Sony's latest set of noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds, known as the Sony WF-1000XM4 have just been officially unveiled, and are coming in June 2021 for £250/$279/€280/AU$449. And they look like they'll be some of the best wireless earbuds yet, because they're upgraded from the last model in every conceivable way.
First up is the design, which is now so much more refined than the previously chunky Sony WF-1000XM3. The previous model sounded fantastic and led the way on noise cancellation, but the earbuds did look like you had an entire computer mouse on each ear.
The new model is only a little on the large side, and certainly compares well alongside high-end competition such as the Master & Dynamic MW08 or Bowers & Wilkins PI7. I like the tapering design – it means that while they still have some size to them, they look like a more natural fit in the ears.
It means that the case has had its volume reduce by 40% too, which is a huge improvement for carrying them around in the pocket, and without decreasing the 24 hours of total play time that the case plus buds gives you. The buds themselves now offer eight hours per charge (up from six in the previous version).
The battery life improvement is thanks to one of the key elements that's also set to improve their active noise cancellation: the new Sony V1 integrated processor. Sony has taken the noise-cancellation tech, the Bluetooth engine, the DAC and the amp, and combined them all into a single chip, instead of separate units.
This makes it more power efficient, but also reduced the latency for its processing, which means it can respond to change in noise more quickly, meaning that it'll be much better at drowning out talking or cars or other unpredictable sounds.
Aiding this is a new more-flexible 6mm driver. Sony says that this new driver is more "compliant" and has a 20% more powerful magnet driving it, all of which means it's more nimble. That helps it to more accurately cancel out noises, as well as to offer even better bass response in music, according to Sony.
Another useful noise-reduction feature is that if the headset detects wind noise, it'll actually turn off some of the external mics, so it's not picking up so much wind sound.
The new Speak-to-Chat function is a cool addition too – the headphones detect when you're talking, and will switch to allow in ambient noise for a period afterwards, so that you can speak to someone and hear their response with lifting a finger.
Small headphones, big features
Sony has also focused on mic quality, since we live a world of video calls, and there's an interesting combination of bone conduction and beam-forming mics used here, to really focus on just your voice and not the sound around you.
You can also now use your voice for the first time to trigger Google Assistant or Alexa with their normal wake words (though Siri still requires a button to activate).
Bluetooth 5.2 handles connectivity, and there's support for regular Bluetooth SBC, AAC, or Sony's own LDAC higher-quality streaming. Sony's impressive DDSE upscaling of poor-quality tracks has been upgraded to "DSEE Extreme with Edge-AI", so should be even better at making things sound top quality, paired with a new 24-bit signal processor.
There's support for Fast Pair on Android and Swift Pair on Windows, plus they work with Android's Find My Device and battery notifications features.
You also get a cool new ear fitting test in the app, just like Apple AirPods Pro do, to make sure that you're using the best ear tip size to get a seal that makes noise cancellation most effective.
They're a complete reimagining of Sony's in-ear noise-cancelling headphones, effectively, and we'll have a review for you as soon as we can.