Sony WF-1000XM4 long-term review. Sony headphones 1000xm4
Sony WF-1000XM4 long-term review
The Sony WF-1000XM4 TWS earphones have been on the market for a while now and have built up a reputation for themselves. Widely praised for their audio quality and especially their active noise cancellation feature these quickly become an industry benchmark. Our review from last year echoed similar sentiments, with my colleague coming out very impressed from his experience with the earbuds.
Having spent some time now with the WF-1000XM4, I had some thoughts to share myself. Like how there’s no easy way to shorten the name; you can’t just call them 1000XM4 because then someone will confuse them with the WH-1000XM4 over-the-ear headphones. And it’s not like you can call them WF, either. Sony really doesn’t make this easy for us. I wonder if regular users even acknowledge these names.
Aside from that, I do have some other thoughts on the WF-1000XM4 (sigh) as well, particularly related to the sound quality and comfort aspect of these earbuds. So read on to find out.
Design and comfort
The WF-1000XM4 continue Sony’s tradition of oddly shaped earbuds. They have a strange globular design with steampunk gold vents for the microphones. It’s certainly distinctive but whether it’s attractive is something for you to decide.
The outer shell of the earbuds have large touch-sensitive areas for gestures. You can just touch lightly on these to activate the gestures, which certainly beats prodding your ears the way most other earbuds require.
On the inner side of the earbuds are the optical proximity sensors that detect when the earbuds are placed inside your ears and play/pause the audio accordingly. Speaking of which, does anyone want to see a magic trick?
Yup, the location of the sensors on the back is such that if you place the earbuds a certain way on a surface it will block the sensor and make the earbuds think they are back inside your ears. I’ve often come back to the audio still playing when I had removed the earbuds and placed them on the desk even though I wasn’t wearing them. Definitely an oversight on Sony’s part.
As for the case, I found it surprisingly difficult to pull the earbuds out at times. Only part of the earbuds stick out and they are all smooth and rounded with little grip. There’s not much room to maneuver your fingers as the case lid gets in the way and there’s little gap between the earbuds. The earbuds are also held in place by surprisingly strong magnets. All of this leads to a fair bit of struggling every time I’m trying to take them out.
The WF-1000XM4 come in a very interesting minimal gray packaging that looks like a mini egg carton. It’s all very eco-friendly and nice. Inside you get the earbuds along with a small USB-C charging cable and two additional pair of foam ear tips (small, large) alongside the one pair already applied on the earbuds (medium).
The packaging has specific indentations made to accommodate the small and large earbuds, which always amuses me because if you were to, say, swap the default medium tips with the small ones, then the now spare medium tips won’t fit inside the indentation for the small tips so you’ll just have to put them somewhere else.
Since we are on the topic of tips, now is a good time to talk about comfort. Sony has made an interesting choice to ship the WF-1000XM4 with only foam ear tips. As mentioned before, you get three sizes but there’s no silicone option. In comparison, the WF-1000XM3 came with three pairs of foam tips and four pairs of silicone tips in different sizes.
Unfortunately, I found the foam ear tips on the WF-1000XM4 to be quite uncomfortable. The default medium size swells up to be a bit larger than my ear canal and the small size just isn’t big enough. This forces me to stick with the medium size, which tends to put quite a lot of pressure on my ears as it tries to expand.
The solution for this was rather simple. I just plucked the silicone ear tips from another pair of earbuds and put them on the WF-1000XM4. These tips provided just as good passive isolation as the foam tips and were light years ahead in terms of comfort.
I always say in these reviews that comfort is a subjective topic and your mileage will vary. However, I’ve heard reports from other users and reviewers as well of the WF-1000XM4 being uncomfortable to use in the long run. Sony could have made things easier by either offering more sizes for the foam tips or offering silicone tips in addition. The sizes currently being offered simply aren’t enough and the foam being used is too thick and stiff for comfort.
That aside, I didn’t have issues with having the WF-1000XM4 in my ears. Despite the oddball shape, they don’t put any undue pressure on any other part of my ears and after I swapped out the foam tips I was able to wear these for hours at a stretch.
The WF-1000XM4 use relatively small 6mm dynamic drivers. You get support for SBC, AAC, and LDAC along with Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity.
The tonality of the WF-1000XM4 is biased towards warmth. There is a greater emphasis on the bass region and a de-emphasis on the treble region.
The bass has a gentler elevation than what we find in most Sony earbuds so it doesn’t drown the sound in excessive bass energy. There is a more gradual bass shelf that starts off in the upper bass region and goes all the way into the lower octaves. The broader shelf prevents any peculiar boominess in any specific region and you get a more uniform boost to the bass overall.
The mid-range is much more balanced, especially in the lower ranges. Male voices do sound neutral and full-bodied as a result with just a hint of residual warmth from the bass boost. The mid-range does taper off a bit at the higher end as it goes into the treble, which can cause female vocals to be pulled back into the mix along with percussion and string instruments.
The rest of the treble then continues this downward slope and is noticeably quieter compared to the rest of the frequency range. Sony has de-emphasized this region compared to the WF-1000XM3, which causes the treble to come across as dull and muddy at times. This may not be an issue on recordings that tend to be hot, particularly pop music from the 70s and 80s, but modern, well-recorded tracks will lack the bite at the high end.
The overall sound thus has a darker edge and mostly just comes across as warm due to the bass tilt. The previous generation WF-1000XM3 had a more balanced sound in comparison, as it had slightly less bass boost and a much more filled-out treble response. In fact, it went a bit too far in the other direction at times and could be a bit sibilant in the high-end. I’d still personally pick the WF-1000XM3 tonality but the WF-1000XM4 doesn’t sound bad, either. The dips in the treble aren’t as severe as some other bass-focused earbuds and can thus still be enjoyable even if it’s not as accurate.
In terms of technical performance, the WF-1000XM4 do okay. Detail and resolution are a step above most earbuds, particularly the more affordable offerings on the market, such as the OnePlus Buds Pro, although it’s still not close to good wired IEMs. Imaging performance is decent but is affected negatively by the dull treble. Soundstaging is unremarkable and typical for in-ear products. It’s mostly focused between your ears and never quite expands beyond it.
All things considered, the WF-1000XM4 are an enjoyable pair of earbuds to listen to and one of the best sounding wireless earbuds on the market even in 2022. Have I heard better at a fraction of the cost from wired earbuds? Absolutely. But WF-1000XM4 are also vastly more convenient with many other features that make it even in my opinion. importantly, the gap isn’t huge so you don’t feel like you’re sacrificing a lot in terms of audio quality to get those other creature comforts over wired IEMs.
The WF-1000XM4 have above-average microphone performance. The audio sounds reasonably natural in a quiet room and remains audible even in a noisy environment. This is one area where wired earbuds definitely do have a commanding lead still but the WF-1000XM4 do a decent job and should be fine if you make a lot of voice calls.
Sony has come to be known for its exceptional digital noise-canceling performance and the WF-1000XM4 are no exception. Despite their diminutive stature, the earbuds do a fantastic job of blocking out most of the noise around you.
Compared to the cheaper earbuds on the market that also claim to have this feature, the WF-1000XM4 have a much more comprehensive noise filter. It tackles much more of the ambient noise audio spectrum, including the mids and the higher frequencies, while the cheaper models often tend to cover just the low frequencies. The end result is much more complete control over ambient noise.
Where the WF-1000XM4 take a backseat is in the quality of the transparency mode, which Sony calls Ambient Sound. It feels a bit tinny and artificial sounding compared to some of the alternatives out there, such as the Airpods Pro. Even the OnePlus Buds Pro have a more natural-sounding transparency mode, in comparison.
The WF-1000XM4 have good latency performance for video content. There is an extremely minor delay, which most people won’t be able to notice, and is easy to adjust to even if you are sensitive to it as your brain bridges the gap over time.
While gaming, the latency is more noticeable so it’s not quite ideal unless it’s casual stuff. For more serious gaming you are always better off with wired audio, especially if you also need to use the mic.
Connectivity and reliability
The WF-1000XM4 performed mostly reliably in my testing. When testing with SBC and AAC codecs, there were no issues with the connection and the audio never dropped.
With LDAC, things tend to be a bit more variable. While 330kbps and 660kbps worked completely fine, 990kbps would occasionally cause pretty severe dips in sound, which would require dropping down to at least 660kbps. The odd thing, however, was that this didn’t happen every time, as there were times when playing at 990kbps produced no issues at all.
The issues with LDAC are something I noticed with the WH-1000XM4 as well while reviewing them back in 2020. It seems to be a recurring issue with Sony products, which is odd considering it’s a Sony codec. However, this will only be an issue if you like to manually set the bitrate to 990kbps and if you just leave it at auto then you won’t have any issues.
The WF-1000XM4 have a claimed battery life of up to 8 hours with ANC on for audio playback. That may be the case with either SBC or AAC but when I tested with the more demanding LDAC set to 990kbps, I was able to get only 6 hours of continuous playback. That’s not too bad compared to other products on the market but a fair bit off from Sony’s claim.
I also tested how long the earbuds would last on a quick 10-minute charge from flat and they went on for 2 hours at the same settings as before.
The WF-1000XM4 are a pair of high-quality wireless earbuds and continue to be a great option in 2022. They are certainly expensive but having tested a bunch of the cheaper options on the market today you are definitely getting what you pay for here. Key aspects such as the audio quality, the active noise canceling, the microphone quality, and even the battery life are head and shoulders above cheaper alternatives.
Where I’d like Sony to improve is in the comfort department. This was an issue with the previous WF-1000XM3 as well for different reasons and with the WF-1000XM4 it’s the stiff foam tips that come in limited sizes that are the culprit. size options or a choice of silicone tips would certainly be welcome and not too much to ask for the price.
There were also some other minor gripes, such as the stuttering when using 990kbps LDAC at times, and the transparency mode, which could sound more natural.
Aside from that, there really isn’t much to complain about the WF-1000XM4. At around 250, you’ll be spending a small fortune on these but it’s an investment I’m comfortable recommending.
Sony WF-1000XM4 review: The best in-ear noise-cancelling headphones you can buy
These true-wireless headphones knocked our socks off with their music, phone-call, and noise-cancelling abilities.
- Exceptionally rich, mature, and reliable tech
- Best-in-class noise cancelling and adaptive noise cancelling
- Superb sound signature
- Solid, secure fit
- Long battery life
Sony not only has a fantastic set of true wireless headphones, the app that accompanies them delivers scads of its own great features and benefits.
Best Today: Sony WF-1000XM4
Sony’s headphones need no introduction. Their over-the-ear headphones rank among our favorites, and they are perennial contenders as our top pick in noise-cancelling headphones.
Translating regular headphone success into a true wireless earbud is no simple task. Yet that’s what Sony is trying to do with its flagship, the 279 WF-1000XM4. Do these true wireless headphones live up to Sony’s legacy? You bet. They are a winner by any measure.
Sony’s WF-1000XM4 come in your choice of silver or black. My review set came in the latter. The earbuds and companion charging case have a matte finish, which I found to be a nice change to the slippery, gloss finish on so many earbuds. The finish on the earbuds and case gave me confidence holding them. These earbuds a re on the large side and sport an overall oval shape, but clever design makes them seem smaller.
Under the hood, the WF-1000XM4 feature a newly designed 6mm dynamic driver. Sony says this new driver delivers a 20-percent increase in magnet volume for improved low-frequency performance. The design also improves noise cancellation in the lower frequencies.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best noise-cancelling headphones, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.
Unboxing and setup
Sony’s packaging might seem to be pedestrian on the surface. You have the earbuds, a charging case, three sets of tips, and a USB-C charging cable. Upon closer inspection, however, you’ll notice that there are no silicone tips included. Instead, all the tips are memory foam. The memory foam tips are a key part of the headphone’s design, as I’ll expand upon a bit further on.
To make the most of your WF-1000XM4 you’ll want to download Sony’s companion Headphones Connect app for iOS or Android. Pairing the WF-1000XM4 true wireless headphones with the app was a solid, hassle-free process.
Ultimate Earbud Sound Test: Sony WF-1000XM4 vs Sennheiser MTW3
Sony ensures you get the perfect fit
Among the most important items in any earbud setup is selecting the proper ear-tip size and then getting the right seal in your ear. The two aren’t the same. Sony’s unique setup process ensures you get both for optimal sound and bass by prompting you to run some tests with each earbud. The tests determine if you have the best fitting earbud size, and they ensure the earbud has a tight seal. The process gives novice users insight into how the right seal feels. I found the process to be efficient and accurate.
The end result? The WF-1000XM4 are among the best-fitting true wireless earbuds I’ve used.
The memory foam tips I mentioned earlier create a solid, confident seal in your ear and grip better than their silicone counterparts. This type of tip, however, tends to apply more pressure inside your ears than silicone tops. In my experience, memory foam tips wear out more quickly silicone ones. I suggest you have an extra set on hand, either through Sony directly or via the third-party manufacturer Comply.
The shape of the earbuds themselves is also key to achieving a tight seal. Using the increasingly common twist-and-lock technique, the Sony WF-1000XM4 fit me perfectly—including in the context of an active lifestyle. Whether the earbuds will fit your ears as comfortably as they did mine depends on several factors. I would advise those with smaller ears to pay special attention to the size and fit. Your experience might be different than mine.
Sony offers good codec support: SBC, AAC, and LDAC. AAC caters to Apple’s ecosystem and LDAC is Sony’s own high-res codec. LDAC has a maximum transfer rate of 990Kbps for streaming high-res audio. Noticeably absent, however, is any support for the competing aptX family of codecs.
You’ll need an LDAC-compatible high-res music player to take advantage of that codec’s advantages. Sony’s high-res music players typically support LDAC, as do players from brands such as AstellKern and Fiio. Check you’re player’s compatibility with LDAC if high-res streaming is important to you.
The WF-1000XM4 supports Bluetooth 5.2, and as you might expect, their wireless range was strong. I easily got 90 feet of strong connectivity in line-of-sight situations. That distance was less there were dense walls or obstructions between me and the source. Nevertheless, I could go up or down a floor confidently without missing a beat with music or calls. The WF-1000XM4 support multipoint connections, meaning you can pair them with two audio sources—a smartphone and a high-res digital audio player, for instance—and switch between them without needing to go through the Bluetooth reconnection process again.
There isn’t enough space to write about all the features packed into Sony’s companion Headphones Connect mobile app. It goes well beyond the basic battery-life status, activating ANC, or powering down the headphones when there’s no signal. Headphones Connect is a central command center for a rich array of features.
The app is one of the few that provides you detailed statistics about usage. You can see total time used and drill down into locations you’ve frequented, and which modes (stay, walk, run, ride) have been activated the most. You can enable/disable this tracking at any time.
Through Headphones Connect you get fine-tune control automation options for noise cancellation and transparency. You can set different settings for sitting, walking, running, and transportation (train, car, and so on) with Sony’s adaptive sound control. Furthermore, you have granular control over how strong you want transparency to be.
And, if you enable location services, you can even set specific noise-cancelling or transparency settings for geographic locations you frequent. Do you want full noise cancelling engaged when you visit your favorite coffee shop? You can do that. Want transparency engaged when you’re home or at the library? You can do that, too. The app makes an already strong product smarter. We should all be reticent about sharing our personal data with companies; thankfully, you have the option to enable/disable these location services at any time.
If you want to take advantage of spatial audio and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio, the app will help you get those apps set up and take a photo of your ears to further optimize the experience. Given all these customization options, it’s important that Sony provides the option to back everything up, so you never need to repeat the process should something happen to your headphones and you need to replace them.
I could go on and on. Hands down, Headphones connect is the best companion mobile app I’ve reviewed to date.
Broad voice assistant support
The WF-1000XM4 support the big three voice assistants, and I didn’t have a single hiccup using the WF-1000XM4 with Siri on my iPhone 12 Pro.
Through the Headphones Connect app, you specify if you want to use the voice assistant on the mobile device or force the use of Google or Alexa. This is a neat feature for those who have a preference to one ecosystem over the other. With Google and Alexa, you’ll gain hands-free control of features such as noise cancelling.
I should also note that the Sony The WF-1000XM4 support Google’s Fast Pair feature, which simplifies Bluetooth pairing with Android devices with a single tap. You can also locate where you left the WF-1000XM4 headphones by ringing them or checking their last known location on your smartphone. You’ll even receive a notification when your headphones battery is running low, so you know when to charge them.
A major strength and an inexcusable flaw with phone calls
I found the WF-1000XM4 to rank with the best earbuds I’ve tested with phone clarity. Sony says the WF-1000XM4 sport a bone-conduction sensor that picks up vibrations from your voice while rejecting ambient sounds, for clearer speech when making calls. Whatever the tech may be, all I know is that it worked very well.
During one testing period, I made a series of phone calls outdoors in extremely windy conditions. Not once did any of the individuals on the other end of the call ask me to repeat myself or indicate that they had trouble hearing me. In fact, at one point I asked if they could hear the wind blowing and they said no, they didn’t notice.
As good an experience as I had with phone calls, it wasn’t perfect. There was one maddening exception: If you have adaptive noise cancelling enabled and the headphones switch from transparency to noise cancelling while you’re on a phone call, you’ll lose a brief part of the conversation as the headphone dings to let you know that it’s changing modes and then fades the audio in and out during that transition. Your best bet is to turn off Adaptive Sound Control and force the headphones to stay in one specific mode—active noise cancelling or transparency mode, for example.
Sony needs to add phone calls as an additional option for its Adaptive Sound Control, so you can set specific settings for phone calls. I strongly recommend that Sony issue a firmware update that changes the default behavior on the earbuds for phone calls.
Battery life and water resistance
The WF-1000XM4 are a road warrior’s best friend, with the earbuds delivering 8 hours from the earbuds and the case providing 16 hours more. That’s a promised 24 hours of battery life with ANC enabled. The rating increases to 12 hours with noise cancelling turned off, and it drops slightly to 5.5 hours with continuous phone use with noise cancelling on. Quick charging ensures that a 5-minute charge will give you 60 minutes of use.
I found battery life on the Sony WF-1000XM4 to be reliable. In real-world use, I never ran into a situation where I was worried about running out of juice. In fact, I took the headphones with me on a cross-country flight and after almost 6 hours of use with ANC on, the Sony earbuds still had almost 30 percent of battery life left.
If you plan to use the earbuds in active lifestyle environments, you’ll be happy to know that they are IPX4 rated, which means they won’t have a problem with sweat, drizzle, or splashing water.
Tops in noise cancelling
Sony’s onboard noise cancelling technology is the best I’ve experienced in a true wireless earbud. It’s superb. In-flight, I found that the Sony offered the best noise cancelling among the four brands of headphones I brought with me. Including memory foam ear tips is a key part of that experience, as they block out a good amount of sound by default. Nevertheless, Sony touts the inclusion of its integrated V1 processor as a key component of the WF-1000XM4’s noise-cancelling performance.
As I’ve noted in my prior reviews of Sony’s over-the-ear ANC headphones, my favorite part is Sony’s adaptive noise cancelling implementation. It’s intelligent and effective enough to kick from noise cancelling to transparency mode whenever I started talking. But here’s the most impressive thing: Transparency mode kicked in if I would utter something as simply as “aha” or “hmm,” but would not engage if I cleared my throat or coughed. Through the companion app, I could fine-tune the sensitivity. I got so easily accustomed to the cadence that if I wanted to engage transparency to listen to an external announcement, I needed only to utter a simple sound and voila! I could accomplish the same feat by pressing the left earbud, but why lift a finger when you can perform the same task with a simple vocal inflection?
Sony’s adaptive noise cancelling isn’t prescient, but the only time I noticed an annoying problem was on a train or subway. At times, ANC would engage if I tilted or turned my head without speaking. Save that one minor foible, the feature is the best of any true wireless earbud I’ve ever used.
I performed my WF-1000XM4 listening tests with my iPhone 12 Pro and a Fiio M9 high-res digital music player. I used Sony’s LDAC codec with the M9 and AAC with the iPhone. I used the subscription music-streaming services Apple Music and Tidal, plus Roon (connecting to my Nucleus server).
Sony’s sonic signature is as strong as its prowess in other areas. The WF-1000XM4 will satisfy both audiophiles and casual listeners. They deliver a strong, dimensional soundstage and, if you play immersive audio tracks, you’ll get a minor sensation of some additional dimensionality.
Clean bass is a strength of the WF-1000XM4. Bass lines on Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” Imagine Dragons’ “Believer” and “Thunder”, Lorde’s “Royals,” and Adele’s “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” were tight and pistonic. Bass lines pulsated with authority and stopped on a dime with no hint of bloat or difficulty. The Sony WF-1000XM4 rendered bass lines with texture and dimensionality. It didn’t matter the genre or song: the Sony earbuds passed whatever test I threw at them.
Midrange reproduction was equally excellent, warm and intimate. Male and female vocalists came through clearly with good timbral accuracy. I reveled in all the songs of my go-to female vocalists, including Adele, Alicia Keys, Holly Cole, Natalie Merchant, Sarah McLachlan, and P!nk, to name just a few.
What about movies or streaming shows? Have no fear, the WF-1000XM4 commands them all. If I played movies or streamed other media content, dialogue was consistently intelligible and clear.
Allow me to pay Sony one of the best possible compliments. I was reviewing several true wireless headphones during this time, and I have even more in my collection for comparison. I found myself consistently gravitating towards the WF-1000XM4 as my go-to for casual, critical, or just about any listening. Their solid technology delivered a confident, enjoyable, experience and their sound was continually alluring and preferred.
Wrapping up our Sony WF-1000XM4 review
Sony’s WF-1000XM4 are superb in-ear headphones. Their active and adaptive noise-cancelling technology leads the category; their onboard tech is well thought out, practical, and unparalleled; their fit is secure; battery life is strong; they sound great; and they are stellar at phone calls.
If I had to pick just one pair of true wireless earbuds for music, noise cancelling, advanced features, and phone calls, Sony’s WF-1000XM4 would be it.
These are the best overall true wireless earbuds I’ve ever tested. And while the WF-1000XM4 won’t be ideal for everyone, they certainly rank among the most complete and mature true wireless headphones on the market today.
Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Sennheiser PXC 550-II
Sony and Sennheiser are two companies whose brands are synonymous with great audio products. In recent years both companies have introduced some of the best active noise cancelling headphones around, but let’s zoom in on the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Sennheiser PXC 550-II. Both were highly anticipated and offer superb active noise cancelling, but which one is right for you?
Editor’s note: this versus article was updated on May 30, 2022, to reflect the fact that the Sennheiser PXC 550-II has been discontinued, posit the Sony WH-1000XM4 as the preferred alternative, and include links to articles comparing the newer Sony WH-1000XM5 to the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Apple Airpods Max.
Do Sony or Sennheiser’s headphones have better features?
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II is a great, portable headset for listeners in need of silence wherever they go.
In typical Sennheiser fashion, the PXC 550-II focuses less on flashy bells and whistles and more on nailing the basics. It isn’t absent of features, though: you can enjoy bells and whistles in the Sennheiser Smart Control app (available on iOS and Google Play). You can assign either Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant to the dedicated voice assistant button, enable call enhancement, or toggle Smart pause functionality. Smart pause automatically pauses and resumes media playback when the headphones are removed or worn. You’re also able to control the basics and can EQ your music and tweak your noise cancelling preferences, but I’ll dig deeper into those features in their appropriate sections below.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones offer most of the same features as the Sennheiser PXC 550-II, and then some. Aside from also having a voice assistant button, an option to EQ your music in the Sony Headphones Connect app, and an auto-pause feature when you remove the headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4 also has a speak-to-chat feature. When this is enabled, music automatically pauses if the mic detects your voice. In my full review, I found this to be more of a gimmick as it was too sensitive for my liking. Simply chuckling while listening to a podcast caused playback to automatically pause.
The WH-1000XM4 also supports passthrough mode, which lowers the volume of your music and allows external noise in when you cup your hand to the left ear cup. This is helpful if you’re commuting or on a plane and need to hear an announcement. One cool feature that you’ll only find on the Sony cans is Sony’s 360 Reality Audio compatibility. This is similar to Dolby Atmos, and each channel is re-engineered as an audio object that may move freely around you in 3D space. The end result is a more immersive experience. Keep in mind that you need to be subscribed to a high-quality streaming service like Tidal or Deezer to take advantage of it.
Both pairs of headphones use a combination of buttons and touch gestures for playback control, which requires some getting used to. Once you get the controls down, you shouldn’t have too many issues or accidental pauses.
Does the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Sennheiser PXC 550-II have better Bluetooth codec support?
While both headphones offer many of the latest specs, the Sennheiser PXC 550-II has a slight lead when it comes to overall connectivity. Not only is it rocking Bluetooth 5.0, but it also supports more high-quality Bluetooth codecs than the Sony headphones. If you pick up the PXC 550-II you can expect SBC, aptX, aptX low latency, and AAC support. The Sennheiser PXC 550-II also has Bluetooth multipoint which lets you connect to two devices simultaneously. While it generally works, Lily experienced hiccups while switching between her computer and mobile phone during her full review.
Sony WF 1000XM4 Long Term Review: AirPods Pro Are Trash ft. @TechThatOut
The Sony WH-1000XM4 also uses Bluetooth 5.0, and supports SBC and AAC, but they ditch aptX in favor of Sonys’ own LDAC codec. While LDAC offers a technically higher bitrate than aptX, it does so at the cost of connection stability. You’ll also get multipoint support if you go with the WH-1000XM4, but it only works if you use the AAC codec.
It’s worth mentioning here that in our testing AAC doesn’t play well with Android. Meanwhile, iOS devices are only compatible with AAC and SBC. If you plan on using an iOS device this might not matter to you, because both headphones support AAC. Android users, however, should take into consideration which Bluetooth codecs they prefer, and whether or not said codec provides the experience you’re after. On the bright side, both pairs of headphones have a headphone jack so you can plug in a standard 3.5mm audio cable.
Does the Sony WH-1000XM4 have better noise cancelling than the PXC 550-II?
If you’re looking for top-tier active noise cancelling (ANC) then the Sony WH-1000XM4 should be your pick. The previous version, the WH-1000XM3, was already the king of active noise cancelling headsets and the new WH-1000XM4 is even better.
Looking at the graph above gives a good idea of what to expect from this pair of headphones. The blue line represents the noise cancelling performance, and the higher it is, the more noise is cancelled at the corresponding frequency. For the Sony WH-1000XM4, that line is best in class. You can see a large peak between 200-500Hz, which is where most humming sounds lie; these sounds are dramatically quieted by the time they reach your ears. It even does a great job at removing sounds below 100Hz, and outperforms other headphones in this space.
Both headphones offer the option to tweak noise cancelling intensity via their respective apps. The Sennheiser PXC 550-II and the Sony WH-1000XM4 offer adaptive noise cancelling, which automatically adjusts the strength of the ANC depending on your environment. They each also offer a unique noise cancelling feature that can only be accessed in their respective apps. In the Sony Headphones Connect app you can calibrate the noise cancelling to your environment which can be helpful if you find yourself on a plane. Meanwhile, in the Sennheiser Smart Control app you can select the anti-wind ANC mode for when you find yourself outdoors.
Low-frequency sounds are heavily attenuated and sound 1/2 as loud as they sound sans-ANC, making the PXC 550-II a great option for air travelers and commuters.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 may be best in class, but the noise cancelling in the Sennheiser PXC 550-II is still decent. While the noise cancelling isn’t as strong in the 200-500Hz range as the WH-1000XM4 is, it’s still great at blocking out annoying hums lower than around 100Hz. In her full review, Lily noted that the ANC isn’t strong enough to completely isolate against construction noises but performs admirably when it came to the drill that was being used to install her apartment doors.
Does the Sennheiser PXC 550-II has better battery life than the Sony WH-1000XM4?
Testing battery life is about as easy as it gets, and the Sennheiser PXC 550-II technically comes out on top. Sennheiser claims that you’ll get about 20 hours on a single charge with ANC turned on, but in our testing, it lasted exactly 21 hours, 58 minutes. The PXC 550-II isn’t perfect and comes with its own sets of issues. It charges via microUSB which is an issue, but at least it supports fast charging: 10 minutes of connection supplies 90 minutes of playback. While this pair of headphones is less expensive than the WH-1000XM4, it still isn’t cheap. The fact that it doesn’t come with a more modern USB-C charging input is a drawback.
The WH-1000XM4 has a ton of Bluetooth codec options but thankfully still has a place for a standard 3.5mm audio cable as well.
On the other hand, the Sony WH-1000XM4 has both a USB-C input for charging and a quick charge feature that gives five hours of playtime after just 10 minutes. In our testing the WH-1000XM4 headphones last exactly 19 hours, 59 minutes. To test both of these headphones we made sure to max out ANC and play music at a constant output of 75dB. It’s worth mentioning that while 20 hours is still an impressive number, the WH-1000XM4 technically doesn’t perform as well as the Sennheiser PXC 550-II. This is even more surprising when you consider that the previous WH-1000XM4 tallied an impressive 24 hours of constant playback.
Does the Sennheiser or Sony headset sound better?
Picking between these two headphones based on sound quality is tough, because they both sound excellent. Bassheads won’t be too happy as both headphones have a neutral-leaning frequency response. This means audio reproduction is accurate, which can be off-putting to listeners accustomed to cheap headsets that greatly exaggerated low frequencies.
Sound reproduction tightly follows the line of platonic ideal up until upper-midrange frequencies, making this a great headset for traveling audiophiles.
The good thing about headphones with a relatively flat frequency response is that it’s great for EQ tinkering. You don’t need to know how to equalize music to take advantage of this because both apps have a few presets you can choose from. While you can read the sound quality sections of the full reviews if you want to dig deeper into the details of sound quality, you really can’t go wrong with either one of these headphones.
Is the Sony WH-1000XM4 better for phone calls than the Sennheiser PXC 550-II?
Microphone quality is an important aspect of wireless headphones that often gets overlooked. We like to make this section simple and present you with two microphone samples, one from each headset. Let us know which one you think sounds best!
Sony WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM5: Which is best for you?
Credit: Reviewed/Ryan Waniata
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The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones are among the most popular and well-regarded wireless headphones you can buy. With a lethal mix of high-quality sound, powerful noise canceling, and tons of advanced features, the XM4 (the “M” stands for “mark”) have sat comfortably atop multiple best headphones lists (including ours) since their 2020 debut.
But of course, Sony didn’t stop innovating with the XM4. The WH-1000XM5 have emerged as a challenger to the XM4’s reign—a usurper from within. While Sony says the XM4 aren’t going anywhere, the XM5 represent a premium upgrade at a more premium price, with new drivers, more advanced noise canceling, and an all-new design. But which is worth buying? We break it down, feature by feature, so you can find the perfect kingly cans for your investment.
The value you get from the XM4, especially on sale, is undeniable.
The MSRP for these two pairs makes this category cut and dry: the XM4 retail for 350, while the Sony XM5 go for a cool 400. The XM4’s longer tenure has also seen their traditionally inflated MSRP often drop to 250-280 on sale, below many flagship rivals.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that, since the XM5 launch, the XM4’s price shot back up to retail pricing on Amazon and other sites apart from sales like Amazon Prime Day. While both pairs will likely be on sale for the holidays, if you’re willing to wait for the right moment to strike, the XM4 are bursting with value compared to their newer rival—and other competitors, too.
Our pick: WH-1000XM4
Features and controls
A mix of dual control keys and responsive touch controls make for a nearly flawless combination.
When it comes to features, there’s almost total parity across the board. Both of these premium pairs conjure the lion’s share of features from Sony’s excellent Headphones app, which will save your headphone settings even after you’ve changed devices. Options include convenience features like multipoint connection (letting you easily swap between two source devices), a multi-Band EQ with several presets, and the brand’s DSEE Extreme upscaling for upscaled audio streaming.
The app also lets you customize each pair in concert with Sony’s sonic environmental control features, and even provides analysis of your ears for Sony’s 3D Reality Audio service. They share a feature designed to track your activities and tailor the ambient sound features (noise canceling and transparency mode) to your environment and each pair offers the same 20-point scale for transparency mode control.
There’s more to unlock on the headphones themselves. Quick Alert lets you touch the right earcup to dampen the music and turn on transparency mode, while engaging Speak to Chat will pause music whenever you raise your voice (including coughing and throat clearing, in my experience), all of which is again shared by each pair.
The controls and features in the XM4 are nearly identical to the latest pair.
There are some minor differences, based mainly around active noise canceling functionality; the XM5’s adaptive ANC is designed to automatically adjust to your environment, while the XM4 offers an optimizer that customizes ANC via a series of test patterns. That said, the only major difference in features is the XM5’s Spotify Accessibility, which can be set up for quick access to the streaming service with a tap on the ear cup.
Speaking of taps, the controls for both headphones are virtually the same as well. Each pair offers easy control over playback, calling, and volume control via responsive touch sensors on the right ear cup. The only difference relates to the physical command key next to the power button on the left ear cup: the XM4’s key can be programmed to alert Alexa instead of cycling through ambient sound options (ANC, off, and transparency mode), whereas the XM5 is primarily designed for ambient sound control. Alexa can instead be set as a default voice assistant from within the app.
While you could argue the XM5 have a slight advantage with quick access to Spotify, I’ve never found that feature all that useful anyway, and otherwise it’s too close to call. This one’s a draw.
Our Pick: Draw
Design and fit
The XM5 are even comfier than the previous generation.
The most obvious difference between these headphones is the physical design. Breaking the mold for the first time in generations, the XM5 look notably different from their predecessors. The most impressive upgrade is the padding, now cloaked in luxuriant synthetic leather that doesn’t look as natural as the XM4’s leatherette, but is both smoother and more comfortable. There’s also better balance, and the XM5 are a few grams lighter, making them a tad more comfortable on my head after a few hours.
The XM5’s ear cups are longer and more oval-shaped, set along thin arms that attach at the top, rather than gripping the cups around the middle. The cups retract and extend on a uniform piece, but no longer fold inward like the XM4’s cups. The snazzy new look is a welcome change for those eyeing Apple’s Airpods Max, but it also makes the XM5 harder to take along. The new case is quite thin, but it’s longer and harder to sneak into your luggage on a long journey.
While the XM5’s added comfort is a win, the larger size loses points—especially for headphones you’ll want to take on all your travels. This category is another tie.
Our pick: Draw
Both headphones offer excellent sound performance, but the XM5 serve up more clarity and definition, especially when it comes to dynamics. They do a brilliant job emphasizing both the quietest moments and the more bombastic ones, while also providing a more vivid soundstage that lets you track each instrument from corner to corner with fantastic accuracy.
As I’ve listened more I’ve also found the XM5’s bass a bit tighter and less boomy by default. Both pairs reproduce powerful bass when called upon, though, and Sony’s effective EQ lets you customize your sonic experience to great results.
Call quality is another upgrade for the XM5, offering ultra-clear calling even in crowded or windy areas thanks to excellent noise reduction.
But it’s the XM5’s impressive adaptive noise cancellation that accounts for my favorite new feature, setting them above any over-ear headphones we’ve tested yet. Their ability to squash noise across frequencies rises above the XM4, and stands about even with Bose’s QC45 in our testing, thanks to the addition of both Sony’s V1 and QN1 noise-canceling processors and a whopping eight microphones.
The sanguine silence while the headphones are at rest is what really won my heart. Because the ANC only ramps up when needed, you’ll hear virtually no discernable white noise with ANC engaged while going about your daily tasks. Though it takes a moment to adjust when airplanes buzz and voices chatter, the powerful reduction of all frequencies is worth the wait. Simply put, these are the best noise-canceling headphones available right now.
Our pick: WH-1000XM5
The Sony WH-1000XM5 case (left) set next to the XM4 (center) and Bose QC45 cases.
The XM5 offer the exact same battery life as the XM4: 30 hours. Now, I’m not sure when you’d ever need more than 30 hours of charge time (Bose’s QC45 offer 25 hours) but it’s far from the best you can get on the market these days. That means you’ll need to charge them more often than some similarly priced options, such as Technics’ EAH-A800, which tout 50 hours of playtime per charge.
There is a caveat when it comes to Rapid charging: the XM5 promise 3 hours of charge time on 3 minutes, while the XM4 claim 5 hours for 10 minutes of charge. My impressive math skills put the XM5 at 6 hours of playtime for 6 minutes charge—an hour more for 4 minutes less. Does any of this really matter? Can we really clock those 6 hours precisely for that exact amount of charging? Maybe, but my guess is it’d be somewhat inconsistent. In any case, I’m not going to reward this nose hair of a win—it’s another tie.
Our pick: Draw
And the winner is …
Life isn’t black and white, and neither is this decision. I could pick a winner here, but like so much else in the world, much of it depends upon your perspective. I think the XM4 will be perfectly adequate for most folks and, especially on sale, they’ll offer you the most value hands down. They’re also the easiest to take along, which arguably makes them a better pick for travelers.
On the other hand, the XM5 offer a more premium experience and improved performance, as long as you’re willing to pay for it. While some updates are nominal, there are notable advancements here that make them superior in key areas, namely calling and noise canceling. The choice is yours: the value-packed stalwart pair, or the premium upgrade. In either case, I have no doubt you’ll be satisfied with your purchase.
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were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.