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Sony WF-1000XM5 review: The greatest hits different

Sony's latest buds live up to the hype and then some.

Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds
4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5
Battery
24 hours total (with ANC on)
Multipoint
Yes
RRP
🔥Save: $499 $419
Fergus Halliday
Aug 01, 2023
Icon Time To Read6 min read

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Quick verdict: Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds

The follow-up to Sony's WF-1000XM4 earbuds look and feel like a whole new thing in the best possible way. The drivers are bigger, the ear tips have been replaced, the processors have been upgraded and the exterior has gotten a facelift.

pro
Pros
pro Better noise-cancelling
pro New design
pro Long battery life
con
Cons
con Steep price
con Could be more gym friendly
con Touch controls are sometimes iffy

It isn't a huge shock that Sony's latest true wireless earbuds are good. The previous WF-1000XM4 earbuds were best-in-class for their time. The odds of the follow-up being a dud were always pretty low, especially given the quality of what that Sony has put out in the two years since.

But in 2023, even the best tech doesn't take long to become boring. The first generation of AirPods felt like freedom. The latest feels short on surprises. They're a known quantity. That quality might be excellent, but it isn't a wild reach to reckon that Apple's most well-known set of earbuds might be coasting on its own coattails at least a little bit.

And where Apple might have plugged in a new processor and called it a day, the new Sony WF-1000XM5s offer up a more refreshing rework. There is far more than a new coat of paint to feast your eyes upon here. As mentioned, it's been two years since Sony has shown off a major update to this corner of their personal audio empire. The wait seems to have been worth it.

Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds

How much do Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds cost in Australia?

Starts at $499

At a recommended retail price of $499, the Sony WF-1000XM5 is one of the most expensive sets of in-ear headphones that you'll be able to find in your local JB Hi-Fi. They're not quite as expensive as over-ear options like the AirPods Max. But it's definitely more expensive than every set of AirPods that Apple sells, including the AirPods Pro.

That said, there are a few ways to save money if you know where to look. This rounds up how each Australian retailer compares when it comes to Sony WF-1000XM5 pricing and who has the best deals going.

Store
Price
More info
Amazon
🔥Deal🔥 $499
$419
Sony
🔥Deal🔥 $499
$419

Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds - Design and features

The earbuds with everything you want.

The new Sony WF-1000XM5 manage the genuinely incredible feat of being leaner and lighter than the previous model while also packing in additional features and more advanced tech.

At 8.4mm in size, the Sony WF-1000XM5s have the largest dynamic driver that Sony has ever deployed for the form factor. Most other true wireless earbuds (including the previous WF-1000XM4s) tend to cap out at 6mm and the benefits of the bigger drivers are easy to hear.

Each earpiece now has an additional microphone, bringing the total to six across the two buds. There's also a bone conduction sensor that improves call quality. The former boosts bass, while the latter benefit from a mesh grill that cuts down wind noise when you're either making calls or listening to audio with ambient mode turned on.

The WF-1000XM5s don't have any specific new tricks when it comes to hands-free voice chats but they do inherit a lot of advances that the Sony WH-1000XM5 brought to the table. If you're upgrading from the previous generation, Sony claims you should see a 20% improvement in noise cancellation. Newcomers won't notice that difference, but they'll probably still have a good time.

The insides of the Sony WF-1000XM5s are as improved as the exterior. Sony's latest set of true wireless earbuds doubles down a dual-chip design that incorporates the company's own QN2e processor (which is an upgrade on the QN1e seen in the WF-1000XM3s) and the V2 chip (which is an upgrade on the V1 introduced by the WF-1000XM4s) to produce superior noise cancellation.

To put it simply, the WF-1000XM5s are earbuds that tick all the boxes. They're not explicitly pitched as gym-buds, but they do come with an IPX4 rating. You get the option of charging them wirelessly and seamlessly swapping between multiple devices with Bluetooth 5.3. They're not aimed exclusively at audiophiles, but they do have support for specs like High Res audio, DSEE, 360-degree spatial audio and more.

As with other Sony headphones though, this laundry list of hardware specs are neatly tied together via the Sony Headphones app. There's nothing stopping you from ripping these out of the packaging and pairing them with whatever you want, but if you take the time to set up Sony's companion app, you do get a considerable amount of additional customization and control over your sound.

Again, this symbiosis is not entirely new. Sony has been emphasising smarts as much as sound quality for several years now. This latest verse does feel a little bit like preaching to the choir, but the laundry list of features that comes with this proselytising is hard to argue with. The feature set for the WF-1000XM5s includes:

  • Adaptive Sound
  • Speak to Chat
  • Wearing Detection
  • Head gesture controls
  • Quick Attention
  • Auto Play
  • Swift Pair
  • Fast Pair

The reliance on touch controls is probably the only thing I don't love about the Sony WF-1000XM5s and I will never stop complaining about it.

There's a lack of feedback that this approach always tends to yield and while Sony's latest stab at this style of controls is functional it's rarely all the intuitive. For reference, the default control scheme for the Sony WF-1000XM5s is as follows:

Sony WF-1000XM5 controls

Control
Action
Play/pause musicTap once on right earbud
Enable quick attentionTap and hold once on left earbud
Volume upTap four times on right earbud
Volume downTap four times on left earbud
Toggle ambient sound / noise cancellingTap once on left earbud
Next trackTap twice on right earbud
Restart track or previous trackTap three times on right earbud
Trigger voice assistantTap and hold on right earbud

To Sony's credit, it's not that hard to simplify and streamline this existing control scheme using the Sony Headphones app. However, out of the box, I quickly found myself missing the simple convenience and reliability of my AirPods Pro.

The touch sensors on the exterior of the Sony WF-1000XM5 aren't the worst I've ever used, but they do sometimes get triggered on accident. What's here is a pretty good take on touch controls, but it doesn't escape the gravity of the usual pitfalls that come with them.

Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds - Performance and battery life

Soundscapes that surpass the hype
Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds

In terms of battery life, the Sony WF-1000XM5s are good for around eight hours of noise-cancelled sound on a single charge. You also get another two full charges from the carry case for a total of 24 hours of playback. For those keeping track, that's on par with what you could expect from the previous WF-1000XM4s. Given the bigger hardware changes, it's nice to see that the battery life hasn't suffered. Still, it would have been nicer to see it go up. 

Regardless, if the earbuds themselves do die on you, they won't take all that long to regain their composure. Three minutes of sitting in the charger case work out to a solid 60 minutes of playback.

As for how those many hours of playback sound, my regular listening experience with the WF-1000XM5s was overwhelmingly positive. Audiobooks sounded atmospheric, podcasts sounded crisp and music never sounded muddled.

The soundstage that the drivers inside these WF-1000XM5s deliver upon is both vast and vivid in detail. I'm sure that if you jump between these and something larger noise cans like the AirPods Max, you would notice the difference. That said, the size of the Sony WF-1000XM5s never feels like a compromise.

Subject to the usual testing routine, the Sony WF-1000XM5 excelled on almost every. front.

The Sony WF-1000XM5 proved to be more than up to the task when it came to bass-heavy ballads like Carly Rae Jepsen's "I Didn't Just Come Here To Dance" and treblier test tracks like "Humming" by Portishead. Even in the chaos of Opeth's "The Funeral Portrait", these earbuds delivered the goods. While a few of the songs on our testing playlist (such as Childish Gambino's punchy "3005") didn't sound the best they've ever sounded, they sounded pretty damn close.

Meanwhile, the microphone on the Sony WF-1000XM5 is a definite improvement that stops well short of being extraordinary. They're not going to replace my Rode mic anytime soon, but they don't feel like the kind of compromise that earbuds of this shape and size are known to be. The Sony WF-1000XM5s have precision and clarity that's a cut above where most true wireless earbuds tend to sit.

Are the Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds worth buying?

The greatest hits different
Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds

The better a given piece of tech gets, the less the company making it tends to tinker with it from generation to generation. Too much of a tune-up can ruin a good thing. Typically, improvements are isolated to a few specific pain points. Over time, a succession of small and specific tweaks can add up to a big improvement. It's a smart strategy, but it usually plays out over a longer period of time.

The WF-1000XM5 defy both this tendency and timeline. Sony's last set of earbuds were very good, and these are better in every dimension bar the touch controls. It feels like the company has crammed several cycles of iteration and innovation into one.

If you have the cash to splash and want the best alternative to Apple's best earbuds, look no further. The Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds look, sound and feel better. All that comes at a cost, but these are the rare set of headphones that might actually live up to that price.

It's one thing for Sony to ask for this much money in 2023, but quite another to earn it in the way that the WF-1000XM5s do.

How do the Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds compare?

Product
Rating
Price
Battery life
Active noise-cancelling
Water resistance
Availability
Jabra Elite Active 4Jabra Elite 4 Active
3.3 out of 5 stars
3.25
🔥From $179
$100
6 hrs (buds)
28 hrs (case/total)
pro pro
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 ProSamsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro
4 out of 5 stars
4
🔥From $349
$190
5 hrs (buds)
23 hrs (case/total)
pro pro

Disclaimer: Pricing and deal information only accurate as of the last page update. 

How we review true wireless earbuds

When we review earbuds, broadly speaking, we're looking at five main considerations:

  • Sound: Obviously. Do they sound good? 
  • Comfort & Design: Are they nice to wear? 
  • Features: Is the battery good? Is the connectivity reliable? What's the noise-cancelling like?
  • Vibe: What's the overall experience like? 
  • Value: Are they good for the money?

While audio products can be quite subjective for many reasons, we have standardised testing procedures across the team designed to help us look at the category in a consistent way. You can read more about how we review wireless earbuds here

Fergus Halliday
Written by
Fergus Halliday
Fergus Halliday is a journalist and editor for Reviews.org. He’s written about technology, telecommunications, gaming and more for over a decade. He got his start writing in high school and began his full-time career as the Editor of PC World Australia. Fergus has made the MCV 30 Under 30 list, been a finalist for seven categories at the IT Journalism Awards and won Most Controversial Writer at the 2022 Consensus Awards. He has been published in Gizmodo, Kotaku, GamesHub, Press Start, Screen Rant, Superjump, Nestegg and more.

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