Android Central Verdict
Sony had to find ways to improve upon an already fabulous pair of headphones, and it focused on the right areas to do it, delivering one of the best over-ear pairs you can place on your head.
Top-class ANC performance
Excellent sound quality
Improved call quality
Very comfortable for longer periods
Solid app support
Consistent battery life
No aptX codec support
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How do you improve upon a product that was already amazing in just about every respect? Sony faces that task every time it releases a new pair of flagship over-ear headphones, where an outstanding mix of active noise cancelation (ANC) and audio quality is the benchmark many others try to reach.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 is an exemplary example of taking an effective foundation, like that of the previous WH-1000XM4, and finding ways to change it correctly. These are an impressive pair of cans that won't disappoint.
Sony WH-1000XM5: Price and availability
Sony launched the WH-1000XM5 in May 2022 and it is easy to find from retail stores and online vendors. They started at $400, though you might get lucky and find them for a little less if you catch a discount at the right time. The price isn't likely to fluctuate too much in the near term, but it's worth keeping an eye out. They come in either black or silver.
Sony WH-1000XM5: What's good
It's risky to change something that works well, but Sony made the right choice. While it's unfortunate the WH-1000XM5 don't fold inward to make them smaller, they do still fold flat, which explains why the carrying case is bigger than its predecessor. More importantly, they are lighter and feel more comfortable, due in part to the better faux leather on the ear cups and headband.
I wore them for hours on a recent flight, rarely taking them off after disembarking to wait for my luggage. They didn't pinch nor feel too hot after prolonged periods. The serene solitude from the onboard ANC certainly helped with relaxation, but I also appreciated that they didn't feel cumbersome when I took them off and let them hang around my neck.
Other nuances stand out over time and become old hat. Place your hand over the right ear cup and ambient mode activates to help you hear your surroundings. The wear sensors are some of the best I've seen to date, quickly pausing playback once I remove one of the cups, and swiftly resuming it once I put them back on. There's even a more intelligent form of this kicking in by automatically pausing playback when I started talking and then resuming about five seconds after I stopped.
These types of efficiencies are all over the WH-1000XM5. Sony seemingly spared little expense to improve the microphones. There are double the noise-canceling mics of the XM4's, and coupled with Sony's V1 and QN1 chipsets, these headphones do a better job cutting down a wider range of frequencies. That applies when listening to audio and during phone calls.
Noise cancelation is simply outstanding, drowning out so much of the background that it felt like being an outsider looking in when out in public. Walking in a busy airport or listening to music while the TV was on, I never had to adjust the volume because everything sounded so clear to me.
Mind you, this isn't what we can call truly "adaptive" because the ANC doesn't dramatically adjust based on your surroundings. It's actually the ambient sound that does that, albeit based on levels you set yourself manually through Sony's Headphones Connect app.
As was the case with the XM4 and XM3, the app holds a significant number of features and settings. On the audio side alone, you can set up 360 Reality Audio, Sony's virtual surround sound feature that works with content offering it. Thus far, Tidal, Deezer, Amazon Music HD, and Nugs.net (for live concerts) all actively support it.
The app's EQ offers 10 presets, along with the option to create custom ones using the five-band equalizer. I should note that how you go about this might be different than the previous models because Sony tuned the XM5 to sound more balanced. The bass is still there, but it won't boom as much by default, mainly because the highs and mids are even crisper than before.
To my ears, it sounds like Sony taking on the likes of Sennheiser and Bowers & Wilkins for audio fidelity, and I'm all for it. Brands should compete on better sound, especially at this level of performance. The XM5 are a sonic upgrade from its predecessors purely based on the balanced output alone. The beauty of it is this also applies when listening to music through the 3.5mm cable in wired mode, though you only get the same effect if you power the headphones on. Power them off, and you lose all the tuning advantages.
I also appreciated the additional clarity for phone calls, where callers could hear me without issue, even in busier environments. I would say this is one of the biggest improvements that Sony has struggled with in the past. The XM4's definitely did a better job than the XM3's, but these take a big step forward.
The WH-1000XM5 also support multipoint to pair with two devices at once, making it easy to listen to music on one phone or computer and then take a call on another. Meanwhile, Sony didn't change much with the onboard controls, all of which follow those of the previous models.
Battery life also holds really steady at up to 30 hours per charge with ANC on. Leave it off, and the number actually exceeds that figure by a considerable margin — easily over 45 hours, depending on volume levels. These aren't all that different from their predecessors, but it's nice to see how well they've held up
Sony WH-1000XM5: What's not good
The WH-1000XM5 support the AAC and SBC codecs, along with Sony's own LDAC hi-res codec. This is great for listening to tunes from sources supporting LDAC, but unfortunately, aptX isn't part of the list. Sony previously supported it in the XM3, and it's a mystery to me as to why it chooses to leave it out, given how extensive support for it is in Android devices.
While I can't really view or recommend these headphones for heavy workouts, the total lack of any IP protection gives me additional pause to getting them wet or sweaty myself, but you could give it a try if you feel comfortable and ensure they're clean right after.
Sony WH-1000XM5: Competition
It's always nice when the alternative is the preceding product, and that's indeed the case with the WH-1000XM4. The sound, while certainly better with the XM5, is still superb with their predecessors. ANC performance is still among the best headphones, and you can expect Sony to continue supporting them for some time.
Bose always stands out for the same reasons, and the QuietComfort 45 are among the best noise-canceling over-ears available. The Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless are sonic studs when you work them a little through the company's Smart Control app, and improved ANC helps them stand out further.
Sony WH-1000XM5: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if...
- You want great sound
- You want amazing ANC.
- You want a comfortable fit.
- You want over-ears you can travel with.
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You want something more rugged.
- You have a tighter budget.
Sony found room for improvement in a few areas and addressed them nicely. When headphones are this good, it's hard to find fault with them anyway, but what matters more is weaker links are now stronger, especially phone call quality. When looking for top-class noise cancelation, it's hard to find better than what you hear (or don't hear) wearing the WH-1000XM5.
They are expensive enough to put a dent in most budgets, so you have to weigh that relative to what you get from alternative options. If you're down to spend and pick these up, you will be glad you did.
Still doing great
Sony gave its flagship headphones a newer look, tweaking performance in all the right ways to make the WH-1000XM5 the industry's best. Great sound, outstanding ANC, and a comfortable fit round out an excellent package of features.
Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.