At last, I’ve gotten a chance to try out the new Sony WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds. I’ve been waiting quite a while to see what improvements Sony has made to their popular earphones, and just by the look of them it already seems like a significant upgrade. While Sony is still the industry leader in wireless and noise-canceling technology, I’m more excited to hear how they’ve improved upon their native sound signature, as I find it a weak point of some of their products without using EQ.
What You Get
- Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds
- 3x foam tip sizes
- Charging case
- USB-C to USB-A charging cable
Look and Feel
Immediately the XM4 stands out from its former model sporting a redesigned outer shell that appears more in line with the structure of most true wireless earphones today. This is one of their best builds to date, with its large touch surface and solid body. The aesthetic just screams elegance. For some, the earphone will feel a little big in the ear, but the cavity has a smaller spout that allows the ear tips to provide better comfort.
Design and Functionality
Most of the XM4’s meat is about what it can do. Sony’s wireless headphones come jam-packed with features, and the XM4 is no different. First off, I should mention that the XM4 supports a new driver. It’s a 6mm unit that features a 20% increase in magnetic volume that enhances both noise-canceling properties and bass performance. They’ve simplified their controls by having the left ear control strictly the ambient features, and the right for playback. The actions themselves are mostly responsive, but not as consistent. Some functions took a couple of presses to operate, but after a few times, worked properly for the rest of my testing. Noise-canceling quality is as top-notch as ever, with Sony’s V1 processor working to give you the most effective isolation around.
The XM4 supports Bluetooth 5.2, and supplies you with SBC, AAC, and most importantly LDAC CODECs for some of the best wireless resolutions.
For continuous playback, the XM4 packs a pretty substantial battery life lasting you 8 hours with ANC on and 12 hours with ANC off. This isn’t counting the charging case, which only takes an hour and a half to charge for a full battery.
When tackling soundstage with Sony headphones, the prospect becomes more complicated than what’s presented. This is due to the number of features Sony supports, and for this section, their 360 Reality Audio will definitely be a focus. In its native state, the XM4 has what you’d expect in terms of width and openness. The sound field is constricted, but more intelligible than most true wireless earbuds out there. What really impressed me is the XM4’s awesome imaging, which feels like it has a more considerable body this time around. The sounds appear full and with a respectable level of clarity. This feels a lot more accurate and transparent than what came before, and it makes a huge difference when further dissecting this sound signature. It all happens within a very interior headspace, but the XM4 makes it work to the best of its abilities.
That also goes for 360 mode, which I was able to try out with Tidal. It works less to open up the soundstage, and more to reflect a holographic positioning. While tracks don’t feel like they’re around me, the sound elements definitely have more room to play with, especially when it comes to height. Greater depth is created in 360 modes, performing more effective pan movements and spatial properties. It all still emanates within an interior headspace, but it’s a fun feature to get more out of your tracks. Listening to “Women In Music Pt. III” by Haim in 360 was a real standout.
I’ve been mixed on the quality of Sony’s bass signature in the past, but on the XM4, they do a great job making the tonality a lot less muddy. Most of its emphasis happens in the mid-bass, where you get warmer textures and punchier characteristics. In comparison, the rest of the frequencies are much leaner, focusing more on clarity to complete a more balanced timbre. Of course, you can give the bass a bit of a lift in EQ, but I preferred where the lows were in its native sound signature.
The XM4 doesn’t feature a v-shaped timbre, but parts of the low and high mids lack a certain amount of definition in the sound signature. This creates a flat tonality that works for and against specific genres and responses. For instance, vocals cut through the mix very easily on the XM4, allowing for clear articulation within its space. However, some instrumentals don’t receive the same luxury, falling into a more hollow tone. There’s still a considerable body to these frequencies which makes them consistently enjoyable, especially for a true wireless earphone.
With the darker tone Sony usually displays in their sound signature, the treble tends to suffer in its resolution. Unfortunately, this is the case with the XM4, as its native high-frequency response lacks resonance and bite. You can hear this clearly with cymbals, as they lack the impactful crash and sizzle that they should have. It’s overall dry, but using the bright preset EQ, they gain a bit more presence in the mix. The more I had the EQ activated in this mode, the more I started to enjoy its timbre. Some elements of the highs can be shouty, but I preferred it over being dull. The response was more natural here, to the point where I forgot I had it on for a time.
The XM4 is the whole package for true wireless earphones. If its industry-leading noise-canceling technology for $279 won’t convince you then perhaps the impressive 360 reality audio features and high-resolution Bluetooth will. The battery life is better than ever, and the sound quality even shows its improvements without resorting to EQ. Even then, with the amount of customization Sony offers, the only place to beat it is in native audio quality. With the XM4 it is getting harder to do that.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 is available at Audio46.