Update: First published July 24, this review was updated on September 19 with the reviewer's experience when using an iPhone as a music player.
Price: $299 / £259 / AU$499
Colors: Black, silver
Battery life (rated): 8 hours (ANC on), 24 hours (with charging case), Quick charge provides up to 1 hour of playback from a 3-minute charge
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3 (codec support: SBC, AAC, LDAC)
Processor: Sony V2
Water resistance: IPX4
Size: Not specified
Weight: Not specified
I was lucky enough to be among the first to experience the Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds. Although there are some compromises (more on that below), the Sony's newest flagship noise-canceling wireless earbuds have pretty much everything I hoped for.
With plentiful upgrades headlined by an all-new Sony V2 audio processor that enables powerful Bluetooth 5.3 connectivity, stronger sound, and even better active noise cancellation, there's plenty to get excited about — especially if you're using a music playback device with LDAC or LHDC Bluetooth codec support.
Much like the WF-1000XM4 that introduced a new design when they arrived in June 2021, the new WF-1000XM5 have a completely different design that's around 25% smaller and approximately 20% lighter than their predecessor. They look really smart with a softer and more ergonomic styling, too. Discover how the two models compare in our Sony WF-1000XM5 vs. Sony WF-1000XM4 face-off.
Following a European unveiling in June, I've spent several weeks testing Sony's hotly anticipated next-gen flagship wireless earbuds. I've been streaming my favorite albums and playlist tracks on Tidal HiFi via an LDAC-capable Sony Xperia 1 IV phone supplied by Sony for this review. It's installed with a beta version of the forthcoming Headphones Connect app, and the official version of the app will arrive in a firmware update when the WF-1000XM5s go on sale.
With the luxury of several weeks of testing time under my belt, it’s safe to call the WF-1000XM5 one of the best wireless earbuds as well as one of the best noise-cancelling earbuds money can buy. Performance is more refined all round, and although battery life remains the same as their predecessor, new app features help to elevate the listening experience to make the XM5 one of the most well-rounded wireless earbud packages I've heard.
As you'd expect, not everything hits the mark though, and the redesigned smaller earbuds may present some frustrating eartip fit issues for some users. Read on to find out how the Sony WF-1000XM5 perform in my full review below, and to discover if they are the best wireless earbuds I've heard so far this year.
Sony WF-1000XM5 review: Cheat sheet
- The new design offers all-day comfort and is approximately 25% smaller and 20% lighter than their predecessor.
- A new dynamic speaker driver combines several different materials for the dome and the edge to achieve a rich bass sound with low distortion and more natural sounding vocals.
- Sony’s best-ever call quality thanks to clear voice tech that uses a combination of AI-based noise reduction algorithm and bone conduction sensors.
- Strong list of features including 360 Reality Audio with headtracking, voice assistant support, adaptive sound control, Speak-to-Chat, multipoint connect, Google Fast Pair and Swift Pair.
- Made from recycled plastic and environmentally conscious materials.
Sony WF-1000XM5 review: Price and release date
- On sale now priced at $299 / £259 / AU$499
- Available in gloss black and silver color options
The Sony WF-1000XM5 were announced on July 24, 2023 and cost $299 / £259 / AU$499. They're available in black and silver color options in all territories. They can be purchased directly from the Sony store and online retailers including Amazon, Best Buy, and Crutchfield.
At the price, they're in direct competition with some of the best wireless earbuds including the Apple AirPods Pro 2 ($249 / £249 / AU$399) — discover how they compare in our Sony WF-1000XM5 vs. AirPods Pro 2 face-off — and the best noise-canceling earbuds such as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 ($299 / £279 / AU$429). It's not difficult to see though that there are some irregular pricing variations between different territories.
Sony WF-1000XM5 review: Design and fit
- 20% lighter and 25% smaller than the WF-1000XM4
- Comes with additional SS size eartips, but fit may be more tricky for some
There's no question about it, the outgoing Sony WF-1000XM4 were beginning to look a little too bulky compared to the sleek earbud designs of newer rivals. It's good to see then that the WF-1000XM5 brings a refreshed design that's around 20% lighter and 25% smaller. They're less obtrusive and designed to sit more discretely in the ears. The charging case is also more compact, too.
Speaking of which, the smaller and lighter charging case swaps the long LED light on the front of the XM4 case for small dot to indicate battery level and pairing status. There's a copper Sony logo on the top lid.
The WF-1000XM5 earbuds use a mix of gloss and matte finishes. They drop the distinctive copper ring detail of the XM4 for a smaller copper vent beneath which lies an ANC mic. The small copper Sony logo on the side is a nice touch, too.
Eartip sizes have been increased, and the WF-1000XM5 come with SS-size tips giving users a choice of four eartips sizes to help more wearers get a stronger and more secure fit overall.
Getting the right eartip fit presented me with the first challenge with Sony's new design. For some reason, the short stem on the earbud that gets inserted into the ear canal meant that I needed to jump up a size from my usual medium-sized eartips and go with the largest option available.
The new smaller earbud design didn't allow me to insert the medium eartips far enough into my ear canal to get a good acoustic seal. The largest size eartips gave a more reliable fit and seal if I applied some slight force when inserting the earbuds.
It was handy having the Sony’s Optimal Earbud Tips in the Headphones Connect app to test the fit, as I found I had to take the test every time I put them on to ensure I was getting the best acoustic seal for the noise canceling and adaptive sound features to work effectively. I regularly needed to make appropriate adjustments to get the best ft, particularly with the right earbud, which often took several attempts to get an optimum seal. This isn't something I've ever encountered with the Sony WF-1000XM4 or with the AirPods Pro 2, where I still wear the medium-sized eartips and get a perfect fit and seal every time.
After some perseverance with getting the fit right, comfort levels were reliable during my test and I had no issue wearing the WF-1000XM5 for long periods. They're perhaps not quite up to the all-day comfort levels offered by the Technics EAH-AZ80, but the new XM5s feel a good bit lighter than the XM4 I was used to and reaps rewards in terms of comfort.
Like the XM4, the new earbuds are rated to IPX4 for sweat and water resistance so you can wear them at the gym for workouts. However, I found them unsuitable for running and I wouldn't rank them among the best running headphones.
This wasn't because of any issues with the fit; they remained firmly in place without any slippage. It was the sound of my feet pounding the ground that transferred into the earbuds, making every step and jog thud loudly in my ears. Having noise canceling enabled didn't alleviate the thudding sound from my footsteps. I've tried running with the AirPods Pro 2, which seem to be able to suppress or better isolate the sound of these external vibrations, but the microphonic effect that amplified external vibrations on the Sonys felt very intrusive.
Sony WF-1000XM5 review: Touch controls and digital assistant
- Strong touch and head gesture controls
- Effective voice assistant support
As with previous generations, touch controls accurately handled tap commands. Functions can be assigned to either bud and have the usual single, double, and triple taps or long press method.
A Quick Attention mode is auto enabled on the left earbud in the companion app, and drops the volume down to about 10% so you can hear what’s happening around you without removing the buds. Removing one of the buds from my ear automatically paused playback.
Sony's voice prompts when switching between ambient and noise canceling modes seem to have been dropped from the XM5 and the updated app, but otherwise control features are the strongest I've encountered.
Speak-to-Chat was one of my favorite features on the WF-1000XM4, and I am happy to see it implemented on the new flagship. This uses the mics and advanced signal processing to recognize your voice, pausing music and enabling transparency mode automatically when the mics, along with the bone conduction sensors, detect a conversation. As useful as it is, remember to switch it off if you're in a chatty environment.
Additionally, Head Gesture control activates motion sensors to enable users to accept incoming calls by shaking or nodding their head. This is a new functionality to me, and one I discovered for the first time on the Cleer Audio ARC II Sport open-ear headphones, which works in a similar way.
Voice assistant functionality runs to Google Assistant and Alexa integration, or you can use whatever assistant is built into your playback device. All worked well, and Sony’s mic array had great speech recognition with my voice commands controlling playback hands free.
Sony WF-1000XM5 review: Sound quality
- Wide frequency range and balanced response
- Dynamic sound with natural vocals
- Best performance with LDAC playback device
One of the most striking things about the Sony WF-1000XM5 is the level of detail when listening to any performance. Streaming Tidal HiFi via an LDAC-enabled Sony Xperia 1 IV phone and selecting tracks I know well still managed to highlight surprising new elements in the music mix, and the new Sonys are without doubt one of the most engaging and musical listens I've heard from a pair of wireless earbuds.
The frequency range is wide and the mid detail levels brought to vocals is some of the most realistic I've heard. Voices had more presence and a sense of realism. Tracks sounded subtly different while also being familiar at the same time.
The WF-1000XM5 extract more information than most, and deliver extra detail levels that can easily go unnoticed on lesser earbuds. It's not that the frequency range is boosted in any particular area, just that they're able to get to the heart of whatever you're playing in an effortless and musical manner.
With the WF-1000XM4, our reviewer said that the stereo imaging was phenomenal. And I'd say that the soundstage from the new XM5 is even better. Maybe that's because of the new dynamic driver that uses a combination of materials to handle different parts of the frequency range that makes nuanced instruments and vocals sound so realistic. Either way, it's an utterly engaging element of the listening experience.
I am a sucker for a movie score, and the guitar on "Cinema Paradiso (Love Theme)" is a real triumph when played on the new Sonys. I could almost believe it was being played right in front of me, while the robustious performance of "Like a Dog Chasing Cars" from the movie The Dark Knight was breathtaking.
Bass was rich and dynamic without ever being overblown. It felt perfectly proportioned and dug deep enough to handle whatever bass beats I played with the kind of detail that drew me into whatever I listened to rather than sounding murky and fatiguing.
Effects and background details I hadn't noticed before seemed to come to the fore, making it easier to follow every instrument stand playing in the music mix. I've listened to Julia Holter's "Feel You" hundreds of times, but I don't recall ever being aware of the additional twiddles given to the string instruments or the low level details buried in the recording. This track was bursting with extra detail on the new Sonys. Similarly, Kate Bush's vocal on "Dream of Sheep" sounds even more beautiful and dreamlike with a superb balance between bass and treble detail, and listening on the Sony WF-1000XM5 brought new insight to a familiar recording.
Additionally, occasional stereo sounds appeared to come from outside my head. At times, the sound was almost like listening to a great pair of open-back, over-ear headphones, such was the natural, airy, and spacious sound the Sonys delivered. In fact, some low level studio noises in Nils Fram's "Some" recording like the piano's foot peddle being pressed or the creaking floorboards sounded so convincing that they had me peeking around my home office to see if there was someone in the room with me.
Sony's DSEE Extreme is pretty standard audio feature inclusion these days on many of the best Sony headphones. It helps make a difference to low-fi tracks by replacing some of the audio signal information that's been sacrificed during the compression process of some music file formats, although it's quite demanding on power and quickly has an impact on battery life.
360 Reality Audio is another popular Sony feature. It's basically the company's answer to Apple’s spatial audio and brings a 3D effect to supported music. Head tracking support has been added, but I found setting up the 360 Reality Audio personalization process a little awkward. Even after several attempts and closely following the voice prompts and guidance, I failed to get the app to recognize my ears to enable it to personalize the 360 Reality Audio sound. This may have something to do with beta version of the app I was using, and is something I'll be exploring further when the new version is fully released.
Additional listening test with iPhone
As I mentioned in my opinion piece on listening to the Sony WF-1000XM5 via an iPhone, I found the sound quality from AAC wasn't quite as good. Listening to exactly the same content with the earbuds connected to my iPhone 12 Pro from my Tidal HiFi playlist wasn't quite the same once I'd heard the full glory of their audio performance via an LDAC-enabled device. If anything the new WF-1000XM5 don't sound much of a step up from the Sony WF-1000XM4 last-gen wireless earbuds, partly because I was more easily able to hear the shortcomings of the AAC codec being used on my iPhone.
I'm not saying the XM5s sound bad on my iPhone by any stretch. Just that the sound isn't nearly as detailed in terms of being able to follow different instrument parts and layers that make up any music mix. By comparison, the Bluetooth audio from my iPhone sounds less refined, making the overall experience feel less immersive and engaging as a result.
Sony WF-1000XM5: Active noise canceling and transparency mode
- 20% more effective noise canceling
- Effective adaptive ANC performance
As with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II and AirPods Pro 2, Sony has ramped up its ANC performance. The WF-1000XM5 noise-canceling tech claims to reduce ambient noise by approximately 20% more than it did with the WF-1000XM4. That's difficult to measure, but the combination of Sony's more powerful V2 chipset and HD Noise Canceling processor certainly does seem to deliver remarkably effective results, and easily ranks as one of the best noise-canceling earbuds out there.
Noise-canceling settings can be auto adjusted on the fly based on your surroundings. This was as effective as any other adaptive ANC mode I've heard, enabling me to move seamlessly between different environments while the earbuds auto adjusted to the noise levels accordingly.
At the gym and on my morning work commutes, the WF-1000XM5 minimized the impact of all kinds ambient sounds while I listened to my favorite music or caught up on a podcast. It's important to mention that you need to ensure you get the best acoustical seal with the correct size eartips and to spend time making fine adjustments, otherwise external sounds can easily break through.
Issues from wind noise appeared to be reduced in my tests, and I didn't encounter any issues during my outdoor runs or while waiting for a train on a windy station platform.
Ambient Noise Control is adjustable from 1 to 20. Raising it each level opens up the mics to enable more external sounds to be heard. There's also an option to focus on voice, while automatic switching adjusts the settings based on your location and actions.
Sony WF-1000XM5 review: Battery life
- Same 8 hour battery life with 24 hours from the charging case as WF-1000XM4
- Qi-compatible and wirelessly chargeable from Xperia devices
I was hoping for a step up in battery life with the arrival of the WF-1000XM5, but the figures are exactly the same as the XM4 with up to 8 hours with ANC on. That's still pretty strong when you consider that the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II and AirPods Pro 2 both offer just 6 hours of battery life from a single charge.
Sony's battery optimization is also strong, and the XM5 earbuds squeeze out every bit of juice before they need a recharge. When you do need to them top up, a 3-minute quick charge can give up to 1 hour of use.
The charging case also gives the same capacity and holds around 24 of use with ANC enabled. It's Qi-compatible and you can even keep it wirelessly topped up via compatible Xperia devices.
Sony WF-1000XM5 review: Call quality and connectivity
- Improved call quality
- Bluetooth 5.3 with LE Audio support
Sony's wireless earbuds haven't always been the strongest when it comes to voice calls. The company has seemingly recognized that this is a big part of how many wearers use their earbuds though, and has upped its game accordingly. My partner mentioned that my voice was clear and had none of the muffling that was associated with the XM4. The improvement is likely due to the noise reduction engine with AI that's able to make voices clear even in noisy surroundings. Wind noise was kept to a minimum too, thanks to the mesh on the feed forward microphone helping to reduce its influence during calls.
Bluetooth 5.3 is the most robust connectivity standard right now. It's more resilient to external interference and supports Bluetooth LE Audio that also brings energy efficiency benefits. This doubtlessly aids the performance demands of the more powerful onboard V2 processor without sacrificing battery life.
Multipoint connectivity is also onboard, meaning you can connect the earbuds to two devices simultaneously. Opening the charging case will enable Pair Mode and the buds will automatically pop up on your available devices list. Google Fast Pair and Swift Pair are also on board.
Sony WF-1000XM5 review: Verdict
Awkward eartip fit and finicky 360 Reality Audio personalization issues aside, the Sony WF-1000XM5 are a major step up in sound quality to my ears. They offer one of the best-sounding wireless earbud experiences I've heard, and the elite noise cancelation, outstanding features via the awesome Headphones Connect app make these a very sweet and worthwhile upgrade indeed.
In the current economic climate though, any increase in price is going to sting. Thankfully, Sony seems to has pitched its next-gen model about right. Despite some rumors of a major price hike, the WF-1000XM5 wireless earbuds don't feel overpriced and they offer exceptional functionality and outstanding levels of performance that makes them entirely worthy of the small U.S. and U.K. price increases. These are undoubtedly the best new wireless earbuds I've heard so far this year, and it's really easy to imagine these are going to be a top contender for the best wireless earbuds of 2023.