True wireless earbuds have exploded in popularity of late. When they first launched they were a premium product aimed at big spenders, but now you can pick up a decent pair for as little as £50 ($66, AU$90).
If you want the best wireless earbuds, mind you, you will need to be prepared to spend a bit more.
Sony makes some the best-sounding pairs around; its WF-1000XM3 (not to be confused with the WH-1000XM3 over-ear headphones) currently sit at the top of our list of the best wireless earbuds money can buy. And they have done ever since they first launched back in the summer of 2019. But it's highly likely they will soon be succeeded by the recently leaked WF-1000XM4.
So, what can we expect from Sony's next-gen wireless earbuds? When will they launch? How much will they cost? What technologies will be onboard? And will they keep Sony on top of our leaderboard? Here's everything we know so far...
Sony WF-1000XM4 release date
Sony has yet to confirm the existence of the WF-1000XM4, but their arrival is as sure as night following day – especially as the fourth generation of Sony's over-ear headphones, the WH-1000XM4, have now arrived. We don't know the release date, but based on past performance we can take an educated guess.
The WF-1000XM3 launched in August 2019, making them now fairly old in headphone terms. Hence, they're due a refresh.
With January's CES 2021 now a distance memory, our money is on a launch later in the year – most probably during the summer months. Indeed, in early April a pair of Sony buds codenamed "YY2948" (thought to be the WF-1000XM4) gained certification from the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) and the FCC. That's typically the final stage of the product development process, and tends to happen shortly before launch.
How shortly? We can't say, but tech show IFA takes place between 3rd-5th September this year, so expect an announcement then or late August. That would be two years on from their predecessors – a good run indeed for the superb WF-1000XM3.
Sony WF-1000XM4 price
Wireless earbuds differ wildly in price.
With the Sonys being some of the best, we wouldn't expect a new model to come cheap. The WF-1000XM3 launched at £220 ($230, AU$399), though you can now find them for much less than that thanks to an array of Sony WF-1000XM3 deals. We would expect the WF-1000XM to launch at around the same price.
We'd hope them to come in cheaper than the AirPods Pro, which have an RRP of £249 ($249, AU$399) but can often be picked up cheaper courtesy of an AirPods Pro deal.
- Browse today's best Sony headphones deals
Sony WF-1000XM4 design
Could the image above be our first look at the Sony WF-1000XM4? It certainly seems to be. The shot, which was posted on Reddit, appears to show the packaging sleeve for the wireless earbuds.
If it's legit, Sony's answer to the AirPods Pro has shed the pounds and undergone something of a redesign. They look smaller and rounder than their predecessors – the WF-1000XM3 – and sport slight gold accents.
The box even seems to show off some of the WF-1000XM4 specs...
Sony WF-1000XM4 specs
So what can we expect the new Sonys to actually do, tech-wise? Quite a lot, actually.
A recently leaked photo said to reveal the XM4 packaging, seems to confirm the presence of noise cancelling, which we assumed was a given. The same leak also outs the WF-1000XM4 battery life - 6 hours from the buds, 18 hours from the case - which is very similar to the XM3.
The 2020-launched WH-1000XM4 over-ear headphones saw the debut of Sony's new DSEE Extreme audio processor, and we'd expect the WF-1000XM4 earbuds to use a similar, possibly slightly tweaked version.
What does that mean? Better sound quality, that's what. Besides upscaling compressed music to near-hi-res quality, the new chip brings artificial intelligence technology called Edge-AI. It’s been developed with the help of Sony Music Studios Tokyo to analyse music in real-time to reproduce a more accurate sound that's more faithful to the original track.
The XM4 buds are also said to feature Bluetooth 5.2 support. The latest version of Bluetooth is more energy efficient and the speed at which it transmits data is faster compared to Bluetooth 5.1, theoretically meaning the WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds should deliver higher-quality audio and faster pairing.
The over-ear XM4 lack aptX or aptX HD support – a shame considering the growing support for aptX HD – but they are compatible with Sony's own LDAC technology. This allows you to stream high-quality audio wirelessly from a compatible source, including select Android smartphones running Android 8.0 or above.
In early April, news broke that the XM4 buds has passed through FCC certification (via NotebookCheck). The filing appears to confirm "no aptX or aptX HD support" – but leaves the door open for LDAC supporrt.
If you subscribe to a streaming service that supports tracks encoded in Sony 360 Reality Audio, such as Tidal or Amazon Music HD, the WH-1000M4 can also be used to experience the immersive audio format.
We would expect the WF-1000XM4 earbuds to have the same tech and support onboard.
The Ambient Sound and Quick Attention features (which let in varying degrees of outside sound so you can hold a conversation) came as standard on the XM3 earbuds, and again, we can expect it on the XM4.
Could the in-ear headphones also have the Speak to Chat feature first seen on the WH-1000XM4 over-ears? The headphones can automatically recognise when you're talking and activate their Ambient Sound mode so you can chat without taking off the headphones. We wouldn't be surprised to see it make an appearance on the in-ear version.
They could also pause music when you take out an earbud, and resume playing when you pop it back in. We've seen this on numerous wireless headphones before, so Sony will be keen to keep up with the current trends.
So, that's what we're expecting from Sony's next earbuds – a new design, improved features that borrow from their over-ear siblings and, of course, excellent sound quality. Hopefully, we don't have too long to wait to see if we're right...