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I hate flying. And despite the wild amount of frequent flyer miles I’ve accumulated over the years, hopping on a flight just isn’t something I’ve gotten used to, and no in-flight entertainment (nor tiny bottles of booze) have put my worries — as small and ridiculous as they may be — to rest.
One thing that has helped me on long flights? Listening to music, with a playlist downloaded and ready to listen to before I get to my gate. That’s where noise-cancelling earbuds come in. They’re great while you’re waiting to board your plane, but they work best to help drown out all the loud noises when you’re up in the air, from the other passengers’ conversations next to you, to the deafening, constant humming of the plane. Now, I can’t fly without them.
While I’ve tried various models over the years, I recently found the best noise-cancelling buds for flights: the Sony WF-1000XM4 Noise-Cancelling Earbuds.
After hours of testing, here’s how these Sony earbuds hold up on flights, during workouts and on workday calls at home.
The Sony Earbuds Seriously Block Background Noise (When You Want Them to)
During a recent flight, with noise-cancelling on, we could hear our music like normal, and it was easy to block out sounds we didn’t want to hear (like passenger chatter) for a few hours. Even the more intimate acoustic tracks came through clearly, and unlike other earbuds I’ve used on a plane, I didn’t feel the need to crank my phone’s volume up to dangerous levels.
The tech goes beyond music though. These buds are truly functional everyday buds in their own right, especially for running or walking with my dog. Once I activated this Bluetooth pair’s noise-cancelling setting, I couldn’t hear excess noise like a loud car engine, a water fountain or helicopters flying overhead at all. Podcasts and albums sounded like I was in the studio with the hosts and musicians.
It’s clear these are earbuds built for the audio-obsessed listener — Sony equipped them with the brand’s own Integrated Processor V1, and the company explains that they boast the “industry’s highest level of noise cancelling.”
But if noise-cancelling earbuds aren’t for you, don’t worry. One of the best things about these noise-cancelling earbuds is that you can decide when you want to cut background noise, and when you want to be able to hear ambient sound (meaning, the background noise surround you). All you have to do is press one of the buds to swap sound settings.
The ability to use ambient sound came in handy when walking my dog and when running on narrow roads with low-visibility corners (and no sidewalks in sight). With ambient sound, the quality of a playlist doesn’t really change, but it lets in just a little more of the sounds around you so you can tell if, say, a car is approaching you.
How Do the Sony WX-1000XM4 Earbuds Sound?
Expensive. These Sony earbuds pack 6mm driver speakers and produce excellent-sounding audio, no matter where you’re listening to them from. They’re the kind of earbuds that will make you forget you ever owned another pair of headphones.
When listening to our music with noise-cancelling on, the earbuds delivered excellent, clear and well-balanced tunes, even on flights. That also applies to everyday listening.
The buds revealed tiny details that might be less obvious with other, non-noise-cancelling buds. The sound effects on Lorde’s “Oceanic Feeling” intro, for instance, made me feel like I was actually sitting outside, while the background vocals on ballads like Troye Sivan’s “could cry just think about you” sounded as crisp as when I threw on wired on-ear headphones, though just not as loud.
You can also tweak the sound levels and settings using Sony’s Headphones Connect app, though I never felt the need to customize it.
How Long Do the Sony Noise-Cancelling Earbuds Last?
Twenty-four total hours with their wireless charging case. Sony claims the earbuds can last up to eight hours per charge with the noise-cancelling feature turned on, and we’ve found this to be true. When you snap them back into their magnetic charging case, once fully charged, they can last an additional 16 hours. And even if you’re running late to catch your flight, you can charge them up for a mere five minutes and still get an hour of runtime.
It’s easy to know how much juice the buds have at any given time. A voice will chime in to tell you the battery life percentage you’re at whenever you stick them in your ears, too, so you know roughly how long you have until you need to power them up again.
We only recently noticed that audio started cutting out when we reached the 40 percent level in one of the buds, though that was the first time it happened during our testing and it went back to normal shortly afterwards.
Are Sony’s Earbuds Waterproof?
Just like at 10,000 feet, these Sony earbuds perform just as well back on solid ground, especially for workouts.
As large as the buds’ size may be, it actually comes in handy when you’re running because you can more easily tap the earbuds when you want to play, pause or change your songs. Meantime, you can also seamlessly switch between noise-cancelling and ambient sound with the tap of the left earbud. It happens swiftly and without any issue, even when I’m covered in sweat.
But Sony designed the noise-cancellers with this in mind — they boast an IPX4 water-resistance rating, so not even the hottest, sweatiest afternoons struggling up steep Los Angeles hills are a match for these buds.
Your Calls Sounds (Almost) Good Enough to Fool Your Colleagues
Almost. On a call, we asked the person on the other end of the call if they could hear the traffic rushing by us and what our voice sounded like. Did it sound like we were home, inside, or out on the sidewalk? And traffic noise aside, what did our voice sound like?
Of course, everyone’s going to give you a difference answer, but they told us the sound quality was about the same, with no clear difference, but maybe a “little hollow.” They said they couldn’t really hear any distinct background noise, and though we weren’t near a busy intersection and just on a residential street, that’s a still a sound quality feat to be proud of.
For our ears, we like how the buds help us hear what the person on the other end of the line is saying. Instead of losing our focus by the car engine rushing by us, we could clearly hear everything, leaving our phone in our pocket. Put simply, the Sony noise-cancelling earbuds aren’t just for music lovers. With four built-in mics and voice-assistant features, we consider them must-have earbuds for the office, wherever that happens to be.
Are the Sony WF-1000XM4 Noise-Cancelling Earbuds Comfortable?
Everyone’s ears are different, but they felt comfortable during my testing. It took me a few minutes to figure out that I needed to push them slightly farther into my ear and twist them, as otherwise they weren’t as secure in my ears.
Even after wearing them for hours, I never felt desperate to take them out thanks to their ergonomically-designed fit, unlike my experience using other earbuds and headphones in the past. The ear tips they come with fit my ears, but during workouts, I noticed the earbuds shifted a bit if I moved around too much because of the size. However, they generally stay put from the moment I put them in my ears.
Are the Sony WF-1000XM4 Noise-Cancelling Earbuds Worth It?
Yes. These Sony buds are among the best noise-cancelling earbuds I’ve tested, and you won’t feel like you need to grab over-ear headphones when you want to really listen to an album — these buds check all the boxes for music lovers whether you’re on the plane, on a run or just listening to tunes at home.