In the realm of Bluetooth headphones, few brands command the same respect as Sony. Their legacy of delivering top-tier audio equipment continues with the latest addition to their noise-cancelling headphones lineup – the Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones, complete design overhaul, and advanced features. So let’s dive into this comprehensive Sony WH-1000XM5 review, evaluating their design, comfort, features, sound, and finally, our thoughts on whether they’re worth the investment.
Sony’s WH-1000XM5 headphones are the latest in the company’s flagship line of active noise-cancelling (ANC) Bluetooth headphones. Despite their uninspiring nomenclature, Sony’s WH-1000X series has garnered a reputation for being among the best noise-cancelling headphones available, rivaled only by industry stalwarts such as Bose and Apple. With the WH-1000XM5, Sony has taken a bold step and completely revamped the design while pushing the envelope in performance. But do these changes justify their increased price tag of $399? Read on to find out.
Design & Comfort
Design: An Audacious Shift
The WH-1000XM5 showcases a significant departure from its predecessors in terms of design. Sony has opted for a “noiseless design,” emphasizing smooth, sweeping lines and fewer aggressive edges to minimize wind noise. The outcome is a sleek, modern look decidedly distinct from the previous WH-1000X generations.
One of the most noticeable changes is the headband, which is slightly thinner. Instead of arms that cradle the ear cups at both sides, there’s a single stem running down the center. The ear pads are wider and filled with memory foam, contributing to improved overall comfort. Despite these significant design changes, the WH-1000XM5s weigh 250 grams, keeping the weight virtually unchanged from the 254 gram WH-1000XM4s.
One major design change that will be a make-or-brand backpacks. The WH-1000XM5, on the other hand, does not fold. Instead, only the earcups turn 90 degrees, so the headphones are flat. It sounds like a small difference, but the change has been divisive for some. Personally, I prefer the WH-1000XM5s “flat” stowing option versus the WH-1000XM4s “ball” method. I can put the WH-1000XM5 in my messenger bag for travel more easily, and it still takes up roughly the same space in my backpack. This will definitely be more of a personal preference item. Still, for my purposes, the lay-flat design of the WH-1000XM5s works better.
Comfort for Extended Listening
Despite the design changes, Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones score high on comfort. The memory-foam ear pads and the well-calibrated clamping force make them comfortable for long listening sessions. The headphones deliver just the right amount of pressure to feel secure without causing discomfort, making them ideal for short and extended use. As someone who wears glasses, I can attest to just the right amount of clamping force, and I did not notice any long-term discomfort.
The friction rod design of the headband allows for easy adjustments, ensuring a secure and personalized fit. Overall, Sony has succeeded in creating a pair of lightweight and comfortable headphones, making them suitable for prolonged use.
However, there may be better choices than the Sony WH-1000XM5 for those who engage in intense physical activities or live in rainy climates. The headphones are not water or sweat-resistant and should be protected from moisture to maintain optimal performance.
While the new design gives the headphones a refined appearance, the choice of materials might leave some longing for a more premium feel. The WH-1000XM5 is predominantly made from Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), a recycled and refined material formed from car parts. Though durable and lightweight, this plastic construction feels less premium than the previous models’ components or competitors like the Bose 700. The plastic also attracts oil and sweat very easily, so wipe the headphones down regularly to keep them looking great.
The ear cups of the WH-1000XM5 are made with soft-fit leatherette, providing a comfortable and snug fit. Unlike previous models, the padding on the ear cups is deep and wide enough to accommodate larger ears, ensuring a comfortable listening experience even during long periods of use. The ear cups also feel more breathable for me compared to the WH-1000XM4, which made longer listening sessions more enjoyable.
Controls: Intuitive and User-Friendly
The Sony WH-1000XM5 features capacitive touch controls on the right ear cup, which are familiar to users of previous models. These controls allow for easy navigation through tracks, volume adjustment, and call management. The touch panel is responsive and intuitive, providing a seamless user experience. On the left ear cup are two buttons for power and ANC modes. An intuitive feature is the headphones’ ability to automatically pause audio when removed from your head, thanks to a hidden sensor in the ear cup.
Battery Life: Long-Lasting Performance
One of the essential factors to consider when purchasing wireless headphones is battery life. The Sony WH-1000XM5 does not disappoint in this aspect, offering up to 30 hours of continuous playback on a single charge. A quick 3-minute charge also provides approximately 3 hours of playtime, ensuring you always have enough power when needed most. The headphones support charging through a USB-C port, allowing for fast and convenient charging.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones are designed to cater to various listening environments. They are especially suitable for commuters, office workers, city dwellers, and students. Whether traveling, working, or studying, these headphones provide an immersive, high-quality audio experience. Additionally, the WH-1000XM5 is an excellent choice for those who spend significant time on calls and seek higher-bitrate Bluetooth audio. Let’s take a look at the Sony WH-1000XM5’s key features.
Noise Cancelling: Sony’s Ace
Noise cancellation has always been a standout feature of the Sony WH-1000X series, and the WH-1000XM5 continues this tradition. Sony claims to have improved the noise cancellation further up the frequency range in the WH-1000XM5, thanks to the Integrated Processor V1 (which first appeared in Sony’s WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds) and an increased number of microphones.
The WH-1000XM5 headphones feature automatic noise-cancelling optimization, adjusting the noise-cancelling levels based on your movement and location. This intelligent adaptation, coupled with Sony’s Precise Voice Pickup technology for calls, makes the WH-1000XM5 one of the best headphones for noise cancellation and call quality.
The downside of this new, intelligent adaptation noise-cancelling technology is that it takes the control away from the user and into the hands of Sony’s software. If you peruse tech forums and social media, there is a vocal minority of users who decry that the overall noise-cancelling quality is worse than that of the Sony WH-1000XM4.
In my own use and experience, the overall noise cancelling quality is better on the Sony WH-1000XM5 than on the Sony WH-1000XM4. I do not bring this up to sow doubt, but enough people are complaining to mention it. The headphones have also been out now for over a year and have received numerous firmware updates. The noise cancelling has only gotten better since its release.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones come packed with a roster of innovative features, many of which are AI-driven. These smart features, such as ‘Speak to Chat’ and ‘Quick Attention’ enhance the user experience by automatically adapting to the listener’s actions. For instance, if you start talking while listening to music, the headphones will pause the playback and engage ambient sound mode, allowing you to have a conversation without removing the headphones.
Another impressive feature is the “Wearing Detection“. The headphones automatically pause your music or video when you take them off and resume playback as soon as you put them back on. This can significantly enhance the listener’s experience and convenience.
The headphones also offer the ability to pair with two devices simultaneously. This feature can be particularly useful if you are listening to audio from a laptop but also need to be connected to a mobile phone for calls.
Companion App: Customize Your Listening Experience
The accompanying Sony Headphones Connect app is a must-have to unlock the full potential of the Sony WH-1000XM5s functionality. The app provides a range of customization options, allowing you to fine-tune various settings to suit your preferences. From adjusting the ANC levels to creating personalized sound profiles, the app puts you in control of your listening experience. It also offers access to firmware updates, ensuring that your headphones are always up to date with the latest features and improvements. It also provides a way to connect your headphones with Spotify to quickly return to the music streaming service.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 has Bluetooth 5.2 technology, ensuring a stable and reliable wireless connection. Pairing the headphones with your device is a breeze, and the connection remains strong even at a distance. The headphones also support high-bitrate Bluetooth audio codecs, such as LDAC and aptX HD, allowing you to enjoy high-quality audio streaming without compromising sound fidelity. These codecs are not available when using the WH-1000XM5 with Apple devices. Instead, you get AAC 256Kbps, a limitation Apple imposes on all wireless audio devices in their ecosystem.
An Audiophile’s Delight
The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones deliver an audio experience that is a class apart. Equipped with a new 30mm carbon fiber driver, these headphones deliver a rich and immersive audio experience. The overall sound signature is well-balanced, with clear highs, detailed mids, and impactful bass. The headphones’ ability to extract detail and present a more open sound stage sets them apart from their competitors.
That being said, I do find the bass to be a bit overpowered at times, to the point where in some tracks, it sounds very muddy and tends to bleed into the mids. Fortunately, you can turn down the bass via the Sony Headphones Connect app’s built-in EQ. I’ll share my preferred EQ profile below as I found it to provide the best overall sound quality for many genres of music, prioritizing clarity without losing any of the dynamic sound Sony is known for.
My EQ Profile: 400: -6, 1000k: +1, 2.5k: +2, 6.3k: +1, 16k: +5, Clear Bass: -3 (set to -2 if you still want some added bass)
Sony’s use of the LDAC codec enhances the sound quality by offering more wireless bandwidth than a standard Bluetooth connection. There is no placebo effect here. You get near-lossless audio quality without having to use a cable. To my ears, the advantage of LDAC versus AptX or AAC is more separation in the mids and highs and a wider soundstage.
The headphones are also equipped with DSEE Extreme support. This feature utilizes an AI algorithm that upscales compressed music to near hi-res quality, and it does a damn good job, most of the time. When listening to some of my MP3 files, especially ones encoded in a measly 128kbps, DSEE Extreme was able to expand the soundstage a bit and enhance the clarity of some instruments and vocals. Other times though, it has no noticeable effect, but in my opinion, the feature is more hit than miss.
One thing to note is the ANC technology of the WH-1000XM5 significantly contributes to the overall sound quality. By effectively blocking out external noise, the headphones allow you to fully immerse yourself in your music, enabling you to appreciate each track’s subtle nuances and dynamics.
Finally, the WH-1000XM5 was designed with support for high-resolution audio formats when using a wired connection, ensuring that you can enjoy your favorite tracks in their full fidelity. Whether listening to lossless FLAC files or streaming high-quality audio from services like Apple Music or Qobuz, the headphones reproduce the music with exceptional precision and accuracy.
Call Quality: Crystal Clear Communication
The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones mark a substantial improvement in call quality over their predecessors. The headphones are equipped with four beamforming microphones to help pick up only your voice, which Sony calls “Precise Voice Pickup Technology“, and an AI-powered noise-reduction system. The algorithm Sony uses here was developed with AI machine learning to ensure that the microphones properly pick up your voice, leading to clear and distortion-free calls. It also does a great job at filtering out wind noise, a big complaint from the previous generation of headphones.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones undoubtedly maintain Sony’s position at the forefront of the noise-cancelling headphones market. Despite their increased price tag, the design overhaul, improved noise cancellation, and enhanced sound quality make them a strong contender.
While the design changes might appeal to some, and the lack of foldability could be a downside for some, the overall package is impressive. Suppose you’re seeking top-tier noise cancellation, excellent sound quality, and a host of smart features. In that case, the Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones are worth considering.
However, the upgrade is optional if you already own the WH-1000XM4, considering the minor improvements. Similarly, if the price is a constraint, consider the older WH-1000XM4, which offers similar performance and features.
Overall, the Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones offer a compelling package that’s hard to overlook for anyone seeking a premium noise-cancelling headphone experience. They may not represent a substantial leap from their predecessor; however, they still manage to set a new standard in their category.
Alternatives to Consider
While the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones are undoubtedly a fantastic offering, there are other options in the market that you can consider. Some notable competitors include the Bose Headphones 700, Sennheiser Momentum 4, and Apple AirPods Max. If your budget is on the lower side, then the Soundcore by Anker Space Q45, and Sony’s own WH-1000XM4 provide good value. While each of these alternatives offers its own unique strengths, the Sony WH-1000XM5 remains a formidable contender in the world of ANC headphones.
HiFi Oasis Overall RatingHiFi Oasis Overall Rating
- Design & Comfort8/10 Very good
- Features8/10 Very good
- Sound8/10 Very good
- Excellent sound quality
- Wireless and wired connections
- Build quality top notch
- Best in class ANC performance
- Great app with solid functionality
- Material choice makes the headphones feel cheap
- No water or sweat resistance
- Not a huge improvement over the Sony WH-1000XM4