When the Sony WF-1000XM4 earphones launched in 2021, they were among the best headphones money can buy. The only criticisms were the size and the poor fit for some users. The Japanese apparently took these criticisms into account when developing their flagship earphones for 2023, the Sony WF-1000XM5. Not only are the XM5 smaller, but they offer significantly improved performance, with better noise cancellation, better sound and clearer voice calls. So is the fifth generation perfect? And can it justify the higher price of $299 / €319? Our Sony WF-1000XM5 review clarifies that.
The Sony WF-1000XM5 are available in black or silver. According to Sony, the new earbuds are 25% smaller and 20% lighter than the XM4, with each bud weighing 6 grams compared to the XM4’s 7.3 grams each. For comparison: the Apple AirPods Pro 2 weigh 5.3 grams each. The charging case of the XM5 is also smaller than that of the XM4 and has wireless charging functions. The surface of the WF-1000XM5 is now glossy and no longer matt. However, Sony has left the outer part with the touch controls matte so that no fingerprints are collected here.
As already mentioned, the XM4 are relatively large. They fit well in normal ears, while people with small ears may have trouble with the fit. One focus of the new design was therefore to cover as broad a spectrum as possible. That worked out well – the smaller XM5 fit much better on smaller ears. Sony also includes a fourth set of extra-small eartips in the box, versus three sizes for the XM4.
The eartips are made from a high-tech polyurethane foam material that conforms to the ear canal. For optimal sound and effective noise suppression, they must sit as perfectly as possible in the ears. Even though Sony offers four sizes, the shape is always the same. They should be a good fit for most users, alternatively you should take the trouble and either pull your previous favorite out of the drawer or buy something new. Also, like the XM4 before it, the XM5 are splashproof and sweatproof according to IPX4.
Features of the Sony WF-1000XM5
Sony headphones have always been feature-packed and the WF-1000XM5 offer some new upgrades. Existing favorites such as Speak-to-Chat are of course still on board. This allows the Buds to automatically pause music playback and put the headphones into ambient mode when they detect a conversation. Ambient mode is similar to Apple’s transparency mode. With Sony, however, you can adjust the volume of the ambient noise that you want to let in. Apple’s version of this feature is coming to the AirPods Pro 2 with iOS 17.
One of the premium features of the Sony WF-1000XM5 is multipoint Bluetooth pairing. This allows you to pair the earphones with two devices at the same time and easily switch the sound between them. There are also numerous EQ settings to optimize the sound and some adaptive sound modes, as well as support for Alexa and the Google Assistant. There is also a new beta feature where the XM5 guides the user through the EQ settings to find the best sound settings. We particularly liked this last function in our Sony WF-1000XM5 review and it was used as standard.
Like the XM4, the Sony WF-1000XM5 have ear detection sensors that pause the music when you take out an earbud. On the other hand, spatial audio with head tracking is new. According to Sony, however, the feature is currently only available for Android users and it is unclear whether Apple users will ever get it. In our Sony WF-1000XM5 review, in videos it worked just as Apple’s Spatial Audio feature, and just as well too.
Nod to talk
Another new feature is the new gesture controls for answering and ending calls. Once activated, you can answer or end calls with a nod. The whole thing also worked quite well, but can sometimes be a bit irritating for the environment. Other functions, such as skipping music titles forwards or backwards, are not yet available.
According to Sony, the WF-1000XM5 are also compatible with the new LE audio standard. This allows for features like Auraucast Broadcast Audio, which lets you select an audio stream to play on a specific TV at the gym while you’re on the treadmill, for example. Sony’s high-resolution LDAC codec is of course also supported, while paired Apple iPhones can play AAC files. On the other hand, what we were missing from the Apple universe in our Sony WF-1000XM5 review was some sort of Find My Buds feature as part of the Sony Headphones app.
Active Noise Cancellation – ANC
The Sony WF-1000XM5 feature new 8.4mm speakers and three microphones in each earbud. Processing is handled by two new proprietary Sony chipsets with more computing power – the V2 Integrated processor and the QN2e noise-cancelling processor. Sony has been fighting a hard battle with Bose headphones for the best noise-cancelling for years. According to the Japanese internal Sony WF-1000XM5 tests, the new model offers the best noise suppression to date, which has become even more effective than on the XM4.
Like Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds 2, these headphones are said to be better at dampening a wider range of frequencies. In our tests, there was no clear winner in terms of noise cancellation. The Bose headphones also have excellent noise cancellation, as do Apple’s AirPods Pro 2. All three of these earbuds feature adaptive noise-cancellation, with Bose allowing you to adjust the strength of the ANC using different mode settings. And they all use increasingly powerful processors and software algorithms to interpret and suppress ambient noise.
At the same time, this makes it difficult to name a clear winner. The noise cancellation of the individual models sometimes works a little better or worse under certain conditions. In addition, there are the matching earplugs, which seal better or worse depending on the personal shape of the ear. In addition, the software algorithms are regularly updated and optimized at best, which can change the overall picture again.
There are also improvements in sound quality thanks to the new speakers and processors. Just like with the ANC, the sound also applies to the fact that the XM4 already sounded excellent. However, the Sony WF-1000XM5 offered a somewhat cleaner sound with finer highs and clearer mids in the test. The bass also has a slightly better definition. Everything has been tightened up a bit to make the earphones sound even more precise. From an audiophile point of view, that’s great. A large, voluminous sound with a beautiful depth nevertheless allows nuances such as individual instruments to be clearly recognized.
An Apple iPhone 14 Pro, a Google Pixel 7 Pro and a Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra were used as sound sources. The Sony WF-1000XM5 sounded a little warmer in the test than the AirPods Pro 2, which also offer excellent sound for their size. However, the XM5 have a slight advantage in the overall sound balance, while the Apple AirPods sometimes sounded a bit louder. The vocals in particular seemed a bit more natural with the Sonys and the XM5 sounded a bit more refined overall. However, sound is very subjective and some people might prefer the sound of the AirPods Pro 2.
Voice calls via the Sony WF-1000XM5
When it comes to voice calls, Sony advertises the “best-ever call quality”. The earbuds feature bone conduction sensors, which Sony says “pick up the vibration of your voice directly from your skull bones, helping to isolate your speech from ambient sounds and background noise for clear calls, even in loud environments.”
And it really seems as if the Japanese are hardly exaggerating. The call quality and especially the noise reduction was so good in our Sony WF-1000XM5 review that we can actually attest to a fairly significant improvement over the XM4. The new processors are certainly a factor in the leap. Despite our tests on fairly busy streets, the call quality of the Sony WF-1000XM5 was always very good and the headphones were unruffled.
Battery life on the WF-1000XM5 is the same as the XM4: around 8 hours on a single charge with noise canceling on and the volume set to medium, and up to 12 hours with ANC off. The charging case brings two additional full charges. That’s a few hours more than the AirPods Pro 2, so overall a very good battery life.
In our review, the Sony WF-1000XM5 scored with an excellent sound, various features and excellent active noise cancellation.
- improved sound quality in audio and voice calls
- improved active noise cancellation (ANC)
- Spatial audio with head tracking for Android users
- more compact design
- no Find My features via app
As already mentioned in the introduction to our Sony WF-1000XM5 review, the new earphones from the Japanese are an impressive piece of technology. They’re not perfect, but Sony will release several firmware updates to fix some bugs. For example, the Sony Headphones iOS beta app crashed several times in our test.
But the key takeaway is that Sony has managed to make its flagship earbuds significantly smaller while improving performance at the same time. Minor improvements to noise cancellation and sound quality met slightly larger updates to voice calls. And for Android users, there’s spatial sound with head tracking on top of that.
Apple users can find some advantages in the AirPods Pro 2, be it in terms of fit, features or simply price. The AIrPods Pro 2 also sound great for their size and offer very good noise cancellation. The Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 and the new Beats Studio Buds Plus are also worth a look. The latter also cost significantly less.
But if you are looking for the currently best earphones, you will get the complete package with the Sony WF-1000XM5, especially for Android users.