With its WH-1000XM4, Sony is already considered by hi-fi experts to be the leader in the field of over-ear headphones with ANC and other comfort features. Now the Japanese company is also launching the fourth generation of its Bluetooth in-ears. The WF-1000XM4 are supposed to convince with reliable active noise cancellation (ANC) and a long battery life, among other things. Does Apple have to fear for its throne here, which is currently still occupied by the AirPods Pro? We take a closer look at whether Sony’s new in-ears in a compact case are promising.
ANC in a more compact format
If Sony’s ANC in-ears could be accused of anything in the past, it was the expansive design. Thus, the earbuds came across far clunkier than it was, for example, the case with the competition from Apple. The now round design also results in a redesign of the charging case. It is no longer long and should fit more comfortably in the pocket. Despite the gigantic size difference, the WF-1000XM4 even pick up a practical feature of the WH-1000XM4, Sony’s premium over-ear. The so-called “Speak to Chat” promises a lot, at least on paper. After all, this is supposed to enable a smooth switch between active noise cancellation and a transparency mode via voice control.
In practice, this function already proves to be extremely practical with the large pair of headphones. If you meet a friend, you don’t have to take them off to have a conversation. The headphones recognize that you are speaking and automatically switch from ANC to transparency mode, which amplifies voices. If this feature works only half as well in Sony’s in-ears, the manufacturer has a real highlight to offer. By the way, not only ANC turns off when “Speak to Chat” is active. On top of that, the playback of the current audio source is paused. However, music playback is resumed after the call ends.
Another feature that should make its way into the compact in-ears is hand placement on the headphone face. As with its larger sibling, this causes ANC to be immediately turned off and transparency mode to be activated. This is especially advantageous for loudspeaker announcements at the airport or train station. Of course, you don’t have to put your entire hand on the small Sonys to activate the feature. Your fingertip is also sufficient. If you lift your finger from the left plug again, the active noise cancellation is activated again. No matter how you activate the transparency mode – Sony emphasizes that it should sound very natural.
Noise cancellation is said to be at the highest level
For its over-ears, Sony is considered the undisputed industry king when it comes to ANC. But noise cancellation is supposed to be at the highest level again in the compact earbuds. Sony does not reinvent the wheel here. Instead, the Japanese have perfected the targeted emitting of a counter-sound to reduce background noise to a minimum. In addition to active noise cancellation, it should also be possible to passively suppress background noise thanks to the matching silicone attachments in three different sizes.
However, this can also cause unpleasant side effects. So-called step reverb, which makes for a dull sound, is just one of the possible side effects. It remains to be seen whether Sony will take a similar step as Apple to eliminate this problem. The California-based company has designed sophisticated technology in its AirPods Pro to provide shielding on one side and ventilation for the inner ear on the other. This has unceremoniously eliminated crotch reverberation.
Sony promises TOP sound
Active noise cancellation may be all well and good. But the vast majority of users who spend so much money on a pair of in-ears also want to experience a great sound. And Sony promises a lot in this regard. Not only the highs and mids are supposed to be convincing. An intense bass is also supposed to be on board and complete the wonderfully neutral sound image. Thanks to Bluetooth 5.0 and AAC, SBC and LDAC, reliable wireless connectivity and lossless audio quality are supposed to be provided. Of course, there is also a practical sensor on board that detects when you take one of the earbuds out of your ear. In this case, the music playback pauses automatically. It is then resumed when you reinsert the earbud. On top of that, sports enthusiasts will be pleased with the IPX4 certification, which is supposed to provide reliable protection against splashing water.
Perfect for phone calls
Installing good microphones is not only worthwhile to provide powerful active noise cancellation. On top of that, the quality of the microphones also ensures a high call quality during phone calls. Sony itself combines its high-quality microphones with special bone sound sensors. These are supposed to ensure that no annoying wind or other background noise is passed on through the microphones. Instead, the headphones use the bone sound to analyze the voice and ensure very good intelligibility. In times of conference calls, Sony just had to come around the corner with such a feature.
One man’s joy is another man’s sorrow. This must be found again and again in the operation of wireless headphones. While some love to operate their headphones with touch control, it is for other users a real horror. Sony relies on sensor surfaces that react to touches for its upcoming premium in-ears. Here, you can turn louder, softer, forward, back, play, pause and other commands to the headphones. Hopefully, Sony manages to implement the otherwise so error-prone sensor principle in this small format as well. Support for well-known voice assistants like Google Assistant and Alexa is also on board. Then the headphones can simply be controlled via voice command.
If you take a look at the battery life promised by Sony, this sounds quite ambitious. After all, the eight hours stated by the Japanese are really remarkable. A look at competing products shows an average of five hours of endurance. Besides the headphones themselves, a suitable charging case is of course also included. The case can be charged via USB-C or wirelessly via the Qi charging surface. Fully charged, the case should be able to provide 24 hours of battery power.
Price and availability
Sony plans to launch the new premium in-ears in a compact format before the end of June. For the WF-1000XM4, an MSRP of 280 euros should apply. You can choose between black and silver for the color.