Wireless earbuds are now incredibly common and there are plenty of options to choose from. In fact, some of them are surprisingly affordable. For someone who moves around the Apple ecosystem, the choice is clear — it’s AirPods all the way and for plenty of good reasons. But for someone who likes to be in the Android ecosystem, appreciates audio and is willing to pay for a good audio solution, you may want to look at Sony’s new flagship WF-1000XM5 noise-canceling earbuds. Of course, it also works with iOS but it’s about priorities.
The earbuds feature a smaller, lighter and more comfortable design
I have used WF-1000XM4, the predecessor, for a long time and they remain as relevant as ever. But there is always room for improvement and with this new completely redesigned model, Sony has addressed most of the quibbles users had with its predecessor.
The XM5 has everything you had loved about the XM4 and there is nothing you didn’t love about XM4. It has class-leading sound quality and noise cancelling, besides excellent battery life. It’s all here in a compact, attractive package.
The many ear tips that come in the box
The first thing you’ll notice about them is that they’re smaller than the XM4 by about 25 per cent and also 20 per cent lighter. The charging case is smaller and has wireless charging capabilities.
Sony WF-1000XM5 (right) versus Sony WF-1000XM4
XM4 is a little big and while they fit my ears nicely, they don’t necessarily fit well among people with small ears. The bulk kept some people away from the XM4. The smaller XM5s works for a larger audience. It’s sturdy in the ear and lightweight as well. The buds are partially constructed from recycled materials. The XM4s have a matte finish, in contrast these mix in a glossy finish. The part of the buds where the touch controls live, has a matte finish so it doesn’t pick up fingerprints. I also appreciate that the buds don’t stick out of the ears as much as its predecessors did.
I should point out that the ear tips that come with the buds now include a set of extra small tips. Among the four options, they should fit most ears just fine. The buds offer a tight seal that you really need for optimal sound quality and noise-canceling performance. The tips are made out of a high-tech polyurethane foam material that’s designed to conform to your ear canal and offer some grip so the earbuds stay in your ears more securely. These they are IPX4 splash proof and sweat resistant.
Sony’s flagship headphones and earbuds have always been loaded with features and these buds add some new feature upgrades to go along with existing favorites, like speak-to-chat, a mode you can enable that automatically pauses your music and activates the sound can’s ambient mode when you start talking to someone. Ambient mode is similar to Apple’s Transparency mode and with Sony you can adjust the level of ambient sound you want to let in. If I want to have a conversation, the music pauses completely and I can hear the outside world. As soon as I stop talking, five seconds later the music comes back on.
You get multi-point Bluetooth pairing, so you can pair the buds with two devices simultaneously and easily switch audio back and forth between them. There are plenty of EQ settings to help tweak the sound and some adaptive sound modes, plus support for hands-free Alexa.
Also there’s a new beta setting called Find Your Equalizer that lets you choose between a series of EQ setting tweaks to find the sound you like best. Like the previous version, these buds have ear detection sensors that pause your music when you take an earbud out. Also, you can use a single earbud if you want.
What we need to talk about is spatial sound with head tracking. For this, I had to switch to an Android phone. It seems to work somewhat like Apple’s Spatial Audio. For video watching these are also compatible with the new LE audio standards, so in the future you should get access to features like Auracast broadcast audio that would allow, for example, to tap into an audio stream being broadcast from a certain TV at the gym while you’re on a treadmill.
The wireless buds support Sony’s LDAC audio codec as well as DSEE Extreme. Using LDAC can get you slightly better sound quality if you’re streaming high-res audio tracks from streaming services. Users get the AAC audio codec and a lot of Android phones support LDAC.
Moving on to performance, it’s definitely a step up from XM4. There are new speaker driver units and three microphones in each bud. They’re powered by two new proprietary Sony chipsets with more processing power. The integrated processor V2 unlocks the potential of the HD noise cancelling processor QN2e. These have excellent noise cancelling and testing it out against the previous model, there is a substantial leap. These buds are supposed to do a better job muffling a broader range of frequencies.
The XM5 sounds slightly cleaner with better bass definition. Everything’s been tightened up a bit tonally. They’re a little warmer sounding than rival devices. The Sony product has a slight edge in tonal balance. The sound quality for music and movies is excellent and in line with Sony’s XM series of full-size headphones.
As for voice calling, the earbuds have bone conduction sensors that Sony says pick up the vibration of your voice directly from your skull bones, helping to isolate your speech from ambient sounds and background noise for clear calls even in loud environments. I am impressed with the call quality and noise reduction.
I think what really stands out about the XM5 is call quality. From the fidelity of your voice to background noise canceling, it almost matches AirPods Pro 2. Wind noise is not a problem with these buds.
Should you buy it?
Battery life is roughly the same as what you get with the XM4 — around eight hours on a single charge with noise canceling on at moderate volume levels and up to 12 hours with it off. The case holds two extra charges that’s marginally better than what you get with the AirPods Pro 2.
The 1000XM5s come with eight hours of continuous playback (and 24 hours counting the case) and they’re faster at quick charging
These are really impressive earbuds with excellent performance. Once you use it with, say an Android phone, chances are you will leave behind other wireless earbuds. As competition, there are a few models from Bose and also Sennheiser. As for iOS, AirPods Pro 2 continues to have a strong showing.
Sony WF-1000XM5 is for anyone who does a lot of traveling, take a lot of phone calls, especially for business, and wants really great sound quality as well as someone who wants the best of the best and is willing to pay a premium for something that’s going to last several years. It’s a device with enough future proofing and that’s not something you can say about most devices that are in the market.
At a glance
Device: Sony WF-1000XM5
Price: Best buy is Rs 24,990 and pre-booking is Rs 21,990 (till October 15)
Availability: October 18
Colours: Black and platinum silver
Great sound and noise cancellation
Good call quality
Substantial battery life
Speak-to-chat works well
No extra wings to hold them in for running