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Sony WF-1000XM4 take the crown as the best true wireless earbuds of 2021

sony wf-1000xm4 wireless earbuds
(Image credit: Sony)

After months of speculation, the Sony WF-1000XM4 Wireless Earbuds have finally been announced. 

The successors to the wildly successful Sony WF-1000XM3, the new true wireless earbuds come with a range of quality upgrades that means we've crowned them the best true wireless earbuds you can buy today – and, (spoiler alert) we've awarded them a full five stars in our review.

Available to buy now, the Sony WF-1000XM4 cost $279.99 / £250 / $449.95, making them pricier than their predecessors. That jump in price isn't too high in the UK (about £30), but US and Australian customers are looking at a hike of $50 / AU$50.

Excellent improvements

So, what changes can you expect from the new and improved Sony WF-1000XM4? For starters, the charging case is a full 40% smaller than the one it replaces, while the earbuds themselves are 10% smaller, making them easier to carry around and more comfortable to wear. 

You get a range of eartips in the box, which should help you to find the secure fit required to achieve excellent sound isolation, as well as aid the earbuds' noise-cancelling smarts.

Touch controls allow you to adjust your music playback, summon your device's voice assistant, and toggle between active noise cancellation modes. 

The sound – as you might expect from a pair of Sony earbuds – is nothing short of exceptional. There's plenty of detail and drive, with well-defined bass frequencies, rich mids, and tightly controlled trebles. 

There’s also EQ adjustment available (the numerous presets include one racily titled ‘excited’), including space for a custom preset or two, and the option to turn auto-pause and DSEE Extreme audio upscaling on or off.

sony wf-1000xm4

(Image credit: Sony)

The noise cancellation isn't the best on the market (check out the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds for truly unbeatable ANC), but you're getting one of the best features from the over-ear Sony WH-1000XM4: adaptive noise cancellation.

That means, with your permission, the WF-1000XM4 can learn where you are using geo-location access, and apply your preferred level of noise-cancellation or ambient sound passthrough depending on where you are. (So, at home you may prefer a fully cancelled noise mode, while in the office you may want voices to come through.)

Other features borrowed from the WH-1000XM4 include fast pairing for Android and Windows devices and ‘speak to chat’, which simply requires you to make a noise in order to pause your music so you can have a brief chat without removing the earbuds.

Compared to their predecessors, there's been a modest improvement in terms of battery life, which comes in at between eight and 12 from the earbuds themselves (depending on whether active noise-cancellation is on or off,) plus another couple of charges from the case. It's not the longest battery life we've ever seen, but any upgrades in this area is always welcome. 

As for connectivity? That's been bumped up to Bluetooth 5.2, which allows for simultaneous transmission to left and right earbuds, and (when using Sony’s bespoke LDAC codec) Hi-Res Audio Wireless certification. 

sony wf-1000xm4 wireless charging

(Image credit: Sony)

Do they live up to the hype?

In a word, yes.

The Sony WF-1000XM4 have been leaked so many times in the run up to their release that some of these new features don't come as a surprise – but that doesn't mean we're disappointed by the new wireless earbuds. 

In fact, they deliver everything we wanted from a follow up to the Sony WF-1000XM3: improved sound, some of the best features from their over-ear siblings, an upgraded design, and updated connectivity. 

With the WF-1000XM4, Sony has ticked off everything on our wishlist, from DSEE Extreme audio upscaling to IPX4 water resistance (with the latter being a rather large omission from the WF-1000XM3). 

While other true wireless earbuds surpass the Sony WF-1000XM4 in singular areas – noise cancellation, for example – no other model comes close to offering such excellent quality across the board. That’s why the Sony WF-1000XM4 are hands down, the best true wireless earbuds you can buy today.

However, it's worth bearing in mind that the older Sony WF-1000XM3 may be discounted even more that usual now that they've been usurped by a new model – especially with Prime Day 2021 coming up. So if you're looking to save some money, don't write off the XM3 just yet – they're still an excellent pair of true wireless earbuds in their own right.

Olivia Tambini

Olivia is TechRadar's Audio & Music Editor, covering everything from headphones to smart speakers. Based in TechRadar's London offices, she previously worked in the music industry for a few years before finding her calling in journalism. In her spare time Olivia loves playing retro video games, hanging with her cat Ethel and golden retriever Dora, and bingeing on Netflix.