30/60/90 is Spy’s newest review feature. We’ll be looking at some of the year’s biggest releases 30-90 days after our first review, when the initial glow of that “shiny new thing” has dissipated. In our years of product testing, we’ve found that companies often give reviewers as little time as possible to evaluate new products before they’re widely released, and so reviews often miss the kind of frustrations and bugs that only become apparent with time.
In today’s post, Spy product reviewer William Goodman is revisiting the new Sony WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds, first released in mid-June 2021.
30-Day Review: Sony WF-1000XM4s Earbuds
After spending about a full month with my new XM4s, I’m still just as impressed as I was initially, with a few minor caveats. The noise-canceling remains absolutely top-notch. I wore them recently on a cross-country flight, and while the noise-cancellation isn’t as top-notch as the over-the-ear XM4s or the new AirPods Max, I still managed to get a superior level of exterior audio reduction from hectic plane noise.
I’ve also taken the XM4s for a spin in the brutal summer heat of Washington, DC. This particular day was kind of breezy, so with the noise-canceling off, there was some wind noise that felt like it was sneaking through the individual buds themselves. When I turned the feature back on, the noise went away immediately. It was more of a situational annoyance than it was anything to do with the XM4s themselves, but I certainly had to be more alert to my surroundings when running with noise-canceling activated. Those foam-like tips do perform rather well in the heat, and as I worked up a sweat, the earbuds didn’t skip a beat during intense moments of working out.
However, while I’m still very satisfied with my new earbuds, other users have reported some minor complaints with Sony’s newest earbuds:
- Some customers experienced random lapses in the Bluetooth connectivity, which Sony has resolved via a software update.
- Some Amazon customers, especially those with smaller ears, have complained about comfort and fit. Some users purchased replacement silicone or memory foam earbud tips to provide a better fit, which is necessary for comfort and optimal noise cancellation.
- The noise-cancellation is still truly excellent, but can’t match over-ear headphones from Sony, Bose or Apple
Besides those minor cons out of the way, the pros of the WF-1000XM4s seem even brighter 30 days later. The range on the XM4s is pretty solid. I was able to walk freely between a handful of rooms including downstairs without the connection breaking up too much. Having the freedom to move around my space without any issue at all will be nice when I return to an office and don’t want to be bothered when grabbing a snack or refilling my coffee.
Likewise, the battery life on these wireless earbuds is just as impressive as advertised.
Ultimately, we would still highly recommend these wireless earbuds.
Who should buy these? Anyone looking for premium noise-cancelling wireless earbuds with excellent battery life, ANC, and big sound.
Who shouldn’t buy these? People looking for cheap wireless earbuds. Dedicated users of Apple products (the AirPods Pro are on sale right now), and those looking for best-in-the-world noise-cancellation. For the latter, we’d recommend the XM4 wireless headphones from Sony or the AirPods Max.
Below, you’ll find our original full review of Sony’s WF-1000XM4 Noise-Canceling Earbuds.
Original review published on June 15, 2021…
Sony WF-1000XM4 Wireless Earbuds Review: These Noise-Canceling Buds Set a New Gold Standard
When it comes to consumer audio products, no one is raising the bar as much as Sony. We’ve sung the praises time and time again of their XM4 line of products — including their over-the-ear XM4 headphones, which remain the headphones to beat when it comes to noise cancellation. Now, Sony is bringing that industry-leading noise-cancellation to their updated earbuds in the form of the WF-1000XM4 earbuds, recently released for sale online.
SPY was sent a pair of these wireless earbuds to test and review, and we can confidently say they raise the bar on what to expect from your earbuds, setting a new gold standard in the space. The audio quality, battery life, microphone quality and active-noise cancellation are all truly excellent, and it’s hard to imagine a better set of noise-cancelling earbuds hitting the market in 2021.
Keep reading for our full review of the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds and find out where to buy them online.
Sony WF-1000XM4 Noise-Canceling Earbuds, Reviewed: What We Liked
Like all the best earbuds nowadays, the XM4s are housed in a rechargeable carrying case. Wider than it is tall, the case has a light-up sensor in the middle that flashes various colors (green for full, yellow for medium, and red for low), indicating the battery life of the case and therefore letting you know if the buds are active and ready for use. When you put the buds in your ear, each unit will play an audible cue, telling you how charged they are. The battery of the units clocks in around eight hours, giving you a full work day’s worth of life, while the case provides an extra 16-hours of life for a full 24-hours’ worth.
As for the shape of the buds themselves, they’re circular, curving outwards. A gold microphone inlet accents the unique shape. The matte feel of the buds is nice and provides a good texture to the wide surface area, making the XM4’s touch controls easy to use; the left bud toggles the noise-cancellation feature while the right controls playback functionality. Additionally, the unit features a sort of memory foam-like ear tip that sits comfortably in your ear. It has a stickier feel to it, which helps the tip to really nestle into your ear and provide an overall better listening experience.
This listening experience is where the XM4s shine. Even before you take the noise-cancellation into account, the soundstage provided by the units is incredibly rich. Of course, Sony’s headphones are always a bit bass-forward, and that’s still the case with the XM4s. Still, every single song we tested sounded amazing — from the 80s-inspired brass of John Mayer’s “Last Train Home,” the deep baseline of Tame Impala’s “The Less I Know the Better,” the steady drums of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” — each song sounded truly balanced, rich, and resulted in a fantastic listening experience.
The listening experience is only improved when adding the XM4’s noise-cancelation. When compared to the abilities of the over-the-ear XM4s, the XM4 earbuds match well. The new V1 chipset in the XM4s is credited with this improvement, resulting in truly striking results. To wit: the overhead fan in my office is pretty noisy. I had the XM4s in and briefly removed one to readjust it in my ear and almost scared myself by how loud the room had suddenly gotten. The XM4s had effectively blocked all that noise out, to the point where I’d forgotten I even had the fan on in the first place. The fact the earbud XM4s are in a space where I can compare them to the over-the-ear XM4s is a staggering achievement and makes them well-worth their nearly $280 price tag.
Sony WF-1000XM4 Noise Canceling Earbuds: What We Didn’t Like
I mention the price because, as with all tech products, that will likely cause a few people to raise their eyebrows. The XM4s are about $30 more than the AirPod Pros and definitely aren’t as seamless to connect to your phone as Apple has made their earbuds. However, that won’t be a huge issue for those obsessed with quality, as the noise-cancelation on the XM4s is far superior to the AirPod Pros.
The other factor that’s a bit of a letdown is the lack of Bluetooth multipoint, which allows you to connect a Bluetooth-enabled device to multiple other devices. The over-the-ear XM4s have this feature, and it’s definitely very handy to have the ability to connect something to my phone and my computer. The lack of multipoint isn’t a deal-breaker in any way for my use habits, as I exclusively pair my earbuds to my phone, but it would be a nice value-add.
Also, the included microphone on the XM4s needs a bit more work. Sony has struggled with all their devices, but the XM4s don’t really lend themselves to taking long conference calls with precise vocal clarity. But, again, as a millennial that doesn’t really talk on the phone, it’s not enough to discourage me from recommending the XM4s, but something to note regardless.
The Verdict: The WF-1000XM4s Set a New Standard
Simply put: Sony’s XM4 earbuds are an absolute game-changer in the noise-canceling earbud space. Bolstered by a high-fidelity, long battery life and a comfortable fit, the XM4s are now the high-end earbuds to beat.