Sony waited two years to upgrade its flagship noise canceling earbuds, but it was worth our patience. While the WF-1000XM3 is still a fantastic pair of earbuds for the money, the WF-1000XM4 (not to be confused with the WH-1000XM4 over-ears) take things up to a whole new level. With a brilliant mix of incredible sound quality, innovative design, IPX4 waterproofing (finally), and noise canceling that puts them at the very top of the marketplace, these are an expensive, but excellent choice.
Speaking of noise canceling, there’s only one pair of earbuds you’ll find that compares to the XM4 in this arena at time of publication: Bose’s well-regarded Quietcomfort Buds. Both pairs have their pros and cons, but the XM4 make for a more natural inclusion in most collections thanks to their smaller profile, next-gen battery life of up to 8 hours with active noise canceling (ANC) and a whopping 12 hours without it, and of course, their lovely, luscious sound.
It’s worth saying a bit more about that sound, as it’s among the best you’ll find in the genre. It’s sweet, smooth, accessible, and yet riddled with detail. And thanks to the stark canvas provided by the powerful noise canceling, it’s all the more easy to enjoy. You’ll find tranquility with these earbuds on a level that’s hard to find with any headphones, let alone tiny earbuds.
The headphones also have plenty of features, thanks in no small part to Sony’s Headphones Connect app, which lets you tweak the EQ to your heart’s content (from ramping up the bass to cycling through a dozen presets), and you can even set the earbuds to rotate between noise canceling and ambient audio based on your routines and locations. Unlike the XM3, they’re also splash resistant with an IPX4 rating.
Their design includes comfy foam tips for a stable seal alongside intuitive touch controls, though it’s there where we’ll raise our primary complaint: the XM4 don’t allow you to use volume controls without giving up other integral functionality. In addition, they miss a few extras like Find My Earbuds and multi-point pairing, both features we’d like to see in this price range.
But if you’re looking for the best all-around noise canceling earbuds, look no further. Sony’s WF-1000XM4 set a new bar. If you’re after a more affordable pair of Sony noise cancelers (and you don’t need water resistance), Sony’s WF-1000XM3 are still a great buy as well.
Apple's AirPods Pro take everything we love about the traditional AirPods and ramp things up a notch (or three). They sound better than all Apple earbuds before them, deliver excellent noise reduction, and add proper water-resistance (finally). These are the first Apple earbuds with swappable silicone ear tips, which are magnetically connected for easy removal and a much more custom fit.
While battery life is middling at 4.5 to 5 hours (Jabra's Elite 85t offer up to 7 hours without noise canceling), the pocket-friendly charging case holds multiple recharges for 24 hours total listening time. That comes in just under Jabra's top buds with noise-canceling engaged. In addition, Apple's quick charging provides an hour of listening in just five minutes, so you'll rarely need to worry about dead earbuds.
In our lab tests, the AirPods Pro’s noise cancellation proved to be on par with pricier noise-canceling headphones, with a minimal hit to battery life. Their Transparency Mode is also among the most effective and natural-sounding we’ve experienced, allowing you to pipe in the outside world for those times you want to be aware of your surroundings. The call quality, which uses dual microphones plus digital distortion reduction, is also excellent. The design also makes them incredibly easy to pair, control, and wear—especially for iPhoners.
The AirPods Pro are pricey, but they offer enough of a meaningful upgrade that we think they’re worth it—especially for those heavily steeped in the Apple ecosystem—since they can be your go-to headphones for everyday use, long trips by train or plane, and even light workouts. It's for all these reasons the AirPods Pro are some of the most popular earbuds on the planet.