2023 has come and gone. It’s a year wherein several Truly Wireless Stereo (TWS) earbuds were launched. Across all price ranges, one can find a good pair of TWS earbuds. I’ve been fortunate enough to have tried many of these and come to one conclusion.
The WF-1000XM5s from Sony were the best ones I tried all year. They aren’t cheap, but they are damn good at doing their job of providing quality sound and excellent active noise cancellation.
They are smaller and they now fit better than ever. Those two alone are enough to crown them the champions. Sony always had a lead in the active noise cancellation (ANC) technology, but Bose is fast catching up.
The WF-1000XM5 earbuds may not stand out anymore (as the competition is fierce) but it still edges them all out.
The XM5s (as I’ll refer to henceforth) are 25% smaller than their predecessors, the XM4s. They're also 20% lighter. Each bud of the XM5 weighs just 6 grams and their overall footprint (size) is smaller. The charging case is also around 10-15 percent smaller.
Smaller footprint aside, the XM5s gain one crucial feature; wireless charging capabilities. Several people I’ve talked to had issues with the XM4s. They were just a little too big. Even I warned people they must try them on at a shop before buying them. The size definitely wouldn’t suit a lot of consumers. Sony took this feedback well and modified the design. The XM5s are a far better fit for my ears and many others. The XM5s don’t stick out anymore, which is a huge relief.
While they aren’t the tightest seal of the TWS earbuds, they do not fall out. Sony has provided a fourth set of hearts (as opposed to three from last year) which benefits those with smaller ears. The ear tips are made out of high-tech polyurethane foam material. The XM5 also retain the IPX4 splash-proof and sweat-resistant rating.
Sound quality & features
It’s been a few months since I got my hands on the XM5s and they’ve been my go-to TWS earbuds ever since. As my daily driver, I’ve been using these earbuds while walking around the streets of Delhi, during domestic flights, and in cabs with the constant sound of a car horn. Not for one minute did the ANC disappoint. Yes, it may not be the best in the business anymore, but it does a damn fine job.
The XM5s retain the Speak-to-Chat feature (wherein the music automatically poses when you start talking to someone) and it works just as advertised. There’s also a transparency mode (called ambient mode here). With ambient mode, you can adjust the level of ambient sound that you want to let in. There’s also multipoint Bluetooth pairing (which isn’t surprising at this price point). With multipoint, you can connect two devices to the earbuds simultaneously and seamlessly switch between them.
Just like the XM4, you can use a single earbud if that’s what you like. There is ear-detection sensors that automatically pause the music when you take an earbud out. Something new to the XM5s is spatial audio with head-tracking. For now, this feature is limited to Android users. Sony hasn’t confirmed if Apple users (those with iPhones) will receive it, but it seems highly unlikely.
There’s also a new gesture control for phone calls. One can just nod their head to answer or end a call. In the future, this will likely extend to playing/pausing tracks.
The XM5s have compatibility with almost all audio standards, which is something missing from budget earbuds. There’s compatibility with the new LE Audio standard, Sony’s LDAC audio codec (for streaming high-res audio tracks from Tidal, Amazon Music, etc), and more.
The only thing missing here is a “find my buds" feature. But that’s not a dealbreaker.
Top-notch sound quality
The XM5s get new 8.4mm drivers in each earbud (as compared to 6mm drivers in the XM4s). This, according to Sony, makes for improved tonal accuracy and better lower bass range. Right off the bat, the XM5 sound cleaner than ever with more clarity (especially in the vocals) and, thanks to the new drivers, the bass is more defined. Essentially, the earbuds sound more accurate.
Every year it gets closer and closer to sounding like you’re at a concert. There’s a fuller soundstage and greater instrument separation. There’s a big, loud sound to the XM5s, with lots of depth. Whether you’re listening to Take Five by Dave Brubeck, The Scientist by Coldplay, or even the famous Bollywood track Chaiyya Chaiyya, these buds will light up the world around you. You’ll be immersed while wearing these buds like no other.
Add to that the fact that they have great active noise cancellation, thanks to the brand-new V2 Integrated processor and QN2e Noise-cancelling processor and you have a winner on your hands. The XM5s have three microphones in each bud alongside the new drivers. Sony and Bose go head-to-head for the best noise-cancelling tech. You cannot go wrong with either.
The XM5s also have adaptive noise cancelling which is very useful.
Battery life is one area where the XM5s has not improved vis-a-vis the XM4s. You still get the same eight hours of playback (with ANC turned on) on a single charge. You can extend it to 12 hours by turning the ANC off. Include the case and you can get 24 hours of battery life. They may be faster at quick charging, but that hardly matters in the world of TWS earbuds.
Battery life is pretty good, so there’s nothing to complain about here.
Verdict: Best TWS earbuds of 2023
Yes. That’s it. That’s the review in a nutshell. The XM5s can hold their head held up high. There’s a smaller footprint for the earbuds, better drivers, great ANC tech, and more. All of this contributes to making these the best TWS earbuds of 2023.
Above all is the fact that these earbuds are more comfortable than ever. That, in itself, makes these an easy recommendation. The ANC and sound quality have been upped a notch, and one can take calls for hours on end without worrying about whether the person on the other end can hear you or not. Battery life is better than most of the competitors out there.
The XM5s aren’t perfect. To Sony’s credit, they have improved the performance of their flagship earbuds in areas that are exciting for the consumer and warrant an upgrade. Significantly reducing the footprint of the earbuds, while improving the sound quality? I’ll take that any day of the week!
Bose and Sennheiser provide top-notch competition to Sony, but for me, the latter is the winner of 2023. The XM5s don’t disappoint. Even if they don’t beat the competition by a mile, I’ll still be recommending them as my top choice if money is no bar.