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Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4

Apple and Sony are two of the biggest names in the world of wireless earbuds, with both brands producing comfortable, sleek, and customizable bud designs that are easy to wear and great to listen with, thanks in part to powerful noise cancellation and transparency features for both companies. But between the two titans of sound, which makes the better buds overall?

Today, we’ll be comparing Apple’s second-generation AirPods Pro against Sony’s almighty WF-1000XM4, weighing in on important factors like the overall design, sound quality, battery life, and price. Read on to see which set of buds we think is the superior option!

Further AirPods Pro 2 reading

Design and fit

Apple AirPods Pro 2 and Sony WF-1000XM4
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Perhaps the most crucial aspects of any set of wireless earbuds are how they look, feel, and function, three important categories that Apple and Sony have tackled in earnest. Carrying over the same style from one generation to the next, the latest AirPods Pro come in a glossy white finish (for both the buds and charging case), with Apple’s trademark hanging-stem buds making a much-expected return.

In terms of overall fit, the AirPods Pro 2 now come with four silicone ear tip sizes — extra small, small, medium, and large. Similar to the first-gen AirPods Pro, wearability is pretty top-notch here, with the AirPods Pro 2 being just as comfortable and lightweight as their predecessor. And thanks to the IPX4 rating, you’ll be able to use the AirPods Pro 2 during most high-intensity workouts, although you may find yourself adjusting the buds several times between reps.

For the Sony WF-1000XM4, Apple’s rival brings plenty to the table, but let’s get things started by calling out the, er, obtrusion in the room. The Sony WF-1000XM4 are among the biggest pairs of wireless earbuds on the market, and although Sony claims the XM4 are 10% smaller than the previous XM3, this isn’t a monumental difference.

As any constant commuter or frequent gym-goer will tell you, bulky buds are hard to keep in place, even for perfectly shaped ears. Thankfully, Sony made some design changes to the XM4, rounding out the buds and increasing the surface area of the touch controls. Compared to Apple’s silicone, the XM4s use memory foam for their ear tips, allowing for a much more snug fit, a sensation that some will like and others may find a bit uncomfortable.

Based on the AirPods Pro 2’s relatively bulk-less profile and agreeable fit, Apple wins this category.

Winner: AirPods Pro 2

Controls and customization

Apple AirPods Pro 2 close-up.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

While the AirPods Pro earbud stems aren’t as long as they are with other AirPods products, tap controls are again relegated to a set of force sensors on the shortened tees of each bud.

Single, double, and triple taps of what Apple calls “force sensors” are what you’ll be using to control music playback and answer calls, while long presses will cycle between noise-canceling modes or Siri. The AirPods Pro 2 also include a new drag-up-and-down volume control gesture for the buds, a convenient addition that Apple fans have been sorely lacking for some time. We also love the fact that with the launch of iOS 16, AirPods settings and customizations are no longer buried within Bluetooth settings sub-menus.

Once the AirPods Pro are paired to your phone, all you’ll have to do is launch the Settings app, and there’ll be a handy AirPods tab at the top of the screen, located right below your Apple ID. In this AirPods dashboard, you’ll be able to change what a long press does for each bud, adjust noise-cancellation, launch the Ear Tip Fit Test, and, new to iOS 16, create a Personalized Spatial Audio profile (more on that later).

For iOS devotees, the AirPods Pro 2 are the perfect Apple ecosystem product, but Android users are unfortunately left in the dust when it comes to customization and features like Spatial Audio, for these are iOS device exclusives.

While the Sony XM4 use the tried-and-true single, double, and triple tap for general playback controls, Sony’s idea of customization is a bit more stringent. Whether you’re using an iOS or Android device, you’ll need to download the Sony Headphones app to personalize the XM4’s touch commands. In terms of control mapping, Sony divvies up adjustments into ambient sound control, volume control, and playback control settings. Unfortunately, the Headphones app will only allow you to group a single set of commands to a single bud at a time, so if you’re using volume controls and start/stop commands, you won’t be able to activate noise-cancellation.

Sony headphone app displayed on an iPhone 12 Pro Max
Riley Young / Digital Trends

If you’re an Android user running a phone or tablet with Android 6 loaded up, you can use Google Assistant or Alexa to control volume, but it’s generally more convenient to simply tap or drag a finger to adjust those decibels in the first place.

That all being said, we’re giving another point to the AirPods Pro 2 for overall controls and ease of customization (if you’re an iOS user).

Winner: AirPods Pro 2

Sound quality

Both Apple and Sony have delivered big results in the audio department before, but when it comes to everyday music, podcast, and general media listening, which buds come out on top? Let’s start with Apple.

Without a doubt, the AirPods Pro 2 are the best-sounding wireless buds Apple has produced to date, and we think they easily go toe-to-toe with competitive earbuds from top audio brands. Thanks to a revamped set of drivers and amplifiers, along with the addition of Apple’s new H2 chip, the AirPods Pro 2 deliver phenomenal articulation in the mid- to high-frequency range, with deliberate and well-rounded bass underneath.

We can also thank the H2 chip (and iOS 16) for Personalized Spatial Audio. Spatial Audio proper was introduced to certain AirPods products back in 2020, allowing listeners to engage in immersive 3D, head-tracking sound. The “Personalized” label refers to some new tech that uses your iPhone’s TruDepth camera to scan and collect data about the shape and size of your head and ears. The data is then used to adapt and optimize the Spatial Audio based on the unique properties of your head and ear shape. Not too shabby, Apple.

Over on the Sony side of the coin, the XM4 sound crystal-clear, and the bass is exceptional, too. For the listening bandwidth connoisseurs of our readership, the XM4s give users access to Sony’s amazing LDAC audio codec, allowing for high-resolution Bluetooth music streaming (where applicable), in addition to Sony’s DSEE Extreme upscaling tech, which adds some much-needed oomph to lower-bandwidth MP3 tracks and other lower-bit streams.

The Sony Headphones app also has an EQ dashboard that allows you to assign different listening presets to your earbuds, with modes like “Bright” and “Treble Boost” to choose from.

This category is a close call, but considering the range of EQ options and LDAC support, we’ve got to give this one to Sony.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM4

Noise cancellation

Wireless earbuds are nothing without a little active noise cancellation (ANC) to block out unwanted environmental sounds, and both Apple and Sony know what’s up when it comes to dialing down on the decibels we don’t want to hear.

The original AirPods Pro have excellent ANC, reducing the noises of heavy construction equipment, HVAC systems, and other droning devices to mere whispers, with just a little compression hiss present in the quietest of external environments. And guess what? The AirPods Pro 2 have even better noise-canceling abilities. Large, industrial sounds are all but vanquished with the Pro 2, with the ANC system honing in on less-aggressive noise, like the sound of a keyboard typing, as what you’ll be able to discern while listening to music.

Additionally, the AirPods Pro 2 have added something called Adaptive Transparency. Made possible by the new H2 chip, this new feature ups the ante for the second-gen AirPods Pro by allowing them to boost or reduce the amount of outside ambient noise dynamically, so you don’t have to adjust the level yourself. The feature works pretty great but is largely unnecessary due to the fact that the standard Transparency mode is already incredible.

But Sony is no straggler when it comes to noise cancellation, with many of the company’s earbuds and headphones offering excellent tune-out capabilities. In our own hands-on test of the XM4, we found that ANC eliminated the lion’s share of unwanted frequencies, and the transparency mode was rock-solid, too. We also appreciate that you can customize the sensitivity and speak-to-chat capabilities of the XM4 using the Headphones app.

In fact, the Sony WF-1000XM4 has been our No. 1 pick for the best noise-canceling earbuds for some time. But thanks to Apple’s H2 chip, the ANC and Transparency features of the AirPods Pro 2 are just a little bit better than what you get with the XM4. Thus, another win for Apple.

Winner: AirPods Pro 2

Call quality

When it comes to call quality, the WF-1000XM4 eaerbuds do a decent job of dialing down on environmental noise and cutting out wind, but they’re not the best option for the latter. As the buds attempt to out-process a breeze or a gust, they add layers of compression that sound a little funny to talk over.

The AirPods Pro 2 are the clear winner here, all but eliminating wind noise and putting a huge damper on all the other sounds of the world we don’t want to hear, with plenty of amplification for our own voices and footfalls during phone calls. The person on the other end will also appreciate just how effective the AirPods Pro 2 are at eliminating heavy traffic sounds and other major conversation distractions.

Winner: AirPods Pro 2

Battery life

Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds in their case.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Having a set of earbuds that will last for at least one full day of listening is essential, and while the buds themselves may only top out at a few hours, the charging case should provide plenty of additional listening time.

The AirPods tend to fall behind the rest of the competition when it comes to battery life, with the original AirPods Pro only delivering up to four and a half hours of bud listening and 24 extra hours through the charging case. With the AirPods Pro 2, we were able to get a little over five hours of listening in before we had to throw the buds in the case, which can deliver up to 30 additional listening hours. Also, you’ll get one full hour of extra listening on the buds just by popping them in the case for only five minutes.

Over on the Sony side of things, listeners can expect up to eight hours of bud time with ANC enabled and a mighty 12 hours with the feature turned off, along with 24 additional hours through the charging case. A quick five-minute recharge will also net you one full hour of listening time.

Congratulations, Sony. You win this one.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM4

Price and warranty

The second-gen Apple AirPods Pro sell for $249 and come with a one-year limited warranty from Apple, which can be extended to two years by purchasing additional Apple Care+ coverage.

The Sony WF-1000XM4 are $280 but can sometimes be found at lower prices if they’re on sale. The XM4 also come with a one-year limited warranty.

Winner: AirPods Pro 2

The bottom line

Apple AirPods Pro 2 and Sony WF-1000XM4
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Thanks to design, sound, and noise-canceling improvements across the board, the Apple AirPods Pro 2 is the superior set of wireless earbuds in this match.

This doesn’t mean that we dislike the Sony WF-1000XM4 by any means — they’re incredible! But in terms of overall sound and call quality, customizations, and wearability, the AirPods Pro edge ahead just enough for each criterion to net the ultimate prize.

Check out our full reviews of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd-gen) and the Sony WF-1000XM4.

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