Sony took what was already working so well and made it even better with the WF-1000XM4, which offers the best active noise cancelation (ANC) performance for any pair of wireless earbuds and brings a great combination of features and performance.
The AirPods Pro have been the poster buds for all of Apple's audio products. Battery life with ANC enabled won't blow anyone away, but the AirPods Pro still have their advantages, such as great microphone quality and seamless integration with your Apple devices.
Sony and Apple are often among the first to come up anytime there's a conversation or debate over who does it better when it comes to the best wireless earbuds for active noise cancelation (ANC). For Sony, which has been at the top ever since it launched the WF-1000XM3, improving upon that with the WF-1000XM4 only adds to what was a pretty stellar package. The AirPods Pro cater to a giant ecosystem in Apple's products, but does try to woo Android users looking for something different, too.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: What sets them apart?
On paper, there doesn't seem to be a wide gap between these two, but there are some major differences when you break things down. Sony has an advantage in that the WF-1000XM4 are a successor pair to predecessors that came out two years ago, only months before the AirPods Pro. Apple seems poised to make new ones, but they are the best AirPods earbuds available for now.
Apple says they're the best, but that's simply not true. Sony is only one of several brands that have bested the AirPods Pro, and the WF-1000XM4 are so good, they are among the best earbuds you can find anywhere.
|Header Cell - Column 0
|Apple AirPods Pro
|Bud battery life
|Case battery life
|Wireless charging case
|Digital assistant support
|Google Assistant, Siri
|Siri, Google Assistant
|Supported audio codecs
|SBC, AAC, LDAC
|Active noise cancelation (ANC)
|Ambient sound mode
It doesn't all start with battery life, but there is a noteworthy discrepancy there. The listed numbers refer to how long they respectively last when ANC isn't on. Turn it on, and the AirPods Pro net you 4.5 hours at best — and that's with moderate volume. Sony's pair will easily net you north of six hours with ANC on, giving you more to listen to with each charge. Neither case has a major advantage, other than maybe that Apple has an extra charge from its case.
The AirPods Pro also use Lightning to charge, rather than USB-C, like Sony's pair does. Different cable, different charging speeds. Both support Qi wireless charging, which is great, and though Sony did trim its case down for better size, the AirPods Pro just come in a noticeably smaller one.
The WF-1000XM4 took what was already excellent sound quality from their predecessors and made it even better, putting them among the best pair you can listen to. By default, you get a pretty wide soundstage with a good dynamic range, and it only gets better when you start using Sony's Headphones Connect app. The equalizer allows you to customize or tailor the sound how you might like it, especially if it's with a particular musical genre in mind.
Apple doesn't offer anything like that at all. Even up to this point, there's still no proper EQ to get more out of the AirPods Pro, and the earbuds suffer because of it. They sound fine, as is, but hardly as good as competitors like Sony's WF-1000XM4 when those offer so much more flexibility. At this point, it's perplexing as to why Apple doesn't add that kind of support for its own earbuds, but time will tell if that changes.
Each pair offers extra audio features that you don't always find everywhere else. One of them is actually really similar in the form of Sony's 360 Audio and Apple's Spatial Audio. These create surround sound effects to make supported content sound more enveloping. For shows and movies, it's a great way to feel more immersed in the action, though you can apply it to music whenever there's support for that, too.
Sony also has its own lossless codec in LDAC working through the WF-1000XM4, while Apple hasn't extended support for true lossless audio to the AirPods Pro. So if you are thinking about listening to more hi-res content between these two, Sony has the edge there as well.
Phone call quality is also worth mentioning, simply because the AirPods Pro are one of the best pairs for that. Again, Sony upped its game on the call side by improving quality to the point where these earbuds can be right on par with Apple's best.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Turn the noise down
Apple deserves its praise for doing right by the AirPods Pro when it comes to ANC performance, but it doesn't hold the crown in being the best in the business. That's where Sony comes in. Like the audio features, the WF-1000XM4 take what was already top-class on the ANC side and make it even better. They do a better job of not only drowning out more of the low-end background noise, but also improve upon doing it for higher-pitched sounds on top of that. In addition, they're less susceptible to faltering with wind noise reduction, making them both well-rounded and consistent throughout.
That's not to disparage the AirPods Pro as some has-beens. They're still among the best wireless earbuds you can find for ANC performance, with the ability to block out a lot of ambient noise. They're arguably at their best with phone calls, amplifying voices on either side to make conversations feel clear and concise. It's hard to find much to complain about when it comes to canceling out unwanted noise with these earbuds, only they're up against one of the best the industry currently offers in this case.
Good passive isolation always helps in that regard. Sony would've lost on that a bit with its previous pair because of the extra bulk, except the WF-1000XM4 are slimmer and better at getting a good seal for a wider range of ears — though perhaps not all smaller ears. The AirPods Pro have a nice design that already caters to different types, so a big reason why both of these earbuds are as good as they are in canceling background noise is how they seal it out to start with.
Sony WF-1000XM4 vs. AirPods Pro: Which one should you go with?
Neither of these earbuds would be a poor choice, both in audio or ANC performance. However, the nuances involved definitely lean toward Sony having the better pair. Battery life lasts longer, audio is more customizable, and ANC gets an edge, too. Plus, any specific features the AirPods Pro offer for iOS users are null and void when it comes to Android. Without the ability to really customize anything about them, Apple's pair are as good as it gets, whereas Sony's offers you some leeway to tweak them how you want.
That's why it's easy to recommend the WF-1000XM4 as a better option in most cases here. They're easily among the best wireless earbuds you can find right now and could potentially get better with future firmware updates.
Head of the class
The top of the heap
The Sony WF-1000XM4 continue a trend of top-class active noise cancelation mixing well with superb audio features.
Still going strong
Still a Pro
The AirPods Pro may be a major upgrade for non-Pro AirPods owners, but they don't have enough to beat out Sony's best effort.
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Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.