Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 vs Sony WF-1000XM5: which wireless earbuds are better?

The Sony WF-1000XM5 launched in July 2023 and have been flying high as some of the best wireless earbuds you can buy ever since we tested them. But isn't it about time they were dethroned?

Sennheiser certainly thinks so. The German brand has a reputation for making great earphones, and the Momentum True Wireless 4, are some of its best yet. They deliver excellent sound quality, usability and features, so should Sony be worried? Let's find out.

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 vs Sony WF-1000XM5: price

Two premium pairs, two premium prices. At first look, the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4's £260 / $299.95 / AU$499.95 price is directly comparable to the Sony WF-1000XM5's (£259 / $299 / AU$419). But hold on. The Sonys have been available for almost a year, though, and are regularly discounted. We've seen them drop as low as £213, which is a very tempting price, so keep your eyes peeled for a deal.

** Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5 **

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 vs Sony WF-1000XM5: design

Noise-cancelling earbuds: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 look almost indistinguishable from the Momentum True Wireless 3 that preceded them. They have the same ovular shape, touch-sensitive controls, and even the same charging case, which is wrapped in fabric and supports charging over USB-C and wireless. 

The biggest difference is that the earbuds come in three new finishes: metallic silver, black graphite and black copper. And the eartips have undergone more of a redesign than the buds themselves. For the first time, they are washable, and have a plastic guard to stop them getting clogged with ear detritus. 

The Sonys too have a bulbous design, rather than the long stem look of, say, the AirPods Pro 2. But they're very streamlined by modern standards, and 20 per cent lighter and 25 per cent smaller than their predecessors, the WF-1000XM4. The buds are covered with glossy plastic that feels pretty premium, while the outer surface houses the touch-sensitive controls.

The polyurethane eartips feel like a hybrid of silicone and memory foam – you insert them and twist to keep them in place. It's simple, but they don't stay put quite as well as some rivals. Four sizes provide just enough options for a good seal.

This is a tough round to call. The XM5 are the sleeker, but you could argue the Sennheisers feel more stable and have softer, more comfortable tips.

** Winner: Draw **

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 vs Sony WF-1000XM5: features

Sony WF-1000XM5 next to phone displaying the Headphones Connect app

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 might look the same as their predecessors, but inside it's all change. The antennae have been redesigned, giving them a more robust connection, which is helped by a new feature called dynamic-load switching. Whichever earbud is closest to the music source (say, your smartphone) connects to it wirelessly – because the two buds hand over the connection as you and your music source move around, they maintain a consistent standard of sound quality.

The drivers are similar to those used in Sennheiser’s IE 600 and IE 900 headphones, although they have undergone extra tuning for the Momentum True Wireless 4. And thanks to Qualcomm's S5 Sound Gen 2 processor and Snapdragon Sound Technology, they can stream losslessly in up to 24-bit/48kHz quality. That's alongside aptX Lossless and LE Audio enabled by Bluetooth 5.4. Auracast will also arrive via a future firmware update, giving you separate streams through separate channels or streaming to two distinct pairs of earbuds from one device.

Their low latency of just 20ms (using a Bluetooth dongle) means they can serve gamers well too. Their battery life of seven hours is just under the XM5's eight, but their charging case takes the total runtime to 30 hours – six more than the XM5's. The Momentum True Wireless 4 also boast intelligent charging. Just like a smartphone, the case will slow down the speed of charge the closer it gets to 100 per cent, to extend the life of the earbuds. You can also activate a battery protect mode to optimise charging.

All this and more is accessible through Sennheiser's Smart Control app, which is pretty comprehensive. It can also personalise the touch controls to carry out a range of tasks. The only thing missing from their feature list is spatial audio support.

So, plenty of features then. But the XM5 have been at the top of the wireless earbud world for some time now, and they're not short of a feature or two.

They have Sony's Dynamic Driver X up their sleeve and can call on the company's DSEE Extreme processing to upscale lower-quality files to a higher bitrate. They support hi-res audio, Sony's LDAC format and 360 Reality Audio with dynamic head tracking.

Bluetooth Multipoint lets you connect wirelessly to two devices simultaneously and seamlessly switch between them, while Adaptive Sound Control and Speak-to-Chat (ways of allowing in varying amounts of ambient noise so you can hear your surroundings and have a conversation) functions are also at your disposal.

The XM5 are rated IPX4 for basic sweat and water resistance, but the Momentum True Wireless 4 are IP54, adding dust resistance to the same level of protection.

** Winner: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 **

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 vs Sony WF-1000XM5: noise cancelling & call quality

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 earbuds on a desk

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Active noise cancellation (ANC) is one of the main selling points of both pairs, so you can't release a new model without improving the feature. And that's just what Sennheiser has done, with upgraded mics, and the promise of AI helping to boost your voice while also damping down other sounds via a future firmware update.

The ANC is undoubtedly good, but it is bettered by rival tech. The Anti Wind setting is well worth experimenting with and does a good job of minimising the effects of blustery conditions.

The XM5 match the Sennheisers with three noise-cancelling mics on each earbud. While both pairs successfully muffle the outside world (we think the Sonys just about edge it), the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are more effective.

But when it comes to call quality, there's a clear winner. Callers on the Sennheisers sound clear and direct, and while they're not drowned out by ambient noise, the Sonys do a better job of subduing background sounds and enhancing voices.

** Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5 **

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 vs Sony WF-1000XM5: sound quality

Sony WF-1000XM5 with charging case on a wooden table

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Now, how do they compare sonically? Unlike a lot of headphones, the Sennheisers don't take a lot of running in – they come ready to deliver, straight out of the box. Their presentation is rich and mature, with a refined treble and midrange and weighty, impactful bass. It's an engaging, enjoyable listen.

They have a great sense of timing too, which keeps all the elements of a track organised.

The XM5 are a completely different proposition. While the Sennheisers have refinement and richness in abundance, the XM5 are a more honest, transparent listen. Theirs is a much more neutral balance, unearthing more detail with greater levels of clarity and precision. They have plenty of rhythmic drive and their timing is on par with the Sennheisers, while the bass is beautifully controlled.

So which is better: the XM5 or Momentum True Wireless 4? It depends on the kind of sonic profile you prefer. The Sennheisers sound richer and fuller, but can't match the XM5's level of clarity and detail. Both pairs are superb in different ways.

** Winner: Draw **

Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 vs Sony WF-1000XM5: verdict

The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 4 and Sony WF-1000XM5 are both five-star pairs of wireless earbuds but it depends which sonic balance appeals the most. If clarity, resolution and transparency are at the top of your list, then go Sony. If you want bass weight, richness and a more full-bodied sound, pick the Sennheisers.

Otherwise, both pairs boast solid specs, great designs and plenty of useful features. The Sonys have better battery life, call quality and, in our opinion, noise-cancelling, which make them hard to ignore, especially when you can pick them up with a decent discount. The Sennheisers are just really easy to get along with, easy to listen to and offer a great user experience. Whichever pair you go for, you'll get hours of entertainment.


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Our list of the best wireless earbuds

Joe Svetlik

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.

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