Sony WF-1000XM4 Earbuds Review: Best Earbuds, Worst Name

Rating: 9.5/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $279.99
The Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds and case on a wood table
Justin Duino

When it comes to the best over-ear headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4 will always be in the conversation. If you want the same quality in an earbud, the WF-1000XM4 is the set for you. These have the best ANC and sound quality of any earbuds on the market today. That quality doesn’t come cheap, but for the right user, it’s so worth it.

Here's What We Like

  • Incredible sound quality
  • The best ANC in any earbud
  • Excellent, adjustable Ambient Mode

And What We Don't

  • Touch controls are finicky
  • Only three tips
  • Foam tips may not work well for everyone

The WF-1000XM4, a name that just rolls off the tongue in the most elegant way, is the successor to the wildly popular and equally eloquent WF-1000XM3. For this review, I’m going to refer to the current-generation earbuds solely as the XM4; despite the over-ear headphones also carrying the XM4 name, so be aware that you’re reading about earbuds here. Not headphones.

Table of Contents

Design and Fit: Bigger and Bulkier Than Others, But Plenty Comfortable

The Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds on a wooden table
Justin Duino

When you take the XM4s out of the box for the first time, one thing is apparent: these are some chonky bois. The buds themselves are big’uns, especially compared to other modern earbuds like the Jabra Elite 85t. Still, they’re surprisingly light and shockingly comfortable. Despite sticking out of my ears more than I like, they never fell out.

Sony ships the XM4s with three sets of foam tips, which is a notable difference from other manufacturers, which mostly stick with silicone. Foam creates a better seal for improved noise isolation (and further enhances the ANC, which we’ll talk about in detail later), but can lead to more of the “clogged ear” feeling that’s an issue with this type of tip. Fortunately, The XM4s are vented to help avoid this problem. For the most part, I found it to work well—I don’t recall ever having that stopped-up-head/clogged ear feeling while testing the earbuds.

The Sony WF-1000XM4 and ear tips
Justin Duino

Sony only includes three sets of tips in the box so you have few options for finding the right fit. Fortunately, there’s a fit test in the Sony Headphones app (which is annoyingly just called “headphones” and I can never remember that) that will help you choose the tips that create the best seal. It’s worth noting that you might need a different tip in each ear for the optimal fit.

Once you find your fit, they’re pretty comfy. That’s one of the nicest things about foam tips—they conform to your earholes for a secure and comfortable fit, like earplugs. I was able to wear the XM4s for hours at a time without any discomfort outside of the normal “ear fatigue” I often experience with earbuds.

While we’re talking about the buds, I want to touch on the controls (get it, because they’re touch controls?). I feel the same way about these controls that I do other touch controls on earbuds: I don’t like them. I find touch controls to be unreliable at best and a real pain in the ass at worst. Just give me buttons.

It’s not that they don’t work—they do, I guess—it’s that it’s not always clear if you’re touching in the right spot. Or if the touch actually worked. So, then you wait and have to do it again. Or don’t wait, then you accidentally tap twice. They also don’t work well with gloves on, which is annoying. I just don’t care for touch controls on any headphones. Not once have I ever seen a truly good implementation, and the XM4s are no exception.

A person wearing the Sony WF-1000XM4
Them’s big bois Justin Duino

Moving on from the buds, I want to talk quickly about the case before we jump into the discussion around sound quality. Because of the size of the ‘buds, the case is also a bit of a chonk. it’s shorter than many other cases, but it’s also quite a bit thicker, which makes it slightly less pocketable.

But on the upside, it features wireless charging, which is the only way I care to charge earbuds at this point. There’s something that just annoys me about plugging in earbuds that doesn’t bother me with other gadgets. I just want to be able to sit the case on a charger and be done with it, so I’m glad to see wireless charging here. Of course, at this price point, it would be an insult not to include it.

Sound Quality, ANC, and Ambient Sound: Deer God

I’ll cut to the chase here: tThese are the best earbuds I’ve ever heard. The sound quality is amazing—big and full but still crisp, and never muddy. They’re brilliant. The ANC is also the best I’ve ever heard in a set of earbuds. They really are like the WH-1000XM4s in earbud form.

There are a few tracks I always listen to first with every set of headphones I use so I get the same experience out of the box. The first is always Fireflies by Owl City. It’s a horrible, awful, terrible song that I hate dearly, but (!) it’s such a great track to test the response of headphones and speakers. This song hits every frequency and really showcases what a speaker can do. And with the XM4s, it blew my mind.

The intro is just so chimey and pristine, but as soon as the initial bass hits, you know it. The first half of the song is a buildup to the initial chorus, and when it hits with the XM4s stuffed in your ears, it’s beautiful. Like I said, I hate this song, but man does it ever make me appreciate a good—nay, a great—set of speakers. And the XM4s are great in every sense of the word. I truly wish I could express how absolutely pristine everything is—every note, every detail. It’s all there, clear and defined.

The Sony WF-1000XM4 next to AirPods Pro
Justin Duino

And that’s just one song. I test headphones with a wide range of music—everything from Make Them Suffer to Johnny Cash—so I get a taste of everything they have to offer. And there’s nothing the XM4s can’t do. I might have already said this, but these are the best earbuds I’ve ever heard.

And then there’s the ANC. Guess what? It’s also the best I’ve ever heard in a set of earbuds. Paired with the foam tips and a secure fit, it does an excellent job of blocking out most annoying frequencies and really drowning out other sounds. I wore these while mowing the yard and with ANC on I could barely hear the mower. Mowers are loud! It was impressive.

On the opposite side of the coin is the ambient mode. Instead of blocking out sounds, it allows outside noise to come in. It’s also quite good, though I still think Apple’s Transparency Mode in AirPods Pro is better. The best thing about Sony’s Ambient Mode option in the XM4s is that you can customize the level of outside noise you want to let in. Just want to hear a little bit of what’s going on around you? You can do that. Want to hear literally everything almost as if you’re not wearing earbuds at all? You can do that, too. And, it works well.

You can switch between the two modes with a tap on the left bud, but as I said earlier, these controls are finicky.

Lastly, let’s talk about call quality. It’s good! It’s my favorite use for Ambient Mode by far, which works seamlessly between music and calls (unlike the Jabra Elite 85t, which has two different types of transparency, depending on the use). Call quality comes through fine, and everyone I talked to said they could hear me without issues. Granted, I only made calls in my house, so your mileage may vary if you’re outside or whatever.

The Other Stuff: App, Smart Features, and All That Jazz

Before we close this thing out, let’s talk about the app and all the “smart” features in the XM4s. First of all, they have quick pairing with Android. When you take them out of the box and open the case, most modern Android phones should see them instantly—you don’t even have to open the Bluetooth menu. If you’ve ever paired Beats or AirPods with an iPhone, it’s exactly like that.

They also integrate directly into the Bluetooth menu on Android, so you can see the charge of each bud and the case right there. Again, a lot like AirPods or Beats on an iPhone. But for more advanced features, you have to jump into the Sony app (iOS/Android). If advanced features are your thing, you’ll (uh, probably?) love this.

There are a lot of “smart” features built into the XM4s, but I’ll be real with you: I think they muddy up an otherwise excellent experience. For example, they have a feature called Adaptive Sound Control that uses actions and your location to automatically do things like enable or disable ANC or Ambient Mode. I absolutely hate it.

 

The first time I mowed the yard with the XM4s in, it constantly switched between ANC and Ambient Mode for no real reason. It drove me absolutely insane. I do not need my headphones to decide that I need to use ANC or Ambient Mode specifically when I’m at home. Or at the store. Or anywhere else for that matter. Why? Because I use all the modes all the time. Sometimes ANC makes sense at home, but other times it doesn’t. Take that statement and change “at home” to almost anywhere else on planet Earth and it still applies.

For me, at least.

There’s also a feature called “Speak to Chat” that will automatically pause your music and turn on Ambient Mode if it detects you speaking. That also includes singing or humming along to the music (or talking to yourself out loud while you work), which I found out the “hard” way. I initially thought something was wonky with the earbuds because they kept pausing for what I thought was no reason.

Then I realized it was my own stupid fault for lightly singing along or humming with the music. I found that feature and turned it off.

That last statement can be repeated for every automated or “smart” feature on these earbuds. Maybe you’ll like them, I don’t know. But I honestly don’t see many situations where these make sense. The Adaptive Sound option doesn’t seem to work as intended (it didn’t for me anyway), though I can see a bit more use for Speak to Chat in certain situations.

But again, I’d much rather be in control of when I pause my music or enabled Ambient Mode. They even have ear detection so they’ll pause if you take a bud out—that should be more than enough for most people.

I’m just glad you can turn off all the stuff you don’t like because once you do, these are almost perfect. Stupid touch controls.

Conclusion: Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner

The Sony WF-1000XM4 case open without the earbuds inside
Justin Duino

Okay, so I know that ended on sort of a negative note, but I don’t want that to overshadow an otherwise amazing product. If you’re looking for the best ANC and sound quality that you can get in a set of earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM4 is it. Like, it.

Sure, the touch controls are finicky and the smart features are stupid, but you can get used to the former and disable the latter. Once you do, these are the closest thing to perfect that you’ll find on the market today. If you can stomach dropping three Benjis on a set of earbuds, then you’ll absolutely love them.

Rating: 9.5/10
Price: $279.99

Here’s What We Like

  • Incredible sound quality
  • The best ANC in any earbud
  • Excellent, adjustable Ambient Mode

And What We Don't

  • Touch controls are finicky
  • Only three tips
  • Foam tips may not work well for everyone

Cameron Summerson Cameron Summerson
Cameron Summerson is the Editor in Chief of Review Geek and serves as an Editorial Advisor for How-to Geek and LifeSavvy. He’s been covering technology for nearly a decade and has written over 4,000 articles and hundreds of product reviews in that time. He’s been published in print magazines and quoted as a smartphone expert in the New York Times. Read Full Bio »

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