Sony WF-1000XM5 Review: Can It Beat AirPods Pro 2?

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Sony WF-1000XM5 Review
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Here’s my review of the Sony WF-1000XM5 after using it next to the AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) for a couple of weeks. So it’s pretty much common knowledge at this point that Apple’s unparalleled command over its ecosystem is one of the main reasons how the company got to where it is today.

You buy an iPhone and — more likely than not — you’re gonna go with the iPad, the Apple Watch, and the AirPods instead of even considering choices from other brands. So for the competition to win over such an… accustomed set of consumers, they have to be among the very best in whatever they do.

Anything lesser than that simply won’t do.

Enter, Sony

And in the world of audio, only a handful of names are as beloved and esteemed as Sony. Which is why when the company announced its latest pair of premium wireless earbuds with a name that sounds more like a nuclear launch code, I was quite eager to get my hands on it.

Sony WF-1000XM5 - Design 5

More importantly, I wanted to know if it could replace my go-to second-gen AirPods Pro for the spot in my ears. But while it has excellent audio quality, noise cancellation, and everything, Sony’s got an uphill battle with the pricing itself. The thing is — although the Sony WF-1000XM5 costs similar to the AirPods Pro 2 in markets like India — it’s slightly more expensive in the West.

Price in the US Price in India
Sony WF-1000XM5 USD 300 INR 24,990
AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) USD 249 INR 24,900

So… does Sony have what it takes to convince the AirPods purists to switch to its newest pair of earbuds despite the price difference?

Sony WF-1000XM5 Review: Specifications

  • Weight: 5.9 grams (each earbud), 39 grams (case)
  • IP Rating: IPX4 splash resistance
  • Color Options: Black, Silver
  • Sound Driver: 8.4mm Dynamic Driver X (closed)
  • Frequency Response:
    • 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz (44.1 kHz sampling)
    • 20 Hz – 40,000 Hz (LDAC 96 kHz sampling @ 990 kbps)
  • Microphone: 3 mics on each earbud, bone conduction sensor
  • Audio Codecs: AAC, SBC, LC3, LDAC
  • Chip: V2 integrated processor, QN2e noise cancelling processor
  • Noise Cancellation: Yes, with Quick Attention
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3
  • Companion App: Sony | Headphones Connect (Android | iOS)
  • Control: Touch-sensitive area in each earbud
  • Battery Life: 8 / 12 hours continuous playback (ANC on / off)
  • Charging: Wired, Qi wireless charging support
  • Other Features: DSEE Extreme, 360 Reality Audio, Multipoint Connection, Fast Pair, Swift Pair, Adaptive Sound Control, Speak-to-Chat
  • Price in Nepal: NPR 47,000

Sony WF-1000XM5 Review:

Design and Comfort

  • 5.9 grams (each earbud)
  • IPX4 splash resistance

Okay, starting with the design, I can’t say Sony has established a definitive look for its more expensive earbuds quite yet — like Apple has — since this lineup has seen a few visual overhauls over the years.

But the XM5s definitely feel like Sony’s most ear-friendly pair of premium wireless earbuds yet.

Because even though last year’s WF-1000XM4 was significantly more compact versus the monstrous WF-1000XM3 from 2020, it was still a bit bulky compared to what most of its competitors managed. This time, however, Sony has somehow figured out a way to shrink down the footprint of these earbuds by an incredible 25% while also making them 20% lighter.

Sony WF-1000XM5 - Design 1

And when you think about it, the fact that Sony has managed to address comfort complaints year after year (while also improving upon other aspects) is mighty impressive.

The Sony WF-1000XM5 still isn’t the most cozy pair of earbuds I’ve used or anything, but it’s right up there. Just a couple of steps below the AirPods Pro. There was this one time when I put these on for more than 5 hours at a time and I didn’t feel the need to take ‘em off at any point.

Foam ear tips supremacy

It had been a while (actually) since I last used some earbuds with foam ear tips like this and now, I don’t wanna go back to the regular silicone ones. Seriously. Even though I know how difficult these are to clean and that they are usually less durable than silicone tips.

And when walking down the streets of Kathmandu on particularly sunny days, I would get a little worried if its IPX4 rating was gonna hold up since I sweat a lot but — as it turns out — I had nothing to worry about.

These earbuds also have a lot more visual flair than the AirPods Pro I must say. Apple’s iconic stem design has never really been my thing — although I can live with it just fine — and I much prefer something that doesn’t protrude out of my ears quite as much. Sony also offers a couple of choices in terms of color options and this charging case is perfectly pocketable too.

What’s the case with the case?

But the AirPods Pro’s case simply offers a better peace of mind. I mean… it’s not even a competition. And for most people, that’s what matters more than color options and whatnot. From its IP54 dust and splash resistance (like the buds) to the lanyard loop, the U1 chip, and the built-in speaker for better findability, this guy is the more versatile of the two by a long shot.

Sony WF-1000XM5 - AirPods Pro Case

Different design means these earbuds have a different control mechanism as well. The Sony WF-1000XM5 brings touch sensors on both sides while Apple makes full use of the stems on the AirPods Pro 2 for a comprehensive set of pinch and swipe gestures.

Controls

  • A touch interface on each earbud
  • Limited customization options available

Either of these is fine for me, to be honest, but the AirPods’ controls certainly feel a little more intuitive overall.

Mostly because Apple lets me control playback, noise cancellation, and everything from either earbuds, while I sometimes feel like I’m doing a contemporary dance move when trying to adjust different settings on the Sony WF-1000XM5. And it also doesn’t help that Sony doesn’t let me customize controls as freely as I’d like.

I can assign both the left and right buds for media control to make things a bit easier but then there’d be no way to toggle ANC and transparency mode without the app. The XM5’s four-tap gesture for controlling volume isn’t my favorite thing in the world, whereas I’ve also noticed accidental touches on a couple of occasions here.

To be fair, it’s not as frequent (or annoying) as something like on the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro but there you go.

Then again, you know what?

Multipoint Connection supremacy

The XM5 has one super useful feature that’s not available on the AirPods Pro. And it never might be. Yeah, I’m talking about true multipoint connectivity. Although you can switch between different Apple devices without repeating the whole unpairing-pairing process every single time, it just cannot beat the simplicity of multipoint connection.

So it doesn’t matter if I’m on an iPhone, an Android phone, a Macbook, or a Windows laptop, the Sony WF-1000XM5 can simultaneously stay connected to any two of them. And make a switch when needed.

Sound

  • 8.4mm Dynamic Driver X (closed)
  • AAC, SBC, LC3, LDAC codecs
  • DSEE Extreme support

That reminds me. One of the key upgrades to the XM5 that kinda flew under the radar — or one that Sony isn’t marketing very well — is the fact that these earbuds finally let you enjoy LDAC playback even when you’re connected to two devices at a time. This is a pretty big deal actually.

Because with the XM4s, they would default to low bitrate codecs like AAC or SBC as soon as you use multipoint connection. That’s no fun on such a premium pair of earbuds. But here on the Mark 5s, I can finally enjoy hi-res LDAC playback on either device, provided that both of them support LDAC.

Which is not an exciting news for iPhone users anyway since Apple doesn’t like LDAC. Or any of the hi-res audio codecs for that matter.

So even though these earbuds can transmit up to 24-bit / 96kHz audio over Bluetooth at a max bitrate of 990 kbps, that’s pretty much a moot point when talking about iPhones. But that doesn’t mean the XM5s sound mediocre on an Apple device or anything.

No, no. no.

Sony WF-1000XM5 - Wearing

With the all-new 8.4mm dynamic driver that Sony says has been especially tuned for improved low frequencies, clearer vocals, and lower distortion, the XM5s produce some of the cleanest, well-resolved audio I’ve heard from a pair of wireless earbuds. The soundstage feels wide and it manages to reproduce that perception of the physical location of instruments on a track really well.

Terrific audio all around

In other words, it has excellent imaging. Easily among the best out of all wireless earbuds I’ve tried so far. And besides the new driver unit, the upgraded V2 chip and Sony’s DSEE Extreme technology (that upscales compressed, low-quality audio files) are also pulling a lot of the heavy-duty for delivering this level of detail, clarity, and instrument separation.

When listening to The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”, Mick Jagger’s progressively grittier vocals during the fourth verse of the song is incredibly well-resolved on the XM5s next to all the instruments playing around him.

Whereas the Apple AirPods Pro isn’t quite as open and detailed — mostly in terms of the brilliance — from the percussive instruments like shakers and congas. I’m not 100% sure if this is a result of the bigger driver (or just how Sony wanted the XM5s to sound) but these are also much richer bass-wise than I was expecting.

Slaps the bass (maybe a bit too hard)

I knew it would sound a bit more energetic than the second-gen AirPods Pro… but not by this much. So while the AirPods Pro has this… relatively relaxed kind of tuning with a slight bump in the midrange section, the XM5s are going to sound more pleasing to most folks.

Sony WF-1000XM5 - Ear tips

Bu…t in certain types of songs, I did notice that the bass can get a little loud here, clouding the finer trebles in the process. For example, in the non-chorus section of “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes, the Sony WF-1000XM5 (almost completely) dissolves the subtle beat of hi-hats. This kind of tuning also affects the vocal timbre in songs with not much fast transient response. So… acoustic tracks mostly.

Which is something the AirPods Pro 2 absolutely shines at.

Like in Bob Dylan’s 1974 outtake of “Idiot Wind”, that extended bass response means Dylan’s voice sounds somewhat hollow. On the contrary, the AirPods Pro nails the tonal balance of the song. I know I sound like I’m overly nitpicking at this point but considering their price… I have to.

Can set a custom equalizer

Thankfully — unlike Apple — Sony lets you select from a bunch of different equalizers or create your own one. There’s even a “Find Your Equalizer” feature that personalizes the EQ for your ears based on the song you listen to. Pretty cool stuff. And as you can see, my music taste definitely favors a little more brilliance than what the XM5 sounds by default.

So yeah, while the AirPods Pro sounds fantastic and all for most kinds of songs, I’d still go with Sony because of its superior audio quality overall.

And if you care about stuff like spatial audio and head tracking, the XM5s can do that as well — although it doesn’t work with popular music and video streaming apps like Spotify, Apple Music, Netflix, YouTube, and such. And it’s only available to those with a subscription to Tidal, Amazon Music Unlimited, nugs.net, and a few other platforms.

Call Quality

  • 3 microphones on each earbud
  • Bone conduction sensor

Just like audio, Sony has really upped its microphone game too. The XM5 now has three mics in each earbud, while Sony is using some AI magic along with a bone conduction sensor to pick up your voice from the ambient noise better too. The company also says this outward-facing mesh wrap on the XM5s is supposed to deliver clear phone calls even when you’re in windy conditions.

Sony WF-1000XM5 - Design 3

And… it pretty much works as intended. I mean, the Sony WF-1000XM5 effectively nails the whole “cutting out the ambient noise” part of the equation for phone calls.

So whether you’re in a fairly quiet room, in a busy and noisy outdoor condition, or in a particularly windy situation, these earbuds will pick up your voice just fine. I still think clarity could be improved with future updates as it sounds a little echo-y — but compared to the AirPods Pro — the XM5s tune out the ambient noise more effectively in every. single. instance.

Noise Cancellation

  • Intelligent Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)
  • Transparency Mode, Speak-to-Chat

Okay, let’s now talk about noise cancellation. Besides audio, Sony is also known for making some of the best ANC earbuds money can buy — and of course — the company is once again claiming that its latest flagship is the best in the business. Thanks to those upgraded microphones, more flexible foam ear tips, and the new QN2e noise-canceling processor.

And when pitting it against Apple’s best, yes, the Sony WF-1000XM5 do shush things more effectively in practically every way that matters. For sure. Especially in terms of the lows and lower midrange frequency noises under the 500 Hz territory, which includes things like a dog barking in the distance, airplane cabin noise, or people chattering around you.

Even when it comes to loud, sharp noises like car horns, whistles, a crying baby, etc. I found that Sony manages to pull ahead slightly better as the noise that eventually manages to sneak in feels somewhat exhausted versus how they sound a bit harsh on the AirPods.

A close call?

It’s not that the second-gen AirPods Pro completely falls behind or such but I can see why the Sony WF-1000XM5 ranks so highly.

Sony WF-1000XM5 - Design 4

However, getting the very best noise cancellation out of these will require some tinkering on the user’s part as you’ll need to get the right set of ear tips and also make sure you’ve got the perfect ear seal every time.

Surprisingly enough, the large ones fit my ear the best, while I also found that pinching these foam tips before putting them on resulted in notably better ANC performance. The only way the AirPods Pro’s noise-canceling experience stands out is that it has this… sense of airiness when using ANC, while with the Sony WF-1000XM5, it can feel as if you’re in a vacuum sometimes.

And this plays into the quality of the transparency mode on these earbuds as well. Because although both of them sound natural and everything, the AirPods Pro does a lot better job of convincing you that you aren’t even wearing the earbuds in the first place.

A couple of new features on the AirPods Pro

With the new iOS 17 update, the AirPods Pro has gained a couple of interesting new features too. Like “Adaptive Noise Control”. This is similar to “Adaptive Sound Control” on the XM5, through which these earbuds can intelligently switch between noise cancellation and transparency mode based on where you are and what you’re doing.

Whereas Apple has finally copied Sony’s “Speak-to-Chat” feature too.

It’s called “Conversation Awareness” and it lets you join in on the conversation without having to take off the earbuds by automatically pausing or lowering the volume of the media playback and switching on transparency mode as soon as you start talking. And — unlike the Sony WF-1000XM5 — I’m actually impressed with how the AirPods Pro doesn’t cause any false triggers when you’re coughing or just clearing your throat.

I also think the companion app for the XM5s looks and feels like it’s something straight out of 2015. A little too clunky. To compare, getting around with the AirPods’ settings is a lot, lot easier on the iPhone.

Battery Life

  • Up to 8 / 12 hours of music playback (with / without ANC)
  • USB Type-C, Qi wireless charging

Getting to the battery portion of the review, the Sony WF-1000XM5 is a clear winner. Sony claims 8 hours of playback with the earbuds alone when you have ANC on (or up to 24 hours with the case) compared to the AirPods Pro’s 6 / 30 hours of listening time. And I’m not sure if Sony is deliberately underpromising the battery life or something but it’s lasting me roughly 9 hours on average.

That’s definitely quite spectacular, although how well it will hold up over time is something of a concern. I say this because last year’s XM4s had a well-documented case of battery drain issues. Sony says it has “optimized the charging algorithm” to prevent such a thing on the XM5 but it’s simply way too early to tell if that claim holds true.

Sony WF-1000XM5 Review: Conclusions

So there you have it, my full review of the Sony WF-1000XM5. As expected, these earbuds impress — and excel — in essentially all the aspects you’d want. And if you want a pair of flagship earbuds with some of the best audio, ANC, and microphone quality, the XM5 is (without a doubt) an excellent choice. No matter what smartphone ecosystem you’re in.

Sony WF-1000XM5 - Design 2

But things get a little tricky when recommending it to iPhone users. Mainly since Apple’s own second-gen AirPods Pro is such a robust product that keeps most people from considering anything else to start with. Yes, it doesn’t stand toe-to-toe with the XM5 on a lot of grounds but the AirPods Pro are very capable earbuds in their own right.

Not to forget, Apple’s ecosystem benefits are simply not something you can get with any other pair of earbuds no matter how much they cost. Then again, if you only want the very best and that price gap or the ecosystem benefits are not a concern, the Sony Wf-1000XM5 is a worthy companion for your iPhone as well.

Songs referenced in the Sony WF-1000XM5 review:

Watch our video review of Sony WF-1000XM5

Sony WF-1000XM5 Review: Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Comfortable fit
  • Multipoint Connection with LDAC
  • Excellent audio, noise cancellation
  • Terrific call quality
  • Class-leading battery backup

Cons:

  • A bit expensive
  • Ambient sound mode can get better
  • Could’ve used a stronger IP rating
REVIEW OVERVIEW
Design and Comfort
Pairing and Control
Noise Cancellation
Audio Quality
Microphone
Battery Life
Value for Money
sony-wf-1000xm5-reviewWith its (arguably) class-leading noise cancellation, sound, and microphone quality — among other things — the Sony WF-1000XM5 are fantastic pair of earbuds overall. Yes, it's a bit on the expensive end, but if you want a flagship earbuds experience in every sense of the word, the XM5s are about as good as it gets.