The latest generation of Sony’s TWS flagship improves ergonomics and portability, but sound quality and connectivity take a hit.
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- Markedly improved comfort and ergonomics over the predecessors.
- Excellent microphone performance
- Good battery life
- Sony Headphones app offer many customization options
- Class-leading ANC performance
- Smooth, analogue-ish tuning that’s never fatiguing
- Above average technicalities given the TWS landscape
- Bland design, carrying case could have better build
- Lacking in dynamic punch
- Stage depth is lacking
- Not the most resolving pair of TWS IEMs in the price range
- Random dropouts during playback
Unboxing and First Impression
Where to Buy
Sony’s WF-1000XM series of IEMs have garnered excellent sales figures and praise due to their class-leading ANC performance.
Enter the Sony WF-1000XM5, the fifth generation of Sony’s flagship TWS Bluetooth IEMs. They promise a generational leap in ANC performance, better battery management, and Sony’s signature tuning from an “improved” driver setup while reducing the footprint of the case and the IEMs.
It sounds like Sony has taken into account all the critical feedback from the earlier models and made the WF-1000XM5 practically flawless. Reality is not so binary, however, as the WF-1000XM5 have their own set of flaws.
- Battery Life: up to 20 hrs
- Connector: USB Type-C
- Wireless Charging: Yes
- Battery Capacity: Not specified
- Can be opened easily with one hand: Yes
- Pass the shake test: Yes
- Light Indicators: Shows estimated battery life left and shows charging indicator
The case can be opened using one hand, making it easier to remove the IEMs. The LED light on the front shows the battery level and doubles as a charging indicator.
- Shape of the case: Rectangular
- Material: Hard plastic with textured finish
- Build Quality: Above average
The soft-touch finish of the previous model has been replaced with a textured hard plastic shell on the latest model.
Unfortunately, while the ergonomics of the case have been improved, the build quality is a step down.
The case lid especially feels a bit wobbly after regular use for the last two months. The WF-1000XM4 case did not exhibit such behavior even after almost a year – a bummer.
- Weight: 39g (case only), 51g (with earbuds)
- Volume: 4 cm x 6.5 cm x 2.65 cm = 68.9 cm cu
- Portability: Good
The smaller carry case is a further refinement over the WF-1000XM4 carry case, which was smaller than the previous model but still quite bulky in the… grander scheme of things. Now, it’s even easier to slip the case inside a (relatively tight) jeans pocket without resorting to gymnastics.
- Battery Life: 12 hrs (without ANC), 8 hours (with ANC)
- Charge Time (15mins): 120 mins playback time
The case holds an additional 16 hours of charge, coupled with the 8 hours (ANC on) or 12 hours (ANC off) of battery life on the IEMs themselves. I need to charge them about once a week during regular use (using the AAC codec). Your mileage may vary.
The WF-1000XM5 need approximately 1.5 hours to fully charge using a USB-PD-certified charger.
- Control Mechanism: Touch
- Touch Accuracy: Good
- Control Symmetry on both earbuds: No, individual setup for each earbud
- Mono Use: Yes, both sides
The circular region on the faceplate acts as a touch-sensitive panel to control various aspects of the IEMs. Touch accuracy is good, with accidental activations being a rare incident.
- Profile: Medium
- Material: Glossy and matte plastic
- Comfort: Outstanding
- Fit: Outstanding
Sony abandoned the unique design language of their WF series IEMs and went for a more generic look and shape with the WF-1000XM5.
While the new design language aids comfort, uniqueness is lost in translation.
The inner side is glossy, while the outer faceplate is matte plastic. The faceplate is barren, barring the golden port for the mic, and void of character in terms of aesthetics.
On the inner side of the IEM, there is the IR sensor for wear detection and the interfaces for charging. The nozzle also houses a feed-forward microphone and is exposed to the elements, another backward step.
- Noise Cancellation: Outstanding
- Voice Pick-up: Outstanding
The mic has excellent voice pickup, even in crowded places. Wind noise is also kept well under control. The noise cancellation algorithm has been tweaked to make voice sound more natural with less abrupt “cuts” in speech.
Overall microphone performance is as good as the class leaders like Samsung Galaxy Buds2, making the WF-1000XM5 an excellent choice for those who prioritize call quality.
- Driver: 8.4mm single dynamic driver
- Sound Signature: Warm, can be tuned via the app
- Bass: Good
- Mids: Good
- Treble: Good
- Sound Detail: Above-average
Sony WF-1000XM5 have a warm, laid-back tuning in stock configuration.
Firstly, the stock tips are better than the ones that were bundled with the previous model. However, they still tend to reduce overall dynamics. Unfortunately, they are the only tips with filters, so you need to be careful about particles and earwax getting into the nozzle.
Bass response is mostly sub-bass-focused. The bass emphasis in the stock setup somewhat clouds the lower-midrange. I tend to reduce the bass via the ClearBass slider for this reason.
Transients are still not as sharp as I’d like, with the leading edge of acoustic and electric guitars sounding a tad smoothed out. It’s a pleasant coloration but can veer into the “too smooth” territory when it comes to reproducing distortion riffs or strums on an acoustic guitar.
The upper-midrange is relaxed, avoiding shout and shrillness. Both male and female vocals sound tonally correct, even though male vocals have added heft to them.
Treble is slightly lifted in the presence region over the preceding model’s stock tuning but still not “energetic” enough to highlight cymbal hits and hi-hats. The upper-treble slowly rolls off past 10kHz. Not a lot of air here, even after adding +5dB to 16kHz via EQ in the app.
The driver inside the WF-1000XM5 is faster than your average TWS but less snappy than some competitors. Staging is another weakness, perhaps due to the smaller acoustic chamber size. While the stage is wide enough not to feel condensed into a spot, stage depth is lacking, resulting in an intimate presentation.
Imaging is mostly accurate, though center-imaging, as usual for IEMs, suffers.
With the ANC turned on, the sound signature of the WF-1000XM5 barely changes. The ANC also allows listening to the headphones at lower-than-required volumes. ANC performance has improved over the WF-1000XM4, resulting in better filtration of high-pitched noises and wind noise.
- Audio Codec: SBC, AAC, LDAC
- Bluetooth Version: 5.3
- Bluetooth Chip: Not specified
- Auto-connect when: Taken out of the case
- Average drop-outs in an hour: 5-8 times
- Multi-point connection: Yes
The WF-1000XM5 support multipoint out of the box, alongside options to toggle between AAC and LDAC codecs. All fine and dandy, but then we encounter the elephant in the room.
The Sony WF-1000XM5 suffer from frustrating connection dropout issues.
The most confusing aspect is that the dropouts can happen out of nowhere. I have had zero dropouts for three days straight, and then the next day, during my commute, the connection would cut out abruptly multiple times in an hour.
These connection issues completely put me off the WF-1000XM5 and stopped them from being my daily driver – a crying shame.
- IP Rating: IPX4
The IPX4 rating means that the WF-1000XM5 are secure from minor splashes and water sprays, but there is no dust protection.
- Available on: iOS, Android
- 5-band EQ
- DSEE-HX and 360 Reality Audio
- Clear-bass allows for increasing or decreasing sub-bass amount
- Ability to save and import profiles across devices
- Auto Pause: when taken off the head.
The Sony app offers a lot of customization features, as usual, but the design of the app is getting stale and dated. Certain “clickable” elements are not obvious, and the numerous pop-ups can sometimes feel jarring.
Another big limitation is the lack of customization for the touch gestures. The presets are fixed, and you cannot alter any actions.
Sony continues to hold their leash on the “best ANC in TWS IEMs” crown, as the WF-1000XM5 offer class-leading performance for noise cancellation yet again. Microphone performance and ergonomics – both have also seen a significant bump up.
Moreover, the woes of the depleting battery of the last model have been addressed as per Sony, though that claim needs more time to be validated. So far, so good, for the latest and greatest, but the devil lies in the details.
Connectivity issues have sprung up as a nasty surprise, and I encountered unexpected dropouts on more than one pair. Moreover, the sound quality is practically the same, resulting in good-yet-uninspiring technical performance. Finally, the bland design and the high MSRP make the whole deal even less attractive.
In the end, the WF-1000XM5 leave me with mixed feelings. I appreciate the exceptional ANC and mic performance, but the connectivity issues and lack of sound improvement make me question whether the purchase is worthwhile.
If you find them on a sale and the connectivity issues turn out to be batch or firmware-specific, the Sony WF-1000XM5 could be a solid purchase. I cannot make a recommendation based on wishful thinking, however, so for now the WF-1000XM5 remain an update that you should skip.