The problem with that is it put Sony in a tricky position; how can it create even better headphones?
With the horribly named WH-1000XM5s (I’ll be referring to them as XM5s from now on), Sony could’ve introduced new innovative features that force the rest of the market to catch up, or it could improve on the already very-good features found in its previous headphones.
Here, Sony is firmly in the latter camp. Other than the ability to connect the headphones to two devices simultaneously, there isn’t much new here. The XM5s have touch control functionality, active noise cancellation (ANC), transparency mode, a comfortable design and strong audio capabilities. These are all features found in the XM4s and are to be expected in a premium set of over-ear headphones.
The difference here is how well Sony has improved these familiar features. The audio quality provides an even clearer sound with a wider soundstage; the ANC has doubled its capacity with four microphones in each earcup; and the new design is sleek, giving the XM5s a slimmer, lighter feel, while the touch controls have never been more responsive and the battery is still market leading.
Although the XM5s don’t push the industry forward regarding new functionality, Sony’s moving the industry forward regarding what a premium set of headphones should sound like. And for the competitive price of $600, other brands will have to keep up.
Put simply, Sony has achieved something great here. It’s created a pair of headphones that are better than the already-good WH-1000XM4s.
If you’re looking for the best of the best, Sony still remains at the top. The XM5s are brilliant.
- Brilliant ANC
- Strong audio performance
- Sleek/comfortable design
- 30-hour battery life
- Responsive touch controls
- No IP resistance rating
The XM5s are reasonably priced, costing $600.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 cost $550, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless cost $600, and then there’s Apple’s AirPods Max which cost a ridiculous $999.
For its latest generation of headphones, Sony has gone away from the traditional design we’ve seen with the XM4s and XM3s and introduced what it calls a “noiseless design.”
The new style introduces a refreshing slimness to Sony’s headphones. Although there wasn’t anything necessarily wrong with the design of the XM4s, they looked and felt bulky. This time, though, the harsh edges have been reduced, replaced with a design that flows and feels significantly sleeker. An area where this is most obvious is where the earcups connect to the headband.
The XM5 earcups merge smoothly into the headband via ABS sliders, no more chunky metal plates, the headband has a slimmer cylindrical shape, and the cups and headband are kitted out with memory foam and synthetic leather that’s soft to touch.
At 250g, they’re only 4g lighter than the 254g XM4s; however, they look more lightweight and less bulky. It’s a lovely design, and naturally, it lends itself well to comfort. The XM5s have minimal clamp force, meaning they don’t feel like they’re squashing your head, and I could wear them for hours on end without issue.
The sleekness does have its drawbacks, though; the XM5s simply don’t feel as sturdy as their predecessors. Where the bulkiness has been reduced, it doesn’t seem like they could handle as much punishment, and they feel a bit exposed. Sony has removed the ability to fold the earcups into the headband, instead only allowing them to rotate horizontally.
Although the ability to do this probably doesn’t add much more protection, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving them in a bag unfolded, not to mention they take up more space. Fortunately, the headphones have a protective case included that alleviated my damage concerns. It did mean I needed to remember the case, though.
The touch controls are located on the right earcup, and they work better than ever. While there haven’t been many new introductions as to what you can do with the touch controls, they’re the most responsive and accurate they’ve ever been. You can pause with a single tap, change the song with a swipe forward, change to the previous song with a swipe backward, change the volume by swiping up or down, and turn on the assistant with a tap and hold. There are also two dedicated buttons on the bottom of the left cup for changing between ANC/transparency mode and turning the headphones on and off.
Unfortunately, the redesign didn’t come with an upgrade to the IP resistance rating. Like the XM4s before them, the XM5s don’t have a resistance rating. You don’t want to use these in the rain or while working out. This felt like a missed opportunity; however, it doesn’t seem like this is a priority in the over-ear headphone market. Neither the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 nor the AirPods Max have resistance ratings. Curiously the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 have an IPX4 rating. It would have been nice to see this introduced by Sony.
The size of the audio drivers in the earcups has decreased from 40mm to 30mm in the XM5s. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a downgrade, but the audio capabilities have actually improved. The new drivers are specially designed carbon fibre plates that enhance high-frequency sensitivity and produce a more natural sound. The results are impressive. What was already an outstanding audio experience with the XM4s now sounds even better.
Audio quality is consistent across high, mid and low frequencies. The XM5s work well with any genre. Bass capabilities are top-of-the-range with low frequencies, including subs, coming through clearly without muddying or distorting other sounds in the mix. Songs like Sail by AWOLNATION and Sun Flower by Post Malone, which are notoriously bass-heavy tracks, sound just as clear as more melodic tracks like The Breaking of the Fellowship by Howard Shore.
The soundstage feels massive as audio moves around the earcups nicely. Instruments panned left and right created an encompassing illusion that makes it feel like you’re surrounded by sound. It’s easy to pick out every instrument in a song, even with more complex tracks like Hideaway by Jacob Collier. And that’s without Sony’s 360 Reality Audio turned on.
If you want to increase the immersion, you can turn Sony 360 Reality Audio on. This is Sony’s proprietary spatial audio technology that maps out sound at any point or distance from your ears in a 360° range. The idea here is it makes it feel like you’re experiencing a live performance. It’s excellent; however it’s only available on Deezer, Tidal and Amazon Music HD.
The XM5s support SBC, AAC and LDAC codecs. This means you can listen to high-quality music so long as your chosen device supports LDAC, sorry Apple users. There’s also DSEE Extreme support which is software that tries to upscale digital music (Spotify, Apple Music) in real-time. DSEE didn’t drastically change the audio quality, but I did notice a subtle improvement in the clarity.
Another feature that Sony has improved with the XM5s is the ANC. It’s brilliant.
The Integrated Processor V1 is the same one found in the XM4s; however the number of microphones that pick up outside noise has been doubled from four to eight.
I tested the ANC while running on the treadmilll. The capabilities were so good I couldn’t hear my footsteps pounding on the track with music playing. I compared this to the ANC capabilities of Sennheiser’s Momentum 3 Wireless headphones, which, to be fair, are a generation behind the XM5’s. Still, I could hear my footsteps quite clearly, listening to music at the same volume. It was a testament to how much the ANC has improved with the XM5s.
As is to be expected in a premium pair of headphones, the XM5s also come with a number of advanced features. Wearing detection is here in which the headphones automatically pause music when you take the headphones off and play when you put them back on. It works flawlessly. There’s also a speaking function in which the headphones recognise your voice and will pause or lower the volume of the audio so you can hear who you’re speaking to. I didn’t have much use for this, but throughout my tests, it worked well. I was happy to find you can turn both of these settings off in the Sony Connect app if need be.
Some new features I particularly liked were the ability to connect the headphones to two separate devices simultaneously, and I also liked the quick attention cover capability. By putting the palm of my hand over the right earcup, ANC would be turned off, and transparency mode turned on, allowing me to hear my surroundings quickly and easily. Again, both of these features worked without issue.
The XM5s utilise four beamform microphones for phone calls. They combine with AI-powered wind/noise reduction software allowing for high-quality phone calling capabilities. My friends were able to hear me clearly, even when standing outside in windy conditions.
The battery is still market-leading at 30 hours with ANC and Bluetooth turned on, and 40 with ANC turned off. It’s more than enough and is very impressive.
The XM5s also support fast charging, in which a ten-minute charge will provide five hours of battery life.
With its WH-1000XM5 over-ear headphones, Sony has managed to push the industry forward regarding what a premium set of headphones should be able to do.
The ANC is the best I’ve ever experienced; the audio quality is brilliant, touch controls are better than they’ve ever been, and there are many advanced features here like wearing detection. Not to mention the market-leading 30-hour battery.
There were some missed opportunities here, like introducing an IP resistance rating and not being able to fold the earcups into the headband but overall, everything has been improved significantly.
Sony has cemented itself as one of the best brands for over-ear headphones, and the XM5s don’t disappoint. For $600, they’re more than worth the price, and other brands are going to have to do a lot to keep up with Sony. The WH-1000XM5 over-ear headphones continue Sony’s best of the best track record. They’re brilliant.