Sony WF-1000XM5 Wireless Noise-Canceling Earbuds Review

PRICE $299

Refined sound quality
Exceptional comfort
Top tier noise canceling
Small and discrete Long battery life
Cost more than AirPods Pro

Sony’s latest earbuds are state-of-the-art listening devices that deliver unparalleled comfort and noise canceling capability in a truly wireless earbud style.

The new WF-1000XM5 ($299 MSRP) is the successor to the popular and highly regarded WF-1000XM4, true wireless earbuds that already had a reputation for some of the best noise canceling in the business. With the WF-1000XM5 Sony focused on improving performance while shrinking their size.

While there are seemingly an endless number of headphone Brands and models, Sony’s WF-1000 series stands as one of the most popular premium options. This is especially the case for Android users who are feature-limited when using AirPods Pro.

The new IEM design is notable for being smaller and lighter—and therefore more comfortable. Yet Sony claims they are also more capable. The new model has twice the processing power of the WF-1000XM4 and it offers head tracking.

I have not had enough time with these new Sonys to commit to a full review. That will come in the near future. Right now I'm in first impressions mode and the question on my mind—and I'm sure on many peoples mind— is how do these compare to the Apple AirPods Pro 2nd Generation—which I own and have been using for almost a year now.

Comfort Rules
With the caveat that headphones are always incredibly subjective, I found that these new were more comfortable and less likely to fall out. Both sound good to me, but Sony's sensibilities deliver a slightly different listening experience as compared to the AirPods Pro 2nd Gen.

Let's start with comfort. I think the new Sonys set the standard for a great fit that is non-fatiguing. This was highlighted by the company, the new design is as small and light as possible, to reduce any pressure point on the ear itself. New eartips are said to offer improved comfort and "a more stable fit." I found they stay in my ears with a tenacity that eludes other earbuds and it is a simple matter of fact that my AirPods Pro have jumped out of my ears without my permission on more than one occasion. When I'm outdoors and active that is hugely important because you never know if a fallen earbud is going to be recoverable or not.

But perhaps the real surprise is how the tenacious grip is paired with comfort. So again, while I totally understand that my experience may not necessarily translate to somebody else, if I'm going out biking or riding my one wheel or hiking or walking around a busy city like Philly or New York, the combination of comfortable fit and staying in my ears puts them in contention for first choice when it comes to which earbuds to grab.

Then there is the issue of aesthetics. With AirPods Pro, you get the little stick that—well—sticks out of your ear. Everybody knows you're wearing earbuds from a mile away. And they are available in one color, white. These Sonys are absolutely more discreet and are available in both silver and black. A key question is if there's any negative impact on microphone performance? Not really. Your ear has evolved and is shaped to collect sound.

When it comes to evaluating performance, I don't have one of those fancy and pricey professional calibrated headphone measurement rigs. I'm content to wait for to measure these. Personally, I have to depend on my ears and subjective observations like listening to bass test tones and comparing what I hear relative to other headphones.

So here's the thing. Subjectively, I found that these are textbook "premium" Sony headphones, shrunken. There is a quality to how the sound is tuned that I find familiar and appealing. What defines this "Sony sound" aside from my imagination? Of course, there is plenty of bass. Sony is not shy about boosting the bottom and these are not an exception, but crucially they do not go overboard.

But it's not "all about the bass" because midrange and highs are delicate, detailed, silky and smooth. And while I grant that this is a very loose and vague descriptor, I think of these headphones as having a wet, almost liquid sound, as opposed to a dry and sometimes a bit grainy sound that I detect in some other headphones. I'd love to test this hypothesis and see if it's all in my head or not, but blind A/B testing of in-ear monitors is essentially impossible to pull off.

If you made it this far, you're probably wondering, hey Mark, when are you going to talk about how good the noise canceling is compared to those AirPods Pro 2nd Gen? Well, I did compare them, and this is a completely subjective, sighted, biased opinion... but what I found is that the new Sonys are at least as effective at noise cancellation as the AirPods Pro, and my impression is they cover a wider frequency range—deeper in the bass and further up in the treble—so that the sense of acoustic isolation is greater. With soft sounds, you don't hear them at all.

I would certainly say that these earbuds are at least on par with Apple's AirPods Pro, and whether you'd consider them better or not as good would likely come down to personal preferences, and in particular, how much bass you like in the mix.

Sound quality plays a crucial role in the performance of any headphones, but it's important to remember that it's a two-way street. Sony, for instance, prioritizes not only listening quality but also vocal clarity for listeners on the other end of a call.

One of the headline features of these headphones is the integration of Sony's AI noise reduction technology, specifically designed to extract human voices from background noise. Consider a scenario where you're amidst the urban hustle, surrounded by construction noise or honking traffic. The AI noise reduction focuses on isolating your human voice from these distractions. The outcome? Whoever you're calling isn't bombarded with the surrounding cacophony, and thanks to effective noise cancellation, you're also shielded from it. This dual insulation ensures that both parties involved in a call can enjoy clear, comprehensible conversation.

In addition, Sony has integrated a bone conduction sensor to accurately discern when it's your voice speaking, enabling further voice isolation. Alongside these impressive features, Sony offers new touch operations. Now, adjusting the volume is as simple as tapping on the left and right earbuds—a notable enhancement from the previous capability, which only allowed users to switch between Noise Cancellation and Ambient mode, or activate the Quick Attention mode. This mode temporarily disables noise cancellation to enhance environmental awareness, nearly muting the audio without entirely silencing it.

Furthermore, the headphones come with a case featuring wireless charging—a feature I appreciate. The case design, as compact and neatly rounded as Apple's AirPods Pro case, fits comfortably in your pocket.

The App
Of course, the app is the key component because the truth is you can build great sounding earbuds that have no connectivity and options for a lot less. And similarly, you can use AirPods Pro on an Android device as long as you're willing to give up all of the settings and adjustments that an app affords you. So what Sony is doing here is providing parity between the iOS and Android platforms with an app that provides the same features regardless of what kind of phone you own.

And it being Sony, looking to establish itself with flagship noise-canceling IEMs, the 1000XM5 (like the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II) sits above Apple with a $299 price point. Of course, Bose similarly caters to both iPhones and Android phones.

Within the Sony Headphones app, you get several tabs to work with. Of course there is status. Under sound tab, you can adjust ambient sound control settings and have with three options: noise-canceling, ambient sound, and off. Switching between noise-canceling and off illustrates how well the new eartips in providing passive isolation. The active noise-canceling starts from a really good point. If you have a good ear tip seal, the ANC mostly has to work on the bass frequencies where Sony touts improved performance over the WF-1000XM4.

The highly effective noise-canceling that is added on top of it is the reason why these achieve such a good isolating effect. But what's really nice is the ambient sound mode, which is pretty much transparent as far as letting sound through without changing tonality. And it gives you a slider bar with 20 increments that let you adjust the mix of ambient sound pass-through versus noise-canceling. So, you can “dim” the outside noise instead of cutting it out completely. This is a particularly appealing feature when considered in conjunction with the discreet nature of these earbuds.

One of the most interesting new features, at least to me (and currently in beta) is Find Your Equalizer. It provides an interface where you select the EQ curves you prefer while music (the you choose) is playing. You go through several iterations of choosing which sound profile you like the best and ultimately get to see and also compare the result versus un-EQ’d response.

And in my case, what happened is… it set the Clear Bass setting to minus six (decibels?). Apparently my personal taste is for a bit less bass, at least when listening to Bassnectar. The other change it made is pulling down the highs just a little bit at 16k. I suspect (I cannot prove it until I proper professional measurements of these headphones) that I've just applied a compensation to bring them more in line with the (famous) Harman curve. It is enough that these headphones are capable of doing this at all! You can tune them to a sound profile that suits your taste.

New Driver
With a diameter of 8.4 millimeters, the new Dynamic Driver X surpasses the previous 6-millimeter driver. Sony claims that its design significantly improves low-frequency noise cancellation.

"The specially designed driver unit Dynamic Driver X, able to reproduce lower frequencies, has been improved using a dome-edge separation structure that combines different materials, allowing for a more accurate generation of cancellation waves in lower frequencies," says Sony.

More Processing Power, More Mics
The WF-1000XM5 earbuds have been upgraded with three microphones on each one, which includes two feedback microphones. This enhancement primarily amplifies the ability to cancel out low-frequency noises, improving your listening experience even in noisy environments. With six microphones spread across both earbuds, this technology promises extremely high-quality noise cancellation.

Sony's Integrated Processor V2 works in tandem with the HD Noise Canceling Processor QN2e, bringing out its best potential. It also has the ability to adapt and optimize its performance based on your surroundings, ensuring clear and enjoyable audio wherever you are.

Fast Charge, Long Life
The best-sounding most comfortable earbuds in the world aren't much use if they don't have good battery life. Sony promises up to eight hours off of a charge from the earbuds themselves and an additional 16 hours of power from the charging case which brings the total playtime potential without a charge to 24 hours, and that's using noise canceling.

If you turn noise canceling off those numbers go up to 12 hours for the earbuds with 24 additional hours off the charging case, for 36 hours total! But the company is quick to note that performance will vary based on settings, environment, storage, usage, and that over time the capacity of the battery will degrade so Sony does not guarantee these numbers, but the point is that you do get a long playtime out of even a single charge, despite the diminutive size, more than enough for example to cover transcontinental flight.

OsvaldoLowery3's picture

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