Sony WH-1000XM5 review: great headphones with a bunch of problems

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Sony has officially unveiled its all-new flagship active noise canceling headphones, the WH-1000XM5, to the world. It’s certainly possible to go on and on about Sony’s terrible product names, but at least potential buyers of the 1000X series know they’re getting some of the best noise-cancelling headphones on the market. The company has been battling with Bose for years, and more recently with Apple, to win over frequent flyers, home workers, and anyone else who just can’t get by without noise cancellation. And as more and more people around the world move to a hybrid workflow, this advantage becomes more important – it is imperative to ensure the silence of the user both in a noisy office and at home.

The 1000XM5 has a fresh case design, cleaner sound and improved active noise cancellation, but the headphones don’t really do anything new. Moreover, the novelty is sold for $399, which is $50 more than the M4 model, which is still in Sony’s current line of gadgets. Is it worth spending money on this upgrade? Potentially yes. But don’t expect a breakthrough.


To begin with, for the first time in several years, Sony has completely redesigned its headphones – 1000XM5 are noticeably different from their predecessors. The headband of the device is much thinner, and instead of the arms holding the ear pads on both sides, a single rod runs along the central part. And if you look at some of the company’s competitors like the Bose 700 or the Apple AirPods Max, you’ll immediately see where Sony’s designers drew inspiration from.

The new design looks more refined and concise, with fewer unnecessary elements. The microphone outputs, which in the previous model vaguely resembled USB Type-C ports, have disappeared – now they are located around the perimeter of the headphones and installed deeper so as not to catch wind noise. The ear pads of the gadget have become a little wider and their filling is more reminiscent of memory foam – this significantly increases the comfort of use. However, even with the updated design, the M5 weighs 250 grams, which is almost comparable to the weight of the M4 – 254 grams.

Headphones are presented in black and cream colors

But I’m not at all sure that these headphones look very premium. The 1000XM4 at least had visible metal on the ear cup sliders, but everything you can see or touch on the 1000XM5 is plastic. Of course, I wouldn’t worry about strength and durability – I twisted these headphones at different angles and they held up perfectly. But there are still complaints about the finish – for $ 400 I would like more pleasant materials or ear pads that can be easily replaced (as in AirPods Max). For example, my own Sennheiser Momentum 3 headphones have more impressive build quality and materials that are more in line with the price of the device. But on the other hand, AirPods Max can be called too heavy, while Sony prefers increased comfort over luxury.

New headphones don’t fold like previous Sony models

It’s worth noting that the ear cups still rotate and swivel just like they did on the previous model, but there’s one option that Sony’s new earbuds for some reason have taken away – they can’t be folded. This is actually one of the biggest disappointments in the 1000XM5. Instead of folding the gadget and conveniently transporting it, the headphones need to be placed in a branded full-size case. And, of course, it takes up much more space than the previous model. If the 1000XM4 transport case can be easily thrown into the bag, then the 1000XM5 in the case in the usual dedicated compartment no longer fits – you have to put them in the main section of the bag. Yes, you can leave the case at home, but then there is a chance that the headphones will be pressed by things during transportation.

The case is much larger than it was before, and in the bag it takes up more space than we would like

This case is really very bulky – I think Sony could have done better. The case for the Bose 700 headphones, which also cannot be folded, is much smaller and allows for smarter use of space. People all over the world are constantly traveling with these headphones, and I think that the large dimensions of the new Sony will cause them disappointment.

When it comes to the sound of the 1000XM5, there have been far more impressive changes than many expected. Sony has moved from the 40mm drivers featured in the 1000XM4 to 30mm in the new flagship. Naturally, the diameter of the driver is far from everything that affects the quality of the sound, but I can’t remember the last time Sony headphones sounded so different from their predecessors. The 1000XM5 boasts a tighter, more detailed sound that has been stripped of the excessive bass that irritated 1000XM4 owners.

So yes, the sound in the new headphones is more natural, but less attractive. I did a head-to-head comparison with the same songs in both headphone models, and in most cases the 1000XM5 did win. But in some situations, especially when listening to hip-hop tracks, I leaned towards the 1000XM4.

New design makes 1000XM5 look sleeker

There are bound to be people who prefer the more energetic sound of the 1000XM4. And, probably, it is precisely because of this that Sony left this headphone model in the current line – it does not make much sense to sell two models of absolutely identical headphones. However, the user can use the equalizer controls in the proprietary Sony Headphones Connect app on Android or iOS to get the sound of these headphones as close as possible.

Sony used the same QN1 processor for noise cancellation in the new flagship headphones, but in addition to it, the device was equipped with an additional second processor that improves the ANC technology. Ultimately, according to the company, noise cancellation in the new model works the same way as in the M4 when it comes to flying in an airplane, but the new gadget copes better with street noise and more effectively suppresses the voices of other people nearby. In my personal experience, this is true. Of course, the technology is still not enough to completely drown out the sounds of the world around you, for example, if you are in a busy coffee shop, but it’s still an improvement over what was already fantastically well implemented.


It is also important to note one rather important hardware detail – previously, Sony headphones had an optimization button that adapted active noise reduction taking into account the fit, the user’s hairstyle, the environment, or, for example, the presence of glasses. Now this button is gone – experts at the company said that now the same optimization is happening at an automatic level in the background.

When it comes to noise cancellation, the 1000XM5 outperforms competitors like Apple’s Bose 700 and AirPods Max.

When it comes to voice calls, Sony has gone for broke – the 1000XM5 has eight microphones in total, four of which are used for voice transmission. What’s more, they work together with an improved AI-based algorithm to reduce noise during calls, and in this regard, the M5 performs much better than the M4. Yes, these are not AirPods, but for headphones in this segment, this is the best that can be found on the market. Of course, things get a lot more difficult if you’re in a noisy environment, but even in this scenario, the model tries its best – Sony managed to keep my voice intelligible when calling and chatting on Zoom.

The ear cups are a little wider and more spacious, and the controls have not changed much.

Naturally, the 1000XM5 supports LDAC, Sony’s proprietary codec for better wireless audio quality. True, it is worth immediately clarifying that only Android users have access to the technology, while iPhone owners are limited to the AAC codec with a lower bitrate. Also, the headphones support a mode that allows you to connect to two devices at the same time. But, unfortunately, Sony still forces you to choose one of two functions – you can either activate LDAC or connect to two gadgets at the same time. You won’t be able to get these bonuses at the same time – the 1000XM4 had a similar limitation (perhaps it’s all about the Bluetooth bandwidth).

At the same time, the basic mechanisms of interaction with the 1000XM5 remained unchanged – the user controls the device using touches and swipes on the right cup. Of course, the old Sony branded chips are also present – like the one when the user puts his hand to the right cup of the device and the music is briefly muffled with the amplification of the sounds of the world around. Also, the headphones can detect when a person starts talking, and automatically stop the music, switching to the “Transparency” mode. Alternatively, the earpiece can be removed to completely pause music playback. The 1000XM5’s battery life is the same 30 hours as the previous model if you use active noise cancellation. If you turn off all additional features, the battery life will increase.

Now I would like to discuss some negative points. First of all, it’s very frustrating that these flagship and very expensive headphones from Sony still cannot work wirelessly with the PlayStation 5. These are the latest products from the same company, but you can only connect the headphones with a cable. Secondly, the USB Type-C port is still only for charging, while other headphones allow you to use this output for signal transmission. And, thirdly, 1000XM5 is not protected from moisture and even sweat – the manufacturer urges the user not to wet the gadget. Of course, these are clearly not fitness headphones, but in 2022 I would like to see at least some progress in this direction. Perhaps Sony will fix this already in the 1000XM6.

Sony WH-1000XM5 (left) compared to the previous generation WH-1000XM4 (right)

The WH-1000XM5 boasts a surprisingly comfortable new case design that looks more modern but clearly falls short of the $400 price tag. But the already best in class noise reduction has become even better. These headphones also sound cleaner and more natural, but are very different from the previous model – not everyone will like this.

So if you have a 1000XM4 and you’re happy with it, there’s no reason to upgrade. Old headphones can do the same thing as new ones. It is worth upgrading from older models like 1000XM2 or 1000XM3. Yes, and the case seems to be too big a drawback in this segment – apparently, Sony itself got confused about what the 1000XM4 should have been. It’s certainly still a damn good headphone with great noise cancellation, but it doesn’t come with any new features.

✅ Benefits

  • Improved active noise cancellation.
  • More balanced tight sound.
  • Significantly improved voice call quality.

❌ Disadvantages

  • $400 plastic case.
  • There are no new features compared to the previous model.
  • Bulky, uncomfortable case.

This is a translation of The Verge review.

Source: Trash Box

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