Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds improved noise-canceling, currently the best

Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds improved noise-canceling, currently the best

Sony WF-1000XM5: The Evolution of Flagship ANC Earbuds

Image source: The Verge

Have you been paying attention? We’re approaching a sea change moment for noise-canceling earbuds. Any flagship pair you buy today from Sony, Bose, Apple, Samsung, or other reputable brands can accomplish the core task — eliminating distractions and background commotion around you — perfectly fine. They’re all more than competent at that. So now, tech companies are angling for new ways to differentiate by making the experience smarter and more, well, adaptive through the integration of AI and machine learning.

Sony is releasing its latest flagship ANC earbuds, the WF-1000XM5, in response to this trend. Priced at $299.99, the 1000XM5s are an upgrade from their popular predecessor, the 1000XM4. Sony has addressed the main downsides of the prior model, including comfort, sound quality, and noise cancellation. While there is no single groundbreaking feature that sets these earbuds apart, Sony hopes that the improvements will be enough to make the 1000XM5s another hit.

The Good and The Bad

Before we dive deeper into the new release, let’s take a closer look at the positive aspects and potential drawbacks of the Sony WF-1000XM5:

The Good

  • Smaller, more comfortable design
  • Upgrades to active noise cancellation (ANC) and sound quality
  • Improved voice call performance

The Bad

  • Glossy texture can make them harder to remove from the case
  • Sony’s extra features aren’t as seamless as those of its competitors
  • Potential concerns regarding battery longevity

Now that we have the pros and cons in mind, let’s explore the key aspects that make these earbuds notable.

A Glossy Frustration?

If there’s one complaint that stands out, it’s the glossy finish of the WF-1000XM5. While the earbuds look classier and more stylish than their predecessors, the glossy texture can make it objectively harder to remove them from the case. This issue can be frustrating when your fingers slide right over the glossy sides, making it difficult to grip the earbuds. Nonetheless, this minor inconvenience does not overshadow the overall design and performance of the 1000XM5s.

Enhanced Comfort and Ergonomics

When you finally manage to get the 1000XM5s into your ears, you’ll notice a significant improvement in comfort and ergonomics compared to the M4s. Sony has reduced the earbuds’ size and weight, making them 25 percent smaller and 20 percent lighter than their predecessors. The case has also been downsized by 15 percent, becoming more pocketable and now featuring wireless charging. Additionally, Sony has upgraded the foam ear tips, providing a more flexible and comfortable fit.

Powerful Noise Cancellation

Sony has further enhanced the noise cancellation capabilities of the WF-1000XM5. With six microphones and two separate processors, these earbuds effectively monitor and reduce ambient noise. The M5s excel in analyzing and blocking lower-frequency noise, such as airplane cabins, buses, and street noise. They also reduce wind noise, thanks to the repositioning of microphone inlets. When compared to other leading earbuds, such as Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds II and the AirPods Pro, the 1000XM5s display impressive noise cancellation performance.

Notable Sound Quality Improvements

While not a groundbreaking leap, Sony has made notable improvements to sound quality in the 1000XM5s. The inclusion of larger drivers, an upgraded digital-to-analog converter (DAC), and reduced harmonic distortion make for more accurate tonal response and better bass reproduction. Although these improvements may not be easily distinguishable to the average listener, audiophiles and enthusiasts will appreciate the higher level of fidelity and detail.

Crystal Clear Voice Calls

One standout improvement in the 1000XM5s is voice call quality. Sony employed AI algorithms trained on over 500 million voice samples to ensure clear voice transmission even in noisy environments. The addition of a bone conduction sensor further enhances voice call performance, reducing interference from external sounds. Users have reported clear and echo-free calls, even in bustling environments, making these earbuds a reliable choice for communication on the go.

Falling Behind the Ecosystem Heavyweights

Despite the advancements made by Sony in the 1000XM5s, the company faces a disadvantage compared to Apple, Samsung, and Google due to their stronghold on the smartphone market. These three companies have a unique togetherness between their phones and earbuds, seamlessly integrating features and software at the operating system level. Sony, on the other hand, relies on its companion app, Sony Headphones Connect, to provide additional functionality. While the app offers a range of options for customization, adaptiveness, and spatial audio, it adds a layer of friction and complexity. In particular, features like Adaptive Sound Control and head tracking can sometimes behave erratically, creating an inconvenience for users.

An Important Note on Battery Life

Battery reliability has been a recurring concern with Sony’s previous flagship earbuds, including the 1000XM4s. While the 1000XM5s promise similar battery performance, users have reported issues with battery drain over time. Sony has addressed these concerns by offering replacement units to affected customers. However, it’s important to keep in mind that wireless earbud batteries are consumable and may not last as long as expected. Sony does not provide extended warranties for their headphones and earbuds, so considering the available options from retailers is advisable.

Sony WF-1000XM5: A Well-Rounded Offering

Despite some limitations, the Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds represent a natural evolution of Sony’s flagship line. With enhanced comfort, improved noise cancellation, better sound quality, and impressive voice call performance, these earbuds offer a well-rounded package for those seeking high-quality audio and effective noise cancellation. The glossy finish and potential battery longevity concerns are minor drawbacks that may dissuade some users. Additionally, Sony faces the challenge of competing with ecosystem-heavyweight companies that seamlessly integrate their earbuds with their smartphones. Sony will need to continue innovating and enhancing their software offerings to maintain a competitive edge in the evolving market.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge