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Sony WF-1000XM5 review: A smaller package with top-notch audio

Sony has changed a fair bit up with the WF-1000XM5’s design, along with great active noise cancellation, good battery life and more accompanying features

The Sony WF-1000XM5 buds are 25% smaller and 20% lighter than the WF-1000XM4.(Sony)

By Tushar Kanwar

LAST PUBLISHED 17.10.2023  |  12:00 PM IST

Sony’s flagship earbuds, most recently the WF-1000XM4 launched in 2021, have been widely regarded as the best true wireless earbuds you can buy, period.

With new earbuds launching seemingly every other week, it’s not often that a replacement for something that is as unanimously acclaimed comes along. Say hello to the Sony WF-1000XM5, the latest high-end 1000-series earbuds from Sony that promise all the strengths of the XM4 – top-notch active noise cancellation (ANC), excellent audio quality and great battery life – in a smaller, more comfortable design.

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The 24,990 question is – do the XM5s deserve to inherit the crown of its successor, or is Sony starting to feel the heat from the ever-improving competition?

Design and fit

With the WF-1000XM5, Sony didn’t just iterate on the XM4 design for the new buds, which is a good thing as the previous generation earbuds were bulky and protruded out of the ear considerably. Sony claims the new buds are 25% smaller and 20% lighter (5.9g versus 7.3g), which is instantly noticeable when you place them in your ears the first time. They sit easier on the ear during long listening sessions, and the smoother, curvier lines and better integrated microphones are more discreet when worn.

You get four pairs of foam ear trips, including a new ultra-small SS option, so you may need to try them on for size since Sony relies on the “insert and twist" technique to lodge the buds in your ear canal. Pro tip: if the foam tips don’t form a good seal on your ears and affect your listening/ANC experience, you may want to try looking for compatible silicon tips instead.

Sony has gone with a glossy finish on the sides and a matte finish on the outward-facing touch control areas, which has me a touch conflicted – the glossy finish just doesn’t look as premium as the XM4s and attracts fingerprints, plus it makes pulling them out of the relatively cramped charging case a bit of a task. The case itself is matte finish, supports Qi-wireless charging and is significantly smaller and finally fits into the smaller jeans pockets.

Audio, connectivity and controls

Despite the reduction in physical size, Sony has managed to not only fit an additional microphone and bigger audio drivers in each bud, the latter going from 6.4mm to 8.4mm, but there’s also the Sony V2 chip and the QN2e noise canceling processor for improved noise cancellation.

There’s a proximity sensor to detect when the buds are being worn or taken off, plus a bone conduction sensor that detects when you’re speaking to aid with call clarity, even in noisy environments. Wireless connectivity is via Bluetooth 5.3, with dual-device multi-point connectivity and codec compatibility for SBC, AAC and Sony’s own high resolution LDAC codec.

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The buds get IPX4 splash resistance and touch controls, and you can customize the tap actions for each earbud (up to four taps, along with tap and hold) in the Sony Headphones Connect app for iOS or Android. The app lets you tweak a whole host of features like a five-band equalizer, speak-to-chat and ambient/noise cancellation levels as well.

The new foam ear tips on the WF-1000XM5 do a good job of blocking out ambient noise, but the upgraded ANC with the two new chips is excellent. (Sony)

Sound quality, noise cancellation

With all the features checked off, how do the WF-1000XM5 buds sound? Extremely good, quite frankly, and this is despite the constant comparisons that I made to its predecessor, which I had on hand to compare. Listening to Trampoline by Shaed, it was instantly evident that Sony has emphasized a more balanced sonic signature and a wider soundstage, both of which are a testament to the new 8.4mm dynamic drivers at work.

The XM5s deliver striking, clear highs, clean mids and vocals and deep but not overbearing lows, and this is at the default preset – you can always visit the EQ in the app to tweak the sound to your preferences. If that’s not enough, you can enable Adaptive Sound Control, which lets you set custom noise cancellation and EQ profiles based on your location or activity, so you could bump up the bass at the gym and pick a more neutral sound when at work. Speaking of work, call quality benefits from the three mics per earbuds, cutting out outside noises to focus only on carrying your voice onwards to the listener.

Onto noise isolation and cancellation – the new foam ear tips do a good job of blocking out ambient noise, but the upgraded ANC with the two new chips is excellent. It dampens out regular humming sounds like engines and ACs really well, and significantly dampens higher pitched, irregular sounds as well so much so that I didn’t regret leaving the bigger over-the-ears WH-1000XM5s at home for a bunch of quick trips to Delhi over the past couple of weeks.

They’ll be great for the everyday commuter, frequent flyers and anyone out and about a lot, and you won’t feel like you compromised to save some space in your bag. It’s even-stevens with the Apple AirPods Pro 2 and the Bose QC Earbuds II as far as ANC performance goes, but the exceptional transparency mode and audio performance means the Sony earbuds pull just ahead.

Add to that, these buds manage nearly 8 hours with ANC enabled, and the case delivers another 16 hours/two charges despite the size reductions in both the buds and the case.

Verdict

Sony changed a fair bit up with the WF-1000XM5’s design – the smaller dimensions will be widely appreciated even if the everyday handling of the slippery earbuds takes a bit of a hit.

Look past that, and you get a comfortable pair of earbuds that offer top-notch audio quality, great ANC to boot and good battery life and accompanying features. No other earbuds offer quite as complete as package as the Sony, at least if you’re buying for an Android/Windows device.

Buying decisions are often influenced by what device you use – an iPhone, perhaps – where compatibility and system support play a big role in which buds you pick up. Are these worth the upgrade from the previous model? I don’t believe so; unless you struggle with making the bulky XM4s stay put in your ears.

Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, posts @2shar.

Also read: Sony LinkBuds S review: a solid mid-tier pair of TWS earbuds