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Sony WF-1000XM5

Lavishly equipped True-Wireless headphones with noise cancelling

In a nutshell

Sony’s WF-1000X has been a contender for the title of the most flexible True-Wireless in-ears on the market for years. This can also apply to the current generation WF-1000XM5, which has again had its lavish equipment package added to and offers all-round features for music playback, communication and noise cancelling. These are not only comfortable headphones that sound great; they have even more to offer.

Pros:
  • Sound quality
  • Effective noise cancelling & flexible ambient function
  • Long battery life
  • LC3 & LDAC
  • First-class voice quality during phone calls
Cons:
  • Unnecessarily cumbersome use of head tracking
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Every year, you can expect to see the latest generation of headphones from Sony. The popular WF-1000X True-Wireless in-ear headphones are now in their fifth incarnation and are better equipped than ever…

Features of the Sony WF-1000XM5

Sony is showcasing a major update to its popular portable in-ear headphones, which come in eco-friendly cardboard packaging. In the process, the new model, available in silver and black, is 25% smaller and 20% lighter than the previous model the WF-1000XM4 (review) from 2021. As with those, the functionality is considerable and has even been enhanced. Sony apparently sees these headphones not only as a portable speaker but as a daily accessory that supports the user in everyday life, for communication and in the office. Further improvements have been made to the drivers, in the area of noise cancelling, and to the quality of phone calls as well as to the wearing comfort.

These feather-light, IPX4-protected headphones look smart, especially as they come in matt black with a matching charging case, which has also been reduced in size, with a USB-C interface and status LED. I didn’t like the “silver” colourway as much. The headphones and charging case are made of plastic. The workmanship is good, but I can’t say how it would fare in terms of durability and robustness.

As with the previous models, Sony relies on touch functions on both earpieces, an optional voice control, a powerful app and several automatic functions. Added to this is a new optional gesture control for making calls.

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Bluetooth 5.3 is now used for transmission. As far as audio codecs are concerned, the new energy-efficient solution LC3 is supported in addition to SBC, AAC. The best sound quality is provided by the LDAC version; of course, this only works on compatible devices – unfortunately, AAC is still as far as Apple devices go. LDAC supports sampling frequencies up to 96 kHz and bit rates up to 990 kbps. In addition, there is the Sony sound enhancement DSEE Extreme, which is supposed to automatically upgrade compressed files.

The Sony WF-1000XM5 in practice

The first thing to highlight here is the high wearing comfort. The WF-1000XM5 are wonderfully light and also fit comfortably and securely in the ear for a long time.

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Pairing is done via a button on the charging case. In practice, a connection that has been previously made is quickly recalled, although these headphones can also be used individually in single mode. Meanwhile, Multi-Point Pairing is provided (also in LDAC mode), although this was added to the previous model via an update. In this case, the headphones can be connected to several transmitting devices, and you can accept a business call despite streaming from a laptop.

In our test, the wireless link enabled a practical range over several rooms. Now and then, there were small hiccoughs. With the Sony Xperia 10 or the portable Shanling M3X, you can enjoy the extended bandwidth of LDAC, and the benefits of this were quite noticeable with correspondingly high-quality source material on compatible players.

Battery life: How long do the Sony WF-1000XM5 last?

In terms of battery capacity, nothing has changed compared to the previous model. Nevertheless, the values were remarkable, especially if you consider that the size and weight have been significantly reduced. The full charging time was about 1.5 hours and this can also be done inductively, i.e. wirelessly. On top of this, a fast charging function was available. This results in eight to twelve hours of runtime (ANC on/off) or six to seven hours of talk time. The charging case adds capacity for another 16 hours. With these values, the Sony WF-1000XM5 was well equipped for daily use, office use and longer journeys by train or plane. If the battery runs out of juice, you will be notified in more than one way in good time to do something about it.

Making calls with the Sony WF-1000XM5

An important focus for the Sony WF-1000XM5 is high speech intelligibility during phone calls, something that in the previous model was already impressive. Sony now uses a combination of directional microphones, bone conduction sensors and an AI-based algorithm for noise reduction as well as the suppression of wind noise. In practice, the person on the other end of the line confirmed an exceptionally high speech intelligibility that effectively blocked out ambient noise from wind, a fan and other noise sources, which reduced what they could hear to just my voice.

Operation of the Sony WF-1000XM5

Function control on the device was initially via the two touch surfaces on the outside of the headphones. The functions were assigned via the app in two groups for the left and right earpieces but were not completely independently assignable. Single, double and triple clicks are enabled, along with a longer press and hold motion. Quadruple clicks are always used for level control. This means that you can quickly handle all common functions from music control and call handling to switching the noise cancelling. The sensors responded easily. You have to put up with occasional operating errors, but with a little practice, you can avoid annoying “popping” during operation. The “Quick Access” function, which can currently be used to call up individual functions from Spotify and the Endel app, was still quite new.

The gesture control features were practical: For incoming calls, a nod of the head leads to acceptance and a shake of the head to rejection. Finally, you can also use a voice assistant.

The automatic functions are familiar from the previous model. In this case, it means that the Smart Ambient function (see below) can be activated by speaking (Speak to Chat), and this includes a (somewhat sluggish) return to noise cancelling and music playback. There is the option to automatically pause music playback when you take an earpiece out of your ear. An automatic switch-off is also provided. Other automatic functions are dedicated to noise cancelling.

A number of other functions can be called up via the tried-and-tested “Headphones Connect” app for iOS and Android. It now has a long history and is being constantly developed further. It is also responsible for firmware updates (status: 2.01), and a corresponding update for Mac OS took almost 60 minutes! In the app, you will find several options for configuring the headphones, such as levels and the language settings for voice messages.

The tried and tested storable 5-band graphic equaliser with additional bass control can also be found here. The option to automatically determine an EQ setting by having the headphones compare several options with each other is a new feature. In my case, I ended up with the linear neutral setting, which applies to the tuning of the headphones.

How effective is the Sony WF-1000XM5’s noise cancelling?

Sony’s noise cancelling provides effective, wide-range suppression of ambient noise, focusing on static and low-frequency sounds. The noise cancelling was not adjustable in intensity but delivered noticeable coherent isolation from the environment without a distracting diving bell effect.

Noise was not noticeable and neither was sound degradation. However, the engine noises of a high-speed train were still audible, as was the rumble of a car; I felt like I could have wished for the possibility of switching to a higher intensity level. Nevertheless, the device I tested fulfilled my requirements for an improved quiet room (as in providing environmental isolation while in mobile use or in the office) as well as the creation of a significantly improved noise level when enjoying music in an ideal setting. This was ensured by two dedicated processors (QN2e, V2), two feedback microphones and good passive isolation. Wind noise was adequately suppressed, but at higher intensities, it means that, as expected, there was ambient noise.

The Sony WF-1000XM5’s transparency mode

The ambient sound mode (transparency mode) is comprehensively configurable. The sounds of the environment are fed back to the headphones, leading to a better perception of the outside world. However, the function also allows you to communicate while you have the headphones on. The ambient level can be adjusted in 20 steps and, if necessary, limited to the frequency band of speech. In addition, it is possible to distinguish between four movement patterns with their own settings (resting position, walking, running or passenger transport) and to switch automatically. The same applies to the optional switchover to saved locations in the app via location recognition.

Finally, there was the aforementioned “Speak to Chat” function, in which the ambient sound mode is triggered by one’s own speech. If you don’t like all this, you can simply touch the headphones to switch between the two modes. Of course, the noise cancelling can also be switched off in the app or via the automatic functions.

Furthermore, it is possible to activate the ambient sound mode temporarily for as long as you touch the corresponding earpiece.

How do the Sony WF-1000XM5 sound?

Now in their fifth generation, Sony has succeeded in creating excellent-sounding True-Wireless headphones that provide plenty of listening pleasure. The basic prerequisite for a full frequency response is the right fitting pieces, and these are included in three sizes and made of polyurethane. A measurement of the air pressure is also available in order to determine the fit of the earpieces in the ear.

The larger, dynamic 8.4mm drivers offer an impressive sound quality that combines high detail resolution, a balanced frequency spectrum, dynamics and listening pleasure. Combined with good passive external insulation and effective noise cancelling, the result is a remarkable sound for this price range. You can enjoy listening to your music largely undisturbed. The general tuning is not so much streamlined and audiophile as it is full-bodied. You should not forget that this is a Bluetooth design conceived for everyday mobile use.

In the bass range, they sound punchy and tightly defined with simultaneous bass response down to the sub-range. Dynamics, tonality and decay behaviour could be well understood even with low tones. The rich bass range was not entirely linear, but there was no annoying overemphasis as with some competitors. Without a direct comparison, I would say that the WF-1000XM5’s new driver is a bit more powerful and, at the same time, more stable; for example, when listening to Nick Cave’s bass-fest “Galleon Ship”. However, if necessary, the bass foundation can be adjusted to suit one’s own taste at any time via the EQ and the Clear-Bass control.

The midrange remained clearly discernible and worked out the central details of the mix well: voices, acoustic, electric and electronic instruments. From modern pop to orchestral works, the reproduction was coherent and the detail resolution was high, with the necessary dynamics being clearly recognisable (Esbjörn Svensson Trio “Strange Place For Snow”). In this frequency band, too, the headphones sounded full and warm rather than explicitly analytical. With rock music, the necessary pressure and bite were perfectly conveyed. The same applied to heavy metal music (Meshuggah “Bleed”). This made listening to music a pleasure.

Towards the top, there was a pleasingly good resolution and transparency, which supported percussive elements and spatial imaging, but this did not demonstrate any disturbing harshness. However, one should not expect the silvery shimmer provided by many more expensive wired designs. Finally, reverberation effects and the respective stereo panorama, including the corresponding animation, were reproduced well (Whitney Houston “Exhale”, Robert Plant/Alison Krauss “Can’t Let Go”, Yello “Pan Blue”).

Sony’s own immersive format 360 Reality Audio is supported and was available via platforms such as Tidal or Nugs. In principle, such recordings are audible with any headphones, thanks to HRTF. However, Sony offers an unspecified optimisation of the playback in relation to the provider. The corresponding productions often sounded particularly spatial. They thus represent an interesting alternative to stereo mixing.

In principle, the WF-1000XM5 offer dynamic head tracking. However, this did not work with the devices I tested. According to Sony, the requirements for use are Android 13 or the Xperia 1 V with the 360 Reality Audio Live app. This app requires a login and, even then, did not offer head tracking for me. With such effort, I dare say it is doubtful that users will be inspired by the benefits of this format.

Finally, the automatic sound enhancement circuit, DSEE Extreme, remains to be mentioned. I left this in the automatic position throughout. During my test, I used high-quality source material from Tidal HiFi Plus, so the algorithm should remain inactive, and it did so, at least according to my ears. Unfortunately, Sony does not explain the technology behind it.

Sony WF-1000XM5 and Sony WF-1000XM4 in comparison

  • Smaller, lighter headphones
  • Smaller charging case
  • New, larger drivers
  • Head tracking
  • Enhanced functionality
  • Price increase

Conclusion

With the WF-1000XM5, Sony brings its best compact True-Wireless headphones up to date. The already powerful previous model has been further upgraded with improvements in quite a few areas – from wearing comfort to noise cancelling and speech intelligibility to amazing sound quality via a larger driver. The result is a remarkable pair of headphones with a long battery life that can cope with everything from everyday mobile use to sports, which are also very impressive for work and communication apart from music enjoyment.

With a recommended retail price of 319 euros, Sony has increased the price of the WF-1000XM5 compared to the previous model. While that had a list price of 279 euros when it was launched in 2021, they are now available at a significantly lower price.

6 months ago by Ulf Kaiser
  • Rating: 4.75
  • Sound
  • Handling
  • Price/Quality
  • Function

Technical specifications

  • Ear couplingIn-ear
  • Typeclosed
  • Transducer principledynamic
  • Frequency response (headphones)20 - 40.000 Hz
  • Weight without cable5,9 g each, case 39 g

What's in the box

  • 4 pairs of ear tips (SS, S, M, L)
  • USB-C charging cable
  • Charging case

Special features

  • Available in black and silver
  • BT codecs: SBC, AAC, LDAC, LC3
  • BT version: 5.3
  • BT profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP, TMAP, CSIP, MCP, VCP, CCP

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