You can’t discuss the best wireless earbuds without mentioning Sony. The company's XM series has brought us two critically acclaimed entries: the WF-1000XM4 and WF-1000XM5. Both models have earned near-perfect scores (4.5 out of 5 stars) from Tom’s Guide, with the WF-1000XM5 acknowledged by most critics and experts as the current class leader.
The WF-1000XM5 earbuds serve as the in-ear counterpart to the WH-1000XM5, one of our best wireless headphones, delivering one of the “most well-rounded wireless earbud packages” backed by “best-in-class sound, improved noise cancelation, and a smaller, lighter design.” All of Sony’s elite sound technologies and smart features come included, along with updated features such as Bluetooth 5.3, new processors, and spatial audio with headtracking.
Splurging on the WF-1000XM5 flagship buds ($299 / £259 / AU$499) is well worth the investment to take in the full Sony true wireless experience. However, that doesn’t make them the brand’s best value.
Two of the best Sony headphones are considered elite options at unbeatable prices: the LinkBuds S ($199 / £180 / AU$349) and the WF-C700N ($119 / £99 / AU$199). The previous-gen WF-1000XM4 ($279 / £250 / AU$348) can also be included in the conversation. They're still available and can often be found discounted online. In fact, we’ve recently seen them drop as low as $198 at Amazon.
Although not Sony's flagship model, these mid-range earbud options get you much of the same high-level brand experience but for considerably less. Keep scrolling to find out more.
1. Sony’s signature audio features aren’t exclusive to their top model
Every company from Apple to Jabra keeps specific features exclusive to their latest flagship release. Sony doesn’t, at least when it comes to proprietary sound technologies. All their wireless earbuds support 360 Reality Audio, DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine), and Sony’s customizable EQ with multiple presets via Headphones Connect app. Mid-range choices like the LinkBuds S also possess Sony’s LDAC codec for smooth, clear-sounding streams at faster than aptX bitrates. All these features perform as well on every other Sony model as they do on the WF-1000XM5, specifically DSEE, which upscales clarity and reproduction on lo-fi recordings.
The WF-1000XM5 takes advantage of dual-processing (HD Noise Canceling and V2 chipsets) and a new Dynamic Driver X unit that widens frequency range for spacious sound. Even so, the older WF-1000XM4 sound just as great, while the LinkBuds S and WF-C700N produce vibrant, detailed audio that complements Sony’s heralded sonic pedigree.
2. Similar battery life capacity
When it comes to playtimes, the LinkBuds S and WF-C700N aren’t too far off from the WF-1000XM5: 6 to 9 hours and 7.5 to 10 hours, respectively. Meanwhile, the WF-1000XM4 offer the same battery life as their successor: 8 to 12 hours. Where the latest Mark buds have an edge is overall battery life, as their charging case holds the most of any Sony entry at 36 hours.
Quick charging comes included on all these models, though wireless charging is limited to the Mark series. Either way, the difference in portable power isn’t massive. Also, Sony’s mid-range buds hold a charge longer than most luxury buds.
3. Effective ANC performance
The WF-1000XM5 demonstrate the strongest noise reduction, thanks to a higher microphone count, more processing power, and wind-resistant mesh grills. It’s not an exaggeration to call them some of the best noise-cancelling earbuds that rival the current ANC king, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2.
At the same time, the WF-1000XM4 arguably remain a top 5 noise-canceller with the same powerfully adaptive noise-cancelling circuitry as the WH-1000XM4 headphones and tunable ambient mode (up to 20 levels). The LinkBuds S and WF-C700N are not to be overlooked either. Both deliver highly effective noise neutralization and have the same transparency mode, which performs exceptionally on all Sony wireless earbuds.
Solid performance across all Sony models
Many believe that Sony’s biggest competitor in the true wireless category is Apple. I disagree. Sony’s biggest competitor is Sony, as buyers seek the strongest performance they can get at the best price. The flagship WF-1000XM5 added a small price increase over the previous generation, which in the current economic climate is going to sting.
The fact that their mid-tier selections check off many of the same boxes as the WF-1000XM5 and sell for $119 to $199 says it all. It’s a no-brainer to give the LinkBuds S or WF-C700N a shot at their bargain rate, especially when comparing price to overall performance.