Arguably the best sounding ANC earbuds under Rs 20,000 – Technology News, Firstpost
Ameya DalvicJanuary 26, 2022 20:13:40 IST
More than five quarters have passed since we got our hands on the Sony WF-1000XM3 TWS earphones that impressed everyone. It’s time to make way for its successor, which promises improvements on all fronts. While I expected it here around Diwali, this year it finally made it to our shores; better late than never. Let’s get to know the Sony WF-1000XM4 noise canceling true wireless (TWS) earphones and see the improvements it brings in the premium personal audio segment.
Sony WF-1000XM4 TWS Headphones: Build, Design and Features (8/10)
The design has changed drastically since the XM3, and while the XM4 buttons don’t look generic, they do look, well, more normal. Although these buds are 10 percent smaller than their predecessors, they are still quite thick. Build quality is solid with a smooth matte finish and hefty touch zones on the backs of the buttons. The charging case is significantly smaller here; 40 percent smaller than that of the XM3 to be exact, according to the company, and weighs almost half.
You get two color variants in the Sony WF-1000XM4 – black and gray, and the latter we got for review. The black looks a little better in my opinion, but then I belong to Bruce Wayne’s ‘does in come in black’ school, so decide for yourself. You have a silver ring around the microphone openings which breaks up the monotony of the design in a good way. Draped in the exact shade of gray, the charging case has a USB-C charging port on the back and a multi-colored charging status LED on the front.
Despite the larger footprint, the earbuds are equipped with a 6mm driver and weigh less than 7.5 grams each. The larger earbuds are probably needed here due to the amount of advanced circuitry they contain, starting with Sony’s V1 processor. In addition to active noise cancellation (ANC), it also supports LDAC codecs via Bluetooth 5.2 with maximum throughput of up to 990 Kbps. These earphones also support AAC and SBC codecs in case the source device is not LDAC compliant.
The earbuds are touch sensitive and let you perform a handful of tasks with single tap, double tap and triple tap gestures. The functions can be reconfigured using the Sony Headphones Connect app. Unlike its predecessor, the XM4 comes with ingress protection with a modest IPX4 rating for the buttons, making them sweat-resistant. They should also be able to survive the strange splash, but don’t push your luck too far. You get wear-detection sensors to pause the sound when you take the earbuds out of your ear and resume when you put them back on.
Sony WF-1000XM4 TWS headphones: comfort (7.5/10)
Despite their relatively larger size, the earplugs fit fairly well in the ears and you are not bothered by them. However, they tend to stick out a bit from the ears. The bundled foam earplugs provide good passive noise isolation. While the seal is pretty good, the fit isn’t the most comforting, especially if you’re wearing them for a jog. You constantly feel like they might pop out of the ear, but to their credit, they didn’t.
You get three pairs of earbuds in the bundle, including the pre-installed medium earbuds. Spend a few minutes choosing the right size as that will help achieve better noise reduction. With the accompanying app you can also determine the right size for you.
Sony WF-1000XM4 TWS Headphones: Performance (9/10)
Let’s start with the wireless range. The connection remains strong for just over 10 meters with a clear line of sight between the buttons and the source device, and even up to 6 meters with a concrete wall in between. That’s an impressive range, considering I used them with LDAC codecs where sound quality was the priority. Pairing the XM4 with another device can be a bit tricky if you don’t read the manual. They just won’t show up in the list of devices unless you touch and hold both buttons for a few seconds to get them into pairing mode.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 supports three listening modes: noise canceling on, ambient sounds on and normal mode (ANC/ambient sounds off). You can choose two or all three in the Headphones Connect app. You can scroll through them by tapping the left earbud once. The amount of ambient noise you want them to let in can also be tweaked from the app, along with access to other audio settings like equalizers, DSEE Extreme audio upscaling, and 360 Reality Audio setup.
The app also allows you to program the touch controls, but as with the XM3, the options are available in sets and you cannot choose individual functions for each movement. For example, if you select Play Controls for the right earbud, a single touch is assigned to the play/pause function, double tap for the next song, and triple tap for the previous song. You can’t change that. That leaves you with the choice between volume control or ANC switch for the left button, but not both. I was hoping Sony would have changed this by now, but alas!
Time to talk about sound quality. The Sony WF-1000XM4 is plenty loud at 60 to 70 percent volume level for most things. The sound output from the WF-1000XM3 was some of the best I’d heard on TWS earphones, and the WF-1000XM4 takes the sound quality up a notch. The sound signature is not perfectly neutral, and in fact there is a clear preference for low frequencies, resulting in a pleasantly warm sound. But the bass isn’t overdone to the point where it masks other frequencies, mainly the mids. But there’s plenty of punch in the sub-bass which is thoroughly enjoyable.
The mids are reproduced very well with clear vocals and good instrument separation. The highs are sharp with enough brilliance, yet perfectly tempered so as not to sound hissing, and the overall detail in sound is excellent. There’s very little to complain about in the image department and the soundstage is as wide as it gets on TWS buttons. The most popular music genres sound good on the Sony WF-1000XM4, which is why it will undoubtedly appeal to a wider audience, but with deeper pockets. I used the LDAC codec during testing.
Active noise cancellation was excellent on the Sony WF-1000XM3 and it remains just as good, if not better on the XM4. It remains arguably the best ANC I’ve experienced on TWS earphones. It reduces a lot of ambient noise, such as the hum of a ceiling fan or the buzz outside, and lets you enjoy your music in peace. Ambient mode is quite effective here when you need to be aware of your surroundings (when crossing the road or listening to announcements) or when you need to quickly have a conversation with someone in the room without taking off the earbuds. The sound quality remains equally solid in all three modes.
Sony WF-1000XM4 TWS Headphones: Call Quality (7/10)
The call quality of the WF-1000XM4 is more than decent but not exceptional. Inside you will hardly encounter a problem. The person on the line was clearly audible and I was heard with sufficient clarity by the other person as well. But when you go outside, the microphones do pick up some ambient noise that the person on the line was complaining about on and off. I expected a little better here as this is a premium product.
Sony WF-1000XM4 TWS Headphones: Battery Life (8/10)
Sony claims an 8-hour battery backup for the earbuds on a full charge and a total of 24 hours with the charging case. During my testing, I got just under seven hours out of it with ANC on more than half the time. The case can charge these buds two more times, taking the total battery backup to over 20 hours, which is pretty good. In general, I would consider 20 hours to be decent or above average, but since I was using LDAC codec all the time and there was also some generous use of ANC, 20 hours is an achievement here.
The battery status of each earbud and the charging case is visible in the companion app and also indicates when the charge of the case drops below 30 percent. It takes about 90 minutes to fully charge the earbuds and case with a standard USB-C charger. Sony also claims that 5 minutes of charging can get you about an hour of music; a handy feature to have. The case also supports Qi wireless charging.
Sony WF-1000XM4 TWS headphones: price and verdict
The Sony WF-1000XM4 TWS earphones can be bought for Rs 19,990 with a one-year warranty; exactly the same price the XM3 was launched for. Yes, it’s expensive as expected, but the performance is definitely better than anything we’ve come across south of Rs 20,000, and boasts arguably the best active noise canceling among TWS earphones available in India. Add to that the support for LDAC codecs, a good companion app and an impressive battery life.
The XM4 isn’t necessarily a ‘one product to rule them all’. The design may not appeal to the fashionistas or the output to the purists looking for a neutral sound signature. But the sound quality is impressive with a warm and detailed output that will appeal to a wide audience, and even better than that of the Apple Airpods Pro.
Call quality needs to be improved a bit, especially in noisy outdoor environments, and the ability to assign specific functions to touch gestures would be nice to have. And yes, the price will be a deterrent for many. But when it comes to pure sound quality and ANC, the Sony WF-1000XM4 is hard to beat.