When you think about true wireless earbuds your mind probably goes to one of two places. Your first thought might be of Apple AirPods, but your second might be of Sony’s 1000x series. The lifespan of these products seems to be two years until they receive a new numbered installment. I found the WF-1000XM4 to be a great pair of true wireless earbuds, with some notable flaws. Sony keeps improving upon their shortcomings, so let’s see if the new WF-1000XM5 continues that.
What You Get
- WF-1000XM5 earbuds
- Charging case
- USB Type C charging cable
- Ear tips (SS/S/M/L)
- User guide
Look & Feel
One of the most significant upgrades to the XM5 is seen right from the get-go, as Sony has given their flagship earbuds a fresh design. This build is more akin to IEM-style true wireless designs, with ergonomic, ear-shaped cavities. The last few 1000x models have been very big and can feel cumbersome when worn. These earbuds don’t have that problem, as they are way lighter and more comfortable than past iterations.
Design & Functionality
The XM5 includes a specially designed dynamic driver called X. This unit looks to expand the range of frequency output, and so far I think that this is already a massive improvement. Some true wireless earbuds have issues with output power, and the XM5 does a good job of giving you headroom with comfortable gain. Since this is a Sony wireless product, you’re getting a ton of features. Of course, one of those features is their industry-leading ANC. Their QN1e chip brings the best noise-canceling on the market once again, with top-end isolation and adaptive features that match your environment. Many other Sony staples make a return as well, such as 360 Reality Audio, which now adds head tracking. You also have DSEE, reliable call clarity, a voice assistant, and touch-sensitive controls. These controls have a good response time, and offer an audible feedback sound to let you know the action has registered.
You can expect a stable wireless connection thanks to Bluetooth version 5.3. Formats like SBC, AAC, LDAC, and LC3 will all be made available.
One full charge of the XM5 earbuds should give you eight hours of playtime, depending if you have ANC active or not. With the charging case, you should be able to use the XM5 for a full day. A full cycle should definitely last you a few days.
There have been steady soundstage improvements made to the 1000x series since its debut. Their last true wireless earbuds had much less congealed imaging and has a bit more spaciousness to them without the need for 360 Reality Audio. While some qualities are enhanced by my personalized sound, the XM5 does a good job of giving you more width and separation. A lot of the instruments still press up next to each other, but there’s more distinctive positioning. It’s a clear stereo field that mostly appears inside your head, but the sound elements still appear tall and full.
With 360 Reality Audio, you’re getting a completely different experience. Like most Sony wireless products, the XM5 has a 3D effect with certain tracks. You can use it as long as you have music apps that offer optimization with 360 Reality Audio. This helps the soundstage and imaging, adding more dimension and immersion to the sound field.
Sony wireless earbuds almost always feature plenty of bass to go around, and the XM5 is no different. Testing the earbuds with and without personal EQ, the bass will always be a main feature. It’s always the most persistent and bodied part of their profile, but it’s also very adjustable thanks to their Clear Bass feature. The group of filters I selected favored the sub-bass, and it resulted in a rich texture that provided a sizable vibration to each track. Sometimes the sheer volume of the bass is just too much for certain genres, and it can be very distracting. Mid-bass tones really dominate most of the mix, as is the case with most 1000x models. The XM5 doesn’t cause as much fog this time around, but the timbre is still very dark no matter how you try to customize the sound. Bass heads shouldn’t take any issue with this, but there are still characteristics of the low frequencies that everyone can enjoy.
With its darker timbre and mostly v-shaped response, the mids are mostly how you might expect them to be on 1000x series earbuds. With certain bass options turned down, you can get some good clarity out of the mids, with some expressive instruments and even more vibrant vocals. The low mids have the most consistency, but with the EQ setting I used, the upper mids had some notable accentuation too. However, too often some performances get relegated to the background due to aggressive bass tone. With that said, there are good moments of striking instruments and even more lively vocals.
With the 1000x series, the highs are usually something you need to add in yourself through EQ. The XM5 makes a good effort to feature some smooth and transparent highs, and I made sure through my own EQ that I was getting the response I wanted. With it I came very close to a fully articulate treble, with sparkly cymbal crashes and air. Everything was pretty thin but enjoyable enough to get a better sense of the mix.
The 1000x series had to grow on me, but I think Sony’s earbuds in particular have really impressed me. They’ve really developed their sound into something that isn’t so constricted. There are necessary enhancements like the new “Find Your EQ” option, redesigned look, call clarity, and sensor feedback. Noise-canceling will always be the main highlight, and it’ll keep the XM5 at the top of the market for its entire lifecycle.
The Sony WF-1000XM5 is available at Audio46.