There is no shortage of, but Apple’s AirPods Pro and Sony’s WF-1000XM4 are among the best of the best. Sony’s earbuds are just slightly more expensive at $ 280 ($ 250, AU $ 450) compared to the $ 250 ($ 249, AU $ 249) for the AirPods Pro. Are you primarily looking for earbuds for listening to music, or are you looking for an all-round pair?
I’ve been using both sets for over a month to help you decide which is right for you. I compared them in different categories such as sound and call quality, comfort over a longer period of time and total battery life.
Lexy Savvides / CNET
Sony’s earbuds offer great sound quality and some of the strongest noise cancellation you can find in a pair of true wireless earbuds. You can also stream high resolution Bluetooth audio on Android. The controls are fully customizable and the battery lasts longer than the AirPods Pro. But they’re significantly heavier than Apple’s earbuds, and smaller ears may need to experiment to find earbuds that offer a secure fit.
The AirPods Pro do everything really well: calls, music playback, noise cancellation, and transparency mode. They don’t have as much bass as the Sony WF-1000XM4 or a battery that lasts that long, but they’re good choices for iOS users who want quick switching and spatial audio for music and movies. They can also be more comfortable than the Sony buds for some ears, and you can regularly find them under $ 200.
Look at that:
One month with the Sony WF-1000XM4 and AirPods Pro
AirPods Pro are more comfortable, especially for smaller ears
These earbuds couldn’t be more different in design. The Sony WF-1000XM4 are round, while the AirPods Pro have a short stem that protrudes from the ear. Apple’s earbuds are significantly lighter and fit my tiny ears better than Sony’s earbuds, especially when worn for long periods. Larger ears shouldn’t be a problem with the Sony buds, but as always, the fit varies from person to person.
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Both pairs have three sizes of ear tips to ensure a good fit. Sony’s tips are a hybrid foam blend, while Apple’s are silicone. While most people should be happy with the tips included, I actually had to switch to other tips. I use third-party foam tips from Comply for the AirPods Pro and the Sony silicone tips from the older WF-1000XM3. The tips that came with the Sony buds aren’t small enough for me and I really wish it was an XS size in the box.
I highly recommend using the ear fit test on these two headphones for the best seal and sound quality. You can find this in the iOS settings for the AirPods Pro or in the Headphones Connect app on the Sony WF-1000XM4 (iOS and Android).
The WF-1000XM4 has touch panels that can switch tracks, turn on noise cancellation, or even take a call, while the AirPods Pro have clickable stems that do the same job. Sony’s earbuds are the only ones that let you adjust the volume using the touch panels. Both support a voice assistant for hands-free control: Siri for the AirPods Pro on iOS; Google Assistant and Alexa for the WF-1000XM4 on Android; Google Assistant, Alexa or Siri for the WF-1000XM4 on iOS.
You can wear both earbuds in the rain or during a sweaty workout, as they comply with IPX4 and can withstand water splashes. However, the charging cases are not waterproof.
Lexy Savvides / CNET
Sony WF-1000XM4 sound dynamic and bright
Listening to music with the Sony buds is a real pleasure. The cross-frequency definition is excellent, the vocals sound clear and crisp. The bass is prominent without being overwhelming. It gave me goosebumps hearing some of my favorite songs across a range of genres, from rock to hip-hop to classical music. The AirPods Pro sound great too, but they aren’t as dynamic in the default settings and don’t have as great a bass response as the Sony Buds. I preferred to take calls and podcasts on the AirPods Pro because the overall sound profile for solo voices is more neutral and balanced.
The AirPods Pro have an adaptive equalizer that constantly changes the sound profile automatically. You can further optimize the sound by using an equalizer in your favorite music app or by using the headphone adjustment feature in iOS settings. Sony’s earbuds have an EQ in the app, although I found that I didn’t have to use it very often as the default sound profile worked very well across a number of music genres.
Lexy Savvides / CNET
Sony’s earbuds also support LDAC, a high resolution audio codec for bluetooth headphones on Android phones. I heard several songs in Tidal’s HiFi and Master Stream quality and noticed a bit more definition than the same track with AAC streaming. If you’re not an audiophile I don’t think you will see much of a difference, especially since Sony’s DSEE Extreme upscaling is really good and makes lower bitrate streams sound great.
You can hear microphone samples for both pairs in the video on this page, recorded on iOS and Android. Overall, I found the AirPods Pro to work better for calls than the Sony WF-1000XM4, for both phone calls and Zoom or Google Hangouts.
Spatial audio on AirPods Pro is more robust than 360 audio
That’s because it’s available in a variety of apps for music and movies, from HBO Max to Apple Music, Disney Plus, and Apple TV Plus, to name a few. It’s plug and play too, so you just plug the AirPods Pro in your ear, enable spatial audio in the iOS settings, and then watch or listen to your content. Sony’s 360 Audio only works for music playback in a smaller number of apps like Tidal and Nugz.net. It will also take a little longer to take photos of your ears.
Sony wins the noise-canceling crown, but AirPods Pro win the transparency mode
Both earbuds have active noise cancellation to block out noises from the outside world and do a great job of drowning out constant noises in a range of frequencies. In my ears, the Sony takes the lead at low frequencies like traffic, commuting, or rumbling motors to create more of a cocoon of silence than the AirPods Pro.
Each pair also has an ambient sound mode, or what Apple calls transparency mode, to let in sound so you are more aware of your surroundings. The WF-1000XM4’s ambient sound mode has 20 setting levels for fine-tuning the effect. You can also focus on voices versus other sounds, which works very well. It doesn’t sound as natural as the AirPods Pro’s transparency mode, which to my ears is the best in its class and almost feels like you’re not wearing any earbuds at all.
Lexy Savvides / CNET
The WF-1000XM4 battery lasts all day
I couldn’t quite believe the Sony buds would get me close to the 8 hour rating on the box. But in my tests of listening to music at moderate volume with ANC, I was able to wear them for 8 hours and 10 minutes before they ran out of juice. There’s a catch, though: if you’re streaming with LDAC, your battery life will drop to around 5 hours. The AirPods Pro lasted up to 5 hours with ANC or transparency mode in my tests under the same conditions.
Each suitcase also includes an additional charge, up to 24 hours total for both couples. The cases also support wireless charging, or you can charge them using USB-C for Sony and Lightning for Apple. Something other reviews may not mention is that the Sony charging case (at least the black version I used) shows every bump, drop, and scratch I’ve put on it in the past month.
The AirPods Pro are the only pair that offer quick switching, so you can seamlessly switch between different Apple devices signed in with the same Apple ID. The Sony WF-1000XM4 does not offer multipoint capability, so if you want to switch between phone and laptop during the working day, for example, you have to go into the Bluetooth settings and switch manually each time.
Sony WF-1000XM4 or AirPods Pro?
Both earbuds offer an excellent balance between performance and audio quality. There is no such thing as a single pair as they have strengths in different areas. Buy AirPods Pro for the best experience on iOS and Apple devices with fast switching, spatial audio, and great call quality. Get the Sony WF-1000XM4 for high resolution LDAC Bluetooth streaming on Android, long battery life, and noise cancellation that rivals over-ear headphones.