Sony WF-1000XM4 is the next iteration of Sony flagship true wireless headphones with active noise cancellation. I got curious after reading so many good reviews about these headphones and decided to go to a store to have a look. Before even testing the product, I was impressed with the size of the charging case. It is pleasantly small, perfect size to carry in my pocket in various scenario. Bulky charging case is one of my main issue with Bose QuietComfort Earbuds. The winged tips are very comfortable, but it comes with a cost of thick case and I found myself avoiding it in many everyday scenario.

Sound quality was good during my brief test of demo units. Not enough to actually make a final conclusion, but good enough to push me to purchase. It brings me to my next decision point: colour. My previous WF-1000XM3 is silver with a charging case with light colour. Within a few months of use, the case picked up some other colours from my clothing. This time, I decide to go with black.

Another nice surprise when I saw the packaging of this product. Sony managed to put these amazing headphones in a tiny packaging just barely bigger than the case. No bulky accessories included, just the bare minimum. And the external packaging uses recycled material. Sony is clearly heading the right direction on this one.

WF-1000XM4 has a very compact form-factor. I was slightly worried that it might fall off easily during exercise. This time, I am happy to be proven wrong. These headphones are very comfortable in the ears and they give the impression of secure fit. So far, I never had them falling off my ears.

Initial pairing process is fairly easy. It connects to the same app from Sony called Headphones. Sony can probably think of a more unique name for its app, but so far I am not complaining about the functionality. This app could probably use some improvement on the UX, but the features are quite impressive.

First, Adaptive Sound Control feature allows us to set different level of noise cancellation for staying, walking, running and during transport. We can choose total noise cancellation, or 20 levels of ambient sound for each activity, or totally turning off active noise cancellation. There is also a checkbox to focus on voice (taking in voices while suppressing noise). Even better, the headphones will automatically switch between those activities based on movement detection.

Still around Adaptive Sound Control, users can also choose to customise setting when listening to music in certain registered location. If given access to our location, it will learn locations we visit frequently, allowing us to save those location and put labels on them (home, workplace, school, station, bus stop, gym and other). Basically, Sony allows us to have totally different experience based on our activity or location, and they all happen automatically.

Different equalizer settings can be assigned to locations, allowing automatic switching, or it can send notification for us to decide. Before the last app update, different activities can have different equalizer settings as well, now it turns into automatic.

Speak to chat feature automatically detects if we speak, temporarily stopping the music to allow us to have quick conversation. This feature, however, kicks in every time I do throat clearing, or when sometimes I hum following a song. So I turned this one off.

Control can be achieved from our phone, or from tapping the left and right unit. We can choose to assign “Ambient Sound Control”, “Playback Control”, “Volume Control” or “None” to each piece. Based on our choice, it will react to a single tap, double taps, triple taps, or long tap. I choose volume control for my left earpiece and playback control for the right side.

Sony Headphones app keeps track how long do we use our headphones for each activities and in each registered locations (can be turned off). It also offer gamified system of using our headphones, with badges when we use our headphones for X days in certain location or when we change equalizer setting. Sounds a bit gimmicky, but I found myself chasing my next badge level.

At full active noise cancellation, these headphones are amazing. It feels so quiet and I can truly enjoy the finer bits of my music. At ambient sound setting, it is useful when wearing these for outdoor exercise to keep us aware of the surrounding. It picks up the sound of cars nearby just fine.

What about the sound quality? I had a bit of adventure at the beginning. I tried to replace the foam earbuds with traditional silicone models. It significantly reduces the sound quality. Evidently, these headphones are configured to be used with the default foam earbuds. Once I plugged back the foam earbuds, I get to enjoy the best sound quality from any true wireless headphones with active noise cancellation. The bass packs good punch and the treble delivers good details. The equalizer enables me to experiment with different flavours of sound before I settled with one I like the best.

Really impressed! Sony WF-1000XM4 quickly becomes my primary everyday headphones thanks to a combination of superb sound quality, solid noise cancelling and small charging case. Can firmly recommend this.