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Sony WF-1000XM5 Review: Smaller, Lighter, But Not Better

Wireless connectivity is via Bluetooth 5.3, with SBC, AAC, and high-resolution LDAC codec compatibility and multi-point connectivity. Lower-resolution content can be breathed on by Sony’s DSEE Extreme algorithm, which claims to be able to upscale lossy audio files in real time.

Feature Frenzy

The WF-1000XM5 are compatible with Sony’s Dolby Atmos—bothering “360 reality audio,” and features head-tracking technology that adjusts the sound-field to follow your head movement. Augmented reality games can benefit from this same technology, too.

Three mics per earbud, including a pair of feed-forward mics, take care of telephony, voice-assistant interaction, and noise cancellation. Call quality is augmented by bone-conduction sensors, a specific wind-noise reduction structure, and some neural-network-based AI algorithms also trying to keep wind-noise suppressed.

No matter if you’re listening to music or podcasts, playing games, or making or receiving calls, though, sound is delivered by a pair of newly designed drive units. At 8.4 mm each, these new drivers are a fair bit bigger than the 6-mm items the WF-1000XM4 had to make do with—and the name Dynamic Driver X also makes them seem pretty mysterious.

As far as getting all that hardware to do what you want, Sony has—as is the company’s standard operating practice—gone to town. The WF-1000XM5 have more features, more opportunity for customization, and more functionality than any of us have the patience to discuss in full. So by way of a taster, here are some of the highlights:

Control is available via a large, responsive capacitive touch-surface on each earbud. All the most common operations can be performed this way, and the exemplary Sony Headphones control app allows a degree of customization of their functions, too. (And though the app itself was in beta during the course of this test, it was an absolute paradigm of stability and functionality.)

It allows finessing of the “ambient sound” side of active noise cancellation, including the ability to concentrate fully on voices using the “voice passthrough” setting. There’s also “speak to chat,” which pauses playback when your voice is detected by the earbuds. It allows you to prioritize either Bluetooth wireless connection stability or sound quality.

It features a five-band EQ with nine presets and the ability to save a couple of your own. It has an on/off setting for the aforementioned DSEE Extreme (frankly, the difference between the two settings is nothing as pronounced as Sony would have you believe), and it is keen to receive a photograph of each of your ears in order to optimize its 360 Reality Audio function.

It allows you to answer calls with a nod of your head (or, even more importantly, reject them with a shake). And there’s activation for Spotify Tap and for Endel (the latter plays a series of sounds intended to help you relax or drift off to sleep). It lets you switch low latency on or off—having it on is very handy when watching videos or gaming.

There’s more, and will be more still when the app is finalized, but the broad point is already made: The Sony WF-1000XM5 have functionality the like of which no nominal rival can compete with. Oh, and there’s utterly reliable compatibility with your source player’s native voice assistant, too.

Sound Performance

Photograph: Sony

And where the most important aspect of performance—the reproduction of music—is concerned, the WF-1000XM5 need no apologies made for them. They may not have the sort of sound that will satisfy the most committed bass-heads, but listeners who value momentum, accuracy, and straightforward fidelity will find very little to take issue with here.