Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Sony WF-1000XM3: can the new noise-cancelling headphones beat the class-leading in-ears?

When it comes to the best noise-canceling headphones, it's been hard to beat Sony lately. The WH-1000XM3 offers great ambient noise cancellation, intelligent hardware control, and a comfortable fit – not to mention crackling sound – with premium features that, while not cheap, certainly don't break the bank like other high-end headphones can .

The real wireless earbuds, the WF-1000XM3 Buds, were similarly impressive, delivering tight sound, a good fit, and excellent noise cancellation for the form factor.

But no technical rule can last forever. Fortunately for Sony, the main competition for the WH-1000XM3 headphones comes from their own successors, the Sony WH-1000XM4. With major improvements to the existing product specs and some brand new features and flair, they are sure to be superior to the WH-1000XM3s.

However, does that mean they are worth upgrading if you already have a pair of WH-1000XM3s? And what if you're not a fan of the over-ear style and prefer the freedom of in-ear headphones?

Read on to better understand the key differences between the WH-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM3 beyond their obvious form factor differences.

Sony Wh-1000xm4

(Image credit: Sony)

What is good about the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones?

Improved noise cancellation: The noise cancellation techniques used in the WH-1000XM3 headphones were already very powerful at keeping the outside world away from your music. With the WH-1000XM4, however, it's even better, thanks to a revised algorithm that allows the sound profile to be analyzed and optimized up to 700 times per second. This is particularly well suited for mid-range noises – for example the hum of a motor or the hum of a fan.

Comfortable fit: The WH-1000XM4 headphones are lighter than their predecessors and are easy to use over longer listening sessions. If you clamp yourself on your head without being too tight, your weight will be well distributed, with thinner ear cups that allow heat to dissipate more freely.

Excellent sound quality: While the 40mm drivers haven't changed from the WH-1000XM3 cans, it's not a bad thing for the WH-1000XM4 follow-up. These are warm and detailed sounding headphones that will suit a wide variety of styles of music – especially if you're using high definition audio formats or Sony's 360 Reality Audio options. This is where the WH-1000XM4 really has the edge over the WF-1000XM3, which simply cannot compete with the extra space that the over-ear format offers.

Speak-to-Chat: The Sony WH-1000XM4 cans have a brand new intelligent voice recognition mode that pauses your music when you speak and enables ambient pass-through audio. This means that you can have a conversation without taking off the headphones, with a short delay after you've stopped speaking before the sound resumes. It's great – but luckily, it's an optional feature as habitual singers will find that singing along is possible, pausing the headphones annoyingly too.

Location based noise suppression: If you choose to use Sony to keep an eye on your movements, the headphones are a great way to adjust noise canceling settings based on your location. So you can use a different noise canceling profile (possibly more voice) in the office than your fully muted home profile. It turns on on the fly and is very useful.

Multipoint connectivity: Tired of switching between multiple devices you want to connect to? The WH-1000XM4 has a function that allows you to connect two devices to your headphones at the same time. If you have more than two devices that you want to connect, all devices will be saved and an attempt will be made to select the next available device as soon as it becomes available. For example, you can connect to your phone and laptop during the day, and the device wipe the laptop when it is turned off in the evening in favor of your tablet device.

Sony WF-1000XM3

The Sony WF-1000XM3 real wireless earbuds. (Image credit: Steve May)

What's good about the Sony WF-1000XM3 headphones?

Small, lightweight form factor: Sometimes it just isn't convenient to wear large, clunky over-ear headphones. True wireless earbuds like the Sony WF-1000XM3 keep you completely wireless, with only discreet inserts for your ears to deliver the music. Together with a small and portable charging case, they are usually much better suited for everyday activities than over-ears, which are better suited for stable and static listening sessions. With the Sony WF-1000XM3 you will feel more comfortable on the go.

Solid battery life: 32 hours of battery life (with buds and case combined) are not quite class-leading, but very good-looking. And it takes a few hours longer than you can expect to squeeze out of your ears. This makes them a good travel companion if you expect to be away from an electrical outlet for an extended period of time.

Exercise-friendly: We love the WH-1000XM4, but we wouldn't recommend exercising in it – the over-ear design and headband just aren't practical for a sweaty, bumpy workout. While the WF-1000XM3 is not explicitly designed as a workout companion (we wouldn't trust the locking mechanism for an intense outdoor run, for example), they would walk you through a session on the machines in a gym with great ease.

Excellent sound and noise suppression for earphones: Now it's unfair to pit a pair of true wireless earbuds against the dramatically larger drivers of dedicated over-ear headphones. While the WF-1000XM3 does not support the higher-resolution LDAC standard of the WH-1000XM4 (nor the aptX HD found in other true wireless headphones), it is still an admirable performer. The sound quality is detailed, the bass is dense, and the noise-canceling performance is some of the best we've seen in the ears.


Choosing between the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Sony WF-1000XM3 is in many ways more of a lifestyle choice than a product comparison. They're both at the top of their game in their respective headphone fields, and neither of the purchases will disappoint.

If audio quality is paramount to you, this is an easy choice. With its superior drivers and noise cancellation, the Sony WH-1000XM4 offers rich sound and a premium finish. All additional functions and intelligent controls are just the icing on the cake.

However, if you're on the go or are feeling a bit claustrophobic with a pair of cans on your head, the WF-1000XM3 Buds are far more portable and offer great audio performance for the form factor.

The price may be decisive. The WF-1000XM3 (depending on your territory and the associated currency) is now a bit older and regularly costs almost half the price of the WH-1000XM4. When money is a huge sticking point, you can't go wrong with Sony's in-ears.

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