There is no shortage of great real wireless earbuds you can buy, but Apple’s AirPods Pro and Sony’s WF-1000XM4 are part of the cream of the crop. Headphones from Sony only cost a little more at $ 280 (£ 250, AU $ 450) versus $ 250 (£ 249, AU $ 249) for AirPods Pro, so the decision really depends on which phone you have and who you are. your primary use case. Are you looking for headphones primarily for listening to music or are you looking for a versatile pair?

I’ve been using both sets for over a month to help you figure out which one is best for you. I compared them in different categories such as sound and call quality, how comfortable they were to wear for long periods of time, and overall battery life.

Lexy Savvides / CNET

Sony headphones deliver excellent sound quality and one of the most powerful noise canceling you can find in a pair of true wireless headphones. You can also stream high resolution Bluetooth audio to Android. The controls are fully customizable and the battery lasts longer than AirPods Pro. But they’re noticeably heavier than Apple headphones, and smaller ears may need to experiment to find ear tips for a secure fit.

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 as long, but they’re a good choice for iOS users who want fast switching and spatial sound for music and movies. They may also be more comfortable for some ears than Sony headphones, and you can regularly find them for under $ 200.


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One month with the Sony WF-1000XM4 and AirPods Pro


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AirPods Pro are more comfortable, especially for small ears

These headphones couldn’t be more different in their design. The Sony WF-1000XM4 are round, while the AirPods Pro have a short shank that sticks to your ear. Apple headphones are significantly lighter and fit my small ears better than Sony headphones, especially for extended wear. Larger ears shouldn’t be a problem with Sony headphones, but as always, the fit varies from person to person.

Both pairs have three sizes of ear tips to help achieve the perfect fit. Sony’s eartips are a blend of hybrid foam, while Apple’s are silicone. While most people should agree with the tips included, I actually found that I should switch to different tips on the two. I use third-party foam tips from Comply on the AirPods Pro and Sony’s silicone tips on the old WF-1000XM3. The tips that come with the Sony headphones are not small enough for me and I really wish there was a size XS in the box.

I highly recommend using the Ears Fit Test on both of these headphones to help you get the best seal and sound quality. You can find it in the iOS settings on AirPods Pro or in the Headphones Connect app on the Sony WF-1000XM4 (iOS and Android).

The WF-1000XM4 have touch screens that can change tracks, activate noise cancellation, or even accept a call, while the AirPods Pro have clickable rods that perform the same tasks. Only Sony headphones allow you to adjust the volume from the touch screens. Both support a voice assistant for hands-free control: Siri for 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 will also be able to wear both headphones in the rain or during a sweaty workout as they are IPX4 rated which means they can withstand splashing water. Charging cases, however, are not water resistant.

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Lexy Savvides / CNET

Dynamic and bright Sony WF-1000XM4 sound

Listening to music on Sony headphones is a real pleasure. Definition across frequencies is excellent, with crisp, crisp vocals. The bass is prominent without being overwhelming. It gave me chills while listening to some of my favorite tracks in a range of genres, from rock to hip-hop to classical music. The AirPods Pro also sound great, but they’re not as dynamic on the default settings and don’t have as much bass response as Sony headphones. I preferred taking calls and podcasts on the AirPods Pro as the sound profile is more neutral and balanced for solo vocals overall.

AirPods Pro have an adaptive equalizer, so it constantly changes the sound profile automatically. You can further fine tune the sound by using an equalizer in your favorite music app or by using the Headphone Hosting feature in iOS settings. Sony headphones have an equalizer in the app, although I found that I didn’t need to use it a lot as the default sound profile worked very well in a range of music genres.

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Lexy Savvides / CNET

Sony headphones also support LDAC, a high-resolution audio codec for Bluetooth headphones on Android phones. I listened to several songs on Tidal’s HiFi and Master stream quality, noticing a bit more definition than the same track with AAC streaming. Unless you’re an audiophile, I don’t think you can make a big difference, especially because Sony’s DSEE Extreme upscaling is really good and makes low bitrate streams pretty good.

You can hear microphone samples in the video on this page for both pairs, recorded on iOS and Android. Overall, I found the AirPods Pro to perform better for calls than the Sony WF-1000XM4, both for phone calls and on Zoom or Google Hangouts.

Spatial audio on AirPods Pro is more robust than 360 Audio

This is because it is available for music and movies in a wide range of apps from HBO Max to Apple Music, Disney Plus, and Apple TV Plus to name a few. It’s also plug-and-play, so all you need to do is put AirPods Pro in your ear, turn on spatial audio in iOS settings, and then watch or listen to your content. Sony 360 Audio only works for music playback in a smaller number of apps like Tidal and Nugz.net. The setup also takes a bit longer, which involves taking pictures of your ears.

Sony wins noise-canceling crown, but AirPods Pro win transparency mode

Both headphones have active noise cancellation to block out sounds from the outside world and do a great job of drowning out consistent sound across a range of frequencies. To my ears, the Sony takes an advantage over low frequencies like traffic, commuting, or the rumble of engines 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 sound in so you’re aware of your surroundings. The WF-1000XM4’s Ambient Sound Mode has 20 levels of adjustment to fine-tune the effect. You can also choose to focus on vocals rather than other sounds, which works great. It doesn’t feel as natural as the transparency mode on the AirPods Pro, which to my ears is best in class and almost feels like you’re not wearing headphones at all.

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Lexy Savvides / CNET

WF-1000XM4 battery will last you all day

I couldn’t believe the Sony Buds would bring me any closer to the 8 o’clock note on the box. But in my tests of listening to music at a moderate volume with the 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 stream using LDAC, your battery life will drop to around 5 hours. AirPods Pro last up to 5 hours with ANC or in transparency mode in my tests under the same conditions.

Each case also contains an additional charge, up to 24 hours in total for both pairs. The cases also support wireless charging, or you can charge them with USB-C for Sony and Lightning for Apple. Something other reviewers might not mention is that the Sony Charging Case (at least the black version I use) shows every bump, drop and scratch I threw at it over the past month.

The AirPods Pro are the only pair that offers fast switching, so you can seamlessly switch between different Apple devices that are signed in to the same Apple ID. The Sony WF-1000XM4 doesn’t offer any multipoint capability, so if you want to switch from your phone to your laptop during the working day for example, you’ll have to go to Bluetooth settings and manually switch each time.

Sony WF-1000XM4 or AirPods Pro?

These two headphones 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 sound, and excellent call quality. Get the Sony WF-1000XM4 for high-resolution LDAC Bluetooth streaming on Android, long battery life, and noise cancellation that rivals on-ear headphones.

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