Compared: AirPods Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds

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Sony launched the WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds in June, its noise-cancelling rival to the Apple AirPods Pro. Here's how Sony's latest stacks up against Apple's heavy hitter.

The Sony WF-1000-XM4 (left) versus Apple AirPods Pro (right)
The Sony WF-1000-XM4 (left) versus Apple AirPods Pro (right)


In July 2019, Sony launched its first attempt to take on Apple in the wireless earbud stakes, with the WF-1000XM3 offering a familiar package of earbuds and a charging case. While they were an attractive proposition, they didn't fare well versus Apple's audio hardware.

Two years later, and Sony is going after Apple again, this time with the similarly-named WF-1000XM4. The XM4 is, again, compact earbuds that take up very little extra space outside the ear, complete with noise cancellation features and potentially improved microphones.

However, Sony still has the familiar opponent of Apple's AirPods Pro to take on, which will continue to challenge Sony to make any headway with iPhone users.

The XM4 may be an upgrade from the XM3, but it crucially needs to be better than the AirPods Pro.




AirPods Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM4 - Specifications

AirPods ProSony WF-1000XM4
Case Dimensions (inches)1.78 x 2.39 x 0.851.8 x 0.9 x 2.4 inches
Battery Life (earbuds)4.5 hours with ANC, 5 with ANC off8 hours with NC, 12 hours with NC off
Battery Life (with case)More than 24 hours24 hours
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.0Bluetooth 5.2
MicrophonesDual Beamforming, Single Inward-FacingDual noise-sensing microphones, Beamforming, Bone Conduction
SensorsDual Optical Sensors,
Motion-Detecting Accelerometer,
Speech-Detecting Accelerometer,
Force Sensor
Touch Sensor
Sweat and Water ResistanceIPX4IPX4
Active Noise CancellationYesYes
Price$249$279.99

AirPods Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM4 - Design and Dimensions

The XM4 follows the same path as its predecessor. They try to be earbuds that fit within the space of the ear itself. While Apple's AirPods Pro have a descending stalk, Sony instead sticks to a largely circular and self-contained bud without any sticking-out sections.

The Sony WF-1000-XM4 (left) versus Apple AirPods Pro (right)
The Sony WF-1000-XM4 (left) versus Apple AirPods Pro (right)


When worn, the XM4 is relatively flat and can be seen by bystanders as a slightly elongated disk covering the inner section of the ear. The circular microphone element towards the base may look like an earring to some, highlighting an otherwise muted external appearance.

On the inside is the earbud tips used for noise isolation, intended to squeeze against the ear canal wall to eliminate leaked air. The new versions included by Sony use unique polyurethane foam to maximize the surface contact area and improve its stickiness to the canal wall.

AirPods Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM4 - Noise Cancellation

The AirPods Pro and the XM4 offer noise cancellation, with Apple's described as Active Noise Cancellation while Sony opts for Noise Cancellation. Despite the slightly different names, they both offer the ability to cut down background noise to make it easier to listen to your selected media.

Sony has used its V1 Integrated Processor to handle noise cancellation, including several different modes. An Automatic Wind Noise Reduction mode suppresses wind sounds.

An Ambient Sound mode offers a similar concept to Apple's Transparency Mode, which allows some sounds to pass through to the user, but prevents general drone and background noises from getting through.

Sony WF-1000XM4
Sony WF-1000XM4 in their case


Sony also offers an Adaptive Sound Control that can change the Ambient Sound settings depending on the user's situation, such as allowing tannoy announcements to be heard at a station. Users can also set the system to recognize frequently visited locations and adjust the sound automatically.

Sony's hardware isn't just a processor improvement. The company uses a new 6mm driver unit in the speaker, which has a 20% increase in magnet volume combined with a high compliance diaphragm.

In short, Sony claims this combination will aid noise cancellation by performing better at low frequencies and a high degree in precision in generating the low-frequency cancellation signal.

During our testing, it seemed Sony's improvements have paid off. Between the foam ear tips and larger driver, the XM4 blocked more external noise and canceled out more of our white noise than AirPods Pro. AirPods Pro also suffered from a bit of rustling noise in our ears as we moved about with ANC, versus the XM4 remaining silent.

AirPods Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM4 - Virtual Assistants, Microphones, and Control

Both pairs of earphones have two microphones per bud, with an outward-facing version matched with an inward-facing version aimed to assist noise cancellation features and pick up the user's voice better.

Sony refers to its pair as dual "noise-sensing" microphones, with one described as "feed-forward" and the other "feed-back." All of the microphones on both sides are also beamforming.

Sony WF-1000XM4 in their case
Sony WF-1000XM4 in their case


Sony does pull ahead slightly here on specifications, as it doesn't just rely on two microphones. The use of bone conduction sensors means the earbuds can pick up the user's voice in more noisy environments, which is handy for calls and digital assistants.

There's also a Speak-to-Chat mode that uses voice detection to pause music playback automatically and to enable Ambient Sound. Sony intends this to allow users to enter brief conversations with others without needing to remove the earbuds.

Wearing the Sony XM4
Wearing the Sony XM4


Sony has hands-free support for Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa in terms of connectivity with digital assistants. Naturally, you have hands-free Siri support on the AirPods Pro.

For non-voice control of the earbuds, Sony uses the main circular area of the earbud as a touch sensor, with each able to be used to activate or turn off noise cancellation modes, to control music or the volume. These can also be configured via the companion app.

AirPods Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM4 - Cases and Battery Life

Both AirPods Pro and the XM4 include a wireless charging case, which can be recharged using a Qi wireless charger, or via a cable. Lighting in the case of AirPods Pro, USB-C for the XM4.

AirPods Pro next to the new iMac keyboard
Our AirPods pro next to the new 24-inch iMac keyboard


The cases are also seemingly evenly matched when it comes to battery life, with Sony claiming up to 24 hours of total usage with its earbuds versus more than 24 hours for AirPods Pro.

Of course, this does depend on how you use the earbuds in the first place.

Used on their own, Apple claims the AirPods Pro can last for up to 4.5 hours of music playback with ANC turned on or 5 hours with it turned off. Sony's claim is 8 hours of usage with NC on, 12 hours with it off.

That is a big difference and gives Sony a notable advantage.

Wirelessly charging the Sony XM4 case
Wirelessly charging the Sony XM4 case


If we're going by talk time, things are a bit different. The AirPods Pro can up for up to 3.5 hours of talk time on a single charge, whereas Sony says 5.5 hours with NC on, 6 hours with NC off.

That single-use battery we think is more important than it seems. If, after a couple of years of frequent use, your battery health drops to 50%, you'll have AirPods Pro only lasting two hours. Versus the XM4 that will still boast more than 4 hours of usage time. For the time of purchase as well as for longevity, the Sony battery life wins out.

Sony XM4 on iPad Magic Keyboard
Sony XM4 on iPad Pro Magic Keyboard


The quick charging capabilities of the cases are comparable. Both sets of earphones and cases claim to recharge up to 60 minutes of play time from a five-minute charge.

AirPods Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM4 - Connectivity and Resistance


Both models connect to their host devices using Bluetooth, though Sony opts for the newer Bluetooth 5.2 versus Apple's use of Bluetooth 5.0.

AirPods Pro users will be familiar with the ability to get quickly up and running with personal audio accessories and their iPhone. Still, Sony has its tricks it can use. With support for Google's Fast Pair, the XM4 can be paired with an Android device with a single tap.

There's also support for Microsoft Swift Pair, for putting the Sony earbuds on a Windows 10 desktop.

Both models include sweat and water resistance corresponding to an IPX4 rating, which is an improvement on Sony's side from the XM3, which lacked any resistance at all. This does mean both the AirPods Pro and the XM4 are suitable for workouts and other sweat-generating experiences.

AirPods Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM4 - Audio Quality

Listening to Apple Music on Sony XM4
Listening to Apple Music on Sony XM4


Thanks to those newly-introduced 6mm drivers and larger size than Apple's buds, the Sony XM4 do offer significantly better audio than AirPods Pro. You can notice substantial bass in the tracks and an overall richer, fuller sound that puts a bit more space between the instruments and vocals.

When listening to music, there are certainly some differences in what the two earphone models offer.

Apple has its Adaptive EQ, a system for tuning the music to the shape of the user's ear, improving playback with a highly personalized experience. Apple also introduced Spatial Audio, a three-dimensional sound feature specific to its ecosystem that Sony cannot offer.

In Sony's corner, its Integrated Processor V1 is claimed to enhance sound quality, reduce distortion, and provide LDAC codec processing and Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) Extreme.

While Sony can't offer Apple's Spatial Audio, it does have its version. Released before Spatial Audio and known as 360 Reality Audio, it is effectively the same thing. When paired with a supporting app such as Deezer or Tidal, users can hear 360-degree audio from all around them and provide much more space between audio layers that make you feel as if you are there.

Sony XM4 have adjustable EQ
Sony XM4 have adjustable EQ


The accompanying headphone connect app from Sony also allows users to choose the EQ that best suits them and their audio type. There are several pre-built options to choose from, such as mellow, spoken word, or bass boost, or a user can craft a manual EQ setting.

While we tested these on our iPhone and other Apple devices, audio quality improves the XM4 on select Android devices. The XM4 includes a new version of high-quality Bluetooth streaming that Apple doesn't yet support, known as LDAC.

LDAC, which uses three times the data of conventional Bluetooth audio, can be used to listen to high-resolution audio to levels supposedly close to a wired connection, which is required for Apple Lossless. So while these already sound better than AirPods Pro, they get even better with a device that supports LDAC.

The inclusion of DSEE Extreme gives Sony the equivalent of video upscaling, but for compressed audio. The system dynamically recognizes genres, instruments, and song elements to restore high-range details typically lost in compression.

AirPods Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM4 - Price

At face value, Sony's pricing for the XM4 gives Apple a clear lead. Apple's AirPods Pro are priced at $249.99, complete with the wireless charging case, while Sony's WF-1000XM4 with the case costs $279.99, $30 more than Apple.

Those buying AirPods Pro can also get the case personalized with an engraving at no extra charge. On Sony's side, you do get a choice of black or silver, whereas the AirPods Pro are only offered in white.

AirPods Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM4 - SUMMARY TITLE

Based purely on the specs and performance, the Sony WF-1000XM4 are hands-down the better set of earbuds. They sound better (including supporting LDAC audio), have superior ANC, and notably better battery life.

Apple and Sony earbuds
Apple's and Sony's earbuds


If you are buying for just the best sounding and performing headphones, you probably need to choose the Sony XM4.

That said, AirPods Pro benefit significantly from Apple's first-party ecosystem. The integration into Control Center, hands-free Siri support, effortless switching between all your Apple devices, and instant setup are hard to beat. Apple also continues to improve them over time. Later this year, Apple adds more features such as support for the Find My app, leave behind alerts, and Conversation Boost, among other new features.

If your goal is to get a set of headphones that perform very well and blend seamlessly with your assortment of Apple devices, then AirPods Pro remains the go-to.

Where to buy

Apple AirPods Pro are currently on sale, with the best AirPods Pro deals available in the Appleinsider AirPods Price Guide.

Sony WF-1000XM4 Earbuds retail for $278 and can be ordered from Amazon, as well as at Adorama and at B&H Photo.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 13
    robin huberrobin huber Posts: 3,476member
    Attention Sony marketing team: What the Fuck-1000XM4 might not be a winning designator. ☺️
  • Reply 2 of 13
    jdgazjdgaz Posts: 381member
    AirPod Pro at Costco. 199.99
    winstoner71
  • Reply 3 of 13
    kmareikmarei Posts: 101member
    Isn't it about time apple introduces something better for audio streaming compared to standard Bluetooth ?
    LDAC or APTX etc?
  • Reply 4 of 13
    Apple needs to step up its game. 
  • Reply 5 of 13
    kmarei said:
    Isn't it about time apple introduces something better for audio streaming compared to standard Bluetooth ?
    LDAC or APTX etc?
    Well, first of all, LDAC and APTX are Bluetooth, and they are supposed to be pretty good. Since LDAC is Sony's, not likely to see Apple license that, and Apple doesn't seem to be interested in any of the APTX flavors either.

    However, there is Airplay. It's WiFi based (2.4GHz, same as Bluetooth) and supports Apple Lossless. There are combo transceiver chips that do both BT and WiFi. That said, WiFi based approach may not be practical for earbuds. Power consumption might be one issue (unless a low-powered version of Airplay possible?). Then again, power consumption maybe not a problem with larger AirPods Max--so unless there are other issues, who knows, a version of Airplay may well be the path forward for something better.
  • Reply 6 of 13
    mobirdmobird Posts: 621member
    I wonder if the Thread technology would be a viable alternative, Apple is using Thread in a few of their products.
    edited June 14
  • Reply 7 of 13
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 2,532member
    kmarei said:
    Isn't it about time apple introduces something better for audio streaming compared to standard Bluetooth ?
    LDAC or APTX etc?
    When it comes to Bluetooth, Apple's future lies with Spatial Audio / Dolby Atmos.
  • Reply 8 of 13
    mike54mike54 Posts: 465member
    At the end of the day, those fully emersed in the Apple universe, its the Airpods Pro and for everyone else there are better choices.
  • Reply 9 of 13
    fred1fred1 Posts: 828member
    Isn’t it possible to replace the batteries in theAirPods Pro(s)?
  • Reply 10 of 13
    chud64chud64 Posts: 2member
    The XM3 offer spatial audio FYI. I have been using them al day with Dolby Atmos in Apple Music. To setup  you need to specify the Sony’s  as headphones in the Bluetooth settings. Based on this I reckon the XM4 also support spatial audio. Can you check that?
    edited June 15
  • Reply 11 of 13
    chud64 said:
    The XM3 offer spatial audio FYI. I have been using them al day with Dolby Atmos in Apple Music. To setup  you need to specify the Sony’s  as headphones in the Bluetooth settings. Based on this I reckon the XM4 also support spatial audio. Can you check that?
    It does not.
  • Reply 12 of 13
    kmarei said:
    Isn't it about time apple introduces something better for audio streaming compared to standard Bluetooth ?
    LDAC or APTX etc?
    Not really. Unfortunately most people fall victim to marketing and don't really understand what this alphabet soup of acronyms means. Bluetooth uses a default codec called SBC for stereo audio. Think of it as a lowest common denominator: ALL Bluetooth devices that do stereo audio MUST support this codec, so they're interoperable. Then each manufacturer can optionally support other codecs of their choice, such as AptX and variants. Apple has been using AAC on its headphones. It's an excellent, high quality codec and there isn't a person in the world capable of hearing the difference between it and AptX, I guarantee it. Its just that Qualcomm has put millions into communicating the message "AptX  = high quality sound" so people ask for it without even understanding what it is they're asking for -- they just know they want it.
    Turns out, they already have something just as good in their AirPods or Beats headphones.
    roundaboutnow
  • Reply 13 of 13
    chud64chud64 Posts: 2member
    chud64 said:
    The XM3 offer spatial audio FYI. I have been using them al day with Dolby Atmos in Apple Music. To setup  you need to specify the Sony’s  as headphones in the Bluetooth settings. Based on this I reckon the XM4 also support spatial audio. Can you check that?
    It does not.
    I should have said the XM3 support Dolby Atmos in Apple Music. There is no spatial audio toggle as such or anything in the control bar. 

    Anyone who has access to the XM4 tried Apple Music Dolby Atmos? (Remember to set them as headphones in Bluetooth and select Dolby Atmos to always on in settings for the music app)
    edited June 17
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