Sony WF-1000XM5 Earbuds
Sony fanboy PAT PILCHER lets his ears get acquainted with the electronics giant’s new buds and finds them more perfect than perfect.
$498 (via the Sony Store)
Sony’s Bluetooth buds have long been the ear gear to beat. Rich and detailed audio, stellar active noise cancellation and decent battery life have seen them being fan favourites for quite some time. So, when Sony released their 5th iteration, the WF-1000XM5, I leapt at the chance to bung a pair in my ears for an in-depth assessment.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing about the WF-1000XM5s is how much time they’ve spent at Jenny Craig’s. I say this because according to Sony’s blurb, they’re a whopping 25% smaller and an impressive 20% lighter than the previous year’s models, the WF-1000XM4 (see my review of those here). While you’d be forgiven for sighing and saying, “Big fat hairy deal”, their girth and weight reduction make for a far comfier fit in your ear hole. When wearing the XM4, there was always a finite amount of time before I had to remove them. In contrast, these little beauties worked out great for long-duration listening.
As you’d expect with smaller, lighter buds, their case is more compact than in previous years. Not only is it easily pocketable, but it’ll supply enough juice to fully charge the earbuds twice for 24 hours of playback time with noise-cancelling enabled. Speaking of playback time, I managed to wring an impressive nine hours and 15 minutes while flying to Singapore, which worked out at two movies and dinner plus breakfast. All told, their battery life is not too shabby at all.
Getting set up was also easy. Instant Bluetooth pairing for Android and Windows means opening their case and seeing a pop-up dialogue on my phone asking if I want to pair them. For non-Windows/Android gear, the XM5’s case has a small button which switches the buds into pairing mode. Equally handy, the XM5 supports multi-point pairing, so they’ll connect to two devices simultaneously, allowing me to listen to music or take calls on my phone and then seamlessly switch back to watching a video on my PC.
As with earlier models, the outer part of each earbud is touch-sensitive, allowing for playback and noise-cancelling control, plus smart assistant support. Another nifty feature is the addition of head gesture controls. Now you can nod or shake your noggin to answer or reject calls. One feature that has stayed is their ear detection. Remove a bud from one ear, and music playback is automatically paused, resuming when you bung the bud back in.
On the audio front, the XM5 supports SBC and AAC audio formats for all devices. Android owners also get the high-res LDAC codec plus the newly minted LC3 audio format, which promises clearer calls and better Bluetooth audio, adding a solid amount of future-proofing to the XM5s.
If all that wasn’t enough, they also support Google and Alexa assistants, which greatly reduces the number of times I need to pull my phone out of my pocket. Making calls is as simple as pressing and holding down the right earbud and saying, “Hey, Google, call home” to make a quick phone call or navigate to a specific location.
Most important of all, however, are the XM5’s audio chops. Alongside support for their 360 audio format and hi-res codec support, Sony has also baked in DSEE Extreme, which uses machine learning to upscale scrappy-sounding 128kbps mp3s to sound more dynamic and detailed, making for almost hires audio quality. A new Dynamic Driver design also delivers superbly balanced audio that delivers clean from thumping lows to crisp highs and space-filling midrange. Upscaled audio is always a pleasant surprise, with DSEE making music sparkle.
Audio also shone thanks to spatial audio support with head tracking. While this is only supported on Android devices, it puts you in the middle of the band as they play. Moving my head around pans audio, and Sony’s 360 format sounds very immersive when played through their app, Amazon Music or Tidal.
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On the active noise cancellation front, I took the XM5s on a flight to Singapore to test their ANC chops. I wasn’t disappointed. Jet engine noise was reduced to a barely audible whisper with only a smidgeon of loud conversation leaking into my ears, and that was only when there were no movies or music playing. I particularly liked the XM5’s transparency mode, which I could enable by holding one of the earbuds, which was ideal for catching flight announcements. There is also a speak-to-chat function, which pauses audio playback and fires up transparency mode if the XM5s detect you are talking. This proved to be an incredibly useful feature for quick conversations (such as ordering in-flight food/drinks). Last (but by no means least), the Headphones Connect app uses a combination of accelerometers and your device’s GPS to learn where you are and what you’re doing, switching audio modes. The app knows what modes you use in specific situations, too.
Sony’s fifth earbud iteration is its most comfy yet. The addition of DSEE extreme and a redesigned audio driver delivers superb audio while new silicon makes for super active noise-cancelling. While other brands are catching up, Sony has again extended their lead in the earbud space. Add in head tracking and spatial sound, a capable battery life and a well-featured Android/iOS app, and there’s a lot to like. If I could have given them an 11 out of 10, I would’ve but alas.