The JBL Tour One M2 features Adaptive Noise Cancelling to block the ambient noise around you.
It also includes a Smart Ambient mode which helps you stay alert of your surrounding noise.
Personi-Fi 2.0 lets you customize the audio to match your personal listening profile.
Audio is paramount for content creation – for reels, short films, and, of course, podcasts – and a good pair of headphones makes a lot of difference. Without a good headset, playing competitive games or even casually listening to music or watching a movie is an incomplete experience. As an avid PlayStation 5 gamer and a multimedia editor myself, good audio is crucial as it can really enhance the gameplay and help refine the content that is being produced.
I tried out the new JBL Tour One M2 headphones to test if they can be more than just good premium Bluetooth headphones. It was used under different scenarios like editing multimedia content in our studio, while gaming, and also when commuting and traveling on a flight. The headphone cost about $300 and provide a bang for the buck as it is loaded with a host of features from which I have listed the top five attributes that I found to be helpful for my day-to-day use.
WATCH: JBL Tour One M2 Unboxing
Adaptive Noise Cancellation (ANC): Filter out ambient noise based on your surroundings
The JBL Tour One M2 comes with Adaptive Noise Cancellation (ANC), which is basically active noise cancellation, but has ambient features for different scenarios. We will talk about that in a bit.
As working professionals, we have returned to an office environment, working with teams spread across different cities and nations. So, collaboration becomes important at such times. My colleagues sitting next to me in the office are in virtual meetings or on team calls will other colleagues almost all the time. There are several distractions and disturbances around you in an office space, which is why I found the ANC to be quite helpful. The feature cancels most of the surrounding noises and helps me focus on my video and podcast edits.
Also, while we have a studio room for recording audio and video, there are times when the audio sounds too hollow or there is an echo or reverb, not something that one can easily notice on a smartphone or a regular laptop speaker. This is where the JBL Tour One M2’s noise cancellation comes in handy to hear these things clearly, acting as a good monitoring headphone.
Smart Ambient mode: Helps you stay aware of your surroundings even with headphones on
The Smart Ambient mode lets you stay aware of your surroundings without taking off your headphones. I love listening to music during my daily commute to work. The headphone’s Smart Ambient mode allows me to be aware of my surroundings and listen to announcements when traveling in a metro. This is also useful at the gym where I listen to music while working out, to stay cognizant of what’s going on around me. The Smart Ambient Mode basically allows you to continue listening to music without being shut out from the world and is useful for those who want to maintain situational awareness.
Personi-Fi 2.0: Calibrate headphones per your personal hearing profile.
The JBL Tour One M2 comes with a feature called Personi-Fi 2.0, which helps personalize sound levels according to your hearing profile. Not everyone has the same hearing ability, so it becomes important to customize the audio to make it a comfortable experience. There is an audio test that you can take from the JBL headphone app that helps calibrate the headphones when connected. It plays sounds of different frequencies and you need to tap when the frequency is audible. This will create an audio profile with a sound curve that best suits you.
I did not experience much difference with the headphones when watching movies on OTT apps or listening to music. However, it did make some difference when I was editing. Even when playing competitive games, it is important to hear every footstep clearly and other elements like gunshots and water sounds. With Personi-Fi 2.0 enabled, these sounds were clearer to me and helped enhance the gameplay.
Talk-thru: Media automatically mutes when you speak
Talk-thru is a good feature where you do not have to pluck out your headphones while talking to someone. The moment you start talking, the device automatically mutes the music, and starts ambient mode. Once you are done talking, the device unmutes the music playback after a few seconds. Through the smart talk option, you can set the mute timing between five to twenty seconds.
Though this is a great feature and helps a lot in a work environment, there is one small drawback – the ambient mode kicks in even when you start humming a song. Hopefully, this can be fixed with future updates.
Auto Play and Pause: Media automatically plays when you put on the headphones and pauses when you take them off
Sometimes when you take your headphones off, the music or movie continues to play, which drastically drains the battery. With the JBL Tour One M2, the Auto Play and Pause feature kicks in when you take off your headset and automatically pauses the movie or song, and resumes playback when you wear them back. This neat feature conserves battery life and ensures you resume your music/movie exactly where you left it.
While those were my top five features in the JBL Tour One M2, I would also like to give a special mention to the comfort that the cushioning of the earcups and the headband. Comfort is important to me as I tend to use my headphones for long durations when working. So, I would definitely recommend this pair to those who like to have their headphones on for hours.
There are more features that the JBL Tour One M2 offers which we will highlight in our detailed review soon.
Sony’s WH-CH720N comes with an integrated V1 processor for effective noise cancellation.
Sony claims that the headphones offer up to 50-hour use on a single charge.
The headphones support multi-point connectivity.
Sony is widely known as an industry leader when it comes to offering active noise cancellation (ANC) on headphones. And while most OEMs are focusing on the TWS segment, Sony continues to focus on both TWS earbuds and over-the-ear headphones. Last year, we tested the Sony WH-1000XM5 (review), which are premium headphones priced at around $425. We were impressed with their ANC, ambient noise and sound quality.
This year, Sony released the more affordable WH-CH720N, which is available for around $125. In terms of positioning, it is beneath the flagship 1000X line and alongside the XB extra-bass series.
A key highlight of the WH-CH720N is that it is powered by the same integrated V1 processor for noise cancellation as on the XM5. The headphones also come with multipoint connectivity to seamlessly switch between two devices. We have been using the headphones for a little over two months now and below is our analysis.
WATCH: Sony WH-CH720N Unboxing and First Look
Lightweight design, good comfort
At just 192 gm, the WH-CH720N is Sony’s lightest wireless noise-canceling headphone set. The weight is well-balanced and you hardly feel it, even when using them for a long time. The headband is faux-leather and offers the right amount of padding needed to hold them comfortably.
The outer side of the earcups is made from plastic and has a matte finish. The inner side has faux leather padding which is soft and comfortable, and stays that way for hours of wearing them, even in hot and humid conditions.
The 720N does not fold inwards. Instead, the earcups swivel at a 110-120-degree angle to allow them to lie flat on the table. However, as they do not fold inwards, the headphones will take up more space inside your bag. Also, Sony doesn’t include a carrying case as a standard offering.
The WH-CH720N is lightweight and has a comfortable design for long listening hours.
Talking about buttons and ports, the left earcup has a physical 3.5 mm audio jack, a USB Type-C port for charging, and a power button. The right earcup has the play/pause and volume buttons and the noise cancellation/ambient noise button.
Just like other Sony devices, the 720N also focuses on sustainability and is made from recycled plastic. The packaging is plastic free and made from recycled paper.
The headphones pair with your smartphones and laptops over Bluetooth 5.2, and support SBC and AAC codecs. The 30 mm dynamic drivers support a frequency range of 7Hz–20,000Hz. Unlike the flagship headphones, the 720N lacks Google’s Fast Pair support. Though it is not a big deal, having Fast Pair would have been a nice addition.
The WH-CH720N supports the Sony Headphones Connect app which is available for both Android and iOS platforms. Sony’s app lets you control different aspects such as the 5-band equalizer and presets, multipoint connectivity, and configure button settings.
There is an ambient sound mode (transparency) that lets you adjust the strength up to 20 levels. It works well, helping you stay aware of the surroundings depending on your preferences. The feature can come in handy when you are traveling in a metro or on a flight where you want to listen to music but at the same time do not want to miss out on key announcements. We tried it both on a flight and in a metro and were impressed with how well the ambient mode feature worked.
The ambient sound mode lets in enough sound to stay aware of the surroundings while also listening to music.
Talking about noise cancellation, the integrated V1 processor works well in cutting out background noises such as fans and traffic noise to a good level. On a flight, even when sitting closer to the engine, the 720N was quite effective in cutting out the jet noise, while the music volume was at 60%. However, it does not completely cut off all the noise, and the moment you stop music playback, there is some sound intrusion.
The ANC works well in cutting off unwanted noise and offering a good music-listening experience.
Just like the 1000XM5, the CH720N also comes with adaptive sound control, a smart function that can automatically switch between ANC and transparency modes depending on your location. It uses the phone’s motion to detect when you are sitting, walking, running, or commuting. According to the situation, it activates the ANC or increases the transparency level so you can clearly hear your surroundings. Again, it worked well in our tests.
We tested the WH-CH720N’s sound quality using different audio sources, including primarily an Apple iPhone 14 Pro, a MacBook Pro 16 and a Galaxy Z Fold4. The sound quality was consistent across devices. With a balanced tuning, the headphones sound pleasant, though the bass is slightly punchy. The big drivers do help in offering a spacious sound to enjoy listening to different music genres. The wide sound staging also makes the headphones great for watching OTT content like TV shows and movies.
Lastly, there are two more things to talk about – mic and battery life. The beamforming mics are good enough for making and receiving phone calls, and even video calls on conferencing platforms like Zoom and Teams. We made a few calls in noisy environments like airports and metro stations, and the recipients were able to hear us clearly.
In terms of battery life, Sony claims to offer up to 50 hours of non-stop listening with ANC off, and about 35 hours with ANC on. During our test, we kept ANC on all the time, with a volume between 50% and 70%, and would listen in parts for about four hours a day. With such usage, even after eight days, the headphones still had about 10% of battery left, totaling around 32 hours of usage. That is about one charge in a week, and if you turn off ANC, it may reach close to two weeks.
Key Takeaways and Wishlist for WH-CH720N Successor
The WH-CH720N is a value-for-money over-the-ear Bluetooth headphone set.
It has a well-built design and offers a comfortable fit.
Multipoint connectivity works flawlessly to switch between devices.
The WH-CH720N delivers a great battery life so you can go without charge for a week depending on your usage.
ANC and ambient sound modes work as expected.
The headphones offer good sound quality in their segment.
A wear detection feature could have been a great addition to pause/resume music playback.
On the design front, an inward folding one could have been even better, considering most of us also carry them while traveling.
Premium features like Hi-Res audio could be a good addition to the CH720N’s successor.
The TWS earbuds segment has seen immense growth over the last two years, and they are a popular choice when it comes to personal audio products. But there is still an audience for over-the-ear headphones as they offer more comfort and long-lasting battery life on a single charge. For the past few years, Sony has struck a winning formula with its flagship 1000X-series over-the-ear headphones that deliver great sound quality and superb noise cancellation.
First introduced in 2016 as MDR-1000X, Sony changed the naming scheme with its successor, WH-1000XM2. The fifth-generation headphones in the series, the WH-1000XM5, were recently launched at INR 34,990 (around $425). They feature new materials, refreshed design, eight mics, and an additional processor for ANC. But how does one take the already best and make it even better? This isn’t more like “if it isn’t broken, why fix it?”, but more like “if we can improve it even further, why not?”
We have been testing the Sony WH-1000XM5 for a little over a month and below is our analysis.
♻️Sustainability efforts: Plastic-free packaging & use of recycled materials
Sony, as a brand has been vocal about its sustainability efforts, and the same continues with the WH-1000XM5 too. The packaging does not include any plastic, and the box is made from what Sony calls “Original Blended Material.” It is basically a sustainable paper material made from “bamboo, sugarcane fibres, and post-consumer recycled paper,” Sony explains.
But it is not just the packaging, the body of the headphones is also made from recycled plastic materials using automobile parts. In the box, you get a collapsible carrying case made from premium fabric, a 3.5mm to 3.5mm aux cable (if you want to listen in passive mode), and a USB Type-C cable for charging.
Sony’s sustainability efforts toward the elimination of plastic in packaging are commendable.
Lightweight design with new soft leather for all-day comfort
The Sony WH-1000XM5 sees a major redesign, the first time for the series since its initial launch. The changes are visible right from the flat dome-shaped earcups that feature touch-sensitive gesture controls. While the left earcup has a 3.5mm socket, physical power, and ANC/Ambient Mode toggle buttons, the right earcup has a USB Type-C port for charging.
The earcups are now suspended freely from the hinge, but unlike the previous generation, they can only fold down flat, but cannot rotate inwards. The only drawback of this is that they are not as compact when folded, which means you need to carry a larger case (bundled) when traveling.
Lastly, there is also one more change with the headband. It can now be adjusted freely using the slider and it does not have steps and grooves for adjustment. This also means that you may not be able to set an even length on both sides at all times. But that should not be a major problem.
Talking about comfort, Sony is using new “soft fit leather” padding material for the earcups. It is actually very soft and comfortable to wear for hours. Even for someone like me who wears glasses, I did not feel any pressure or even the slightest discomfort even after wearing the headphones at a stretch for over four hours.
Key specifications: Bluetooth 5.2, LDAC codec, and more
• The 1000XM5 features Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity with an operating range of 10m.
• It supports Google’s Fast Pair feature to quickly pair with a supported smartphone.
• With 30mm dynamic drivers, the headphones have a frequency response range of 20Hz–20,000Hz, and 20Hz–40,000Hz (when switched to LDAC codec, with a sampling of 990kbps).
• It supports SBC, AAC, and LDAC Bluetooth codecs.
• The 1000XM5 leverages the integrated V1 processor, eight microphones (up from four in XM4), and a new QN1 processor for offering impressive noise cancellation.
• Sony has also included multi-point connectivity, allowing you to simultaneously connect the headphones to two devices, such as your smartphone and laptop.
• The multi-point connectivity is a great feature allowing you to seamlessly switch between devices, but it has one downside, it disables LDAC codec, meaning you will not be able to listen to high-res music.
• You can enable/disable features using the “Headphones” app, which is available on both Android and iOS platforms.
Key Features: Speak-to-chat, native assistant, and more
• The speak-to-chat feature pauses music playback when it hears you speaking and turns on the ambient sound mode.
• Once you are done talking, the playback is resumed.
• It uses AI algorithms and beamforming mics to detect voice and switch modes.
• While this is a good feature, it does not work 100% accurately and gets triggered when you are humming music, or even when someone in the room sitting close to you starts talking.
• Thankfully, you can disable this in the app.
Adaptive Sound Control:
• This smart function automatically switches between ANC and ambient sound mode depending on your location and surrounding.
• It does this by learning from your daily routine to recognize the location and your preferences.
• For instance, it can detect when you are sitting, walking, running, or commuting, and accordingly switch to ANC or increase the strength of ambient sound when outdoors.
• In our test, this feature worked flawlessly.
• The WH-1000XM5 comes with a quick attention mode – resting your palm on the right earcup quickly activates the ambient sound mode and deactivates it as soon as you remove the palm.
• While it works well, it would have been great if it paused the music playback, rather than just muting it.
• There is Spotify Tap feature, double pressing the ANC/AMB button, you can quickly start Spotify music playback, and toggle between playlists. (Spotify app needs to be installed for this to work).
• The proximity sensor can detect when you are wearing the headphones and can instantly pause/start playback when you remove and wear the headphones.
• If you do not wear the headphones for a few minutes, they will automatically be turned off.
• Lastly, there is also Sony’s DSEE Extreme which uses Edge-AI to upscale compressed music in real-time to restore sound lost in compression.
• With DSEE Extreme turned on, the audio sounded slightly detailed, irrespective of the source.
Performance: Sound quality, ANC & mic
We tested the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones using multiple devices. This includes iPhone 12 (for AAC codec) & MacBook Pro 16 (M1 Pro) as daily drivers. For the LDAC codec, we tested the sound quality using the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4. For music, we used two sources – Spotify, and Apple Music (with music streaming in High-res Lossless format).
Detailed and entertaining sound quality
Sony has once again managed to offer excellent sound quality that can be enjoyed by both casual music listeners and audiophiles. The WH-1000XM5 has a sonic signature tuned with slightly more emphasis on the bass while also ensuring that it’s not too aggressive. Otherwise, the sound quality is detailed and offers a spacious sound staging. The audio separation is good, and you can easily distinguish between each instrument.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 delivers sound quality that is both detailed and enjoyable.
The good part about the XM5’s audio is that you don’t need to turn the volume all the way up to be able to enjoy whatever you are listening to. When at home, I never went beyond the 50% volume mark, whereas outdoors, even 80% volume was more than enough. ANC has a big role to play here, which we will discuss briefly.
Audio with LDAC sounded marginally better and the connection was stable too. But even with AAC, there is not a big drop in quality, and the music experience is also as enjoyable.
Great noise cancellation, vastly improved mic
With a total of eight mics (four on each earcup), HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1, and features like Auto NC Optimizer the Sony WH-1000XM5 offers very effective noise cancellation. I was impressed with the results, both indoors and outdoors. I tested under multiple scenarios – inside my room, out in the gallery close to a busy road, traveling in a local train, and also in an airplane.
When indoors, the ANC works great in cutting down the fan and AC noise to a great extent. It does not completely silence everything; you can still hear some noise if the music isn’t playing. But the moment you start playing music, even with 30% volume, all the ambient noises are cut off, letting you enjoy your music.
Outdoors, the eight mics and AI algorithms work great in cutting out the wind noise, allowing you to enjoy your music listening. Even when in an airplane, the headphones cut off drone noise effectively.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 offers improved ANC & mic quality over its predecessor.
The beamforming mics and AI-based voice reduction algorithms accurately separate your voice from wind and other ambient disturbances. Whether you are talking from inside or out on a busy road, the recipient can hear your voice clearly, without even knowing that you are talking from outdoors.
The ambient sound mode also sees big improvement with more mics where outdoor noises now sound more natural and clearer. This helps you to remain more aware of the surroundings when outdoors.
Battery life: Fast charging with improved efficiency
The battery life on the Sony WH-1000XM5 is great. On a full charge, it easily lasts around 29 hours with ANC, which is pretty close to Sony’s claim of 30 hours. It’s great for those long-haul 16-hour flights, as the battery will last you through the journey – from your home to the destination, including layovers.
Sony has included a fast charging feature which is a great addition. During the briefing, a Sony executive told me that even three mins of charge can offer over three hours of music listening time with ANC. I went ahead to test the claim and was pleased with the result. In just four mins, using a 66W USB PD fast charger, the battery went from empty to 21%, and it lasted a little over four hours with continuous music playback at 60% volume.
The WH-1000XM5 can be your perfect companion on long-haul flights.
• The WH-1000XM5 is a perfect example of how even small, iterative improvements can improve an already good product.
• Sony’s sustainability efforts of using recycled materials to build the headphones and no plastic packaging are commendable.
• The headphones are comfortable to wear for many hours without causing fatigue.
• Sony delivers crisp and detailed audio, great noise cancellation, and natural-sounding ambient noise.
• Mic quality on calls has also been improved and thanks to wind-noise reduction, the audio during calls doesn’t sound muffled.
• Battery life is one area where Sony can improve with the WH-1000XM5 successor, especially where competitors like Sennheiser Momentum 4 promise twice the battery life up to 60 hours.
• IPXX rating for sweat and drizzling rains could be another good addition in the next iteration.
• A lot of tap-and-gesture features are pre-defined in the Headphones app, and the ability to customize them as per individual liking is another area where Sony can still improve.
ALSO READ: Other Strategic Reviews on Smartphones, Smartwatches, TWS & More
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.
ALSO READ: Other Strategic Reviews on Smartphones, Smartwatches, TWS & More
The TWS hearables are one of the fast-growing segments in consumer electronics seeing a 24% YoY growth in 2021. OEMs removing wired headphones from smartphone packaging, and the work-and-learn from home scenario post-pandemic are some of the factors contributing to this growth. The wireless earbuds also have a higher attach rate than other accessories such as smartwatches. In 2022, we expect the trend to continue and the TWS earbuds market is expected to grow by another 24% YoY.
The personalized content consumption from music listening to podcasts, video streaming, and gaming has increased during the pandemic. Even video conferencing needs to connect & communicate with clients, colleagues’ school, and family has grown significantly. And these trends have catalyzed the need for reliable earbuds with features that include Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), great audio, mic quality, and chords free being increasingly preferred. While these features have been available in premium earbuds but with growing demand, scale and innovation are quickly trickling down to relatively lower price points. There are only a handful of OEMs those package all of the above features really well, and Sony is one of them carving out mindshare alongside Apple and Samsung.
Sony’s TWS earbuds in the 1000XM-series are very popular and have set a benchmark for features like ANC, superior audio quality, and design. Focusing on the premium market and limited distribution reach compared to Apple or Samsung, the Japanese manufacturer was still able to capture a 3% volume share globally in 2021. However, Sony is also expanding its TWS line-up and premium features for models in the mainstream $100-$200 segment which should help it gain more share in 2022.
Talking about TWS growth in the high-end segment, Counterpoint Research Senior Analyst Liz Lee said, “The premium TWS earbuds segment saw robust growth in the second half of 2021 and we believe despite the recent macro-uncertainty due to the Ukraine crisis, lockdowns in China and inflationary climate, the demand for premium and mainstream TWS earbuds will continue to rise. Sony is expected to do well being the vanguard of driving key features such as ANC and audio experience in the TWS earbuds market.”
We have been using the premium Sony WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds for a few months now. The new XM4 version sports advanced features such as LDAC codec for higher bit-rate audio transmission, Speak-to-Chat using bone conduction sensors, ambient sound mode, and 360 Reality Audio support, vs the previous generation XM3 model. So, while the WF-1000XM3 was arguably one of the best all-round TWS, what has Sony done differently this time with the new 1000XM4 to take it to the next level?
Following is our detailed analysis of the new XM4 model right from packaging to performance after making it our daily driver for the last three months:
♻️ Plastic-free Unboxing Experience: A Move Towards Sustainable Future
Sustainability and efforts toward reducing the carbon footprint are becoming a key strategy for several tech companies and it’s good to see Sony going above and beyond.
The WF-1000XM4’s packaging does not use any plastic, and the box is made from recycled paper.
Sony also used embossed logos instead of printing the box with ink, a small effort without compromising the user experience.
WATCH: Sony WF – 1000XM4 – Unboxing & First Look
Compact Design, Comfortable Fit
Compared to the 1000XM3, the new 1000XM4 comes with a more compact design where the charging case is now 40% smaller, and the earbuds are 10% smaller.
The compact case makes it even easier to carry in the pocket, whereas the earbuds also now fit well, without popping out of the ear, like on the predecessor.
The earbuds snugly fit in the ear and are comfortable to wear for hours, provided, you don’t push them too hard in your ears to get a tight fit.
Even when working out – like doing a few jumping jacks or high stepping, the earbuds were firmly secure in the ears.
Sony has done away with silicone ear tips, and bundled foam ear tips instead.
Foam ear tips are a good addition as they offer great passive noise isolation while fitting comfortably in your ears.
Sony WF-1000XM4 Specifications and Features
Hi-Res Audio Streaming, Quick Pairing
The earbuds come with 6mm dynamic drivers that support a frequency range of 20-40,000Hz.
With Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity, the earbuds support AAC, SBC, and LDAC (bit rate up to 990kbps) codecs.
The pairing process is straightforward, and if you have an Android smartphone, the Sony WF-1000XM4 also supports the Google Fast Pair feature.
Though, the multi-point connectivity feature as seen on Jabra, Apple AirPods, and Samsung Galaxy Buds series, could have been a good addition.
The earbuds are sweat-resistant and come with an IPx4 rating, so you can wear them during workouts, or even in light rains when you go on a walk or run.
Companion App and Features
Both on Android and iOS, Sony has a companion app called “Headphones” which gives you can access to some core features.
You can adjust the equalizer, ambient sound control, ANC (Active Noise Cancellation), and more.
Once you set the equalizer, the profile is created and saved on the earbuds, which is a good differentiator over competitors.
So, even if you pair the earbuds with a new smartphone or a PC on which the “Headphones” app is not installed, you can still enjoy music with the equalizer profile you set using the app on another smartphone.
🎙Speak-to-Chat for Quick Communication
Speak-to-chat is an interesting feature that 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 are listening to music and want to talk to someone, say while commuting or walking on the road and asking for direction.
The feature works like a charm, but if like me, you too like humming to the tunes while listening to music, better to keep the feature off as the bone conduction is very sensitive in picking voice, and it activates the ambient sound while pausing music.
There is also a Quick Attention feature, where you can “Tap and Hold” on the left earbud to quickly pause music and activate the ambient sound mode, and it turns off as soon as you release your finger.
Sony WF-1000XM4 Performance: More Bang for your Buck
Ambient Sound: Stay Aware of Surroundings
Activating the ambient sound mode, you can hear your surroundings more clearly, thanks to the two noise-sensing mics on each earbud.
It lets you stay connected with the surroundings while listening to music, very useful when commuting on a metro or bus.
The app even lets you adjust the strength depending on the amount of ambient noise you want to let in.
🔇Excellent ANC: Zone Out from the Noise
Sony has included a new V1 integrated processor in the earbuds which powers ANC and LDAC Bluetooth codec support.
The V1 processor takes its noise-canceling capabilities even further than the predecessor by cutting off more noise at different frequencies.
We tested the ANC capabilities on a long-haul flight while traveling to MWC 22, and locally while traveling in metro and cabs.
With ANC ‘On’ and listening to music even at 50% volume, the earbuds block out ambient noise effectively while letting you immerse in the music.
There is also a wind noise reduction feature which worked very effectively in blocking out noise when sitting on a window seat on a local train.
🔊Clean, Immersive Sound Quality
Sony has consistently delivered great personal audio devices, and the WF-1000XM4 is no different.
The earbuds are very well tuned to instantly get yourself lost in the groove.
It offers a versatile performance irrespective of the music genre you are listening to.
With most TWS, I prefer customizing the equalizer to suit my listening preferences, but with the XM4, I mostly kept the EQ off.
Though, at times when I felt like having some bass punch, I would set Clear Bass to +2, while keeping the rest of the frequencies flat.
Most of my listening is generally on iPhone with Apple Music as a source, and despite having songs in Lossless quality, the iPhones only support AAC codec.
Though audio on flagship Android smartphones sounds a little better due to support for LDAC codec.
The connectivity is stable too, as long as you are within a five-meter range.
Apple Music lossless, Tidal, or Prime Music on Android lets you take advantage of high-res audio listening, but the same is not possible with Spotify.
Mic quality on calls was good and recipients had no issues hearing me.
🔋Reliable Battery Life
On a full charge with mixed usage and ANC On, the WF-1000XM4 offered a good battery life of a little over six hours.
The charging case adds two full charges for the earbuds, so you get a total of 18-19 hours of battery life before needing the charge the case again.
The earbuds also support a quick charge feature where even five minutes of charging can offer up to 60 mins of playtime and during my testing, it worked for close to 50 mins, which is good.
The case takes about 90 minutes to fully charge with a wired Type-C fast charger.
There is also support for wireless charging, but it takes a little over three hours to fully charge.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 delivers excellent sound quality catering to audiophiles and general users.
The active noise cancellation (ANC) is among the best that we’ve tried on TWS earbuds.
Battery life even with ANC ‘On’ is not an issue with the 1000XM4, and with ANC ‘Off’, it covers you for almost the entire workday.
Additional features like saving the audio profile on the earbuds, IPx4 rating, and wireless charging, offer a value package.
Wishlist for WF-1000XM4 Successor
While the attention awareness feature using bone conduction technology is a good addition, the low sensitivity needs more refinements to not trigger aggressively.
In-ear detection could be better, currently, even if the earbuds are kept on the table, the music playback does not stop, and it continues to play.
Multi-point Bluetooth connection to quickly and automatically switch between devices will be a good addition, especially as most of us extensively use a smartphone and a laptop in our daily life.
Gaming latency could be better, as it will come in handy when playing games like BGMI or COD: Mobile on a connected smartphone.
ALSO READ: Other Strategic Reviews on Smartphones, Smartwatches, TWS & More
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