I ditched my Sony WH-1000XM5 for the Nothing Ear — here’s what happened

The Sony WH-1000XM5 laying on the ground next the Nothing Ear wireless earbuds.
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Switching from a pair of the best over-ear headphones to a set of budget wireless earbuds wasn't something I was looking forward to. However, as an experiment, I wanted to see what would happen if I traded out my beloved Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones for the significantly cheaper Nothing Ear earbuds. 

Could Nothing’s new stylishly chic, $149 set of noise-cancelling buds seriously stand up to some of the best noise-cancelling headphones? Would they even sound comparable to one another? 

I needed answers. And after a week-long swap, I think I finally got them.

Short on sound quality, but big on smarts

Let's start with the bad — and most obvious — news first: The $349 Sony WH-1000XM5 sound much better than Nothing's new earbuds. 

And yet, while the quality of sound might not be on par with the XM5s, the Nothing Ear brings it most in its personalized audio immersion, with a slew of EQ and amplification features that allows for you to net that perfect sound that you can fiddle to perfection with in the Nothing X app. In it, you can take a quick sound test to get an ample feel for the best quality audio that matches your ears, then you can even set the intensity of that EQ and change the level across a richer, recommended, or softer tonality. And that’s not all, as the Nothing X app also lets you customize the bass on top of that, across a total of 5 levels. 

Sony’s XM5 headphones have a similar functionality in the Find Your Equalizer feature, in addition to a variety of specific EQ settings, like "Bright," "Relaxed," "Bass Boost," and more — but I found Nothing's version to be far more user-friendly. 

The trade-off: Portability for comfort

Given their size, over-ear headphones do come with the major flaw of being bulky and rather difficult to hide when you’re not using them. 

The Nothing Ear, on the other hand, doesn't suffer from this constraint. As tiny buds that weigh no more than a quarter, they rest snugly inside their protective charging case, which can easily fit inside most pockets. The XM5s would require me to dangle around my neck or pack away inside a bag, both of which aren’t too convenient. 

The Nothing Ear worn by Tom's Guide's Ryan Epps.

(Image credit: Future)

Unfortunately, sticking them in my ear for hours on end just wasn't that comfortable. I typically had to readjust the buds in my ears to have better sound quality and general comfort, especially when talking on calls, which the Sony XM5s have practically all the time in active use. 

Herein lies the major kerfuffle of earbuds over headphones. Do you want easy travel companions or the best sound around? Overall, I found the Nothing Ear earbuds were fine in the comfort department, but not general ease-of-use. Add to that some weird audio issues (the Nothing Ear would sometimes drop in quality if I was walking through a crowded area like Times Square) and it’s clear to me the XM5s are just too hard to beat. 

Can Nothing's earbuds erase all the outside noise?

On the active noise cancelling side of things, the Sony XM5s do still reign supreme given that cone of protection around the ears. The Nothing Ear didn't slouch, though: Despite being small earbuds at just $149, they pack quite a punch in drowning out my surroundings, erasing up to 45dB of ambient noise. You can even set the ANC to a variety of levels, including High, Mid, Low, and Adaptive. 

That should help Nothing's Ear to rank among the best noise-cancelling earbuds, though it's still up against tough competition like the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 and the Sony WF-1000XM5

Random signal interference and audio drop-out in busy intersections throughout New York City really made me miss the XM5s.

For the most part, the noise-cancellation worked great but, as I mentioned earlier, random signal interference and audio drop-out in busy intersections throughout New York City really made me miss the XM5s. 

I'm hoping that this issue is simply due to the fact that the Nothing Ear is a new product, one that will still have its kinks before officially launching come April 22. It could also have something to do with it using a smaller Bluetooth radio, but it's entirely unclear at this time why these audio cuts were happening — and I wish I could amend them, as it often ruined the otherwise rock-solid noise-cancellation. 

In the end, I went back to the Sony WH-1000XM5

The Sony WH-1000XM5 being worn by Tom's Guide's Ryan Epps.

(Image credit: Future)

At the end of a long week, I was ready to put the buds back in their case and go back to the Sony WH-1000XM5. They're the best headphones for a reason.

Admittedly, that was the expected outcome — I was comparing $150 earbuds against a $320 set of headphones — but I'm happy I followed through with it.

Nothing is only just getting started in its deliverance of sound audio products, witnessed primarily in earbud design. Its new Ear serves as a well-rounded budget pair of ANC earbuds with a ton of personalization at your fingertips. 

While they might not become my daily drivers over Sony's XM5s, they will most certainly be my go-to fitness and more on-the-go audio solution when it's too cumbersome to break out the XM5s.

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Ryan Epps
Staff Writer

Ryan Epps is a Staff Writer under the TV/AV section at Tom's Guide focusing on TVs and projectors. When not researching PHOLEDs and writing about the next major innovation in the projector space, he's consuming random anime from the 90's, playing Dark Souls 3 again, or reading yet another Haruki Murakami novel.