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Sony WF-1000XM5 Review – Hear (or Not Hear) And Be Heard Just How You’d Like

Sony WF-1000XM5

Our evaluations and opinions are not influenced by our advertising relationships, but we may earn a commission from our partners’ links. This content is created independently from TIME’s editorial staff. Learn more about it.

updated: June 27, 2024
edited by Amber Katz
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I’m a frequent headphone user, especially if I’m working in a space with others nearby. I use them to listen to public radio, music, audio books, and podcasts, but I suffer from tinnitus in one ear. Headphones, especially those with noise-canceling ability, help mitigate that issue.

I purchased a pair of Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds at the beginning of March 2024 to replace a previous model (the WF-1000XM3) which no longer held a battery charge for more than three or four hours.

Unboxing and first impressions

My first impression of the new Sony WF-1000XM5s was that they were smaller and sleeker than the earlier model I had been using for the past four years, which I immediately liked. The storage case was smaller as well (which follows) making for a more compact overall package that is easier and lighter to transport.

The buds themselves have a sheen and a curved shape which exudes a more future facing look than the older model. What I mean is they look high tech and ultramodern. Both the earbuds and the case are constructed from renewed plastic and arrive in 100% paper packaging for easy recycling.

As with every pair of earbud style headphones I’ve ever tried, I have to use the smallest rubber tip available to ensure they stay in my ears. These earbuds come with four size options (as opposed to only three in the previous model), the newest addition being an extra small, which for me, earns Sony many points. However, I am hesitant to use them when navigating extremely crowded places like Penn Station at rush hour or an airport security line for fear of accidentally dropping one (or one somehow popping out of my ear) and watching it roll away into unretrievable oblivion.

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Sony WF-1000XM5 Pros and cons

Pros:

  • Small, sleek design
  • Comes with multiple sized rubber tips including extra small
  • Admirable noise canceling abilities
  • Excellent sound

Cons:

  • Battery life isn’t as long as claimed

Sony WF-1000XM5 price

List price: $299

Amazon sale price: $248

Regularly priced at $299, these aren’t necessarily a budget item. They’re worth the cost for their sound quality, noise canceling, and other technologically advanced features — more on all of that, below.

Sony WF-1000XM5 The Best Truly Wireless Bluetooth Noise Canceling Earbuds Headphones

Sony WF-1000XM5 The Best Truly Wireless Bluetooth Noise Canceling Earbuds Headphones

Sony WF-1000XM5 specifications

  • Drivers: Dynamic driver
  • Active noise cancellation: Yes
  • Battery life: 8 hours music playback, 6 hours communication, 24 hours with case
  • Weight: 0.4 ounces
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth
  • Frequency range: 2.4 GHz band
  • Processor: Integrated Processor V2
  • Waterproofing: Water resistant; IPX4
  • Mic: Yes, built in

Sony WF-1000XM5 key features

Multipoint connection

This feature lets you pair your earbuds with two Bluetooth devices simultaneously which is brilliant. It means while on a Zoom call via your computer, you can seamlessly switch to a call coming in on your phone.

Speaking of connections.

Built-in voice assistant and other control options

By saying, “Okay Google” or “Alexa” you can control these earbuds, including adjusting features, connecting with friends, and listening to music with your voice assistant of choice. I’m not a big user of voice assistants in any situation, especially when around other people but this feature works reasonably well.

By shaking or nodding your head, you can accept or decline calls or operate auto-play. I tend to accidentally use this type of control more often than deliberately using it.

My preferred method of control is fingertip tapping, which works as I want it to 90% of the time (the 10% it doesn’t could definitely be user error). Tapping on the left earbud allows you to switch from noise canceling to ambient sound and back. A long tap activates quick attention so you can hear what someone is attempting to tell you. On the right bud, a double tap skips a track and tapping four or more times in a row adjusts the volume. The latter requires some dexterity and finagling and I have trouble getting it to work correctly. Again, this could very well be user error; if I tap too hard and too often in a row, I dislodge the bud and it goes flying.

Adaptive sound control

This feature uses AI to sense where you are and what you’re doing and adjusts the sound to fit your surroundings. I can’t say I’ve noticed this particular feature out in the wild but maybe that’s the point? It works so well I can’t discern any difference in sound quality whether I'm on a noisy city street, walking on a secluded trail, in a work setting with numerous people around, or in my own home.

App

Sony’s Headphones Connect app allows you to do many things. One of the most significant is being able to use the ambient sound control to adjust the level of background noise with an option to allow voices. This is helpful in a workspace with others who occasionally need to communicate with you. The app also allows you to assign specific functions to each earbud if you want to mix it up from the factory settings.

Sony WF-1000XM5 The Best Truly Wireless Bluetooth Noise Canceling Earbuds Headphones

Sony WF-1000XM5 The Best Truly Wireless Bluetooth Noise Canceling Earbuds Headphones

Sony WF-1000XM5: Is it for you?

I love these earbuds and use them regularly. I like the size and fit and tend to forget I even have them in. They switch easily to phone call mode from music or podcast playback, then back again after the call finishes.

Sony WF-1000XM5 Performance

These provide excellent call quality, even in noisy situations like a busy New York City street with sirens and that inane ice cream truck music. Bone conduction sensors use the sound of your voice vibrating off your skull bones to isolate your speech from all sorts of cacophonic noises around you.

There’s also a wind noise reduction structure and mesh screen so you can be heard clearly on calls, even in windy conditions. I routinely use these headphones for phone calls and have even conducted interviews with sources while standing on the sidewalk in the city, walking next to the Hudson River and seated on a bench in Central Park. In all situations, I could hear clearly and be heard just as clearly.

Now, if only earbuds could develop the ability to disconnect from your phone call when they are not, in fact, in your ears, that would be amazing. I have a bad habit of taking them out and leaving them laying on the table instead of putting them in their case which means they remain usually connected to my phone so when someone calls I either don’t hear the ringer and/or the person on the other end trying to reach me.

Sound

Equipped with a dynamic driver that provides high-frequency reproduction, these earbuds deliver a rich, high-resolution audio experience even at volumes your phone warns you against using — and especially when it comes to vocals.

Notable also is even at a very low volume, you’ll get clear, even sound. AI technology restores the high-range sound typically lost with compressed digital music. As someone who still owns a turntable and a significant vinyl collection, I’ve often lamented digital music’s “flatness” (for lack of a better word). These headphones render that complaint moot.

Battery life

The Sony WF-1000XM5 has a claimed battery life of eight hours for straight playback and six for two-way communication. In my experience, continuous playback drains the battery in about 6.5 hours, after which they’ll issue a few warnings and then switch off.

A three-minute quick charge gives you 60 minutes of playing time. One reason I purchased the new model of these earbuds was the battery life of the previous version had diminished significantly; it only lasted three or four hours. I’m curious to see how long the battery on this new pair holds up.

Bluetooth range

Sony says these have a range of 10 meters, or around 32 feet which has proved accurate in my experience, unless there’s a metal door in the way.

Quality of noise canceling

Armed with Sony’s HD noise canceling processor QN2e and integrated processor V2, these earbuds perform exceptionally well when it comes to noise canceling and much better than the earlier model I owned.

Each bud is equipped with multi-sensor technology consisting of three microphones on each earbud which improves low-frequency cancellation performance. Noise-canceling technology works by using built-in microphones that analyze sound waves in the world around you. They then generate the opposite of those particular waves, thus canceling them out. Having three built-in microphones raises the accuracy of the captured ambient sound.

As an old friend of mine, who happens to be an experienced sound engineer, once explained to me, a sound wave contains peaks and valleys. If you add a second sound wave on top with the same peaks and valleys perfectly aligned, the overall sound gets louder. If these peaks and valleys do not align, or specifically, if the peaks of one line up with the valleys of the other, they cancel each other out.

As far as level of sound canceling—when it refers to how much of the outside world they block out or, more specifically, how many times does someone need to say my name before I hear them: I give these a seven or eight out of 10. They don’t completely obliterate all ambient noise. Instead, they level it all into a nice muted mush that’s easy to ignore while allowing in enough that I’m moderately aware of my surroundings. I see this as a good thing. For me and my tinnitus, the background mush covers the slight ringing and makes what I’m listening to sound clearer.

In contrast, I’m currently testing a pair of Bose Quiet Comfort Ultra Earbuds which completely block out every outside noise (likely because of the thin rubber ring around the rim of the wireless earbud which creates a seal over my eardrum).

I switch between the two and definitely prefer the Sony’s in some instances, like when construction workers are pounding on the ceiling above me. Neither pair of earbuds can successfully block out that sound but the 1000XM5s manage to dull it while the Bose seem to almost amplify it—probably because they block out everything else so effectively and the pounding/hammering is the one thing coming through.

If you’re interested in noise canceling headphones, you can read more on that in our guide.

Sony WF-1000XM5 The Best Truly Wireless Bluetooth Noise Canceling Earbuds Headphones

Sony WF-1000XM5 The Best Truly Wireless Bluetooth Noise Canceling Earbuds Headphones

Sony WF-1000XM5 design and build quality

Comfort and portability

With their small size and low weight, these earbuds are one of the most comfortable I’ve owned. They stay put in my ears the majority of the time though they are not immune to the occasional unscheduled pop-out. This happens more rarely than with the previous model, which is heavier and bigger. I also like the size of the charging case which is compact, fitting into the palm of my hand.

Comfort and portability

Fit

According to its website, Sony designed these earbuds with a shape that “perfectly matches the human ear.” To say perfect may be a slight exaggeration but I do find these earbuds quite comfortable. They’re lightweight and small enough that I usually forget I even have them in.

Charging

The case charges via the included USB-C cable (my goal is for every electronic device I own to use a USB-C cable) or, by placing it on one of those wireless charging platforms.

Charging

Sony WF-1000XM5 compared to Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)

Apple AirPods don’t work in my ears—or rather, I’ve never been able to get them to work. They’re too big and never feel secure. I haven’t attempted to use the AirPods Pro, 2nd Generation which now includes rubber tips, instead of just a one-size smooth end like previous versions. This makes me think that they would likely be more secure in my ears but I still don’t like the feel and look of the stems extending from the ears.

I also do not own an iPhone, but rather a Droid. The Sony WF-1000XM5s paired easily with my Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, my 2021 MacBook Pro and my new MacBook Air. While it’s true that my phone and computers don’t really talk to each other, my headphones communicate with everything; which in our world of proprietary software is an admirable quality.

Sony WF-1000XM5: Final verdict

I like these earbuds a lot. They’re comfortable, small and lightweight, and deliver excellent sound with good noise canceling. While there are earbuds that provide a higher level of noise canceling (specifically Bose’ Quiet Comfort Ultra Earbuds, which I’m currently testing) there are situations I prefer these because they don’t block out the outside world completely. Instead, they muffle it into a distant din—kind of like the adults talking in Charlie Brown but at a lower decibel level. Which completely works for me.

Sony WF-1000XM5 The Best Truly Wireless Bluetooth Noise Canceling Earbuds Headphones

Sony WF-1000XM5 The Best Truly Wireless Bluetooth Noise Canceling Earbuds Headphones

The information presented here is created independently from the TIME editorial staff. To learn more, see our About page.

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