The Sony WF-1000XM5 Earbuds Are Coming — But Are They An Improvement?
— 26 July 2023

The Sony WF-1000XM5 Earbuds Are Coming — But Are They An Improvement?

— 26 July 2023
Chris Singh
Chris Singh

This week, Sony officially revealed the long-awaited WF-1000XM5 earbuds. We knew they were coming, and we know they will be good, but the overarching question is “are they bringing anything new to the table?”

While I’m not quite ready to publish a WF-1000XM5 review just yet, I have spent about a week with a pre-production model and do have some initial impressions, with not all of them being good.

I’ll run you through the news spiel first because, on paper at least, Sony has presented one of its most interesting iterations of the company’s highly regarded earbuds to date. The WF-1000XM4 earbuds, which were released in 2021, are still considered the crème de la crème for wireless earbuds so how can the follow-up take things to the next level?

RELATED: The Best Wireless Earbuds To Buy Right Now

The answer: a slimmer, glossier design and more smart features to dial into growing technologies such as head-tracking and 360-degree sound. I’m not quite sure it’s enough to justify an upgrade over an XM4 but I need to spend more time with the final production model to make a proper call.

Sony WF-1000XM5 Price & Release Date In Australia

The Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds will retail for $499.95 in Australia and will be available to buy in-store and online from early August. Pre-orders opened on Tuesday, July 25th (the pre-order price is $419.95, so it’s worth a close look if you’re in the market).

Sony didn’t specify a date in August for the launch but I’ve been told it will be within the first week. That is, you’ll be able to buy the Sony WF-1000XM5 sometime next week.

A price bump was expected. When they were launched in June 2021, the WF-1000XM4 earbuds retailed for $450 in Australia. Given the additional features and a slimmer design, I’d say a $50 bump is quite reasonable.

A Comprehensive Set Of Features

This is where the Sony WF-1000XM5 buds get really interesting, and it’s clear Sony’s not just content with offering the best-sounding wireless earbuds out there.

The tagline Sony is going with for this launch is “the best noise cancelling.” It’s a straightforward claim and I’d say it’s quite justified. This time, each earbud has three mics, including dual feedback mics positioned on the exterior to pick up more noise and cancel low-frequency bands in real time.

Technically, this means more ambient noise is picked up and fed through the Integrated Processor V2 and the HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN2e. Hence, those “best noise cancelling” claims.

As long as you’ve got the right ear tips in to help with passive noise cancelling, then the active works incredibly well. I don’t remember being this impressed with noise cancelling since I first popped the Apple Airpods Max onto my noggin. The world disappears, which is valuable in a chatty office when you really want to get sh*t done.

The new ear tips have been redesigned with a polyurethane foam material that helps reduce high-frequency noise in a passive sense. However, I notice that overall, these still don’t work too well when it comes to blocking those more piercing sounds. For example, the click-clacking of someone typing on a keyboard too loudly might still seep in underneath the music.

Another feature is head tracking, and it seems Sony is betting big on this being more common in earbuds moving forward. I think Apple already came close to perfecting this sense of spatial audio with the Air Pods Pro, but the Sony’s are certainly up there. That being said, it seems, at least initially, that the Sony WF-1000XM5 technologies work better with Android and less so with iOS.

I’m not too sure of the reason for this but I’ve been using the pre-production model with my iPhone 14 Pro. When I do, I turn my head constantly to test out the head tracking and notice quite a bit of stuttering as the software struggles to keep up.

Conversely, when I connected the WF-1000XM5 to my Google Pixel 7 Pro, I don’t get the same issue.

sony wf-1000xm5

There are other neat introductions. I suggest using the Sony Headphones app this time as most of the additional functionality can be toggled on and off so you can further customise how these buds work for your specific lifestyle.

One function I’m keen to test out a bit more is the new set of gestures for answering and rejecting calls. This plays into head-tracking, in that you can answer calls with a nod of your head and reject them with a shake. Much like when Sony introduced the useful but slightly annoying speak-to-chat feature for its over-ears, you might want to keep this feature toggled off if you find it overly sensitive.

Low latency can be toggled on and off in the app as well, so if you’re using the buds to stream content on a platform like Netflix, I suggest having them on. When it’s just music, having this feature off would be a massive help to battery life.

Speaking of battery life, it’s pretty much the same as the XM4s but Sony says these earbuds charge much faster when in the case. You’re still looking at a total of around 24 hours with the case, which is very good, but now just three minutes spent marinating in the charging case equals 1 hour of listening time. That’s very, very good.

Finally, you’ve got 360-degree sound. Sony has been playing this game for a few years now and it seems like the company has really refined Dolby Atmos spatial sound. This won’t be relevant for Spotify users, however. I suggest having a Tidal or Amazon Music account if you want to experience the deeply immersive quality of spatial sound, where you can easily pick apart instrumentals and hear details you wouldn’t notice otherwise.

Sony’s Slippery Design

sony wf-1000xm5

One thing I will say is that I’m still very much undecided about the design. The XM4 is chunky compared to these petite buds. We’re talking 5.5 grams per earbud and just 37 grams for the small charging case. They look discreet, offer a great deal of comfort and even come with four different ear tips this time for those with smaller ears.

Compare this to the XM4, where each bud clocked in at 7.3g. That’s quite the difference and you can actually feel the difference in your ears. I have the XM4s at home and get a much different feeling now if I go back to them after using the XM5s.

I have no issue with the dramatic change in size. I do, however, take some issue with just how glossy the surface of these buds is. I’m not sure why Sony has decided to go with high gloss, but when you try and lift the buds out of the charging case it takes a bit of extra effort to actually get a grip. These are slippery, and there’s no real texture to dig into when you want to lift these from their magnetically-attached positions quickly.

That being said, the difference in getting the XM4s and the XM5s out of the case is just a matter of a second or two. I’m only really concerned with meaningful differences.

Do They Sound Good?

sony wf-1000xm5

Of course, they do. The Sony XM series has been at the top of the earbuds market since the third generation came out swinging hard with its perfectly calibrated bass lines. The XM4s bought in better balance and clearer mids and highs. The XM5s, well, they are pretty much the same. I notice no meaningful difference in the overall sound signature across generations, although it seems upscaling might have been improved slightly.

Sony has now got a specially designed 8.4 mm driver, called Dynamic Driver X, in each bud, calibrated for a wider frequency. On paper, that translates to better balance across the board with richer, more detailed vocals. And that much is noticeable, at least. The mids are brighter and punchier, but I don’t feel much has been done to lift the low end. Bass is still very rich, but there’s no real difference across generations.

I’m guessing that Sony copped some flack a few years ago for producing bass that was a bit too good, toppling the overall balance and weakening the mids and highs. The balance is better this time around, but bass lovers might be a bit disappointed.

Again, I’ll need to spend more time with the final production model before I make a proper judgement call on the WF-1000XM5 sound quality.

We’ll have our full WF-1000XM5 review live in the next few weeks but I just wanted to publish this first impressions piece (remember, it’s based on a pre-production model) in case you were thinking of pre-ordering.

Sony WF-1000XM5 Spec Sheet

Drivers8.4mm Dynamic Driver X
Audio ProcessorDSEE Extreme
Noise Cancelling ProcessorQN2e
Number of Mics (on each earbud)Three
Battery Life (with charging case)Up to 24 hours
Wireless charging?Yes
Weight (of each earbud)7.3 g
IP RatingIPX4

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Chris Singh
Chris is a freelance Travel, Food, and Technology writer. He has had work published by The AU Review, Junkee Media and Australian Traveller Media and holds tertiary qualifications in Psychology and Sociology.


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