-1000 XM4 also master AAC, which is important for Apple users because of improved sound quality. In addition, Sony’s own LDAC codec promises maximum data rate and transmission of frequencies far above the listening range up to 40kHz. However, this is only possible with the few compatible devices, such as Sony smartphones.
Sony WF-1000XM4: Sony smartphones user get a special treatment
However, the Sony does not support AptX family codecs, which might disappoint some Android users without a Sony phone. At least it offers real-time processing of compressed music signals by activating the somehow mysterious DSEE Extreme circuitry.
When the Earbuds’ comparibly long battery life comes to an end, they have to be placed into the case for recharging. This is surprisingly light one and feels smaller than its predecessor, but still offers another two cycles for the batteries. The trio only has to be plugged in after 24 hours (ANC activated), where it is supposed to be fully charged again via USB-C in 1.5 hours. To avoid wasting energy, both Sony WF-1000XM4s switch to standby automatically when taken out of your ears.
An app with quite a lot of talents
The Sony Headphones Connect App comes with a bunch of features. It even allows for a designated 360-degree sound field calculation for the individual wearer’s ears on the base of on uploaded pictures of your head from the side.
Those who do prefer to listen to music without too much of gadgety features (or do have privacy concerns) might also find an equalizer and various sound presets useful.
The app offers a brief 3D demo as some sort of appetizer and promotes various immersive music player apps like 360 by Deezer, nugs.net or Tidal. You shouldn’t expect too much from these either. The biggest shortcoming is and remains the in-head-localization of voices. And this is most disturbing with solo voices or instruments being positioned centerstage by the recording engineer.
If the phantom source is exactly centered in front of the listener, all three parameters necessary for localization have identical values for both channels: level, phase and frequency response influence by the outer ear transfer function are identical in this case and the lead vocals then appear to remain inside one´s head. You might wonder why they have chosen to include a demo sample relying fully on electronic instrumental music and sound effects from the sides. Now you know why – these actually step away further and therefore create some promising virtual ambience.
Audiophile sound quality with ANC?
Your mood defines how you percieve music. So Sony did a great job in designing a clever ANC and design along with adaptors ensuring the WF-1000XM4 never creating an annoying feeling of pressure. Noise is attenuated really well, the earbuds sit comfortably during the review and the set is pleasing with a well-balanced voicing that is also suitable for long listening sessions.
Although the Sony comes up with rich detail, transparency and good resolution of complex sounds, it avoids any sharpness even when when being pushed to the limits. There is something silky and elegant in that treble reproduction as you might know it from top-of-the-line audiophile loudspeakers. The WF-1000 XM4 offer a convincing impulse reproduction with inspiring nonchalance. The bass goes really low and refrains from showing off or bloating. Therefore, bass drums and beats give the feeling of kicking dryness, appearing to be clean and crisp. With its harmonious, broadband overall voicing, the Sony WF-1000XM4 is suitable for all types of music. Because of its outstanding precision and transparency, we found it to be also ideal for classical music and jazz fans.
Any alternative to the Sony WF-1000XM4?
Our review shows: For those who mainly listen to music on the go in a relaxed way and appreciate the Sony WF-1000XM4’s really useful features, it’s hard to beat this package given the price point. In case your budget is significantly higher and you want some audiophile ´wow´ effects – consider the Bowers & Wilkins PI7.
Specifications Sony WF-1000XM4
- Retail price: 280 Euro
- Type: In-Ear
- Transducer principle: Dynamic
- Weight: 7 g each, Case 41 g
- Features: ANC with anti-wind function, IPX4 water-resistant, app control.
- More information: www.sony.com
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