Sony WF-1000XM4 review: These noise-canceling earbuds have all-around appeal

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Pre-pandemic, the number of true wireless earbuds with noise canceling was just a trickle. Now they are entering the market in a steady stream, and just in time. Even with reduced travel demand, in-ear headphones with active noise-canceling (ANC) still have their uses—blocking out background conversations in busy households, muffling the cacophony of loud streets, and the like.

With the predecessor WF-1000XM3, Sony pit a strong contender against Bose’s well-regarded noise-canceling competition. Now Sony’s successor ANC buds have improved across the board, making the WF-1000XM4 one of the top contenders in this space. That said, if you care deeply about sound profiles and noise-canceling strength, you should first make sure these buds have what you’re after.

Here’s the lowdown.

Specs

  • MSRP: $280 USD
  • Colors: Black, silver
  • Drivers: 6mm
  • Weight: 41g
  • Waterproof: IPX4
  • Bluetooth version: 5.2
  • USB Type C to A cable included

Design and fit

Sony WF-1000XM4 on top of packaging with case nearby Alaina Yee / IDG

The Sony WF-1000XM4 comes in biodegradable packaging.

The WF-1000XM4 has a rounded, button-shaped look, with tasteful metallic accents. No stems on these—which actually can make the fit a bit tricky. Though these buds are comfortably chunky, with enough surface area to easily grip them, seating them properly each time takes some guesswork. For a good seal, I had to place them at a certain angle and then twist them into place, but nailing the correct angle consistently was difficult. That struggle persisted even after dozens and dozens of listening sessions.

I ended up wearing these only in places where it was safe if one bud popped out of my ear. They went into my pocket in public bathrooms; a dunk in a toilet (besides being gross) would exceed the 1000XM4’s IPX4 rating, which protects against splashes. For normal workouts, the WF-1000XM4 held up fine and also wiped down easily.

When I finally managed to get them securely in my ears, the WF-1000XM4 felt comfortable. The tips come covered in a soft foam—very like Comply’s popular third-party tips—and should size well for larger ears. I’m often a Medium on other buds, but for the XM4, I went down to Small.

A couple of other thoughtful design touches help balance out the issues I had with getting a good seal. Sony labels the right and left buds in different colors, making it easy to figure out which is which at a glance. The left bud also has a tactile dot for sightless identification. Inserting and removing them from the case is straightforward, too, with little of the fumbling I’ve encountered with other models.

Sony WF-1000XM4 on top of an iPhone XS Max Alaina Yee / IDG

The Sony WF-1000XM4 case is compact and easily fits in smaller pockets. (Shown here with an iPhone XS Max for scale.)

Once in the case, the WF-1000XM4 take up very little space, making them easy to carry. I like to travel light, and these shot up high on the list of items I’m willing to put in my jacket pocket. The weight doesn’t drag on the fabric either, and I get enough charges from the case to be out on a long hike without battery anxiety.



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