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Sony's new WF-1000XM5 may just be the best premium earbuds right now

The $299 wireless earbuds build on the successes of the XM4 with better sound quality, noise canceling, and a more comfortable design.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor
Sony WF-1000XM5 in black against a grey background
Jada Jones/ZDNET

It's been two years since Sony released the WF-1000XM4 earbuds, which delivered industry-leading noise canceling and sound quality at the time. Since then, Apple released the 2nd generation of AirPods Pro and Bose released a pair of QuietComfort earbuds that are arguably the most immersive headphones on the market. 

Also: How do noise-canceling headphones work?

With all this competition, Sony must exceed expectations with the latest WF-1000XM5 earbuds. After spending more than a week with the buds, I'm very impressed with what I'm seeing and hearing.

View at Electronics.sony

The WF-1000XM5, which I'll call XM5 from here on out, cancel noise like a pair of over-ear headphones, which is impressive for in-ear buds. With them on, gone are the extraneous noises at the gym, including sounds of overused machines, dropped weights, background music, and people talking. The XM5 are also water-resistant, with an IPX4 rating.

Also: Best noise-canceling earbuds right now: Expert reviewed

Sony says the improved noise-canceling capabilities are partly due to the use of polyurethane foam ear tips instead of traditional silicon tips. The foam ear tips act as a seal between my ears and the outside world, though, I must admit, they collect the gross bits in your ears much easier than the standard plastic.

The foam tips, in a sense, act as a sponge for any wax that might be in the ear, and the material can be difficult to clean or rub off.

That aside, let's talk about comfort. I like the WF-1000XM5s design, and Sony's nontraditional earbud appearance helps them fit more snugly in my ears. The foam tips are comfortable, and I didn't feel the need to take breaks after wearing the buds throughout my workday or during a strenuous workout.

You can crank out about eight hours of noise-canceled listening and an additional 16 hours with the charging case. Without noise-canceling, the XM5s can hang for about 36 hours. The case takes both USB-C charging and Qi wireless charging. But for the $299 price, anything less would be disappointing.

Also: Cheap noise-canceling earbuds are getting good. This $60 pair proves it

And for that price, the WF-1000X5s sound amazing. They can handle the deepest of bass, communicating a clear, defined, and well-balanced sound -- better than some over-ear headphones I've tried. With a tap on the center of the bud, you can play, pause, skip, and rewind tracks. There is no need for long and short-pressing buttons that you can't see, which I approve of.

Sony WF-1000XM5 in black on a wooden table

This year's WF-1000XM5 is 25% smaller than the M4.

Jada Jones/ZDNET

Call quality and voice isolation on the XM5 are just as good -- I received no allegations that I was calling from the bottom of the ocean -- giving me the confidence to take calls no matter the outside noise levels.

If you've been keeping up with me, you know I have strong feelings about downloading an app to get the most out of a pair of headphones. But the Sony Connect app is a must-have in this case. 

There, you can save two custom equalizer settings and choose from eight pre-saved ones, toggle between ambient sound and noise canceling, and create nod gestures to pick up and decline calls. (It's as simple as nodding your head up and down to accept a call, and sideways to decline.) 

Also: Best headphones for working out: Sony, Apple, and more

You can also enable Speak-to-Chat in the app, which automatically pauses music when the microphones detect you speaking to someone while amplifying the other person's voice so you can hear them better.

Sony's XM5 are as good as true wireless noise-canceling earbuds come. The XM5's battery lasts a few hours longer than competing earbuds, while comfort, sound, and functionality are top-of-the-line. For $300, you'll be paying a little more than what you would for competing offers, but you'll feel good knowing that you get your money's worth.

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