There is no shortage of truly wireless earbuds in the market, and you can easily get a good-sounding pair for under $100. However, it is the sound quality, battery life, and features like active noise cancellation (ANC), wireless charging, and more, that differentiate premium true wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds from their affordable counterparts. The Sony WF-100XM4 (review) and Apple AirPods Pro have already set a high benchmark and impressed us with their sound quality and performance.
While the WF-1000XM4 is relatively new, the AirPods Pro was launched back in 2019, and it is a top contender in the TWS segment. The AirPods Pro is available for $249, whereas the XM4 is slightly more expensive at $279. We’ve been using both TWS earbuds for a few months now. Here’s our analysis of what differentiates the offerings of Sony and Apple.
Sony does not use any plastic in the packaging and the box is made from 99% paper using recycled and sustainable materials. Even the sections where the charging cable and ear tips are kept are made from paper. This highlights Sony’s philosophy of being more socially responsible.
Even Apple has a packaging box made from recycled paper. However, the box comes wrapped in a single-use plastic cover, unlike on iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks where there is no plastic used.
Comfort & Design
Comfort: AirPods Pro is more comfortable, but Sony offers a secure fit
When it comes to comfort and fit, it differs from person to person, and their ear structure. In my case, both the earbuds snugly fit my ears, but the AirPods Pro tends to slip out of the ear after a few minutes. Especially when working out and doing jumping jacks. I have a habit of watching some content while eating, and with this jaw movement, the earbuds come off easily.
The 1000XM4 fits perfectly and does not slip out whether I’m running, cycling, doing jumping jacks, or watching while eating. The foam ear tips on XM4 ensure a perfect and comfortable fit, compared to silicon ear tips on AirPods Pro.
However, with the bulky shape of these TWS earbuds and weight, which is on the heavier side, you start to feel a little discomfort after over two hours of continuous use.
WATCH: Sony WF – 1000XM4: Unboxing & First Look
Earbuds Design & Charging Case
Both Sony and Apple have different approaches to design. The AirPods Pro earbuds have a stem, whereas the 1000XM4 comes with a stem-less design. The stem of the AirPods Pro features pressure-sensitive controls. Single press to play/pause music or answer calls, double press to skip music forward and triple press to skip backward. Pressing and holding the stem allows toggling between ANC and transparency modes.
The Sony WF-1000XM4, on the other hand, features touch controls on the surface of the earbuds. The working is a little different here – a single tap on the right earbud allows to play/pause music, and double and triple tap to skip tracks forward and backward. On the left earbud, single tap to toggle ANC and transparency modes, and double tap to receive or end calls. Tapping and holding on the left earbud enables Quick Attention Mode (transparency) and turns off as soon as you remove your finger.
Case Design: Sony’s Case with Matte Finish is better than Apple’s Glossy One
Talking about the case design, the AirPods Pro has a sleek, but slightly tall case. It is made from a polycarbonate material and has a glossy surface, which makes it a little slippery and more prone to scratches. Also, as the earbuds themselves are made from glossy plastic, they are a little difficult to remove from the case if your fingers are sweaty.
The Sony WF-1000XM case and the earbuds are also made from polycarbonate material. However, they both come with a matte finish which makes them easier to grip. Also, as the size of the earbuds is thick and bigger, they are easy to remove without any struggle.
Companion App, Connectivity & Gesture Control
Sony’s Companion App Offers More Features and Control over Apple
Both the Apple and Sony TWS can be connected and used with Android and iOS smartphones. You can also use them with macOS, Windows, and Linux-based laptops. Sony has a companion app called “Headphones” which is available to download from Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
The companion offers battery information for each earbud and the case. It also lets you customize and set the equalizer, adjust the level of ambient noise, and enable or disable features like Speak-to-Chat. Lastly, it also lets you customize the touch sensor functions (play/pause, skip tracks), quickly turn on/off ANC and ambient noise with a tap, and much more.
In the case of AirPods Pro, there is no companion app. But all the features that you would get in a companion app – to assign touch gesture controls, switch between ANC/transparency modes, and more, as built within the iOS or macOS. Here instead of tapping on the earbuds, you will need to press the stem of the AirPods Pro to play/pause music, skip songs, and more. All these settings can be customized after you connect the AirPods Pro with the iPad, iPhone, or macOS PC.
The AirPods Pro comes with Bluetooth 5.0, whereas the WF-1000XM4 comes with Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity. Sony has a Fast Pair feature which uses a Low Energy connection to automatically discover Bluetooth accessories to pair and connect. This eliminates the hassle of manually going to Bluetooth settings, searching for available devices, then connecting and pairing.
Apple has a similar approach, simply opening the lid of the case; the iPhone, iPad, or a mac PC detects the AirPods Pro. Once detected, simply tap on “connect” and you’re done.
Performance: A Choice Between Better Audio or Better Mic
Codec Support: Sony one-ups Apple with support for LDAC codec
Performance-wise, both AirPods Pro and the 1000XM4 offer top-notch sound quality and noise cancellation, but Sony takes a lead here. And before we talk about sound quality, it is important to highlight the codecs situation first. Sony’s TWS supports SBC, AAC, and high-res lossless audio with LDAC codec (bit rate up to 990kbps, 32-bit/96kHz). But you will need a source that can transmit high-res audio.
Flagship Android smartphones powered by Qualcomm chipset featuring Snapdragon Sound tech support LDAC codec. Do note that the music files also need to be downloaded in high-res. Apple Music (on Android) supports downloading and streaming lossless audio. But if you are listening to music on Spotify, you will not get the same experience as it does not support lossless audio.
On iPhones, you can download lossless audio, but as Bluetooth streaming supports AAC codec, you will not be able to take full advantage when listening to wireless audio. The AirPods Pro, on the other hand, supports an AAC codec, so whether you connect it with iOS or an Android device, you will get a consistent audio experience.
Sound Quality: Sony Wins with Detailed Audio, Good Bass, and Wide Soundstage
The Sony WF-1000XM4 offers a stellar audio experience. I never had to turn the equalizer on, and at times when I felt a little punch is needed, setting the Clear Bass to Level 2 would do the job. Otherwise, the overall audio definition was crisp and immersive, especially when listening on Android smartphones with LDAC codec. But you can notice differences when playing music on iPhone with AAC codec.
The AirPods Pro, on the other hand, does a great job too with a neutral sound signature. But due to the lack of high-res audio, the listening experience isn’t as detailed as the Sony ones. The audio strength is also soft, and if you prefer strong audio, you can do that via Accessibility settings, and heading over to Headphone Accommodations > Balanced Tone > Strong.
Active Noise Cancellation (ANC): Sony Leads with Better Overall Noise Cancellation
Both Sony and Apple offer excellent ANC, but once again the XM4 takes a slight lead here. The AirPods Pro with its H1 processor, dual microphones and AI does a good job of cutting out AC and fan noises. It can even cut down the keyboard typing noise, but the noise canceling isn’t too strong when outdoors on a noisy road, a subway station or even cutting off human voices.
The XM4, on the other hand, with its V1 integrated processor and dual microphones, is not strong enough when it comes to cutting off AC and fan noise but does a great job of cutting outdoor and wind noise. In busy and crowded places like airports, subway stations, and outdoors; Sony does a much better job than Apple to zone out from the noise. It also effectively cuts human voices around you to a great extent.
Microphone: Apple Takes the Crown here
For mic quality on phone calls, recording, and even video calls on platforms like Skype, Teams, and Zoom, the AirPods Pro offers crisp and clear sound. The noise cancellation works well in even cutting out ambient background sounds, thus delivering crisp audio to the recipient.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 has a good mic, perfect for phone and video calls. However, it is not up to AirPods Pro level in delivering crisp audio. Sometimes on phone calls, recipients complained to me about muffled voices and echoes, especially when sitting close to walls or windows. But otherwise, there were no issues.
Battery life & Charging: Sony Edges out Apple with up to 30 Hours of Battery Life
The Sony WF-1000XM4 lead once again in the battery department. On a single charge, the earbuds last a little over seven hours with ANC on, and without ANC, the battery life stretches a little close to 10 hours. The case holds additional two charges. This means, depending on whether you use ANC or not, you can get between 20 to 30 hours of usage before the case needs a charge.
The battery life on the AirPods Pro is a little lower at around four-and-a-half hours with ANC on, and a little over five hours with ANC off. The case holds about four additional charges. This means you can get a battery life anywhere between 20-22 hours of total usage before needing to charge the case again.
The Sony case charges via a USB Type-C port, whereas the Apple case charges using a Lightning Port. Both also support Qi Wireless charging, and a fast-charging feature for TWS earbuds, where even five minutes of charging offers up to one hour of music listening.
Extra Features: Transparency, Spatial Audio & More
Sony WF-1000XM4: Speak-to-Chat and Voice Assistant Are Good Addition
The XM4 comes with impressive features such as bone conduction for Speak-to-Chat, voice assistant support (Google Assistant or Alexa), 360 Reality Audio, and DSEE Extreme to name a few. The Speak-to-Chat feature uses bone conduction technology to pick vibrations from your voice to temporarily pause music and start ambient noise. This feature comes in handy when you want to talk to someone while listening to music. But it is very sensitive and starts the mode even when you are humming the song.
With the voice assistant feature, you can quickly tap and hold the earbud to summon the assistant to perform various tasks like calling or texting someone, setting an alarm, adding reminders, and much more. The integrated V1 chip on the XM4 also enables Sony’s DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) feature that upscales low-quality music to a near-lossless level. It helps in offering an enhanced listening experience on old songs that are encoded in lower quality. But you may not notice any difference with the current music with high-quality encoding.
Sony also offers support for 360 Reality Audio via the Artist Connection app to experience spatial sound technology. It also supports other platforms like Deezer, Tidal, Amazon Music Unlimited, and others. It tried the feature with the Artist Connection app and while you do get an immersive experience, the content is very limited. Also, it does not feature head tracking like the AirPods Pro, which we will talk about in a minute.
Lastly, the WF-1000XM4 also supports a transparency mode where you can stay aware of the ambient surrounding. While the feature works well, it does not sound natural, and feels more like the audio is filtered and amped up. But it is still quite useful when commuting on a metro or a bus.
Apple AirPods Pro: Impressive Spatial Audio with Head Tracking & Natural Transparency Mode
Similar to the XM4, the AirPods Pro also comes with an impressive list of features such as always listening, Siri Assistant, Spatial Audio with head tracking, transparency mode, and multi-point connection between Apple ecosystem devices. Talking about assistants, you can simply say “Hey Siri” and ask for weather updates, call contacts, add appointments, play music, and more. There is also an announce notification feature, after enabling it, Siri will announce the notifications you get from apps like WhatsApp, Messages, Teams, and more.
Spatial Head tracking is an interesting feature that offers an immersive, theatre-like surround sound experience. You can set up this feature by heading over to Settings > Bluetooth and then tapping on Spatial Audio. It works when watching videos on OTT platforms such as Apple TV, and Netflix, or when watching videos on YouTube on the Safari browser. The feature also works on Apple Music and Spotify as well.
Transparency mode allows users to stay aware of their surroundings. It works well on AirPods Pro and sounds very natural compared to the XM4. Lastly, the AirPods Pro also comes with a multi-point connection, allowing you to link more than one Bluetooth device with the TWS. The feature enables intelligent and seamless switching between devices (iPhone, iPad, mac) without having to manually disconnect and reconnect. For instance, if you are watching a video or listening to music on mac, and you get a call on iPhone, the AirPods Pro will automatically switch to iPhone while pausing media on mac. Once the call is complete, it will then switch back to the mac and playback will resume.
Selecting the best TWS between Apple AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM4 is a little tricky. A lot will depend on the devices that you use (Android or iOS), and your music listening preferences. The Sony earbuds offer stellar audio thanks to the LDAC codec, impressive noise cancellation, and better overall battery life on earbuds between charges.
The AirPods Pro, on the other hand, offers good audio and noise cancellation, excellent mic and transparency mode, and an immersive Spatial Audio experience with head tracking. While the battery life of Apple earbuds is less, a little more than four charges that the case holds bring it closer to Sony. If you are within the Apple ecosystem, the multi-point connection for seamless switching is an added advantage for Apple compared to Sony TWS.
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