If you’re an iPhone user, then the default option for your high-end true wireless earphones is Apple’s own AirPods Pro. Simple. The Android space, however, is far more interesting and competitive.
One brand to have elbowed its way to the front of the pack in recent years has been Sony, with the Sony WF–1000XM4 standing as many people’s favourite general-use ’buds over the past two years, though it lacked the gaming specialisation of the Razer Hammerhead True Wireless Pro.
Now the hotly anticipated Sony WF–1000XM5 is here. Is this the one set of premium ’buds that can conquer all media for Android gamers?
Sony has packed in a generous four sets of bespoke colour-coded ear tips, and they’re made from a heavier-duty rubber than usual. They’re not quite as pliant as those squishy memory foam tips that some manufacturers give you, but they seem able to stand up to wear and tear better.
Suffice to say, I was able to get a good fit straight out of the box with the default medium tips (aided by a helpful app guide), which isn’t usually my experience.
Sony quotes 8 hours of battery life on a single charge and as much as 24 when you bring the charging case into play. The latter can be charged via USB-C or wirelessly, which is always welcome.
Said case does make it slightly tricky to get the earbuds out if you don’t do it the ‘proper’ way. Follow the guidance and pull from the inside to the out, however, and it’s no trouble.
Sony can tend to over-emphasise the bass in its headphones, but the Sony WF–1000XM5 sound positively subtle. You might even want to crank the low end up a little, which you can do using the EQ in the scarily comprehensive Sony Headphones Connect app.
There’s support for Sony’s own high-quality LDAC codec, which technically offers some of the highest quality transmission quality in the business. However, not every smartphone supports this standard and even those that do tend to suffer from the odd patch of spotty connectivity. Thankfully, regular SBC and AAC are also supported, but Qualcomm’s LDAC-rivalling aptX is not.
Sony’s ANC (active noise cancellation) has traditionally been some of the best in the business, and sure enough, the Sony WF–1000XM5 cuts out extraneous sound superbly. It’s a subtle implementation that doesn’t leave you feeling like your head is about to pop, but it’s very effective on planes and busy streets.
To be clear, there’s no low latency gaming mode available here – you might want to hang on for the Sony PlayStation Pulse Explore if you want a true set of Sony gaming earphones. While you won’t have the sharpest gaming experience as things stand, I didn’t find the latency to be problematic during my testing.
I put the Sony WF–1000XM5 through its paces with a few games of PUBG Mobile, where instant audio response is of the utmost importance, and the lag wasn’t ruinous like it can be on certain sets of earphones. In fact, I found it pretty darned playable, though I should issue the caveat that I’m old and slow.
Still, if instant audio response is a priority, you’ll be better off opting for something like the Razer Hammerhead Pro HyperSpeed, which also happens to be £60 cheaper.
Among all the blurb in the Sony press materials I was sent, there was precisely one mention of gaming. Apparently, “the WF–1000XM5 uses new sensors and spatial sound technology to deliver immersive sound for Augmented Reality games like ‘Ingress’ from Niantic”.
In other words, Sony’s new earphones can use their improved sensors to support spatial audio within this proto-Pokemon Go title – and any other AR game that chooses to incorporate it, for that matter. When you turn your head, the audio source will pan around accordingly.
This spatial audio feature is somewhat buried in the settings menus of both the game and the Sony app, and I can’t say that I found it particularly effective or any more immersive when activated. Perhaps it simply wasn’t quite working as advertised, as Ingress itself only mentioned Sony’s older LinkBuds S in the list of supported earphones.
Either way, this spatial audio feature has limited value given that AR gaming remains a relatively niche proposition. At least the WF–1000XM5 is ready for any further AR-based convulsions that the mobile gaming industry might yet experience.
If mobile gaming is your primary use case, however, the WF–1000XM5 simply isn’t your best bet, with the lack of a dedicated low-latency gaming mode serving as a bit of a disappointment.
While the Sony WF–1000XM5 supports spatial audio in gaming, meanwhile, the wider application of this seems limited, at least at the time of writing. It certainly shouldn’t play a factor in your buying decision for the foreseeable future, at any rate.
What certainly should influence your buying decision is the fact that these are the best overall earphones on the market for audio and video playback, as well as for general travel. Hopefully, Sony will up its game with the WF–1000XM6.