Sony WF-1000XM4 Review: Stellar wireless earbuds get even better

Mala Bharghava | Updated on: Jan 14, 2022
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A world favourite brings a new design and improvements across the board

Right from the start, the Sony 1000X series of true wireless premium earbuds have been a world favourite, inevitably on editor’s choice lists, right up there in the best of the best rankings, and always used as a yardstick against which to compare other products in the category. It’s easy to understand why. The 1000X earphones come with a unique combination of pleasing sound quality with excellent noise cancellation and smart features, some of which started out only with Sony’s products. With each generation of these earbuds, Sony has added, improved, and enhanced, instead of sitting on its laurels. And so here it is, in India finally, the WF-1000XM4, And a lot has changed.

Design redone

For those familiar with the earlier 1000M3 it’s difficult not to compare. I own that set of earbuds and it’s right here, handily ready for me to see the differences. First off, the design has been quite totally re-done. The case, which was undoubtedly elegant but quite large earlier, has been reduced to almost half it’s size. It no longer has any pale gold tones, but a different minimalistic look altogether. Users will appreciate how it can be so much more readily carried around. I have the beige-grey model and it looks good with only has a silver Sony logo on top. No buttons. There is a long thin charging light. This time the packaging is made of bio-degradable material and is more or less disposable. 

It isn’t just the case that’s redesigned but the buds too have been remade to have a smaller footprint. But these are still in a chunky style and they do stick out of the ear a bit and often feel like they’ll fall out and roll away, though they didn’t through the workouts I do. Smaller ears may have to find their equation with these. 

The ear-tips (you get extras in the box) are made of a kind of memory foam and adjust themselves to the space in your ears to make for a better seal. You have to give the buds a little twist to ensure they fit well. You can also use the app to take a picture of your ear and work out a proper fit. The app will also suggest which ear tips to use. Many find the reduced size of the earbuds so much more comfortable. 

Full control

Sony WF-1000XM4

Sony WF-1000XM4

The earbuds are really extra firmly planted in the case and you may find you have to use both hands to prise them out. As you take them out, they will be ready to pair. With an Android phone, a pop-up will, well, pop up, to get you to tap to connect. 

Definitely download the Sony Headphones Connect app to access many settings as well as firmware upgrades, which happened along as soon as I started using them. The companion app is actually about the most full-featured I have seen yet so users are encouraged to get to know it and explore feature customisation to the hilt to get the best experience. Each of the earbuds is touch sensitive. They’re very responsive so you have to become accustomed to what they’re going to do so that you can minimise accidental taps. It’s from the app that you can set and control what result your action will trigger. By default, touching the left earbud changes the noise cancellation status, touching right earbud lets you navigate tracks and trigger the assistant of your choice if you set it up to do some from the app. 

Noise level

Noise cancellation is strong enough to have really surprised users when it first came on these earbuds, giving Bose a run for their money. It’s supposed to be 40% more than M3 and while it’s difficult to say quite how much, it certainly works well. I admit to have particularly enjoyed turning ANC on while someone spoke to me and staring at them blankly. I could hear voices, but not make out the words. There are a lot of customisable aspects of noise handling via the app. You can choose to be in ambient sound mode and hear inputs from the outside world, or you can opt for silence with nothing but your music. A new integrated processor Sony calls V1 aids the noise cancellation performance which once again, is excellent. We also have a continuation of the Speak-to-Chat feature which when enabled pauses music if you speak, recognising just your voice. It works magically except that you will have to disable it if you like to sing along with what you’re listening to or are in the weird habit of talking to yourself. I said a mere ‘hmmm’ while working on something and it promptly triggered the feature, letting in ambient sound. It responds the same way to a sigh, but will ignore a whisper, since it won’t be able to identify your voice. The feature goes off in a few seconds when you stop saying anything. Luckily a cough or sniff doesn’t set it off. 

From the app, you can also customise the adaptive sound control feature. This has also become extremely sensitive with the 4th gen model. This feature lets the earbuds figure out what you’re doing and where you are and adjust the noise cancellation level accordingly. I found even within my house it responds to which room I’m in and whether I’m ‘staying’ or moving about. Experiment with these settings to see what mix you like. Add in automatic wind noise reduction as well, if you want. 

The app is really richly featured but it does call for more involvement than usual. You’ll find notifications and pings telling you the status of what they’re doing to tune in to your activity. Fortunately, they can be configured to be more quiet if you prefer. 

Rich sound

The 1000XM4 use a newly developed 6mm driver and a more flexible diaphragm. The earbuds sound great, provided you have worked out the fit and a good seal. It seems to get a little less loud than its predecessor. I found myself pushing the volume up quite high while listening. It’s got some oomph in the bass as consumer like. The app has the equaliser that you can use for a bunch of presets and also to set your own and save those depending on your preference. The buds support hi-res music and you can listen to sources like Todal. You can also listen to 360 Reality audio. LDAC is now supported as is Sony’s own DSEE EXTREME technology. 

The 1000XM4 are sweat and splash resistant with an IPX4 rating. They have about 32 hours of battery life with charges through the case, though it depends entirely on whether you use ANCor not and the volume. 

Sony intends the 1000XM4 to appeal to young executives, people who are comfortable or enthusiastic about smart products, and those who want one good audio device to work for everything from music and calls to workouts and travel. These earbuds cost Rs 19,990 the same as the previous gen except you now get improvements, and it’s not a bad price when you look at premium earphones. I’ve been using these earbuds for around a month now and have found them to be entirely enjoyable.

Published on January 14, 2022

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