Launching this month, the new Sony WF-1000XM4 headphones look set to rival Apple AirPods Pro. But Sony’s latest wireless headphones will set you back a cool £250, even more than the Apple AirPods Pro. Can they justify their high price? Our experts compare them to rivals to find out.
The Sony WF-1000XM4s are active noise cancelling headphones – cancelling out unwanted background sounds, like traffic noise. This means they’re the direct rival to the £190 Apple AirPods Pro, since the standard AirPods lack this technology.
But their predecessor, the XM3s, cost less at £169. This is cheaper than the AirPods Pro but only around £40 more than the standard AirPods – plus you get noise cancelling.
So what more do you get with the XM4s? Sony promises improvements in every department: longer battery life, better sound quality and noise cancelling that Sony claims delivers ‘silence’ from unwanted background sounds.
Are the Sony WF-1000XM4 headphones worth the extra money? Below, we take a look at whether the specs appear to justify the cost and compare them to rivals and lay out some cheaper alternatives. Plus we reveal how the two key brands – Sony and Apple – measure up, including which has the most Best Buys.
For the top headphones you can buy right now, as rated by our lab professionals, see our best headphones.
Sony WF-1000XM4 key features
Sony promises the XM4s have ‘industry-leading noise cancelling’ and take this and sound quality ‘to the next level’, with a new processor developed by Sony.
High-Resolution Audio is also supported – which will be useful if you have access to music streaming services that offer higher-than-CD quality recordings.
Sony also promises the XM4s are great for taking phone calls, with technology that keeps conversations clear even on windy days. You can also use its ambient sound mode to be more aware of surroundings, such as when crossing the road.
The Sony WF-1000XM4s are the direct successor to the Sony WF-1000XM3 headphones. However, the biggest difference to the XM3s is undoubtedly the headphones’ overall size. The earpieces are 10% smaller and the charging case is 40% smaller, making it even easier to simply pop them in your pocket.
Battery life has also seen a major improvement – provided, that is, they live up to Sony’s claims of eight hours of continuous music listening, up from six hours on the XM3s. We’ll put this to the test in our lab as soon as we can.
Need new headphones right now? Don’t part with your money until you find out which are the best for your budget – use our headphone reviews.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs XM3s vs Apple AirPods vs AirPods Pro
|Sony WF-1000XM4||Sony WF-1000XM3||Apple AirPods (2019)||Apple AirPods Pro|
|Compatibility||Full Apple and Android device support||Full Apple and Android device support||Apple devices (not all features supported on Android, but music will play)||Apple devices (not all features supported on Android, but music will play with noise cancelling)|
|Claimed battery life (continuous music listening)||8 hours (with noise cancelling)||6 hours (with noise cancelling)||5 hours||4.5 hours (with noise cancelling)|
|Claimed battery life (including charging case)||24 hours (with noise cancelling)||24 hours (with noise cancelling)||24 hours||‘more than’ 24 hours (with noise cancelling)|
|Noise cancelling||Active noise cancelling with ‘ambient sound’ setting||Active noise cancelling with ‘ambient sound’ setting||None||Active noise cancelling with ‘transparency mode’|
|Charging case size (approx.)||Tiny (smallest; shorter than Apple AirPods)||Palm-sized (larger than AirPods Pro)||5.4 x 4.4 x 2.1cm (HxWxD)||4.5 x 6.1 x 2.2cm (HxWxD)|
|Voice assistant control||Yes – Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri||Yes – Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri||Yes – Siri||Yes – Siri|
But does the sound quality make all this worth it, and are they really the best pair to buy? We’ll be sending the XM4s to our expert lab so check back in early August to find out if our professional listening panel give them the thumbs up.
To see how the XM4 rivals performed in our expert tests, go to:
When can I get the Sony WF-1000XM4?
The Sony WF-1000XM4 launch this month, so are now available to order. However, you’ll need to be quick, as it’s likely they’ll be in very limited supply right now.
Sony vs Apple: what Which? tests show
Sony is the world’s biggest headphones manufacturer with a huge range of models, while Apple has a much narrower range. Nevertheless, both brands have impressive models, so the Sony WF-1000XM4 will need an outstanding result to get the highest ever score from Sony or Apple when it comes back from out lab.
|Number of models tested||36||5|
|Number of Best Buys (score 70% or more)||4||3|
|Number of Great Value models (cheap and score 60% or more)||2||0|
Alternatives to the Sony WF-1000XM4
Sony and Apple in no way have the wireless earbuds market all to themselves. Here are some other key rivals to consider.
Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, £249
Bose is another heavyweight in noise cancelling headphones, and the QuietComfort Earbuds are its flagship truly wireless pair.
Bose claims six hours of continuous music listening time, plus 18 hours in total with top-ups from the charging case.
Does the sound quality and noise cancelling make these the superior choice to Sony and Apple’s pairs? Find out in our definitive Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro, £219
Apple’s key rival in the smartphones world, Samsung is out to topple Apple for wireless earbuds as well. These are best used with Android devices – they will play on Apple devices but the settings app isn’t compatible.
Priced even higher than the AirPods Pro, they have an exceptionally sleek design and the earpieces are IPX7 fully waterproof, so no need to worry if they drop in a puddle.
Are these the option to choose, particularly if you have a Samsung Galaxy phone? Our experts put them to the test in our Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review.
Huawei Freebuds 4i, £80
Active noise cancelling headphones tend to be very expensive, but this attractively priced pair might catch your eye. They’re designed for Android devices – music will play on Apple devices but the settings app is only available on Android.
They look uncannily similar to the Apple AirPods Pro, and yet are less than half the price. They claim very similar features too, and even best Apple’s claims with a seven-and-a-half-hour continuous listening battery life.
Do they live up to the promise, or is there something to watch out for? Our expert tests give you the trusted verdict in our comprehensive Huawei Freebuds 4i review.
For all the results on the best wireless earbuds we’ve tested, head to our guide to the best in-ear headphones for 2021