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Sony has cemented itself as one of the go-to brands for on-ear and in-ear wireless headphones with its flagship 1000XM series of audio products.
That streak continues with the WF-1000XM5 earbuds. These are the best sounding earbuds I have ever reviewed, and best the latest efforts from rivals such as Bose, Apple, and Beats.
It’s hard to believe Sony could improve on 2021’s 5-star WF-1000XM4, but they have (apart from keeping the awful naming convention). The XM5 (as they will now be known) have better design, fit, battery life, and sound.
They are the complete package, particularly if you have an Android phone.
Design & build
Small and compact
Four eartip sizes
Can loosen when eating or talking
I loved the sound of Sony’s WF-1000XM3 and XM4, but their bulky designs were not kind to my small ears. Both fell out constantly, Sony clearly catering to those with larger lugs.
It’s pretty hard to cram such good sound quality into a small design, but Sony has finally done it with the XM5 – not to be confused with the over ear WH-1000XM5. They are smaller than ever (25% vs XM4 and 20% lighter) and use the push in and twist-to-fit method of the XM4.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
Best of all (for me) are a fourth ‘SS’ size of extra small eartips, and every size is polyurethane foam rather than silicone, which creates an airtight seal in the ear. Maybe I just have truly tiny ears, but I still found the buds came loose if I am talking, such as on a video call, or if eating while listening to something. This doesn’t happen to me with the AirPods Pro 2, for example.
Sony calls my review pair ‘silver’, but they are definitely beige. You can also get standard issue black.
The buds are a glossy plastic, but the touch sensitive outer part is matt, as is the compact charging case. That touch area allows for taps or holds to do things such as pause or play audio, toggle noise cancelling, or change volume. Unfortunately, you can’t swipe to change volume, instead tapping four times on left for down and four on right for up – not the most intuitive.
The buds, but not the case, are IPX4 splash proof, so light rain and sweat shouldn’t be an issue. Sony says it’s using recycled materials in “multiple parts of the headphone body and case” but also noted this is “subject to change”. The packaging is recyclable and made from bamboo, sugarcane, and post-consumer recycled paper.
Hi-Res support with LDAC
These are the best sounding earbuds I’ve ever used, and I have used scores of the things. Sony knows how to tune its headphones and the WF-1000XM5 produce incredibly full, clear, detailed and balanced sound.
Sony has rebranded the drivers in the buds as ‘Dynamic Driver X’, but I guess it doesn’t matter if the name sucks because these buds really do deliver exceptionally good audio range. The size has increased from 6mm in the XM4 up to 8.4mm, and it shows magnificently.
‘Speed of Plight’ by Loyle Carner is well rounded with humming bass and the crackle of vinyl record at the beginning crystal clear. The vocal is clear, and the earbuds cope well with a mix that can sound muddy on lesser audio products.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
I’d never noticed the light reverb on the drums on Violent Femmes’s ‘Blister in the Sun’ before I listened on the WF-1000XM5. The acoustic guitar jangles on, well panned and balanced, on a bright reproduction.
Likewise, the upfront vocals on Jonathan Fire Eater’s ‘The Search For Cherry Red’ have an echo to them I hadn’t noticed before when listening on the XM5s.
As standard, the XM5 play audio using the common SDC or AAC codecs, but you’ll get the best sound quality if you are using an Android phone – iPhones do not support Sony’s LDAC Hi-Res codec. Using a Sony Xperia 1 IV, I streamed trackers in High Fidelity quality on Deezer, using the Sony Headphones app to ensure LDAC was enabled.
There is a subtle improvement to audio quality when bothering to turn LDAC on and use a Hi-Res Audio Wireless streaming service, but the XM5 are so good that I still enjoyed the audio quality when using an iPhone with bog standard bitrate Spotify streams.
If you can’t use LDAC, or your streams or MP3s are lower quality, Sony’s DSEE Extreme software can upscale compressed audio on the fly with good results.
Kae Tempest’s ‘More Pressure’ pulses with an urgency I simply couldn’t get out of the Beats Studio Buds+ or even the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2. The WF-1000XM5 give the programmed kick drum a deep thump that brings more character to the track than when I listened with the similarly priced Bose, which sounded a little flat.
The same goes for the Apple AirPods Pro 2, which sound thin in comparison – Sony has Apple and Bose beat here for sound quality at this price point, which is some feat.
Noise cancelling & smart features
Excellent, adaptive noise cancelling
Two simultaneous connections
Great EQ customisation
Sony says the XM5 have 20% better noise cancellation chops than the XM4. They are very good indeed, and, with the right seal, nearly on par with the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2. For pure noise blocking the Bose edge it slightly, but that’s because they fit me better than the Sony. The buds also auto pause audio when you take one out.
The XM5 have three mics on each bud, up from two, to better help capture ambient noise that the software can then battle with its active noise cancelling (ANC) tech. There’s a new Sony Integrated Processor V2 processor on board especially to help with this as well as an HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN2e chip.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
These mics also handle improved call quality, with people I rang commenting I sounded clear. Wind reduction is also decent so the mics don’t funnel loud wind noises into your ears like lesser buds do.
The Sony Headphones app offers great granular control over ANC and ambient sound levels, the latter with 20 levels of choice and an option to let voices pass through but not noise, which works quite well. ‘Speak to Chat’ automatically disables ANC when you talk so you can chat to people without removing the buds, too.
The equaliser is also improved with a new ‘Find your equalizer’ feature that lets you play any track and pick from a few settings at different frequencies to see which you prefer, creating a custom EQ setting at the end.
You can connect two devices (iOS, Android, Windows, or Mac) at once thanks to multi-point technology but you still need to manually connect each device if you are cycling between more than two. So, if your phone and laptop are the connected devices the buds will play audio from whichever you choose, but they aren’t clever enough to switch to your tablet if you start using that, even if they are already a paired device.
Henry Burrell / Foundry
I also encountered some connectivity issues when taking the buds out for a short period. When putting them back in, sometimes they would have disconnected from the device I was using, or only one bud would connect.
Thankfully, when connected the XM5 are very stable, and I didn’t come across any Bluetooth jitters even when in very crowded areas of London. You’ll get the best connection if your devices are Bluetooth 5.3, the newest standard the buds support, and you can turn on spatial audio head tracking in apps such as Netflix or YouTube if you have an Android 13 phone that supports it. I didn’t have such a phone to hand during my testing.
There’s also Sony’s impressive 360 Reality Audio, but this only works in apps such as Tidal and I prefer not to use it.
You can also set ‘Adaptive Sound Control’ where the buds will automatically change settings such as ANC levels depending on your action (walking, running, sitting) or location (which you can set) such as home and office.
There’s even a new Spotify Tap feature that says you can double tap the left earbud and Spotify should play a song it thinks you will like based on your recent plays. I could not get this to work.
Battery life & charging
Eight hours on a charge
24 hours total with case
USB-C and wireless charging
The XM5 have great battery life and in my use stayed true to Sony’s promise of eight hours on a full charge. The buds charge up in the nice dinky case, which overall can provide 24 hours of total listening time when juiced to the max.
These impressive numbers are also with ANC turned on, so you’ll get even longer if you switch it off (up to 36 hours). The downside, for XM4 owners, is that this isn’t an improvement (unless you factor the smaller size of the buds while keeping the same numbers).
If they die, you can also get an hour’s playback from a three minute charge. There’s a USB-C cable included in the box, but no wall plug. Stand the case on a Qi charging pad and it’ll charge too.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
Price & availability
The Sony WF-1000XM5 cost $299.99/£259. In the UK you can buy them direct from Sony once they start shipping on 4 August.
This is expensive (slightly more than the XM4 at launch price), but it’s the cost of getting the best on the market. The AirPods Pro 2 cost $249/£249 while the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 will set you back $299/£279.95.
The Sony have the best audio quality, but the AirPods are hard to resist if you have all Apple products. I really like the Bose too, though their design is bulkier than Sony’s or Apple’s, and they have fewer smart features.
At the time of release in July 2023, the Sony WF-1000XM5 are the best true wireless earbuds you can buy. They have a winning combination of incredible sound quality, excellent noise cancelling, great battery life, and truly clever smart features.
The fit finally caters for smaller ears and the ANC quality goes toe to toe with usual market leader Bose for performance and still has more features.
But the best thing here is the sound quality for music where the XM5 are truly unsurpassed. They have incredible range, easily handling deep booming bass with clear mids and crisp highs no matter the genre. With three mics on each bud, they’re also great for video and phone calls.
Every year I wonder how Sony can improve its headphones but the company has done it again. If you have $300/£300 spare and you want the best earbuds possible, buy the WF-1000XM5.
8.4mm Dynamic Driver X drivers
Sony Headphones app
Active noise cancellation
Wireless: Bluetooth 5.3, SBC, AAC, LDAC, Hi-Res Audio Wireless
Henry is Tech Advisor’s Phones Editor, ensuring he and the team covers and reviews every smartphone worth knowing about for readers and viewers all over the world. He spends a lot of time moving between different handsets and shouting at WhatsApp to support multiple devices at once.