Marketed as being “made for iPhone” these earbuds offer the “world’s best noise cancelling” for headphones — but how user friendly are they really?
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I’ve had my current AirPods (2nd Gen) since 2019, and boy, do I love them for their ease of use — there’s absolutely nothing complicated about them, a major selling point of nearly all Apple products — however they don’t offer any kind of noise cancelling.
Since trialling the Sony WF-1000XM5* for the past six weeks, I have to admit I have been sorely missing out by not having a pair of noise cancelling headphones until now.
They’re better than my AirPods in almost every way and are marketed by Sony as being “made for iPhone”, making them ideal for even the most devoted of Apple users.
“Being a Bluetooth headphone, the WF-1000XM5 can be used with both iPhones and Android phones, for music playback and hands free calls,” Sony Australia Product Specialist Andrew Hughes told news.com.au.
“Both Android and iPhone users can also install the Headphones Connect App to customise sound and other headphone features.”
Their major selling point? The WF-1000XM5s “currently offers the world’s best noise cancelling”.
“The WF-1000XM5 uses multiple technologies to achieve this, including six microphones (to collect more ambient sound), dual processors and new noise isolation earbud tips,” Mr Hughes said.
Impressed? Read on for my in-depth review on the headphones, including the one feature that means I am never going back to my Apple headphones.
HOW WE TESTED THE SONY WF-1000XM5 HEADPHONES
At news.com.au checkout, it’s our mission to help you make informed shopping decisions. To ensure you buy the right product at the best price, we rigorously test products so you don’t have to. As well as sorting through mountains of consumer reviews, product manuals and conducting thorough product research, our team of expert writers puts each product we review through a series of hands-on tests to ensure we give you honest feedback about its performance and whether it’s worth your hard-earned money. In this case I tested the Sony WF-1000XM5 for six weeks, putting its features to the test in a variety of scenarios including on public transport, at the gym, running, walking outside, watching movies, listening to music and for hands-free calls.
In this article
SONY WF-1000XM5 SPECS AND FEATURES
What’s in the box:USB cable, noise isolation earbud tips, charging case and reference guide
Weight: 5.9 grams (single earbud), 39 grams (charging case)
Headphone type: Closed, dynamic
Bluetooth version: Bluetooth Specification Version 5.3
Are they waterproof? Yes
Is there DSEE Extreme? Yes
Is there an ambient sound mode? Yes
Earbuds battery charge time: Around an hour and a half
Charging case battery charge time: Around two hours (using USB cord)
Battery life (continuous music playback): Max eight hours with noise cancelling on, max 12 hours with noise cancelling off
Battery life (continuous communication playback): Max six hours with noise cancelling on, max seven hours with noise cancelling off
The sound quality on these small-but-mighty headphones has blown me away. I’ve an extensive headphones user — I rely on my earbuds for work meetings, phone calls, watching YouTube videos plus listening to podcasts and music. The sound is so crisp and clear and is especially noticeable when I’m watching a movie — it’s like a soundbar for your ears. I don’t feel like I need to have the volume up as high as my previous earbuds to hear what’s being said in noisy environments, plus even when the volume is up high it doesn’t go static-y like some headphones do.
Sony is one of the market leaders when it comes to audio and the WF-1000XM5’s stellar quality can be attributed to the fact it has DSEE Extreme. DSEE Extreme, also known as high range compensation, uses AI to upscale compressed sound sources (such as MP3), making sound more crisp and dynamic-sounding. To access the setting you just have to toggle it on in your Sony Headphones Connect app.
As far as in-ear earbuds go the WF-1000XM5 are much more compact than other noise-cancelling ear buds in the market, including Sony’s previous model the WF-1000XM4 — the WF-1000XM5s are 25 per cent smaller and 20 per cent lighter.
The only issue I had with them was that even using the smallest size provided, the ear tips were a little too big for my ears. The WF-1000XM5s come with four different ear tip sizes and while the smallest ones (SS) stayed put in my ears during vigorous exercise like running, I would have preferred another size down for optimal comfort.
It also took some getting used to having earbuds that sit inside your ear canal rather than just outside the ear. However if you’re after a pair of noise-cancelling earbuds you’d be hard pressed to find a pair that worked effectively and didn’t sit inside your ear canal.
Overall I would rank the WF-1000XM5s as an 8/10 overall when it comes to comfort given they’re not as large or bulky as other earbuds, but discounting them because the ear tips were still a little snug for my ears.
I’ve always been hesitant about noise cancelling headphones because of the potential safety risks they could pose when crossing roads and as a woman walking alone at night. But I have to say any concerns were quickly allayed the first time I wore them outside as they didn’t completely block out my surrounds. Instead the WF-1000XM5s kind of ‘tunnelled’ noise for me, meaning I could still hear cars and people approaching me, but it didn’t overpower whatever I was listening to.
That’s because the 1000XM5s have Ambient Sound Control, a setting that allows you to still be aware of the sounds around you, just not at the full level you would experience without headphones.
The 1000XM5s also adjust to your environment, with the headphone using AI technology to change the noise cancelling offered depending on whether you’re walking, running, on public transport, sitting down or in a busy area. It’s a feature Sony says will get accurate the more you use them and something I found worked incredibly well. You can also adjust the Ambient Sound Control manually within the Headphones Connect app.
These headphones also have a new driver unit Dynamic Driver X, the Sony-developed Integrated Processor V2 and a HD Noise Cancelling Processor Qn2e, which help both deliver better sound and noise cancelling depending on your environment.
I found the noise-cancelling particularly superb when working out at the gym and on public transport. If you’ve ever spent any time at a gym you’ll know that there are some patrons that really don’t care how much noise they make when working out despite how disruptive it might be to others. The WF-1000XM5s effectively put a wall between me and the rest of the gym environment, meaning I can hear just enough to be aware of my surrounds, but they blocked out the gym’s crappy music and any over-the-top grunting or weight dropping. It’s honestly made my workouts that much more enjoyable and has been the greatest benefit I’ve reaped from the WF-1000XM5s.
The headphones similarity make riding on the bus or tram much more relaxing, because they dial back the background noise if it’s crowded — my afternoon commute in particular is much more enjoyable, because who likes the background noise of rowdy school kids after a day in the office?
It’s also ideal for when I work from home — my partner and I share a home office and he has to do lots of video meetings for his job, while I tend to do the bulk of my writing on my WFH days. But before when I would have found them distracting for my work I’m now able to pop the WF-1000XM5s on and keep writing without the noise from his calls making me lose my train of thought.
These earbuds might be small, but boy does their microphone pack a punch and these headphones will deliver crisp sound even when you’re in a noisy or windy environment. This is thanks to its Deep Neural Network processing (a noise reduction algorithm that uses AI), bone conduction sensors and a special wind noise reduction structure. I used these headphones for work video calls on my laptop, FaceTime and just regular phone calls and had no complaints from the people at the other end that I was hard of hearing. I also tested the WF-1000XM5s’ noise and wind reduction abilities in two experiments: calling my partner during a windy coastal walk and phoning him while inside a closed room with loud music playing in the background. In both instances he said the background noise was reduced and he was still able to hear me clearly.
DESIGN AND HARDWARE
What impresses me the most about these headphones are how light they are. The earbuds and charging case weigh just 50.8 grams in total, while each earbud is less than six grams.
From a purely aesthetic point of view the WF-1000XM5s tick lots of boxes with a modern, more rounded design and coming in two neutral tones, black or silver, with a glossy finish.
When it comes to hardware, the WF-1000XM5s have two new processors: the HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN2e to block more noise and an Integrated Processor V2 for better quality sound.
SOFTWARE AND APP
As someone who has little to no tech literacy (really exposing myself here) I really appreciated how intuitive these headphones were. Whatever you are playing automatically pauses when you take them both earbuds out and starts playing again when you pop them back in — I loved this for when I was on the go.
You can also control a number of settings with just a touch of your finger — a quick tap on the left earbud changed the setting from Noise Cancelling mode to Ambient Sound mode, while a long tap changes it to Quick Attention mode, which lowers whatever you have playing — a great feature for when I needed to hear an announcement on public transport.
To answer or end a call, double tap the left headphone while repeat tapping will lower the volume of whatever you’re playing
A quick tap on your right earbud pauses whatever you’re playing and another tap will play the content again. Double tapping the right earbud will skip to the next song, while a triple tap will go back to the previous song.
The Headphones Connect App means you can create a fully customisable experience when it comes to your WF-1000XM5s. You can adjust the Ambient Sound Control manually or track your headphones volume to make sure you’re at safe levels.
It lets you adjust your bass levels as well as choosing between different sound presets such as arena style, club, hall or outdoor stage style.
The moment you pop your headphones in and it connects to your phone, a notification pops up letting you know it’s been connected (which prevents any embarrassing instances of accidentally playing your music on full volume on a packed train). It also keeps track of the battery level of your charging case which is my favourite feature.
Given how powerful the noise-cancelling function, I would have expected the WF-1000XM5s would need to be charged fairly often. But as listed above they come with a healthy battery life that would easily get you through a day of work if you were using them for noise cancelling during your commute, work and the gym. They have an impressive six hours of battery life if you’re using the microphone and noise cancelling function at the time, which should hopefully carry you through the work day (if you have more than six hours of meetings in one day — my sincerest sympathies).
On average I had to charge the case twice a week, with each charge taking around two hours. A nice little feature is that when the case is low you’ll get a notification from the Headphones Connect app alerting you to it — it meant I never ended up with a completely dead pair of headphones while I was out and about.
The Sony WF-1000XM5s currently retail for around $419, although we will be keeping an eye out when Black Friday rolls around to see if there are any discounts.
They’re more expensive than most other noise-cancelling airbuds on the market but they do offer top-notch sound quality and noise cancelling.
In comparison Apple’s AirPods Pro (2nd generation) retail for $399, slightly less than the WF-1000XM5s and Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds II have an RRP of $429.95.
Sony’s over ear equivalent, the WH-1000XM5s have an RRP of $548.
HOW DO THE SONY WF-1000XM5 EARBUDS COMPARE TO OTHER NOISE-CANCELLING EARBUDS?
This was a major selling point of these headphones at the time of their release in August 2023. According to a study conducted by Sony in April 2023, the WF-1000XM5s offer the best ambient noise reduction of any earbuds currently available when compared to the top 10 brands of wireless headphones on the market. In short, you’re paying for some of the latest technology in noise-cancelling, meaning the WF-1000XM5s are well worth the investment if blocking out noise is a chief concern.
SONY WF-1000XM5 OVERALL: OUR HONEST OPINION
After using these headphones pretty much everyday for the last six weeks I can confidently say I won’t be going back to my far more basic AirPods anytime soon. The WF-1000XM5 are an incredibly sophisticated pair of headphones that are still user friendly to even the most basic of tech users (ahem, ME) out there. The ability to customise your noise cancelling and sound, or simply let Sony’s AI do it for you, makes them truly worth their $419 price tag.
It is worth saying that they are expensive, however, they are on par with similar pairs from brands like Apple and Bose and they do at the time of publishing offer the latest in noise cancelling technology. You also have to be comfortable with the earbuds sitting inside your ear canal (which isn’t for everyone) and if that’s the case I’d recommend one of Sony’s over-ear noise cancelling headphones instead.
More headphones content:
Top noise-cancelling headphones reviewers love
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*Product was provided by Sony for an independent and honest review