Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: How the noise-cancelling earbuds stack up
The Sony WF-1000XM4 looks very promising, but it’s going up against the AirPods Pro: one of the most popular and genuinely best wireless earbuds on the market. The WF-1000XM4 takes a similarly premium approach, complete with active noise cancellation, but how do these headphones really stack up?
That’s what this Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro comparison is all about. We have not yet reviewed the WF-1000XM4, but now that we know its price, specs and features, there’s still plenty to put under the microscope against Apple’s best.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Specs compared
|Sony WF-1000XM4||AirPods Pro|
|Wireless Charging Case||Yes||Yes|
|Chip||Sony V1||Apple H1|
|Battery Life (Rated)||8 hours (ANC on), 24 hours (with charging case)||4.5 hours (ANC on), 5 hours (ANC off), 24 hours (with charging case)|
|Case Size||2.4 x 1.5 x 1.1 inches||1.8 x 0.9 x 2.4 inches|
|Case Weight||2 ounces||1.6 ounces|
|Special features||Active noise cancellation, transparency mode, Speak-to-Chat, companion app with customizable EQ, DSEE Extreme upscaling, LDAC, NFC connectivity, digital assistant support (Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri), touch controls||Active noise cancellation, transparency mode, adaptive EQ, spatial audio, automatic switching, customizable fit, audio sharing, announced messages with Siri, “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistance|
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Price
Unusually for a pair of ANC buds, the AirPods Pro is not the priciest in this pair. At $279, the WF-1000XM4 costs more than not just its Apple rival but almost all other headphones in its category. Save for a few others like the Master & Dynamic MW08 or Bowers & Wilkins PI7, of course.
What’s more, $249 is just the AirPods Pro MSRP. Since it will be two years old in 2021, it’s much easier to find at a discount, so you could pick up the AirPods Pro at $200 or less without effort. That widens the price gap further with the WF-1000XM4, which as a brand new release won’t see any big discounts for a while.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Design
We never really liked the size or shape of the old Sony WF-1000XM4, even if it was among the best noise-cancelling earbuds on pure performance. The new WF-1000XM4 wisely does away with those weird capsule-like proportions, replaced by a less unique but much more subtle and compact rounded design. The WF-1000XM4 also adds IPX4-rated water resistance, so its buds are both better-looking and more practical.
The AirPods Pro matches the WF-1000XM4’s IPX4 rating, and both the buds and the case are lighter too. This might sound like Apple’s effort is the better-designed overall, though remember you’d still be stuck with those dangling white stems. Aesthetics are subjective but we’re feel a lot less ostentatious with the cleanly rounded WF-1000XM4 in our ears.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Controls
Then again, one advantage of those AirPods Pro stalks is that they contain Apple’s Force Sensors. These intuitive, pleasantly clicky inputs combine with “Hey Siri” voice activation to make these earbuds comfortably one of the most easily controllable around. On-ear detection works flawlessly, and you can customize which Force Sensors perform which tasks.
The WF-1000XM4 uses more conventional touch control sensors on each buds. It’s no slouch here, and the AirPods Pro’s weakness — the lack of onboard volume controls — isn’t an issue for Sony’s buds. You can also customize the WF-1000XM4’s controls through Sony’s Headphones Connect app.
Still, the WF-1000XM4’s touch sensors will need to perform pretty much faultlessly if they’re to stand up against the Force Sensors’s sheer tactility.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Active noise cancellation
The WF-1000XM4 is in a good position here as well. Again, the WF-1000XM3 already outperformed the AirPods Pro on sound-silencing effectiveness, and Sony has only fine-tuned these capabilities. For instance, the WF-1000XM4’s new drivers don’t just promise better bass in music, but are supposedly better at producing high-frequency noise that’s generated to cancel out the sound waves of detected ambient noise.
In theory, this could make the WF-1000XM4 even better at hiding certain frequencies than the WF-1000XM3. Sony also says the V1 chip is more effective at processing ANC, while reducing battery drain, and there’s a bonus “Speak-to-Chat” feature that automatically engages ambient mode (and pauses your music) when you strike up a conversation.
We’ll revisit once we’ve tried both sets of buds’ ANC next to each other. In fairness to Apple, the AirPods Pro’ noise cancelling is superb — anyone who’s tried it will know the sensation of ambient sounds suddenly falling away once ANC kicks in. It’s just a case of whether the WF-1000XM4 can go even further.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: App and special features
For the WF-1000XM4, Sony is updating its Headphones Connect app. This was already an impressively-feature slice of software, covering everything from EQ adjustment to ANC and ambient mode controls to 360 Reality Audio setup. As mentioned, this is also where you can customize the WF-1000XM4’s controls.
The main new feature is a tool that measures your ears and lets you know whether you’re using the ideal size of ear tips, and if not, whether you should switch to smaller or larger tips.
That sounds useful, though you could also say Sony is simply catching up to Apple. The AirPods Pro have long offered an Ear Fit Tip Test, which can also detect if you need to change tips in order to get the best seal for your ears. With any ANC earbuds, this is important to prevent any ambient noise leaking in.
It does seem that the AirPod Pro’s feature set can stand up to the WF-1000XM4’s, even if it doesn’t have its own app per se. There’s also Headphone Accommodations, which creates a personalized sound profile based on how you personally hear certain frequencies, and you can easily share music to other pairs of AirPods or Beats headphones too. Not to mention the AirPods Pro’s integration with the Find My app, or the range of new features coming via update later in 2021.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Call quality
This is also something we’d need to test, though Sony has taken steps to improve the WF-1000XM4 call performance over that of the WF-1000XM3. The latter had trouble picking up the wearer’s speech, even with dual mics on each bud, so hopefully the WF-1000XM4’s added bone conduction sensor can help. This picks up and analyzes the vibrations your face makes as you speak, and combines that data with the mic input to more effectively pick up speech.
We already know the AirPods Pro is one of the best headphones with a mic for voice and video calls, thanks to its clear microphones and unusually strong wind resistance. The WF-1000XM4 could turn it around, but it would be an uphill struggle.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Battery life
When the AirPods Pro first releases, its per-charge uptime of 4.5 hours with ANC seemed average rather than bad. These days, though, standards are much higher, with some noise-cancelling buds able to last 10 hours or more before needing a rest in their charging case.
The WF-1000XM4 won’t match that kind of longevity, but it is rated at 8 hours (with ANC) per charge, which is clearly a big step up compared to Apple’s buds. The AirPods Pro charging case does level things up by offering more charges before it too runs dry, though with both sets of buds totalling 24 hours overall, we’d be more inclined towards the pair with longer individual uptimes.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Outlook
The Sony WF-1000XM4 doesn’t shape up as a comprehensive upgrade on the AirPods Pro, unlike the WF-1000XM3, upon which it promises upgrades in almost every area. Apple’s buds are much cheaper, and have a very good chance of winning out on controls and features. Meanwhile, most of the WF-1000XM4’s apparent best qualities remain unknowns until we can test them ourselves.
Nonetheless, it is building on a strong foundation in the WF-1000XM3, while at least attempting to address the older earbuds’ biggest weakness. Stay tuned for our full Sony WF-1000XM4 review; we suspect it will, at the very least, be able to give the AirPods Pro a good fight.
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