We know what you're thinking already: "Wait a minute, didn't the Sony WF-1000XM5 only just come out? Isn't this a bit like prepping for your hypothetical second child's A-levels while your wife is still in labour with your first?"
While it may seem a little premature to be talking about the potential, forthcoming Sony WF-1000XM6 wireless earbuds when the current five-star WF-1000XM5 flagship buds have only been on shelves for a month, we'd counter that now is, in fact, the best time to start thinking about this hypothetical next step in the WF-1000XM lineage. After all, the XM5 are still fresh in our minds, and they've really got us thinking about what we'd want next time around.
If anything, we just can't help but wonder what Sony will do next, especially considering just how much it pushed the performance boundaries with the XM5 over the five-star WF-1000XM4 predecessors. Will Sony rip things up and start over yet again, or do the XM5 represent a new sonic direction the Japanese brand is keen to take going into the future?
Rumours and information surrounding the completely hypothetical XM6 are either scarce or nothing but conjecture, yet we can piece things together from Sony's usual release patterns and modes of operation. We've also compiled our own wishlist of what we'd like to see when the next generation of these earbuds is finally unleashed into the world.
- Read our full Sony WF-1000XM5 review
Sony WF-1000XM6: release date speculation
As of yet, all we have to go on is a little brain power and the current Sony release schedule for its WF-1000XM range. The WF-1000XM3 were released in August 2019, followed by the WF-1000XM4 true wireless earbuds on June 8th, 2021. In 2023, the XM5 made their proud debut on 24th July.
You don't have to be a Harvard maths professor to figure out the pattern here. Sony tends to release its premium true wireless earbuds every two years, usually in the summer months. That would mean that a new pair, the hypothetical WF-1000XM6, would arrive sometime between June and August 2025. That feels like a lifetime away.
It also makes sense considering how many spinning plates the Sony audio department has to deal with. Interspersed with the premium WF-1000XM range, there's also the small matter of the over-ear WH-1000XM headphones, usually released every two years, not to mention potential budget and mid-range earbuds (the follow-ups to the WF-C700N and WF-C500, for instance) to boot. Sony has a lot on its plate, so don't expect the WF-1000XM6 to arrive any time soon.
Sony WF-1000XM6: price prediction
At the time of their release, the current WF-1000XM5 will set you back £259 / $299 / AU$419, and those prices are yet to drop considering how new the premium buds are to the market.
That's a little more expensive than the WF-1000XM4, which arrived in mid-2021 at a retail price of £250 / $280 / AU$450, while the preceding XM3s were tested at £220 / $230.
Prices, then, have steadily risen, though not by so much as to make this flagship range utterly unaffordable. It's going to be interesting to see what happens next and whether Sony sticks to this price range or if the trajectory will tend towards even further upwards. If it does, Sony will have to make sure the quality and features the next buds offer match up to the price point.
It's also worth keeping in mind how much Sony's rivals in this premium earbuds category cost, too. The Apple AirPods Pro 2 retailed at a similarly hefty £249 / $249 / AU$399, yet those buds crucially didn't increase their price from the original AirPods Pro model. Bose, meanwhile, raised its flagship QuietComfort Earbuds II's price – at £280 / $299 / AU$429, they're the priciest of our favourite premium pairs.
Sony WF-1000XM6: five things we'd like to see
There weren't many what you'd call "disappointments" with the Sony WF-1000XM5, and while some may quibble with Sony's new analytical sonic direction for its flagship buds, these buds are so packed with features that there really wasn't much in terms of glaring errors about which to get on one's high horse. There were, however, a few areas that could be improved upon in the future XM6.
1. A slightly better fit
Despite a lighter build and smaller profile (which offers more comfort than the XM4), one of our main quibbles with the XM5 was the way that they fitted. This varied from person to person, yet there were enough members of our in-office review team who felt that the premium buds didn't quite sit in their ears as snugly as they'd have liked, especially when compared to the lighter, and better-fitting, budget Sony WF-C700N in-ears. Whether it's a case of using a different material for the eartips themselves, offering an even larger eartip size, or a different mechanism for locking the fit in, we think these are subtle ways the XM6 could improve to give a better fit for all.
2. Dynamic head tracking for Apple users
The XM5 were the first Sony buds to support dynamic head tracking on Sony's 360 Reality Audio immersive tracks, via Tidal and Amazon Music, although this only works on Android devices. Ideally, we'd love to see this made available to iOS devices, too, even if Apple has its own Spatial Audio tracks with the same feature via Apple Music.
3. Boost the battery life
The battery life of the XM5 was by no means a disgrace, but we think it can be improved for the next iteration. The XM5 buds themselves offered eight hours of life with Bluetooth and ANC, with 24 hours in total including the charging case. Those are the same figures boasted by the previous XM4, and while those aren't bad numbers, we'd expect the XM6 to take battery life to the next level. Two subsequent generations without a change would seem a little like stagnation.
4. Bring back the fun
Okay, this really is the definition of "have your cake and eat it", we accept. Not only are the Sony XM5 a stunning-sounding pair of buds, but they're also a surprising break from the sonic signature of the XM4 (and XM3 before it). While they deliver plenty in terms of punch, dynamism and energy, the XM5 focus more heavily on clarity, space and detail to a quite mindblowing degree. We do love how the XM5 sound, especially after getting used to the change, but a request to inject a bit more fun and fluid musicality back for the XM6 alongside the newfound clarity and analytical approach really is asking for the best of all worlds. In the immortal words of Tony Stark, though, "Is it too much to ask for both?"
5. Better colours and aesthetics
Our favourite part of using the Sony WF-1000XM5 was, obviously, listening to them. That said, we were a little underwhelmed with how the new pair looked, especially with regard to the limited colour scheme of black and 'silver'. The latter is closer to
a grey that hovers somewhere between what various members of the What Hi-Fi? team have dubbed either "hearing aid beige" or "aeroplane in-flight entertainment grey". While the buds themselves feel premium in build quality, we'd like to see these flagship Sony pairs available in more luxurious, stylish hues.
You can tell how excited we are to see where Sony is going to go next with its acclaimed WF-1000XM line of wireless earbuds. The XM5 feel like they've altered the paradigm, rehauling Sony's sound profile while delivering new levels of detail and precision we've not heard before in wireless buds. That, in itself, makes the next step for the XM6 intriguing.
Let's not forget, either, that Sony isn't just competing with its own shadow. Competition at this price comes from Apple's immensely popular AirPods, Bose's QuietComfort Earbuds II and a host of alternate offerings from JBL, Sennheiser and Technics, meaning the XM6, when they do arrive, will need to fight hard to keep Sony at the top of the tree.
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