Announced in May of this year, the Sony WH-1000XM5 seeks to maintain the success of the WH-1000XM4. As a result, it has a completely revamped design, new sound drivers, and an even better Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) promise.
Is it worth buying the WH-1000XM5, or are the older versions still doing the job? I spent a few days with the headset and shared all my impressions in the following paragraphs.
Construction and Design
After a few years of maintaining a more standard design, Sony’s premium headphones line received a visual overhaul. The impression is that it surrendered to the minimalism of AirPods Max, albeit with a touch of the headphones previous to the WH-1000XM5.
Aesthetically speaking, we are facing a cleaner device. The bow has a new synthetic material that makes it softer and more comfortable than the previous model. The ends of the strap are also slightly thinner, somewhat similar to what we found on Apple’s headphones.
Another change is in the shells, which became more “full” and compact. In addition, the outside is a little more pointed, which facilitates touch navigation and gestures to control music playback.
The new ear cushions are more oversized and adjustable to the user’s ears, which I found great for long trips. The WH-1000XM4 is still quite comfortable, but the new one is even softer and nicer over long periods.
Some features were abandoned due to the new structure, such as flexibility. In the previous generation, it was possible to fold the phone to fit in a tiny case, making it possible to transport it without much problem.
In the new generation, you can only adjust the handle and the pad, which only rotates in one direction, to store it in the carrying case. Moreover, the accessory, which luckily comes in the package, is much larger than the one on the WH-1000XM4.
It shouldn’t be a severe problem for most users, as the headphones are still average for other models — even delivering much more practicality than the AirPods Max — but it can be a little frustrating for fans of the WH-1000 line.
Another detail that bothered me in its design was the synthetic finish of the shells. It is beautiful and appears to be of good quality, but the headphones usually have some grease marks due to contact with the hands. Unfortunately, the model I tested came in black, which leaves the most visible marks. Perhaps the blank option minimizes appearances.
Also, the black option worried me about long-term use, as, at least for me, it gave the impression that the synthetic material should damage quickly. You must always use a cloth to clean it and not drop it on the floor often.
Ah, important to mention that the WH-1000XM5 does not have any certification against liquids or particles. Therefore, I would not recommend it for physical exercise. It’s for casual situations.
Buttons, touch controls, and inputs
On the right shell, the touch controls remain: two touches in the center of the shell pause and play a track; swiping up and down allows you to adjust the volume, and three taps can play a song directly from Spotify.
Dragging your finger from top to bottom increases the earpiece volume, while the opposite decreases it.
On the left shell, in turn, are the two physical buttons, one for power and Bluetooth pairing and another for controlling noise cancellation and ambient mode.
In ports, there is a USB-C for fast charging and a 3.5 mm, if you want to listen wired on your phone or computer. The good news is that the accessory comes in the package along with the charging cable.
Connectivity and App
As you would expect from a premium headphone, the WH-1000XM5 has a Bluetooth 5.2 connection, Google Fast Pair technologies for fast pairing with Android smartphones, and Swift Pair, which is compatible with Windows 10 or 11 computers.
There is also a multipoint connection, that is, the possibility of pairing two Bluetooth devices simultaneously. It’s interesting because when someone calls you, for example, the headphone automatically detects and changes the sound output from the computer or tablet to the cell phone.
Sony provides the Headphone Connect app, compatible with Android and iOS, to access all sound features and settings of the WH-1000XM5. The software isn’t the most beautiful and intuitive I’ve ever used, but it’s complete.
Sound quality and microphone
It’s a very balanced headphone that doesn’t sacrifice the lowest frequencies. The sub-bass is very good quality, and this is especially noticeable in pop. For example, on Billie Eilish’s “NDA” and “bad guy,” the vocals and hi-hats appear quite brightly while the bass fills the song.
Muse’s “Kill or be Killed” goes the other way and shows the strength of the Sony WH-1000XM5 in the higher frequencies. Both Matt Belamy’s vocals and guitar sound are extremely defined and powerful.
A very interesting detail in the Sony phone is Dolby Atmos. I know this is a technology that is already present in many headphones. Still, I’ve never had a very good experience, and this could be because of the compatibility of the headphone, music, application, or cell phone, for example.
However, I spent a few hours listening to music mixed in Dolby Atmos with Tidal in Master quality, and the experience was exceptional. The songs gained new layers, nuances, details, and even more depth.
I also listened to music on Spotify, but I felt that there was still some compression in the songs, which is the fault of the streaming service itself. On Tidal, songs are less compressed and offer better quality overall.
Regarding the microphone, it is still possible to notice a metallization in the capture, especially in Google Meet calls. Still, the other side will be able to hear you very well. It’s not exceptional, but it does the trick.
Noise cancellation and ambient mode
With its WH-1000 line, Sony has been the benchmark for noise cancellation for years, and this generation is no different. The WH-1000XM5 is equipped with eight microphones in total, four on each headphone, working with V1 and QN1 processors.
I confess that, thus, I have no other word to describe the ANC of the WH-1000XM5 besides “perfect.” It is, without a doubt, the best noise-canceling headphone I’ve ever used, far surpassing the already great WH-1000XM3 and the AirPods Max, this one by a little bit.
In my office, with more than ten people talking and typing simultaneously, it felt like I was inside a capsule because I couldn’t hear absolutely anything around me.
The same thing happened on the street and in public transport: vehicle noise, people’s voices, and even that annoying noise from the subway are reduced. In turn, the medium and high frequencies are still perceived but with less intensity than in past generations.
The Sony WH-1000XM5‘s ambient mode, which uses the microphones to return sound picked up externally, is also great, but the AirPods Max’s is superior. What’s interesting about the WH-1000XM5 is that you can set the ambient mode level and where to focus, just like the voice.
One of the coolest features of the Sony WH-1000XM5 is the Adaptive Sound Control, which adjusts the ambient sound according to where you are. There is an algorithm that learns and recognizes the places the user frequently visits, such as the workplace, and changes the sound mode automatically.
It also has usage detection, also present in AirPods, which stops playing a song when you take the headphones out of your ears. The song picks up where it left off when you replace the headphones.
Battery and charging
Sony promises a battery life of 30 hours for the WH-1000XM5, but the duration can be much longer depending on its use.
On one of the test days, I started using the WH-1000XM5 around 11 am, switching between music and voice calls, always with noise canceling or ambient mode on. At around 9 pm, the headphones were still at about 79%.
To be fair, I turned off the WH-1000XM5 only once, but that was for lunch and only for an hour. Therefore, I believe this time off did not affect its total autonomy.
When charging, the Sony headset supports fast charging, which can yield up to three hours of music playback in just three minutes of charging.
The brand does not ship the compatible power adapter, only the USB-C cable.
Is it worth buying the Sony WH-1000XM5?
The Sony WH-1000XM5 is an almost perfect headphone. I don’t consider it definitive because the less practical design and the new synthetic finish didn’t please me. Instead, I thought it was a throwback to the great, albeit dated, build of the WH-1000XM4.
But I cannot close my eyes to the other differentials of the Sony WH-1000XM5. It’s an evolution in terms of sound quality and noise cancellation, not to mention the battery that guarantees many hours of music playback.