Sony has maintained its stronghold as a leader in wireless headphone technology, consistently delivering impressive sound quality that appeals to a wide audience. The company's active noise cancellation technology and feature-rich companion apps have also set industry standards. But while the WF-1000XM4 gained popularity for its rich sound and effective ANC, there was definitely still room for improvement. So, the question is: Does the WF-1000XM5 show marked advancements over its predecessor? Let's delve into the changes made in both sound and design since the previous version.
What’s in the Box?
- WF-1000XM5 Earbuds
- Charging Case
- USB-C Charging Cable
- 4 Sizes Foam Ear tips
- User Manual
Look and Feel
Thankfully, everything from the charging case to the earbuds themselves have become smaller than the previous flagship models, which tended to be cumbersome to wear. The fit has improved dramatically with the XM5, as they feel much lighter and more ergonomically contoured. The sleeker, more compact design also makes the XM5 more aesthetically appealing than the previous versions.
Design and Functionality
One if the major upgrades to the design of the WF-1000XM5 is Sony’s new X driver, which delivers wider frequency reproduction, thereby increasing overall resolution. Unlike so many wireless earbuds on the market, the XM5 also gets pretty loud. So, my friends with tinnitus can rest assured that you’ll get the headroom you need.
The XM5 offer 24 hours of total battery life. You’ll be able to listen for 8 hours at a time, while having another 16 hours of juice in the case. Charging is super fast, delivering 60 minutes of play from just a 3 minute charge.
Thanks to Sony’s new HD Noise Cancelling Processor, the ANC on these buds is probably the best I’ve experienced to date. Included in the design, is Sony’s Adaptive Sound Control, which detects the locations you frequent and adjusts the ANC to optimally work for your surrounding environment. If you allow it, these earbuds will also switch through the ANC modes for you, depending on the time of day it is. Yes. It even keeps up with your daily schedule. Of course, you can also switch through these modes manually.
Many of the control features can be accessed through the touch sensors on the earbuds themselves. You’ll be able to switch between ANC modes, control playback, answer calls and activate your voice assistant. The companion app also allows you to customize the touch controls to suit your specific needs or preferences.
Sony has employed Bluetooth 5.3, which is the latest version. The connection remained stable even in the middle of Manhattan, where every human and their dog wears wireless earbuds. In terms of hi-res capability, you’ll be limited to Sony’s proprietary LDAC codec. The various AptX codecs are not available on this model.
One of the XM5's standout features is Sony’s 360 Audio technology, which enhances the soundstage, offering a strikingly more immersive, 3D listening experience. Just be warned that this feature is not available on all streaming platforms. Spotify, for example has yet to support this technology. But you will be able to use Sony’s 360 Audio on Tidal and Amazon Music, as well as a few other lesser known apps.
One of the main advantages of the accompanying Sony Connect app is the customizable equalizer, which not only allows you to switch between presets but also lets you to tweak levels across the entire frequency range. In fact, the Sony Connect app offers so many features and options that it sometimes feels like overkill. The company has even introduced a Head Gesture feature, which allows you to respond to prompts, like incoming calls, by nodding or shaking your head. These are just some of the many options you’ll find in this future rich companion app.
To keep things fair, I based my sound impressions on the default soundstage, though if you have the right streaming app, Sony’s 360 Audio feature will likely wow you with the added sense of dimension it delivers. Still, even without 360 Audio, there’s a nice sense of spaciousness here with good distance between instruments. And although I wouldn’t call the soundscape particularly expansive, there is enough variation in height and width to create a reasonably multidimensional listening experience.
Much like Sony’s other famous consumer headphone/earphone models, you can expect a thick, dark and impactful bass response from the WF-1000XM5. That said, the bass doesn’t feel as bloated as I remember it being on previous models; the low-end remains relatively clean and controlled. And fortunately, the bass can always be moderated through the equalizer on Sony’s app. Listening to acoustic instruments in this range, the XM5 offers a smooth feel with a natural, yet majestic tone. Nuances in timbre are amply apparent, even if it's not the most textured sound I’ve ever heard. And overall, the low-end is a great all-rounder with respect to genre, and its versatility is expanded even further thanks to the equalizer.
While you will hear some low-mid presence, the bass sometimes hogs the stage. But with respect to the upper half of the midrange, I was pretty wowed by the level detail and resolve that the XM5 offered compared to previous models. Any instrument from acoustic guitars to brass sounded incredibly transparent. The separation was immaculate and the presentation of singular instruments is intricate, revealing all the subtleties in timbre and breath. The slightly accentuated upper mids have a crispness to them as well, bringing a lively snap to modern genres especially.
Again, like most Sony earbud models, the highs have a smooth rolloff to them, which makes music easy on the ears, though sometimes at the expense of detail in the upper-treble regions. But again, using the equalizer, you can tweak the high frequencies to reveal more treble extension, enhancing the brightness and overall resolution. Once you do this, the highs start to feel more lean and delicate, which nicely contrasts the heavy low-end.
There’s no question that Sony has made great strides with this latest iteration. Everything from the more compact design and improved ANC to the overall sound resolution has become markedly better. In the past, I would not have recommended Sony earbuds to those with an aversion to bass. But the XM5 proves that you don’t have to be a bass-head to enjoy this sound signature, especially given the highly customizable equalizer. While the WF-1000XM5 is about $100 more than competitors like the Sennheiser’s Momentum 3, its extra features and superior ANC warrant the price tag. And at the end of the day, if you're looking for a pair of wireless earbuds that check all the boxes, the XM5 is it.