Sony makes some of the greatest headphones available today – the WH-1000 series has established the gold standard for over-ear ANC. We’re now five generations into that series, and the Sony WH-1000XM5 certainly looks like a significant upgrade from 2020’s WH-1000XM4.
Aside from appearances, the XM5 isn’t much of an upgrade over the XM4, but there wasn’t much broken in the XM4 that Sony could realistically fix for this release. The WH-1000XM5 may not be a necessary upgrade from the XM4, but they’re still excellent headphones — and my new travel favorites.
Sony WH-1000XM5: Design
The WH-1000XM5 isn’t showy, but it’s a significant step forward for Sony. After four generations of headphones that all looked the same, the XM5 changed things up with a newer, slimmer design. The headband and arms that connect to the ear cups of the headphones are slimmer and rounder than in prior models, and the headphones no longer fold up for storage or travel, instead sitting flat in their box. Objectively, this is a degradation; the XM5 is somewhat worse for travel than the XM4. However, the larger case doesn’t take up much more room in a bag than the XM4s did.
The ear cups on the XM5 are made of very nice matte plastic in either black or silver (it’s really a light gray), with faux leather padding inside the cups and across the entire headband. The XM5 has a low-key appearance, but it is very modern and sleek when compared to previous models.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones are quite comfy. The faux leather cushioning is smooth and pillowy, and the headphones weigh less than nine ounces. However, every now and then, the headband weighing on the top of my head in a way that notice in other headphones, which can be uncomfortable. However, it is never excruciatingly uncomfortable, and repairing it is simple — simply move the band a little. Nonetheless, you may find yourself fiddling with the XM5 to maintain a comfortable fit.
There is no rated water resistance here, which is disappointing given the price. These aren’t the kind of headphones you’d want to wear to the gym, but it’s nice to know that unexpected sweat or rain showers won’t ruin your $400 headphones.
The XM5 casing is equally as slick as the headphones, with a durable-feeling fabric finish and a slew of fascinating shapes and angles that serve no purpose other than to look nice. Because the WH-1000XM5 does not fold down like previous models, the case is a little larger. If you travel frequently and are interested in space optimization, that large case could be a thorn in your side.
Sony WH-1000XM5: Sound Quality
The XM5 casing is equally as slick as the headphones, with a durable-feeling fabric finish and a slew of fascinating shapes and angles that serve no purpose other than to look nice. Because the WH-1000XM5 does not fold down like previous models, the case is a little larger. If you travel frequently and are interested in space optimization, that huge case could be a thorn in your side.
The bass and sub-bass don’t have the deep, bouncing quality you’d expect from headphones like these right out of the box. Sony’s Headphones Connect app does have a five-band EQ as well as a Clear Bass slider. Tuning the last slider to +6 or so (out of a maximum of +10) brings the sound about where I want it, but if you’re looking for serious, rumbling bass in the style of a movie theater, you won’t get it here.
If you want to get the best sound quality out of the Sony WH-1000XM5, the headphones do support Sony’s LDAC codec, but there are some caveats. To begin, you must disable Bluetooth multipoint in the Headphones Connect app in order for LDAC to function.
Furthermore, not every music provider provides streaming at a high enough quality to take use of LDAC’s greater maximum bitrate. Only Qobuz and Amazon Music do so, but Spotify and YouTube Music do not. LDAC also consumes more battery power than SBC or AAC.
Sony WH-1000XM5: Features
Sony didn’t skimp on features on the WH-1000XM5. When not using LDAC, they have Bluetooth multipoint connectivity (which is rapidly becoming a requirement for me in high-end consumer audio gear). They also support Fast Pair and hands-free Google Assistant and Alexa access.
Toggle between ANC and transparency modes with a quick press of the NC/AMB button on the left ear cup, or place your hand on the touch-sensitive right ear cup if you need to hear something quickly. As long as you keep your hand there, the media volume will be reduced and transparency will be enabled. This feature is fantastic; it’s simple, effective, and less awkward than pulling an ear cup away from your head to hear an in-flight announcement.
When Sony’s Speak-to-Chat function detects you conversing, it pauses your music and turns transparency on. It works fine, but in my experience, it sometimes take a second or two of speech for it to kick in, and it seems strange to use.
The Headphones Connect app includes an Adaptive Sound Control function that learns your habits and adjusts your ANC/transparency settings automatically based on factors such as time of day and location. Manually switching between the two settings needs only one button click, so the thought of automating the process sounds a little silly, but it’s an optional function that never gets in your way if you don’t use it.
Sony WH-1000XM5: Battery Life
Sony claims 30 hours of battery life between charges for the WH-1000XM5, with ANC turned on and LDAC turned off. That appears to be correct to me. Of course, some headphones have a longer battery life, but it’s difficult to complain about a 30-hour runtime. The longest direct flights are around 19 hours, so no plane ride on the planet can drain the XM5’s battery.
Sony claims that charging the headphones from empty to full takes three and a half hours, and that three minutes of charging translates to three hours of playback. That second claim is more difficult to test because Sony doesn’t provide many information, just stating that “an extra USB-PD compliant AC converter” is required. However, charging the headphones with a standard 18-watt USB-C brick is relatively quick.
Read More; Sony SRS-NB10 Review: A Perfect Companion
Sony WH-1000XM5: Competition
The Sony WH-1000XM5 are quite premium in terms of ordinary wireless headphones, with an MSRP of $400. Bose’s Noise-Cancelling Headphones 700 cost the same $400 and have comparable audio quality and ANC — albeit the Sony headphones have a little advantage on both counts. The Bose 700, like the XM5, has Bluetooth multipoint, but its battery life is shorter, rated at 20 hours, and it lacks support for high-quality codecs such as LDAC. Because the Bose headphones are older, they are subject to more frequent (and larger) discounts.
There’s also the Sony WH-1000XM4 from the previous generation to consider. They’re still available and perform almost identically as the XM5. They’re also $50 less expensive, with an MSRP of $350, and they go on sale more frequently, with a recent deal bringing them down to $228.