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Sony WF-1000XM5 wireless earbuds: another leap forward in quality and comfort

Tech review: Sony brings all its expertise to bear on these impressive noise-cancelling earbuds

Sony WF-1000XM5 wireless earbuds
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Price: €279
Where To Buy: Harvey Norman

I love noise-cancelling earbuds. They block out just the right amount of background noise to make even the most challenging work environment or commute tolerable. Sometimes I’ll wear them with no podcasts or music playing, just for the world-deadening capabilities they offer.

Sony has been doing good work in this area for a long time. The quality of noise cancelling technology in its products has put it ahead of some rivals in the field, although you can pay a premium for the privilege.

Noise-cancelling earbuds don’t just block out noise by plugging up your ear canal; they use technology to effectively neutralise certain frequencies of noise. A built-in microphone analyses the noise around you, measuring the ambient noise, and then the technology generates opposite sound waves to counter it.

Sony’s newest earbuds, the diminutive WF-1000XM5 wireless buds, make the most of this expertise.

The buds themselves are fairly standard in design: small, glossy black buds that sit right into your ear, rather than the stem design favoured by Apple, Huawei and others. There is a small, matt, touch-enabled panel on each earbud that can be customised to various functions – more on that later – and the microphone array.

They snap magnetically into the pill-shaped charging case, which will give you up to 24 hours of listening time from the buds.

The buds themselves are smaller and lighter than their predecessors so they feel more secure, although that previously mentioned glossy finish can make it harder to get a grip of them at times when you want to take them out. But they are definitely less protruding than previous earbuds Sony has made, which is a bonus.

The earbuds use Sony’s multi-noise sensor technology that Sony says is its biggest step forward in noise cancelling technology to date. It uses three microphones on each earbud, including dual feedback mics, to help improve low-frequency cancellation and can capture ambient sound more accurately.

They also have two proprietary processors that Sony says cancel more external noise than ever and, when combined with the noise isolation earbud tips, you get a good in-ear fit that won’t budge with less noise leaking in.

They are comfortable to wear over long periods of time, although you will want to get the fit right initially or they will feel like they are about to shake loose at times

Sony has adaptive noise cancelling so it can change as you move from different environments – say from a relatively quiet office to a noisier commute along a busy road – and can be linked to your movements. For example, if the earbuds detect you are staying in one place, sitting down at your desk, say, you can turn ambient sound on to allow you to hear colleagues chatting to you. You can register different locations, too, just in case you have different preferences for sitting down at home or at your desk.

To take advantage of this, you will need to sign up for the Sony headphones connect app. There are some customisation options within the app such as tapping to control music and take calls. You can also opt in to using Alexa as a voice assistant, controlled by the touch sensitive control panel on the earbud itself. This works alongside the built-in digital assistant, such as Siri or Google Assistant, that you can activate through the usual “Hey Siri” or Hello Google” commands.

What about the sound quality? These earbuds don’t disappoint. They support high res audio and, with Sony’s new dynamic driver X, which is specially designed for wide frequency reproduction, you get better detail and vocals than ever before. Even if you aren’t particularly finicky about music quality, the buds will deliver better audio across the board.

With Sony’s 360 reality audio, you can use the app to analyse your individual ear shape to get more immersive music, although this isn’t a deal breaker for me. There are times when immersive audio isn’t quite what you need, and it ends up being more annoying than immersive.

The call quality on the earbuds is excellent, with the smaller profile working in their favour, particularly when you are outdoors. They are also comfortable to wear over long periods of time, although you will want to get the fit right initially or they will feel like they are about to shake loose at times.

What about the sustainability credentials? The buds themselves come in sustainable packaging, with little visible plastic. The packaging itself has also been shrunk down so you don’t get a giant box for the tiny earbuds and various accessories. Replacing the built-in battery would be a challenge, however.

Good

Sound quality here is excellent, and the changes Sony has made have led to real improvements rather than just tweaking for the sake of it. The smaller buds are easier to wear for longer, and do not feel as precarious as some of the earlier wireless earbuds.

Battery life is good, with a total of 24 hours out of the buds and the case.

Bad

Not the cheapest out there, although you might argue that you get what you pay for. Also the glossy finish means you can struggle to grip the buds at times.

Everything else

The earbuds support multipoint connections, so you can connect to two devices at the same time and switch easily between the two. The connection itself is also very stable, using a new integrated processor that transmits the Bluetooth signal simultaneously to and from both ears. Add in support for the next generation of low latency Bluetooth audio, LE Audio, and you have a decent set of Bluetooth buds on your hands.

Verdict

Sony’s expertise comes to the fore again.

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