gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Sony WF-1000XM5 Earbuds Reviewed

Sony’s new generation, noise-cancelling earbuds combine slick presentation, minimalist, eco-friendly packaging, responsive touch controls, great sound and excellent noise isolation with a high asking price and, perhaps, the worst software experience I’ve had with any product.

Right from the get go, unpacking Sony’s – earbuds hitherto referred as – XM5s (but not the WH XM5 because those are over-ear headphones) almost, almost but not quite, makes you feel like you’ve picked up something that’s worth their rather steep asking price. They come in a palm-sized, curved, recycled cardboard box that shows an impressive level of self confidence in Sony’s brand power and the 1000 series products. Branding and artwork is minimal, almost to a fault, making it a striking antithesis to the packaging of every other set of earphones I’ve tested so far.

The front of the Sony WF-1000XM5 packaging. It’s extremely minimal, a greyish recycled cardboard with an outer white label. The label shows only the logo and product name. At least two thirds is empty white space. It’s retail packaging, evidenced by the cardboard hook on top.
The back of the packaging with the white outer branding sleeve removed. It has “Original Blended Material” embossed towards the bottom.
The front of the inner packaging. The text “1000X Series” is embossed in the middle.

This is probably the nicest packaging I’ve come across in a long time. Not because it’s flashy and try hard, but precisely because it’s clean, compact, curvy and understated.


Once the outer sleeve is removed the packaging opens in a clamshell style revealing the sleek, black plastic case, a USB cable and three sets of alternate sized foam tips marked SS, S and L and colour coded so they can still be paired up when they are removed from the packaging.

The case is matte black, rejecting fingerprints and grime, and shaped wide, flat and tall such that it stands upright with a small footprint to charge. This design is almost showy in the way it stands proud of a surface, but is necessary to provide space for the quite large tips. As is almost the standard for these kinds of cases, each earbud snaps magnetically into place and is charged via spring-loaded metal contacts. There’s no LED indicator on the earbuds themselves, though, so it’s not quite so obvious if they’re both seated properly and charging. The little LED on the box will light up green when one is inserted or removed, though. The box has a pairing button on the back which I didn’t need to use. Once you’re paired to one device you can grapple with the app to enter pairing mode for a second device anyway. Also in the back is a USB Type-C port. Hooray for this slowly becoming the norm. While wireless charging would probably be my go-to, having USB Type-C is indispensable for charging on the go… though you can get portable wireless batteries it’s not easy to keep your headphones sat in the right place while they’re in a pocket or bag and being topped up.

A shot of the earphone carry case, closed and lying with the top facing forward shaking the SONY logo. Behind it is the cardboard packaging with three alternative rubber tips and a very short USB Type A to C charging cable. There are also QuickStart instructions.

The SONY WF-1000XM5 has a strong, strong packaging and presentation game. You really feel like you’ve dropped some cash on something special. Shame the QR code seems to go to a manual and not the app…


The foam tips are one of the XM5s strongest and weakest features. They’re quite firm – much more so than silicone cone style tips and even other foam – which makes finding a good fit quite difficult. I found the small too small and the default tips a little large, but with firmer material and no middle ground I had to size up for a good seal and deal with a little discomfort. It’s probably worth noting that all earbuds seem to feel uncomfortable for me at the moment – even soft silicone tips – I think I’ve been testing too many lately.

The Sony WF-1000MX5 carry case. It’s a small, curved, matte black, plastic box with the SONY logo picked out on top in gold.
The WF-1000XM5 case with the top open revealing the two earbuds. They are a mix of matte and gloss finishes with little gold (or is it copper?) grilles presumably for the microphones. The case is matte inside and light on deals or visual clutter.

I keep taking these XM5 earphones out to find somewhere to take a good photo. Turns out they’re quite handy at blocking out crowd noise and making a busy, busy Cambridge a little more bearable.


The firm foam seems to do its job, though, since the XM5 offer an impressive level of passive noise rejection- more so than any other earphone I’ve tried to date- effectively acting as tight earplugs. This, in turn, gives them excellent active noise cancellation performance- right out of the box they were effectively a mute switch for my head, cutting out the sound of air conditioning, desk fans, computer fans and various kitchen noises. In fact much of this is cancelled passively, but with Ambient-sound (pass through) and Noise-cancelling being the two options switched between when tapping the left ear-bud it’s easy to mistake the difference between the two as purely active noise cancellation. The bedroom AC, for example, is blocked almost entirely via passive rejection, with a low rumble making it’s way through almost subliminally. Switching on active noise cancellation cuts out this rumble. In louder environments – such as cars, or with a loud desk fan running – this active difference is more pronounced. Either way- whether it’s a consequence of the stuff, foam tips or the earbuds smarts- noise cancelling is excellent.

A poorly lit photo of the XM5s in their case with the lid open. The case is black and has no internal details save for recesses for the earbuds.
The left XM5 earbud. It’s a tiny gloss black objects out the size of a large runner bean with a foam tip projecting from one side. The foam tip is already looking creased and grubby.

I’m not convinced the foam tips are a great match for my ear. I’ve tried a few sizes but nothing seems super comfortable. I think my ear is particularly irritable, though I probably shouldn’t be wearing these all day.


Also to Sony’s credit they’ve incorporated a little grille in the removable tip itself, meaning the part of your earbud that’s most likely to get disgusting and adversely affect sound quality (and volume, gosh original AirPods are terrible for this) can simply be replaced, or even removed for more aggressive cleaning without risking any electronics.

Getting the best out of these earphones requires a little more patience and discipline than I’d ordinarily be willing to put in. They almost have to be screwed into your ear to get a good fit, and if you’re a sensitive soul you’ll really feel that big foam tip getting up and cozy with your ear canal. It’s not a feeling I’m especially fond of, and how tolerable it is depends on my mood and circumstances. Who knew jamming things in your ear could be so complicated.

A slightly blurred picture of my left ear with the little black and gold earbud picking out. It’s quite large, filling the inner part of my ear. My long hair- only somewhat tamed by a tie- trails back over my shoulder. In the background is the front of the Cambridge Ted Baker store.

It’s really hard to take a picture of an earbud, and harder still to take one that’s flattering. Hopefully all the background is distracting enough 🤣


Fitting the earbuds will give you a good idea of just how finely tuned their touch-sensitive controls are. It’s possible to twist and push and poke and you’ll hear a little “boomp” noise if you trigger the touch control, but only a short, sharp press, (or double or triple press) will actually trigger an action. I am genuinely impressed at how responsive and natural this feels, though remembering the specific combination of taps – especially when I’m swapping between different sets of earbuds – to answer a call, or play pause music, is something of a chore.

Unfortunately it’s not possible to change the single, double or triple tap actions independently. This is unfortunate if – like me – you use only one earbud. You can pick between noise cancelling control, playback control or off and cannot mix and match these. This is frustrating since in noise cancelling control mode the double tap does nothing and I’d very much like it to play/pause media so I can switch to ambient sound and pause my media without picking up my phone. If you’re a frequent single bud user, this would be a deathblow to the XM5.

As an aside this is the same with fit testing- you’re asked to connect and wear both earbuds which is a problem if you’ve lost one or can’t wear two. Jabra have this same problem, and it’s a drum I’m going to keep beating until earbud manufacturers drop their assumptions about how many ears people have. Or, uh, how many earbuds they might have lost.

In addition to touch controls the XM5 support something called “head gesture” which detects either nodding or shaking of you head to accept or reject calls hands-free. This appears to work with just a single bud, though I found nodding much easier to a master than head-shaking which I couldn’t trigger consistently.

As for sound- as always I don’t have any tools but my own subjective experience. The XM5s are probably the first personal listening device I’ve ever turned down. I don’t know how or why, perhaps it’s the fit and seal, perhaps it’s just a louder driver, but these have volume in spades and I’m absolutely thrilled with it. In most cases I can quite comfortably listen at 50% volume, while I’m usually cranked up to 11. (I mean it, I’ll push volume further with EQ if I can manage it.) Loudness aside the quality of the XM5s audio varies tremendously with fit. A lazy, more comfortable gentle push into the ear will leave them sounding thin and distant, a good firm push-n-twist brings in the punch and the bass. The XM5s make impressive work of the descending bass wobble in Karsh Kale’s “Distance”, one of my go to test songs, while keeping the tabla and vocals distinct. I could hear the crackle at the start of Daft Punk’s “Doing It Right” and I could pick out every instrument in Snarky Puppy’s “What About Me?” I found the “Excited” EQ profile preset worked well for me and leave to set for music, video and podcasts.

Help text about the auto off feature, reading “Off when headphones are removed” and clarifying with “Headphones will turn off automatically if not worn for a V certain amount of time.”

A certain amount of time? Come on app, you had one job! Surely you know the exact amount of time!? Or is it random?


Okay. Deep breath. Let’s quickly touch upon Sony’s software experience- I say quickly because I really don’t want to have to suffer through the app any more than I need to. For something that has the gall to appear on the iOS Home Screen as simply “Headphones,” it’s a quite thoroughly cluttered, confusing, janky and poorly translated mess. I guess software is a challenge even for the giants, though how it’s this comically bad is anyone’s guess. First up it’s another app that really wants you to create an account, no thanks. I don’t need to *checks notes* “Earn various badges by listening to music and using various functions.”. It also, on one occasion, decided to pop up an advert for the very same earphones I had in my ears at that moment- rather irritating and redundant to say the very least. This ad- of course- was a lazily slapped up HTML page showing in a white pop-up over the ads dark colour scene.

A badly formatted pop over advert titled “Information” showing an ad for the WF-1000XM5 over the app currently configuring the WF-1000XM5. The ad says something lacking self awareness like “say goodbye to distractions.” I won’t bore you with the full copy.

I… just can’t with this. Did the Sony app just pop up an advert for the headphones I just set up with it!?


When Sony’s headphone app is not being outright obnoxious it’s simply confusing, offering a swamp of haphazardly laid out options and labels adorned with laughably awful and functionally useless vector art. Battery information, at least, is clear, but even something as simple as adjusting ambient sound control requires switching to a second tab and hitting a little arrow to expand down and access the controls. Way too many clicks, Sony!

Perhaps the most egregious problem- the entire first screen of the app is wasted on transport controls and the currently playing media- completely wasted space for something that’s consistently just a swipe away and part of iOS.

I would have also launched into a diatribe about how awful the hour long firmware update experience was, but hubris caught up with me and updating the Jabra Elite was just as, if not more, frustrating.

Anyway, the app sucks, who cares, you barely have to deal with it. What matters is that – accessibility issues due to non customisable controls for us single earbud users aside – the XM5 are excellent earbuds with a great set of features that almost justify their steep price. The god tier packaging- let’s call it what it is – beats Jabra at their own game, and does so by a country mile. Even if it’s not as eco friendly as it looks, it looks incredible.

On the left is a large grey lavish cardboard box with a photo of the Elite 7 earbuds- beige and solve- and shiny lettering. It’s adorned with a sticker advertising a function added by a firmware update. On the right a much smaller recycled cardboard box for the XM5s. The external sleeve has been taken off so it’s very understated. It’s about half the total volume of the Elite 7 box.

Jabra losing the packaging game hard to Sony with the Elite 7 Pro earbuds vs Sony’s XM5. Hopefully we’ll see this fixed with a successor, since the Evolve2 65 Flex were pretty conservatively packed.


They’re durable, too. I probably shouldn’t admit this since I’m usually silk gloves and paranoia levels of careful when it comes to tech (hey stop laughing Chris) but I somehow managed to drop these three times. It may be a crapshoot if the box lid stays shut or the earbuds go skating off across the floor, but they still work,

Where the XM5 seem to fall short is comfort and fit, something I’m still grappling with. Having had this problem with everything except original AirPods I’m willing to accept that might be a me problem. Don’t think about trying to sleep with these if you’re a side sleeper, darn thing will come out the other side! Aftermarket foam tips are widely available, though, and you probably should be replacing them on a regular basis. The foam on mine is already looking a little worse for wear, and it’s only been a handful of days.

A small, black, curved clamshell box about 1.5 inches high, 2.5 wide and 1 deep. It’s sat atop a tall, lilac wireless charge. A tiny red LED is illuminated in the model.
The same small black case sat atop a white wireless charger. The LED looks yellow. There’s a Sony logo on the top lid of the case.

Charging from wireless chargers? Check. The case stands upright and wants to be seen.


Honestly with a significant rethink of their software (it only really needs a UX overhaul and a half day of a native English speaker’s time), and the ability to customise touch controls with more granularity, I don’t think the £260 asking price for these is too wide of the mark. Maybe knock that to £199? I mean you’ve got some cahones outpricing AirPods pro!

Friday, August 25th, 2023, Personal Audio.