Sony WF-1000MX5 review headphones

Sony WF-1000XM5 review: brilliant, but imperfect

True wireless headphones are inescapable these days. Far more models in this form factor cross the GadgetGuy reviews desk more than any other style. It used to be that true wireless was the more affordable alternative to over-ear cans, but the price tag has been creeping up more and more. At $499.95, the Sony WF-1000XM5 headphones are only $50 cheaper than the over-ear version, and $100 more expensive than AirPods Pro (Gen 2).

But, Sony is known for making some of the best noise-cancelling headphones around, and there is a lot to love here to justify the price. There are just also a couple of serious drawbacks that make them less of a slam dunk purchase.

First impressions

The first thing I noticed when I opened up the minimalist packaging was the squishiness of the ear tips. I always think it’s weird how many manufacturers of true wireless headphones go for silicone tips over something like Comply Foam, which can fit more ears. These tips strike a balance between silicone and Comply Foam. They’re more on the silicone side of the fence, but they’re more pliable than usual and keep their shape a bit better, which I find makes them fit my ears with a hardier seal while being more comfortable than traditional silicone tips.

There are four sizes of tips in the box: L, M, S, and SS. The SS size is a bit bigger than the XS I’ve seen with other brands, but given that these buds really aren’t designed for smaller ears, that makes sense.

Setting up the headphones in the app is a breeze, allows for more customisation of controls and means you can keep track of listening habits and volume to look after your hearing health.

Sony WF-1000XM5 specifications

Headphone typeClosed, dynamic
WaterproofIPX4 equivalent
Noise cancellingActive Noise Cancelling (ANC)
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.3
Virtual AssistantGoogle Assistant, Amazon Alexa
Battery life8 hours or 24 hours total with case
Price (RRP)$499
Warranty1 year
Official websiteSony Australia

Sony WF-1000XM5 performance

Headphones, particularly in-ear ones, are extremely personal devices. There are so many elements, and each one will be a different priority level for everyone else, and that’s even before we get to the unique ear canal shapes and frequency losses each person has. My experience with the Sony WF-1000XM5 true wireless buds was excellent, except for the fact that the buds just aren’t designed for my ears.

Fit and comfort

This was my one problem area with the XM5s. Unfortunately, it’s also the one area that decides success or failure in a product whose only attachment to you is how hard it can cling onto your ear canal. The Sony WF-1000XM5 has my least favourite body shape type of any true wireless bud. It protrudes out a long way, there aren’t any counterbalances, there’s no ear hook, and it’s not trying to conform to any part of your ear except for the ear canal.

Those with textbook ears, the mythical person for whom every pair of buds are designed, will probably be fine. Everyone else, however, is facing a tough ask in terms of fit.

Sony WF-1000MX5 in case

I normally wear a medium ear tip in my right ear, and then a medium or small in my left. On these buds, doing the ear tip test in the app told me that I am an “L” in my right ear and a “???” in my left, because no tip passed the test and the app kept saying I was wearing it wrong, and should twist it back into my left ear. I am wearing it as correctly as is humanly possible. I’m concerned that if I try to twist it into my left ear with any more enthusiasm, I may twist off the ear itself.

To be fair, my left ear is always a problem when it comes to in-ear headphones, which is why I favour Comply Foam tips, and earbuds with counterbalances or other ways to stay in. But this form factor is particularly unforgiving to all by the most perfect ears, and I wish I could ask the designers why they chose it.

This means that I constantly have to readjust them, so the first step is to turn off the touch controls so I’m not always turning noise cancelling on and off.

Sound quality

Even without achieving a perfect seal, I am blown away by how good the sound quality is. Music sounds so full, so uncompromised. I have not yet found a genre that doesn’t sound good on the XM5s.

They are a little bass heavy, as is the way of headphones in Australia, so my test songs like “Full Heart Fancy” by Lucky Chops sound a little too grounded. But more classical songs like “Georgiana” by Dario Marianelli still soar.

The entire new Evergreen album by Pvris seems to be what these headphones were designed for. It’s crunchy rock with strong electronic elements, and that grounding that’s excessive on the Lucky Chops song really emphasises the emotion in the track “I Don’t Wanna Do This Anymore”. It just flows so nicely, with the sticking pattern on the snare still standing out, not getting consumed by the heavy bass, with the sound of the ride cymbal fading into the background somewhat while still adding needed brightness.

“Goddess” by Pvris is a song I’ve been listening to on a lot of headphones, because I’ve found that it can sound a bit muddy on certain competitor cans (and also I just really like it). But it sounds so clear that I’m noticing little details that I’d missed on my dozens of other listens.

Overall, Sony has done it again. The WF-1000XM5 sounds bloody amazing.

Controls, batteries, noise cancellation and other important things

The battery is something I’m really happy with on the XM5. Eight hours of noise cancellation and music per full charge with two extra charges in the case is very good, given the physical size. The fast charge ability, where three minutes of charging equals an hour of listening, is also fantastic for flights or long work days, just really pushing it that little bit further.

Sony WF-1000MX5 buds in case

Sony noise cancelling continues to be the best in the business. As I write this, I’m unable to hear my normally very clicky keyboard over the music. Without the headphones on, I can hear my family loudly watching TV in the other room and the sound of my keyboard, alongside the general sirens and sounds of the city. With the headphones on, I can’t hear anything but the music, which is impressive. That said, Sony’s competitors have really caught up on noise cancelling, and the gap between Sony and other brands is much, much smaller than it used to be.

Also, Sony’s transparency mode can’t hold a candle to the (cheaper) Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation). On the AirPods, it sounds like I’m not wearing headphones. On the XM5 it sounds like the world is being amplified by microphones.

Predictably, I hate the controls. Touch controls don’t belong on tiny true wireless headphones, because they need to be adjusted too frequently, leading to accidental touches, especially in this form factor. I’m pleased the touch controls can be turned off in the app, but here some physical buttons would really go a long way.

On the bright side, I really like the case. It’s much smaller than the one on the previous model, while still doing more. It’s easy to fit in a pocket and go. I’m impressed.

Who is the Sony WF-1000XM5 for?

This is a difficult question. If given the choice between buying the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Gen) or the Sony WF-1000XM5, I think I would go for the AirPods. It’s a saving of $100, a better fit, and a better transparency mode. The Sony XM5 is extremely good, and sounds amazing, but the fit and comfort issues really give me pause.

Sony WF-1000XM5 Noise Cancelling Wireless Earphones – Up to 24 hours battery life – Truly Wireless style – Optimised for Alexa and Google Assistant – with built-in mic for phone calls – Black
  • Truly Wireless Earbuds with Noise Cancelling
  • The Best Noise Cancellation
  • Compact and comfortable design, available in 2 classic colours
  • NEW HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN2e – blocks more noise, in more situations
  • NEW Integrated Processor V2, for reliable connectivity and high quality sound

That said, for Android users for whom AirPods aren’t really a great option, and who have standard ears and don’t want to move around too much while wearing them, then I definitely recommend the XM5. They just sound so, so good, and the battery and noise cancelling blow me away. These are fantastic headphones that, were they $100 cheaper, would be easy to recommend.

As it stands, though, if it’s possible to try before you buy, I would strongly suggest doing that, because fit is a roll of the dice.

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Sony WF-1000XM5
Truly excellent true wireless headphones that sound amazing, but suffer from fit issues.
Features
9
Value for money
7.5
Performance
9.5
Ease of use
9
Design
8
Positives
Sound excellent
Great noise cancelling
Three minutes of charge can give you an hour of listening
Negatives
Difficult shape to get a good fit
Expensive
Transparency mode is merely fine
8.6