technology

Apple AirPods Pro vs Sony WF-1000XM4: Which buds are best?


Apple’s AirPods Pro have become the quintessential wireless earbuds, ranking among the most popular ear accessories this side of the millennium. As Apple’s top buds, they offer plenty of features, clear sound, noise-canceling, and a look and feel that’s all Cupertino. As such, it’s nearly inevitable that each new pair of feature-packed, flagship earbuds will be compared to them.

The latest to square up to Apple’s best are Sony’s noise-canceling monsters, the WF-1000XM4. The follow-up to Sony’s mold-breaking XM3 buds, the XM4 bring an all-new design, world-class noise canceling, brilliant sound, and plenty of features. So which is the right pair for you? Follow below as we compare these brawling buds point by point.

Buy the Sony WF-1000XM4 from Amazon

Buy the Apple AirPods Pro from Amazon

Pricing

Once a much closer fight, Apple’s AirPods Pro can often be found for much lower than their $249 MSRP. If you’re not finding them at $200 or so, you’re probably paying too much. Meanwhile, Sony’s WF-1000XM4 will run you just shy of $280 at full price, though they too make their way to the sales rung on occasion. From a pure pricing standpoint, Apple’s AirPods Pro are currently the easier buds on your wallet.

Our pick: Apple AirPods Pro

Fit and design

Apple AirPods Pro on MacBook

Credit: Reviewed.com / Jackson Ruckar

The AirPods Pro are an exercise in smart simplicity.

If there’s one thing you can count on from Apple, it’s accessible, brilliantly designed products. An evolution of the original AirPods, the AirPods Pro are a study in ergonomics and usability. Their ability to auto-pair with iPhones makes them starkly simple to use. Their shortened stems not only make for a great way to insert and remove the buds, but also serve as an intriguing control center that allows you to pinch your way through commands.

The buds’ magnetically attached ear tips make it much easier to find a fit than the original AirPods, and their featherweight, semi-open design allows them to sit lightly and comfortably in your ears, while still staying put under minor duress. Finish it off with IPX4 water resistance for the buds themselves and a slick and nimble charging case and you’ve got a neat little package.

Sony_WF-1000XM4_buds_and_case_on_stump

Credit: Reviewed/Ryan Waniata

The Sony WF-1000XM4 are sharply designed, but bulkier than the AirPods Pro.

Sony’s earbuds offer solid comfort and usability, but their bulkiness and weight (which holds an impressive amount of tech inside, to be sure) is a bigger ask than the AirPods Pro, literally. The XM4 use foam tips to create an impressive seal for passive and active noise reduction which are relatively comfortable, but this may make the tips less resilient over time and also makes them a bit of a chore to insert.

We appreciate the WF-1000XM4’s IPX4 water-resistant design, which is rounded for a stylish look and easy access to touch controls. Their new matte charging case is also much smaller than the XM3’s, making the buds very easy to take along. Plus, the USB-C charging port, alongside wireless charging, is much more versatile than Apple’s Lightning port. Still, it’s a tough task to beat Apple on straight design, and Sony doesn’t quite manage it here.

Our pick: Apple AirPods Pro

Features and battery life

The AirPods Pro have a nice suite of features, from their ability to quickly pair with any of your iCloud-enabled Apple devices, to a wireless charging case, an earbuds finder, the ability to use one earbud at a time, auto-pause, and increasingly relevant, their spatial audio feature. The latter works with Apple products such as the iPhone and newer iPads to create a distinct and exciting listening experience that aims to better immerse you in the sound field.

Sony_WF-1000XM4_buds_in_hand

Credit: Reviewed/Ryan Waniata

Though they skip a few features, the XM4 are versatile and offer seriously great battery life.

For Sony’s part, the WF-1000XM4 may not have all the flagship features—there’s no multi-point Bluetooth pairing, for example—but they are pretty well loaded. They support a well-stocked app, with everything from EQ and transparency mode control to the ability to auto-adjust the ambient sound to your environment. They also come with the ability to use one earbud at a time, auto-pause, and push-to-talk, which silences music and brings in exterior audio with a long press.

Unlike Apple’s buds, there’s no earbuds finder. The XM4 also had the chance to beat Apple’s buds here with a dedicated volume control, but unfortunately, you’ve got to swap other features to control the volume directly on the buds.

The XM4 do have a couple of key wins over Apple’s buds. For starters, unlike the AirPods Pro, nearly all the XM4’s features work equally well with whichever phone you choose. In addition, they offer much better battery life. While Apple tops out at 5 hours of playback time per charge (and 24 hours total with the charging case), the XM4 offer 8 hours of playback per charge with noise canceling, and up to 12 hours without it (alongside two full case recharges). This clinches the win.

Our pick: Sony WF-1000XM4

Noise canceling

We won’t hold you in suspense: Sony takes another round here. Apple’s AirPods Pro do an admirable job of stopping unwanted sounds, and their transparency mode—designed to let in the sound around you to be aware of your environment—is among the most natural-sounding in the genre.

Sony_WF-1000XM4__fit

Credit: Reviewed/Ryan Waniata

The XM4 offer incredible noise cancellation that beats nearly everything else on the market.

That said, they simply can’t keep up with Sony’s sound-crushing active noise cancellation. When combined with their great passive noise isolation, the XM4 are serious sound killers that only have one real rival at time of publication, Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds. In addition, Apple’s buds, while impressive for their size and design, create some white noise when noise canceling that can affect sound quality. Simply put, Sony aces this category.

Our pick: Sony WF-1000XM4

Sound quality

Another ace for Sony, these earbuds are among the best sounding in the genre. Bass is full and punchy, without being overbearing, the midrange is warm and smooth, while the upper register is taut and controlled, as if the buds are gate checking every sound to make sure only the pleasing, necessary frequencies get through. They also offer both AAC and Sony’s own LDAC Bluetooth codec, designed for higher quality wireless transmission.

Sony_WF-1000XM4_listening

Credit: Reviewed/Ryan Waniata

The sound quality exhibited by the WF-1000XM4 is among the best you can find.

Apple’s earbuds are no slouch, offering clear and well-balanced sound that’s very accessible. But with only AAC, they can’t match Sony’s Bluetooth transmission quality (with supported devices). And even if they could, their drivers are simply not up to snuff when compared to the stellar sound Sony’s WF-1000XM4 reproduce, placing the latter among the best in the biz.

Our pick: Sony WF-1000XM4

And the winner is …

Sony_WF-1000XM4_open_case_ferns

Credit: Reviewed/Ryan Waniata

The Sony WF-1000XM4 are incredibly well engineered.

Sony’s WF-1000XM4 earbuds are the obvious winner after tallying the scores. They sound better, work harder to shut out noise, and offer more versatile features and better battery life for either side of the mobile aisle. If you have the money, you will be blown away by what these earbuds can do with both the frequencies you want to revel in, and those you’re trying to keep away at all costs.

But not so fast. For many iPhone users, the simple, ergonomic design of Apple’s AirPods Pro alongside their great integration with all things Apple make them an enticing draw. If you do not have or plan to get an Android phone—and you value simplicity and clever ergonomics above high-quality sound and killer active noise cancellation—Apple’s buds may well be the better buy (and at a lower price to boot).

Depending on your use case, either one of these pairs of buds could be a fantastic addition to your tech arsenal. If you value simplicity and Apple-friendly design foremost, Apple’s AirPods Pro could make the most sense. If it’s exquisite sound, versatility, and ultra-powerful noise canceling you crave, grab Sony’s WF-1000XM4 and don’t look back.

Buy the Sony WF-1000XM4 from Amazon

Buy the Apple AirPods Pro from Amazon



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