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How do you follow a pair of headphones so successful they become the default recommendation in their product category, even two years on from launch? That has been the job for the Sony team when developing the WF-1000XM5, the fifth generation of its ridiculously popular flagship true wireless buds.

But with some competitors starting to quite convincingly snap at their heels, the brand has chosen the right time to take stock. Things like fit, noise cancellation and call quality are high on the hitlist for improvements - all while maintaining the sound quality that has seen them set the bar that other TWS buds should aspire to. Do they manage it? I've been using them as my go-to in-ears to find out.

Want to know how they compare to the WF-1000XM4? We've got just the feature for you.

Sony WF-1000XM5

Sony's flagship true wireless buds remain some of the most musical in-ears you can buy at this price, but the competitors have started to push them on noise cancelling and call quality. They're still a great buy, but its closest competitors are worthy of consideration too.

  • Dynamic, musical sound
  • Great battery life
  • Some genuinely useful features
  • Comfortable, improved design
  • Noise cancelling isn't the strongest at this price
  • Call quality can be inconsistent


  • 25 per cent smaller, 20 per cent lighter
  • Four eartips to choose from
  • IPX4 rated
  • Two colours

If the WF-1000XM4 had one "but", it was that they were really quite big for in-ear headphones - and that was in spite of being made smaller than the XM3. In the XM5s, Sony has given this some real attention and truly redesigned the buds to be 25 per cent smaller and around 20 per cent lighter.

The improvement here is huge - they are much more comfortable to wear, and hours into listening, I felt no pressure from the fit or the need for a break. This has been bolstered through new ear tips, and the addition of an extra small earbud size in the box, so you now have four sizes to choose from.

The polyurethane tips here are slightly squishy - not quite as malleable as Comply foam tips, but along the same lines - to help you get a good seal, and they do sit snugly. You might come across a little resistance when putting them in, which might make you consider sizing down on the tips. I did exactly that and found it had a considerable impact on noise cancellation - I went back up to the default tips (medium) and just put a little more welly behind the twist-to-fit positioning to get them where they need to be. Once there, they won't budge, and since they're IPX4 rated for sweat and water resistance, you could happily use them for exercise.


There is a fit test within Sony's Headphones app to check there is no air leakage from the buds, but trust your ear too - if the noise cancelling isn't up to scratch or sound feels off, then consider trying a different tip.

As Sony's buds have all been, the XM5s are a fully in-ear bud, and that bud is significantly slimmer than before - as the stats would suggest. In particular, they aren't as rounded in the body, which is what helps their fit to be all the better.

Sony has used recycled plastic materials throughout the design of the XM5s, though exactly how much and which bits, it hasn't stated. The finish on the buds is smoother and shinier than you get on the case, which has a more matte feel, but the touch panel on top of the buds is somewhere between the two. This tapers inwards towards the ear, where the feedforward mic sits accented in gold, and gives a very slender outward appearance indeed.

Sony WF-1000XM5

That touch panel performs the usual music, noise cancellation and call control with a series of taps and holds, all of which are customisable within the app. You get a subtle sound when a tap has been registered which helps you to know you're on the right track, though the buds respond super quickly too. It's a good system, with no frustrations like lesser and older touch control systems have created.

The WF-1000XM5 are available in Black and Silver, which is actually more like a stone colour, as you can see in the colour of my review sample.


  • Adaptive Sound Control
  • Speak-to-chat
  • Spotify Tap
  • Multipoint connection

Sony's earbuds are some of the most feature packed you can get, most of which are accessible or adjusted from Sony's Headphones app.

Sony was among the first to introduce adaptive noise cancelling - something it calls Adaptive Sound Control - so it's no surprise that this remains one of the headline features here. If you choose to have it on, the app detects both your actions and your location (assuming the appropriate permissions have been given by you), and adjusts the noise cancelling based on that.

It can have fixed settings for certain locations, such as when you're at home or at work, and also have them adjust automatically when you're walking, running, or it judges that you're on public transport. You can choose these settings yourself or accept Sony's defaults - it'll have noise cancelling at its highest when you're sat still or on public transport, and ambient sound activated (Sony's transparency mode) when on the move. Once again you can adjust just how much ambient sound is let in, on a sliding scale from zero to 20.

If you take some time to set these settings to those that you'd find helpful, then it works really well, switching when it should and accurately recognising any locations set. Personally, I prefer to keep it off as I just like noise cancelling on for the most part, and switching to transparency using the manual switching (a single tap on the left earbud) when needed.

Other features here include a very accurate wear sensor, which will pause your music when you remove a bud, but there is also is the speak-to-chat functionality. This can be turned on so that when the earbuds recognise you are talking, they will pause your music and turn transparency up so you can hear the response.

Sony WF-1000XM5

This was very accurate indeed for quick conversations with shopkeepers and the like, and they restart your music after 15 seconds of detecting no talking (although - as you'd expect from these incredibly customisable buds - you can tweak this to be longer or shorter in the app if you wish), so you can pick right back where you left off.

If you choose to use the Adaptive Noise Control with this feature turned on, you can also set it to not kick in at certain locations - helpful if you find yourself chatting away to yourself or your dogs (ahem) when at home, to stop the headphones constantly pausing in expectation of a reply. I did also experience it switching on when I coughed, which was a little frustrating - you can adjust the sensitivity to help prevent this.

New in the XM5 is Spotify Tap, a shortcut that can be added to the left earbud and that will play you a Spotify recommendation when you tap on the earbud twice (although it can be mapped to whatever you prefer). A handy feature for Spotify users in need of some inspiration.

Finally, the WF-1000XM5 have multipoint connection from launch - something the XM4s didn't have for some time. It works smoothly, and you can add a second device quickly from within the app. Just choose to connect and the app will put them into pairing mode for you to find on your second device.

Noise cancellation

  • Three mics per earbud

Sony has some big noise cancelling claims attached to the WF-1000XM5, especially considering the WF-1000XM4 were held as some of the best noise cancelling you could get in true wireless earbuds at that time. In the WF-1000XM5, Sony reckons it has reduced sound by 20 per cent more than their predecessors, thanks to the addition of a third microphone.

That means the WF-1000XM5 now have one feedforward microphone and dual feedback mics, with the aim of improving the low-frequency cancellation performance. This is combined with Sony's new Integrated Processor V2 and in particular, the HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN2E.


The noise cancelling is good here, without a doubt, but it's no longer the class leading performance that it used to be. If it's absolute silence you are looking for, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II and the AirPods Pro 2 give you a greater sense of isolation that the Sony's don't. Not everyone likes that sensation though, and Sony's approach feels more natural than either of those - sort of like you wouldn't know it was on - but the result is that it lets a little more in.

With music playing, there's genuinely very little in it. General traffic noise and low-level rumbles are cut out, but Bose's buds take the edge off of the bleeps and beeps a little more than Sony's manage. Background conversations fade into insignificance but those a little closer are more easily noticed than you might find on the competition too.

Sound quality

  • Sony Dynamic Driver X
  • Support for Sony 360 Reality Audio
  • LDAC support with compatible devices

The Sony WF-1000XM5 may not be a homerun on the noise cancelling front, but they are right back in their comfort zone when it comes to music - they have the edge on both the AirPods Pro 2 and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II from an out-and-out sound quality perspective.

There's a new driver here - Sony's Dynamic Driver X - which looks to improve sound quality across the board, alongside super-low distortion too. There's also support for Sony's high-res lossless codec LDAC, and DSEE Extreme, which aims to upscale lossy tracks to sound more like they should do losslessly.

Like most true wireless earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM5 are far from a neutral listen, but their warmth and weight in the low end only adds to their charm.


That's because they aren't weighty at the expense of other frequencies, nor are they weighty to give off to impress in the short term, that low-end wallop can do on first listen. There's a real attention to detail here, and an acknowledgement of how lower frequencies can be a springboard for detail, clarity and agility, from the bottom up.

The bouncing bassline of No Church in the Wild by Jay-Z and Kanye is always a good test for this, and there is an abundance of both texture and subtlety with every bass note that lands. There's also precision with how it is delivered, and control - it manages to add a sense of solidity and authority to the sound, but it doesn't make it sound boomy or overdone.

The Bose give them some good competition when it comes to pure rumbly bass extension, but the musicality of the Sonys is superior, and they inject more energy into tracks thanks to a better handling of the very finest detail, ensuring their timing is spot on to drive tracks forward. Dynamics are that little bit more explicit, and shifts in tempo more accurately and authentically relayed.

This detail retrieval helps to create a more refined listen too, the melodical vocals of Aerials by System of a Down struggle to sound as natural and fluid on the Bose by comparison. This is arguably as they attempt to push the midrange a little more forward than the Sonys do, perhaps in search of a little more excitement - but Sony's approach is more successful. The XM5s sound more cohesive and have a more enjoyable tonality overall too.

If I'm being picky - which I will at this level - the midrange could be a little more forward for my taste, and I'd take a touch more twinkle in the treble too for a better perceived sense of clarity - but a more comfortable, mature and interesting listen is preferable, which is undeniably what they provide.

That said, Sony does have a simple but effective EQ within its Headphones that can help you get more of what you want, as well as a simple test that helps you set an EQ that suits your ears (as well as several presets). The out of the box sound is what I've focused on here, but know that the option is there for you if you want to tinker.

Sony 360 Reality Audio is supported here with selected apps, including Tidal, and you can play back a growing selection of tracks, with head tracking supported here too. Personally, 360 Reality Audio tracks just don't work for music for the most part - they lose the focus and the balance of the track feels off to me. But it's there to explore if you wish.

Call quality and battery life

  • AI noise-reduction algorithm
  • 24 hours total, 8 hours from single charge
  • Fast charge gives 60 minutes from 3 minutes

By using an AI-based noise reduction algorithm, plus the inclusion of a third microphone to better cancel out things like wind and travel noise, Sony is promising its best ever call quality here - but I have found it to be a bit of a mixed bag during testing.

When sat on train platforms or quieter areas, callers reported hearing me loud and clear, but on trains and when walking in noisier environments, callers would sometimes report my voice sounding muffled, followed by being much clearer with no real consistency. This would suggest the noise cancellation system is struggling with knowing what sounds to suppress, and which to let through - and my callers found my call quality was largely more reliable on the AirPods Pro 2.


Battery life remains the same as the XM4s, offering a respectable eight hours of playback with noise cancelling turned on, and 24 hours total with the case. You can get an hour of playback from three minutes on charge if you're caught short, while I got around a 30 per cent boost in battery life in 10 minutes.

Wireless Qi charging is supported here too, should you wish, or there is a USB-C port on the back of the headphones instead.


The Sony WF-1000XM5 may not be the easy homerun that previous iterations of this line have offered, but there's one area they continues to shine - and that's sound quality.

Noise cancellation may no longer be market leading (but it's still very good), and its call quality might not be as good as others at this price, but its musical performance trumps its two biggest competitors at this price, and subtle tweaks to the EQ can - to my ear - get them sounding even better.

They're as feature packed as ever, and how much you'll make use of all of that depends on how you like to use your headphones and listen to your music, but there are plenty of ways to customise these buds to make them truly your own.

While these aren't the singular recommendation at this price any more, for those that want authority, musicality and a confident, comfortable listen, the Sony WF-1000XM5 are still a class act that shouldn't disappoint.