Over the past few years, Sony has established itself as a leading manufacturer of noise-cancelling headphones, thanks to its consistently high-quality products in the WH-1000 line. Each iteration has brought slight improvements in sound quality, noise-cancelling, and call quality, cementing the brand’s place at the top of the market.
However, when we saw the official pictures of the Sony WH-1000XM5, we were taken aback by the major redesign. It was unclear whether this was a wise move, given the success of the previous versions. It seems that Sony has decided to completely revamp the look of its premium wireless ANC over-ear headphones for this latest iteration.
Due to the current market conditions, many products have experienced price increases, and the Sony WH-1000XM5 is no exception. These headphones are now priced at $399, representing a slight increase from their previous price. We got our hands on a pair of these headphones and this is what we feel.
The Sony WH-1000XM5’s design modifications are considerable, with the manufacturer seeking to produce a thinner, more seamless set of headphones with its “noiseless design” approach. Reworking certain regions that may contribute to wind noise results in smoother, sweeping lines and less sharp edges. Furthermore, several of the joints and hinges that enable the XM4’s earcups to fold away have been eliminated, allowing the XM5 headphones to fold flat.
However, the XM5 headphones do not fold up as tiny as its predecessor, which may frustrate people who love to conveniently put their headphones into a bag. The XM5 headphones may feel more fragile in this aspect, and it may be prudent to utilise the included carry case for further protection, even if it has been redesigned. This travel case does take up some extra room, which may be an issue for individuals with limited storage space.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 not only looks different from previous generations, but it also feels different in the hand. Despite being slightly lighter than the XM4s, the difference is minimal at only four grams. The plastics used in the construction of the XM5 feel nice to the touch, although the older model may still give off a slightly more premium feel. These plastics are primarily made of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), a material created by recycling and refining certain car parts from the US and Japan, and blending them with mica to achieve the final finish. This material was first used in Sony’s LinkBuds wireless earbuds.
The headband section of the XM5 employs ABS sliders rather than metal bands to adjust the fit, which we found to work well. However, the way these sliders protrude at the bottom does make the profile a bit bulkier, and we wonder if Sony could have trimmed the edges slightly for a smoother appearance. Overall, these are minor considerations and do not significantly impact the overall design of the headphones.
Many of the features of the Sony WH-1000XM5 have been carried over from the XM4 model. These include the DSEE Extreme engine, which aims to upscale compressed music to near hi-res quality, as well as compatibility with Sony’s LDAC technology, which allows for the streaming of high-quality audio from compatible devices at higher bitrates than conventional Bluetooth (although there is no support for aptX or aptX HD).
The Quick Attention feature allows you to lower the volume and have a conversation simply by covering the right earcup with your hand. The Speak to Chat feature senses when you start talking and pauses playback, switching to ambient sound mode in the process. We have used this feature on the XM4 and found it to work reasonably well, with the delay between starting to talk and the headphones switching to ambient sound mode appearing to have been slightly shortened on the XM5 model.
According to Sony, the “Wearing Detection” feature of the WH-1000XM5 has been improved from previous models. The headphones can now detect when they are taken off and automatically pause your music or video, restarting as soon as they are put back on. This is made possible by a proximity sensor located in the left earcup, which was previously visible on the old model but is now hidden from view. Sony states that these updates reduce the chances of accidental playback starting. During testing, we were impressed by the speed at which the XM5 stopped and started, and how much this feature enhances the overall user experience.
Another feature that we are happy to see return in the WH-1000XM5 is the ability to pair the headphones with two devices simultaneously. This can be extremely useful if you want to listen to audio from a laptop while remaining connected to a mobile phone to receive calls. This feature works seamlessly, as long as you have enabled it in the Headphones app. It is worth noting, however, that you cannot use this feature and stream music wirelessly using LDAC at the same time – you must choose one or the other.
Sony’s noise-cancelling technology has consistently impressed us in recent years, and the company claims that the WH-1000XM5 offer the best in the industry. In previous models, Sony focused on improving low-frequency noise cancellation, but for the XM5, the company has attempted to improve noise cancellation further up the frequency range.
To accomplish this, Sony has included the Integrated Processor V1, which was first introduced on the WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds. In addition, the number of microphones on the WH-1000XM5 has been increased to eight (up from four on the XM4), and Sony claims to have improved the technology inside the headphones responsible for identifying and cancelling out noise. Overall, these changes are expected to result in even better noise cancellation performance on the XM5.
On previous generations of the WH cans, you would have to run Sony’s NC Optimiser before changing locations to make sure you were getting the best noise-cancelling possible. Now, the XM5 headphones automatically optimise the noise-cancelling as you move around. It’s done in conjunction with Sony’s Headphones app and the Adaptive Sound Control feature, which track where you are wearing the headphones. Alternatively, you can flick between noise-cancelling and the headphones’ Ambient mode by tapping the corresponding button on the edge of the left earcup.
And once again Sony generally impresses on the noise-cancelling front. They’re among the class leaders when it comes to isolating us from constant drones and noises within train and underground carriages. They also help cut out loud conversations in crowded spaces that you don’t want to be part of.
It is worth noting that the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones may not be quite as consistent as the previous generation when it comes to cancelling out variable sounds like general traffic noise. This effect is more of a curiosity than a major issue, but it is something to be aware of. Overall, the noise cancellation performance of the XM5 headphones is still impressive, and they are expected to deliver excellent results in a variety of situations.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones maintain all the features that have made previous generations class-leaders at their price point, including their excellent sound quality. However, this latest generation manages to deliver even greater clarity and a more open sound presentation, representing a significant improvement over its predecessor.
In terms of low frequencies, the WH-1000XM5 also exhibit a newfound level of precision. While the previous model delivered strong performance in this regard, the XM5 headphones offer even greater detail and can differentiate between notes more easily, making the XM4s sound a bit thick in comparison. As you move higher up the frequency range, the XM5 headphones continue to extract more information and deliver notes with unerring precision, showcasing excellent timing. Overall, these headphones offer an impressive level of sound performance.
Sony has consistently improved the call quality of its WH-1000 range of headphones over the years, and the XM5 model represents the best experience yet. These headphones feature Sony’s Precise Voice Pickup technology, which utilizes four beamforming microphones and AI-powered noise reduction, as well as wind noise reduction, to ensure that your calls sound as clear as possible. The combination of these technologies allows your voice to come through the WH-1000XM5 clearly and without distortion, even in noisy or windy environments. In our testing, we found that the XM5 headphones do an excellent job of suppressing general noise and gusts of wind that can disrupt call quality on lesser headphones.
The battery life of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones is still impressive at 30 hours with both Bluetooth and noise-cancelling enabled. If you turn off noise-cancelling, you can expect to get 40 hours of use out of these headphones – an increase of two hours compared to the XM4 model. A ten-minute charge should provide you with five hours of battery life, while using a quicker USB PD charger (not included) can give you three hours of battery life in just three minutes. Overall, the battery life of the XM5 headphones is more than sufficient for most listening needs.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones feature a comfortable new design that looks more modern but may not fully justify their $400 price tag. The already excellent noise cancellation has been further improved, and these headphones sound clearer and more natural, although the sound signature is somewhat different from that of their predecessors, which may be divisive.
If you already own a pair of 1000XM4 headphones and are satisfied with their performance, there is no compelling reason to upgrade to the XM5 model. However, if you have an older pair of Sony headphones, such as the 1000XM2 or M3, and the battery is starting to wear out, the XM5 headphones may be a worthwhile investment. These headphones offer the best noise cancellation that Sony has achieved to date, as well as multipoint connectivity.