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Sony WF-1000XM5 review: It's undoubtedly Sony's finest, but does that make it the best?

By Kenny Yeo - 3 Sep 2023

Sony WF-1000XM5 review: It's undoubtedly Sony's finest, but does that make it the best?

Note: This review was first published on 22 August 2023.

With the WF-1000XM5, Sony has improved on its flagship earbuds in nearly every possible way.

In pursuit of perfection

I’m old enough to remember how terribly unreliable early true wireless earbuds were. They had questionable noise cancellation, iffy connection, and woefully short battery lives. However, we put up with it because of the freedom it offered us. Fortunately, much has changed since then and the newest earbuds are all wonderfully competent little things. The issues I mentioned are now almost non-existent. But that hasn’t stopped Sony from trying to make its flagship earbuds better. This is the new WF-1000XM5 and it has many improvements. The question is, has Sony finally nailed it and created the best true wireless earbuds? 

The TL;DR version:

It’s not perfect but this is unquestionably Sony’s finest effort yet. It’s everything an earbud should be – it’s comfortable, sounds good, and eerily good at cancelling unwanted noise. 

The last time Sony released flagship earbuds was two years ago and the company has clearly been hard at work since then because the WF-1000XM5 is drastically different from its predecessor.

 The more compact design means they sit closer and more snugly. (Image source: Sony)

To start, the earbuds themselves are considerably more compact and it comes in black and silver. Like its predecessor, Sony is sticking with a bulbous body shape, eschewing the stick-like design favoured by other companies, but it claims it’s 25% smaller and 20% lighter. I can believe that. They stick out less and sit more comfortably in your ears. I could wear them for hours with no issue. The charging case is smaller too and slides into pockets more easily and discreetly. 

Sony took feedback from users and improved the touch controls so that you can now adjust the volume by default as well as the other usual controls of music playback, and activating the ANC and transparency mode. The problem with this, however, is that it can be confusing and difficult to use at first because the action to use is is four taps and it appears that a particular cadence required to nail it. But with some practice, you’ll soon figure it out.

Though the touch controls have been improved, the actions can be confusing and do need some practice before you can activate them reliably.

Sony has improved the noise cancellation using new chips called the Integrated Processor V2 and HD Noise Cancelling QN2e. Combined with the specially-designed Noise Isolation Earbud Tips – which feel like a cross between silicone and foam ear tips – and new drivers with better low-frequency reproduction, I think this is the best noise cancellation I’ve heard in any earbud. Its ability to surround you in a silent cocoon is uncanny. You see things happening around you and don’t hear them. 

The transparency mode feature that lets you hear your surroundings – handy if you are jogging or walking down a busy street – is significantly better. I still think the AirPods Pro are slightly ahead in this regard, but it very clearly sounds less digitised and more natural than its predecessor. I had no problems using this mode to have conversations. 

The charging case is considerably sleeker and fits more easily into pockets.

Like any other flagship earbud, the WF-1000XM5 features IPX4 water resistance and multipoint connectivity. The latter is crucial because it was a feature missing on its predecessor at launch and was only added via a firmware update some two years later. Multipoint connectivity worked well and I had no issues switching between my two sources.

Users who love to tinker with their devices will appreciate the Headphones app. The app lets you change how the touch inputs work, the level of noise cancellation, the sound signature using the equalizer, the wireless codec used (SBC, AAC, LDAC, LC3), and more. And if you are using an Android device and want spatial audio, you can set it up with 360 Reality Audio by scanning your ears using the app. Unfortunately, this only works with a handful of apps right now that only includes Amazon Music Unlimited, Tidal,, and PeerTracks. Yes, Apple Music isn't supported and Spotify is out of the question because the service doesn't even support spatial audio yet.

The Headphones app seems to grow with more options over the years.

One aspect of the earbuds that’s unchanged is the battery life. You still get up to 8 hours on a single charge and the charging case provides another two full charges for a grand total of 24 hours. I had no problems getting through an entire day of work and it was only on the fourth day that the app notified me that the charging case was running out of juice. For those who intend to use it travelling, it should suffice on all but the longest of flights.

Mic and sound quality

The WF-1000XM5 sounds fantastic.

The combined might of six microphones, bone conduction sensors, and AI-based noise reduction algorithms ensures adequate mic performance. Voices sound clear enough though there’s still a hint of echo to them. It also does a decent job of suppressing unwanted noises even in noisy environments. The issue with the mic performance of these earbuds has always been that the mics are far from your mouth. Considering the limitations, I’d say the WF-1000XM5s do a pretty good job.

The WF-1000XM5 features a new type of driver Sony calls Dynamic Driver X that has a new diaphragm structure designed to deliver a wide frequency response. Interestingly, it measures just 8.4mm, which is quite moderate in size as far as earbud driver sizes go.

The Dynamic Driver X has a 8.4mm driver and a diaphragm structure that uses several different materials to achieve low distortion. (Image source: Sony)

Tonally, it’s punchy, exciting, and balanced. The bass doesn’t overwhelm and the mid-range and treble are both well-judged. There’s just the right amount of thump and sparkle in the sound. Technically, the drivers sound fast and incisive. There’s a clarity to them that’s missing on the older WF-1000XM4. The soundstage is surprisingly wide so it doesn’t sound like it’s stuck in your head. Furthermore, that wide soundstage is complemented by surprisingly precise imaging. It’s not just the best Sony earbuds I’ve heard, it’s one of the best-sounding earbuds, period.

It's Sony's best, but is that enough?

If don't care much for frills, the WF-1000XM5 offers class-leading ANC and sound quality and is one of the best true wireless earbuds right now.

The WF-1000XM5 are undoubtedly Sony’s best earbuds yet. It improves on the WF-1000XM4 in almost every way. It’s more compact, more comfortable to wear, sounds better, has more effective ANC, more natural-sounding mics, and a more convincing transparency mode. It may have a higher launch price than its predecessor – S$419 vs S$379 – but that is well justified given its performance.

But before you run out and get one, here’s one thing to consider. Because some of Sony's rivals also make other devices like phones and tablets, they often have features that are missing on the WF-1000XM5. For example, while the WF-1000XM5 supports multipoint connection with up to two devices, Apple's AirPods can switch between multiple Apple devices thanks to its Continuity feature. Samsung's Galaxy Buds Pro can do the same with Galaxy phones and tablets. And if you want spatial audio on your iPhone? That's only available on AirPods. 

These aren't outright dealbreakers but it shows that the WF-1000XM5 is handicapped in certain ways, particularly against earbuds that come from companies who also make phones and tablets (like Apple, Google, and Samsung) and can offer features on their own earbuds that Sony can’t hope to match.  

Where the WF-1000XM5 counters is with its incredible ANC and sublime sound. It’s a one-two punch that floors many of its rivals, and I count the Apple AirPods Pro and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II in that list. Whether that’s enough will depend very much on your personal preferences and priorities.

I think iPhone owners and readers who are heavily invested in Apple devices will have a hard time turning away from the AirPods Pro, especially since they are excellent earbuds too. The decision might be simpler if you don’t own any Apple devices. Regardless, and as things stand, if you are shopping for flagship true wireless earbuds now, the Sony WF-1000XM5 should be at the very top of your shortlist. 

Note: The Sony WF-1000XM5 is available now and is priced at S$419 and you can find it on Amazon, Lazada, Shopee, and the Sony Online Store.

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  • Design 9
  • Performance 9.5
  • Features 8
  • Value 8
The Good
Amazing noise cancellation
Much improved transparency mode
More compact and portable design
Multipoint support
Good touch controls
Support for LDAC
The Bad
Mic can be better
Not as deeply integrated as rivals
Spatial audio support is patchy
No aptX support
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