The Sony WF-1000XM5 in-ear true wireless Bluetooth headphones are the latest iteration of Sony’s highly acclaimed flagship noise-canceling earbuds.
Building upon the success of its predecessor, the WF-1000XM4, the WF-1000XM5 introduces a sleeker design, improved ear tips, enhanced active noise cancellation, and a host of other improvements.
Sony WF-1000XM5 headphones: Design and comfort
The WF-1000XM5 headphones are true wireless earbuds and feature a noticeably smaller and lighter design compared to the XM4s and especially the XM3s. They’re now average-sized buds with an average-sized charging case.
With the lighter weight comes a more comfortable and secure fit, particularly for those with smaller ear canals. The buds have Sony’s signature premium design aesthetic, characterized by sleek lines and a minimalist look.
Sony doesn’t pack their premium buds with run-of-the-mill silicon ear tips. Instead, they come with polyurethane foam tips, which are comfortable and pliable and create a tight seal. Most will find them a welcome improvement over the XM4’s memory foam.
The XM5’s ear tips don’t get as dirty and are easier to work with. These tips don’t need as much squeezing, but they still need a squeeze and some finagling to seat them properly in your ears.
If you pick the tips that go into your ears easily, you’ll find that the noise isolation isn’t great — we made this mistake at first. The right ear tips are larger than expected and expand in your ears. They significantly impact sound quality, fit, and noise cancellation. Sony packages have four sizes to choose from, compared to the usual three sizes.
The case looks similar to the previous version but is smaller and lighter. The buds are initially tricky to remove from the case, what with the strong magnet and small size.
Sony WF-1000XM5: Battery life and charging
The WF-1000XM5’s battery offers up to eight hours of music playback with ANC on and an impressive twelve hours without ANC. The charging case extends the playtime up to 24 hours.
These stats are on par with the predecessor, even with their smaller size. The case charges with USB-C and comes with a short USB-A to USB-C cable. Three minutes of quick charging gets you an additional 1 hour of listening, which is impressive.
Sony WF-1000XM5: Features, functionality, and app
The WF-1000XM5 and the Sony Headphones app offer a range of features, with some that enhance the overall user experience. The wear sensor with auto-play and auto-pause is always a favorite.
A nice attention to detail is that the buds automatically turn on ambient sound and pause the music when you take one bud out of your ear: this is one of the few times we appreciated the ambient-aware hear-through sound mode.
If you’re into it, you can have Sony automatically switch between ANC, ambient hear-through, and natural (passive) noise isolation based on location, setting, and preferences. There’s a speak-to-chat feature that automatically pauses your music and activates ambient sound when you start speaking, but we find this more error-prone than helpful.
The face of each button is a touch sensor that controls your phone with taps and long presses. The buttons are easy to press, but accidental presses are common when you put the buds in your ear.
The biggest disappointment with the touch controls is that you can’t customize them — you can only switch between two profiles. One profile offers playback controls, and the other only controls the noise canceling and ambient sound. If you want to control the volume, you tap either bud four times, which isn’t a great experience.
There’s an interesting feature you can enable to allow you to answer or reject incoming phone calls by shaking your head.
The highlight of this app, and most good headphone apps, is the custom equalizer and audio presets. It makes a huge difference, and you can tune these perfectly for your ears and liking. A neat feature even helps you find your ideal tuning through a series of eye exams like this-or-that prompts.
The WF-1000XM5 earbuds are IPX-4 water resistant, support two active Bluetooth connections, and even have spatial audio capabilities with head tracking. Unfortunately, spatial audio only works with a few premium services like Tidal, PeerTracks, or nugs.net.
Sony WF-1000XM5: Noise canceling
As expected, the WF-1000XM5 excels in noise cancellation. Sony continues to set the standard. The WF-1000XM5s effectively block out ambient sounds and create a truly immersive listening experience. We can barely hear the treadmill when walking on it with these headphones.
Commutes are noticeably quieter, and they reduce the loud subway sounds by what sounds like 80% or 90%. They also reduce inconsistent sounds like office chatter. The ANC is very clean and natural, with no hiss or ANC sound: they allow you to listen to music at a much lower level without the distraction of background noise.
These buds even seem like a slight improvement over the previous model. At first, we thought the ANC was much weaker, and then we realized we weren’t using the optimal ear tips. Choosing larger ear tips that expand in the ears led to much better fit, sound, and noise cancellation.
Sony WF-1000XM5 sound performance and audio quality
The WF-1000XM5 delivers the exceptional audio quality you’d expect. We were surprised to hear them sound a bit flat and lacking mid-range punch out-of-the-box. Still, after customizing the tuning, we had them sounding perfectly vibrant and lively.
The audio delivers a lot of clarity and detail that brings music to life. The mids are rich, and they can get very bassy. In addition to the custom equalizer, there’s a separate slider for “clear bass,” and you can set it between -10 and +10. The drivers are 40% larger at 8.4mm. They’re tuned differently than the XM4s, but we didn’t find them to sound noticeably better.
There are three microphones on each earbud and an improved noise reduction algorithm to help with call quality. We find the microphone to be pretty good, but not great. It is good at reducing background noise and loudly isolating our voices.
There’s distortion in our voice, and it doesn’t sound as natural as it could. Despite the microphones not being Sony’s strong suit, they’re a nice improvement over the predecessors and good enough for calls and zooms.
Sony WF-1000XM5 review: Wrapping up
The Sony WF-1000XM5 noise-canceling in-ear true wireless headphones are what to expect from this lineup — they’re an incremental improvement over the predecessors. Still, these premium headphones offer one of the best audio quality and noise-canceling combinations in the wireless earbuds market.
Ultimately, the Sony WF-1000XM5s are top-tier everyday headphones. The new more typical size is a welcome improvement, as are the polyurethane ear tips and fit.
However, these buds are otherwise not a massive upgrade from XM4, so we’d choose between the two models based on price and those particular features. The Sony WF-1000XM5s come in a choice of black or silver and are currently priced at $248 on Amazon. If you can score the XM4s for nearly $100 less, than we recommend you consider the older model.