Whenever Sony puts the “1000”—its flagship range— in the name for headphones, it essentially conveys that this is as good as it can get in Sony’s mainstream, consumer audio offering. Given Sony’s association with audio and the music industry, this is no lighthearted branding.
The Sony WF-1000XM4, launched in India in January, has managed to garner a fair amount of attention. Even those who do not intend to spend ₹20,000 on a pair of earphones still want to know how these are, and why it is a big deal.
So, is it a big deal? Truth be told, it’s a bit like 1970s space funk, in a disco avatar.
The equaliser is key
The reason I say this is because space funk (or sci-funk) headlined the advent of scientific achievements, space exploration, experiments with the physics of sound, breaking conventional moulds, and so on.
While all that is way too much to expect from a pair of earphones, here’s why the analogy isn’t such a stretch. For the longest time, companies marketing true wireless earphones have been talking about everything but audio. We hear every day about how connectivity latencies have reduced, noise cancellation technologies are becoming better and cheaper, earbud cases are doubling up as chargers, and so on. When it comes to the sound, though, we have largely made do with “thumping bass” as the hook to attract people.
With the WF-1000XM4, Sony is offering a pair of true wireless earphones that make you think about music in a far deeper way. A large part of the credit for this goes to the companion app with the headphones that lets you tweak settings. It is here that you start realising why the WF-1000XM4 is worth it.
Shoot up the mids, and level the bass and highs accordingly, and you get a sweet-sounding pair of earphones that are pleasant, bold, punchy and crisp. You still get great bass—good enough for an accurate reproduction of Flea’s live madness at Slane Castle. The mids, while pronounced in this configuration, are not lopsided or irregular—Roger Waters, Steven Wilson and Jim Morrison all sound as poignant as they always have. The highs are particularly enjoyable. Once you get the equaliser balance right, the WF-1000XM4 details the sound just right. You get fine, intricate details from the likes of The Continental IV and Labelle, rich drumming rhythm from Virgil Donati or even Daft Punk, etc.
It is this that makes the WF-1000XM4 stand out. It’s about sound, and if you can get the balance right, it is very good at it too. You can also turn off any adaptive learning mode from the earphones and reduce the intensity of noise cancellation. I would recommend you do both.
I wish Sony had gone beyond the typical dynamic driver limitations in its audio—to balanced armature ones. Surely the sound could have been even crisper and more “agile”?
Then there are the earbuds. While I am happy enough with the fit, many around me have complained they are too large. For those with smaller ears, they are uncomfortable and keep falling off.
Moreover, though the charging case is sleeker, it’s not small. So, it’s still not quite the right size for the pocket.
Most importantly, Sony’s ear-analysing 360 Spatial Sound mode is restricted to two relatively obscure music apps that you will almost certainly not be using—let alone paying for. After having focused so much on the audio capabilities, could Sony have worked harder at integrating its surround audio capabilities with music services from corporations such as Apple and Google?
But it's worth the money
All things considered, the Sony WF-1000XM4 is still worth it. If you love your music but do not have the means or setup to delve into a fully audiophile experience, this is a fairly good pair of true wireless earphones. They are built well, come in environment-conscious packaging, offer enough battery to require charging once a week, do clearly enough during voice calls, and, while at it, focus on music.
They let you dive beyond the surface of the sound and think for hours—while fidgeting with the equaliser—how just that little bit of extra treble could make a world of difference to your favourite song. Like Stairway To Heaven, as clichéd as that sounds.