If you're looking at buying the latest and greatest earbuds right now, one question on your mind is probably AirPods Pro 2 vs Sony WF-1000XM4 – the battle between the two top-end earbuds from two of the best in the business.
Sony's superb WF-1000XM4s have been the best true wireless earbuds since they launched, thanks to phenomenal noise cancellation, excellent sound and fantastic features. But now Apple has unveiled the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen, which promise to deliver improved sound quality and noise cancellation over the original version, with a smart Adaptive Transparency mode too.
Based on our early preview of the new AirPods Pro, it's already clear that they're Apple's best wireless earbuds. But are they good enough to beat the Sonys, which have been garlanded with rave reviews? Here's how they compare.
AirPods Pro 2 vs Sony WF-1000XM4: Price and release date
The AirPods Pro 2nd Gen were made available to pre-order on September 9 2022, and are released on September 23 2022. Theire launch price is $249 / £249 / AU$399.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 were released in June 2021 with an official price of $279 / £250 / AU$449, although they’re now widely available for considerably less – you can find the current latest prices below.
AirPods Pro 2 vs Sony WF-1000XM4: Features
The Sonys connect via Bluetooth 5.2 and promise eight to twelve hours of play time with a further 12 via the charging case. There’s Sony’s LDAC codec for streaming higher-resolution audio from compatible devices, and Sony’s DSEE Extreme algorithm, which promises to upsample digital audio to something approaching high-res audio. They charge using USB-C wired charging or Qi wireless charging.
There’s fast pairing for Android and Windows devices, and Sony’s clever “speak to chat”, which can detect when you’re having a conversation and pauses the music or podcast accordingly. The headphones app is very good, with extensive customisation options. You can also use photos of your ears to optimise 3D audio for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio.
The AirPods Pro 2 have a new H2 chip inside, which Apple says will deliver improved audio quality and noise cancellation compared to the original, and they now connect over Bluetooth 5.3, although there's no stated support for higher-res audio streaming. They support Qi charging, Apple's MagSafe wireless charging, or even from the Apple Watch Magnetic Charger – and Lightning for wired charging.
You get fast pairing with Apple devices, and a new Adaptive Transparency mode that's smarter about what noises are let through when you're in this mode. They also have a customization option where you scan your ears using an iPhone's 3D face recognition sensor to improve their Dolby Atmos Spatial Audio. There are lots of customization options for AirPods Pro 2, but they're mostly hidden deep in the iPhone's settings, and aren't as easy to tweak as Sony's.
Other upgrades from the original AirPods Pro include the ability to swipe up and down on the stems to adjust the volume, and the case now has a speaker to help locate it, and a lanyard to prevent you from losing it in the first place.
Apple promises better battery life than before – six hours from the buds alone and 30 hours with the charging case. The Sony WF-1000XM4 promise eight hours from the buds and 24 hours from the case, so each product gets something to boast about there.
AirPods Pro 2 vs Sony WF-1000XM4: Sound
We love the sound of Sony’s earbuds. In our review we noted their “substance, texture, and an absolute stack of detail” explaining that “there’s drive and momentum to spare here, but the WF-1000XM4 never lose the run of themselves – there’s an equal amount of poise to go along with it.” The Sonys are beautiful sounding headphones with the default EQ, and you can adjust it to suit your own preferences too.
The other key feature is the noise cancelling. The Sonys aren’t quite as good as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, which have led the pack (though are about to be replaced by the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, which appear to be even better), but they're still way above most of the competition.
We haven't fully reviewed AirPods Pro 2 yet, but in our early testing, we said that "Having used the original AirPods Pro for a number of years, it's clear that the audio quality is much richer than before, with bass in particular so much more vibrant. The rest of the soundscape feels wide and expansive."
We also noted that the noise cancellation has seen a major step up too" "The effect is genuinely startling – if you're listening to music while someone is speaking to you, usually you'd hear some part of the conversation, but now, they're practically inaudible. When testing with simulated airplane sounds, they were completely impossible to hear."
So we're confident already that Apple closed the gaps between the AirPods Pro and Sony XM4, but we'll need more testing to see just how close the two are.
AirPods Pro 2 vs Sony WF-1000XM4: Design & fit
Sony’s earbuds aren’t exactly small, and while they’re 10% smaller than their predecessors they’re still a fairly hefty-looking pair, and aren't light for true wireless earbuds. They can be a little fiddly to insert and don’t feel as deeply set in your ears as some other earbuds, but once they’re in they sound excellent. The touch controls are easy to use.
The AirPods Pro 2 look nearly identical to their predecessors: reports that the stems would be shorter or disappear proved unfounded, so if you weren’t won over by the originals you’re not going to love these either. However, if the buds just felt too big you might like the new extra-small silicone tip, which should deliver a better seal and better comfort for people with smaller ears. And just like the previous AirPods Pro, these are very light despite their new features.
AirPods Pro 2 vs Sony WF-1000XM4: Conclusion
The Sonys narrowly miss out on the top spot in our best noise-canceling earbuds guide because Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds deliver unparalleled nose cancellation that Sony doesn't quite match. But the WF-1000XM4 are still our current pick for the best true wireless earbuds overall thanks to strong sound quality and extra features.
Do the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen have what it takes to unseat Sony? Until our full review, we can't say for certain, but it's clear that Apple has made major steps in most of the areas where Sony pulled ahead.
Of course, the platform division remains: the Sonys work more slickly with Android than AirPods do, and AirPods work more slickly with iPhone than the Sonys. And that may steer you towards one of the other anyway, especially since it's clear both are impressive, and cost about the same.
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Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.