STEREO GUIDE verdict
+ clean, pleasant reproduction
+ deep, musical bass
+ extensive functions
+ very well applicable EQ
+ very effective noise reduction with&without ANC
+ wears very comfortably
- could sound a bit more dynamic/faster
Sound: tonal balance / transparency9.3
Sound: Bass / Dynamics9
Ease-of-use / Connectivity9.7
The Sony WF-1000XM4 is one Sony´s bestsellers and may be taken as a proof that even not particularly cheap TWS can find a significant number of buyers. So what could the Sony have improved when switching from 4th generation to the WF-1000XM5? When reviewing it a year ago, we were already pretty impressed by its predecessor. However, Sony claims to have improved their flagship TWS in terms of sound quality. Battery life with Gen 4 already did not leave much to be desired, so it did not come as a surprise the Sony WF-1000XM5 is class-leading again enduring a whopping 12 hours (without Active Noise Cancelling – ANC) and eight hours with noise cancellation enabled. The second obvious change in the spec sheet: The new Earbuds are lighter, only 5.9 grams instead of 7.
Evolution, no revolution
The manufacturer retained the successful basic concept. However, shape and surface are setting Gen 5 recognizably apart from Gen 4. Instead of a divided outer housing with slighty hard-edged rounded shapes in matte finish, we are dealing with pretty ergonomically teardrop-shaped plugs in a glossy housing. You might have to get used to the fact that the surface is somewhat slippery. Solely the outer surfaces with the touch control panel are matte.
The new Sony WF-1000XM5s are slightly thicker than their predecessors. On the other hand, the diameter was narrowed down, more rounded, sitting much more ergonomically in most of listener´s ear cups. Especially wearers with smaller ears will appreciate this. However, they are not really flat, but protrude a bit from the ear that a nap on the pillow in the plane or on the sofa can become some kind of a problem.
In the ads, Sony is highlighting that the ANC/Active Noise-Cancelling has been significantly improved. On one hand, the 5th generation Sony TWS is said to have a special chip installed that can react faster to noise as soon as the external microphones have detected it which are hidden behind the shimmering copper-gold grille.
Secondly, the driver grew from 6 mm to a diameter of 8.4 mm. This is supposed to offer more reservesto cancel out lower frequencies of higher amplitude, such as wind noise.
A long and winding list of features
Sony has implemented the latest Bluetooth 5.3 standard. And the list of codecs also seems long at first: Besides AAC, which is popular among iPhone users, there is also the standard codec SBC as well as LC3 and LDAC. The latter is a particularly high-quality codec from Sony that allows resolutions of up to 96 kHz sampling rates with bitstreams of 990 kbps.
Unfortunately, all codecs belonging to the aptX family are missing. Users of Android phones thus fall back to the rather inferior SBC codec for a standard connection.
Compared to its predecessor, the charging case is much more ergonomically rounded and now easily finds a place in handbags and pockets. It allows two full recharges of the Earbuds, which adds up to 24 hours of total battery life. Handy detail: The case itself supports wireless charging, for example in the car.
Tap four times or take app
Like its predecessors, the Sony WF-1000XM5 only has one touch-sensitive surface per side. This allows an astonishing number of functions to be activated. However, this is at the expense of intuitive operation, because there is no swipe or gesture control. To decrease or increase the volume, you have to tap four times in quick succession, on the right side. In practice, it is better to adjust the settings on the smartphone.
However, it is worth learning the complicated commands, because they conceal quite useful functions. A transparency mode that can be called up quickly, for example, so that you no longer miss an announcement at the station or on the plane. The assignments can also be individually reprogrammed in the app.
What the Sony Headphones Connect app can do
Which brings us to the Sony Headphones Connect app for iOS and Android. The range of functions is simply unbelievable, and most of it seemed to make sense to us after trying it out. Four main areas with seven sub-menus in some cases: It takes a while to get familiar with all the settings and options.
An overview screen shows which devices are currently connected and what is playing through the Sony WF-1000XM5. For example, there is the noise-cancelling department: It only knows the modes On and Off for noise cancellation. If the ANC is active, it shall automatically perform the analysis of the external sound. In addition to ambient noise, the Bluetooth in-ear even takes into account whether the wearer is moving or sitting still. When the location services are enabled, it also remembers preferred positions and adjusts the ANC.
The Sony WF-1000XM5’s transparency mode for announcements and warning signals, on the other hand, can be fine-tuned in 20 steps. This is really useful, because automatic recognition for train station, bus, plane and train does not exist yet.
EQ for individual sound adjustment
An equalizer for sound adjustment offers five bands, but they only affect the mid-treble range. An additional bass slider doses the low frequency broadband, but can no longer differentiate between low and kick bass. For those who don’t feel secure adjusting the bands themselves, Sony has integrated a multi-level wizard for creating EQ sound presets.
Almost the most important section of the app, however, is for customizing the controls. Thus, not only the touch commands of the left and right earbud can be largely assigned. Head gestures, voice control and automatic standby when taking out as well as when starting a call leave nothing to be desired when customizing the WF-1000XM5 to the needs of its user.
We are so impressed and also a bit overwhelmed that we postpone the test of the ear cup calibration, the 3D playback and the AI playlist linking with Spotify and Endel due to a lack of the necessary subscriptions.
Are four adapters enought to fit everyone?
In the packaging, four ear canal adapters are included. All of them are made of a thin layer of memory foam, which appears to be slightly stiffer compared to competitor´s foam adapters. In addition, the WF-1000XM5-Ian-Ears still have a rubber layer inside for optimal acoustic insulation.
It is recommended to try the Active Noise Cancelling briefly under low-frequency noise conditions (road traffic) after inserting in order to double-check the correct fit. In the beginning, you have to apply a little more pressure than you are used to. However, once the Sonys sit properly, a bit of practice results in an outstandingly comfortable fit, even for hours. The foam lips are also a bit more tolerant in size, so the vast majority of listeners should have no problems with them.
The Bluetooth connection and pairing with the app are lightning fast and smooth. Other manufacturers can really take a leaf out of Sony’s book here.
Is this the most effective ANC in TWS?
Sony promises to implement a significant improvement in terms of active noise cancellation. And we can indeed confirm: Considering all audible frequencies, the Sony WF-1000XM5 probably has the most effective ANC on the market. You stand on a busy road with a significant level of low-frequency engine noises roaring and feel like you’re in a quiet booth at the airport. Provided the Earbuds are really inserted correctly. If there are differences in bass efficiency between the left and right ear, or if a phasy effect occurs, one of the plugs is incorrectly positioned. Interestingly, this can still be the case when nothing is missing when playing music and the bass seems to be fully there.
Turning off the ANC results in virtually identical attenuation in the mid-treble range, which keeps voices and high-frequency noise away effectively and quite evenly. This naturally makes low-frequency noise, such as in an airplane or on a busy road, a bit more disturbing in this mode.
On the other hand, if you are indoors in quiet rooms, the normal mode is quieter and more pleasant. This is because the activated ANC is showing a permanent noise with somehow empasized mid frequencies. So our advice: ANC on outside and off inside – on the train both work!
This is how the Sony WF-1000XM5 sounds like
This brings up an exciting question for the listening test: Do the Sony WF-1000XM5s sound identical with or without ANC? Not quite. Tonally, you don’t notice much of a difference. However, the upper bass sounds fatter itself better in ANC mode, while a slight thinness in the bass is noticeable in normal mode. This can be corrected well with the equalizer, but only for one of the two modes at a time.
Besides that, we can report very good results: The WF-1000XM5 sounds well balanced, shows pretty convincingly clear treble resolution, reaches low in the bass and does not fatigue your ear at all. Voices tend to sound a bit thin, but well-defined. With more bass-thin recordings, on the other hand, one notices that the brilliance range is somewhat tonally highlighted. Surprisingly, however, this is not accompanied by any annoyance and, on the other hand, it can be precisely reduced with the 2-KHz and 6-KHz bands of in.app EQ.
Another strength of the Sony WF-1000XM5 is its imaging: Even without head tracking, 3D effects and alike, it is capable of projecting a pretty plausible ambience and staging. This will be especially appreciated by listeners who prefer acoustically recorded music and vocals, as the Sony also quite cleverly avoids distracting in-head-localization.
When we put on impulsive and bass-heavy music, the Sony stoically stuck to its somewhat relaxed pace: Yes, the bass impulses are impressively deep and assert themselves well in the mix. But you would not have the feeling that impulses are really transient and kicking, but rather relying on a somewhat more voluminous and less snappy groove. This was going well together with the rather velvety treble, but might leave something to be desired in terms of dynamics and impulsiveness if adrenaline-fueled tracks are your thing. In return, the Sony in-ear headphones are guaranteed not to be annoying when playing bad recordings.
Bass response and sound comparison: Sony WF-1000XM5 vs WF-1000XM4
Which brings us to the important question no. 2: How does the 5th generation sound compare to the Sony WF-1000XM4? With very similar overall tonal balance slightly smoother and more multi-faceted in the midrange, we would say. In the bass, the old one grooved a bit more substantial and added more treble detail. From the perspective of a frequent traveler or music listener with broad tastes, the new one is clearly the better TWS.
Conclusion and alternatives to the Sony WF-1000XM5
The Sony WF-1000XM5 is one of the most expensive TWS and accordingly has to compete with the best of the best. In the overall package with the outstanding app, the feature set including headset function for making calls and the probably best ANC in its class, it absolutely justifies its high price. Compared to the sonic top dogs, it plays a bit more inconspicuous and less high-end: The slightly more expensive Bowers & Wilkins PI7S2 offers more resolution, bass authority and impulsivity as well as a clever streaming concept. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 remains the benchmark for naturalness and transparency, although it doesn’t match the Sony in terms of ANC and feature set.
Specifications Sony WF-1000XM5
- Retail price: 320 dollars/pounds/euros
- Type: In-Ear
- Transducer principle: Dynamic
- Weight: 5.9 g each, Case 39 g
- Features: Noise-canceling with anti-wind function, IPX4 splashwater-resistant, app control, hands-free microphones for phone calls.
- More at: www.sony.de
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