On the surface, we love the Sony WH-1000XM5 for their looks alone, but with big shoes to fill in hopes of continuing the lineage of top noise-cancelling headphones, it’s going to take more than some good looks to convince customers.
Sony has unapologetically made the right steps to continue its edge against strong competition from the Apple AirPods Max that’s proven price point takes second place to good looks, ambient noise control, and quality transparency mode. Will the changes Sony has made to the WH-1000XM5 steer the ship in the right direction? If the redesign is anything to go by, we’re more than a little optimistic, so let’s check it out.
Sony WH-1000XM5 Quick Facts
How Much Do They Cost?
The Sony WH-1000XM5 cost $548 AUD and are available in white and black colours.
At the time of writing, there are very few deals available as they’re a new product to market, however, Sony Australia often has free delivery and next-day shipping deals on orders over $200 so we recommend jumping on that one while it’s available.
How Long Does the Battery Last?
The Sony WH-1000XM5 has a battery life of 30 hours with Bluetooth and noise-cancelling enabled. If you were to turn off noise-cancelling you’d be able to eke out an extra 10 hours (40 hours total) but who’s really going to do that?! The overall increase over the XM4 is just two hours. For those in a rush, a ten-minute charge offers around five hours of battery life.
What’s the Competition Offer?
The Apple AirPods Max ($899 AUD) is currently the only pair of headphones we’re willing to pit against the Sony WH-1000XM5, however, the Master and Dynamic MW75 have recently been released and offer very similar specs and a gorgeous design as usual. They cost a great deal more than the Sony WH-1000XM5 at a whopping $600 USD.
Sony WH-1000XM5 Design
We’ll get this out of the way early, we’re a sucker for the new design. The way the product looks is one of the biggest factors that buyers take into consideration when buying a pair of over-ear headphones and as much as we’d love to believe that function trumps all in the world of technology, there are only a handful of brands that succeed with an unashamedly ugly design. Sony has nailed the design brief for the WH-1000XM5 with language such as “noiseless” being thrown around to describe what is essentially just a sleeker and slimmer model.
Fact sheets talked about the design being better at avoiding costly wind noise, however, we never found that to be a problem on the previous model and didn’t see a major change here when comparing the two so we’ll take it with a grain of salt – we just love the design.
The topic of storage has been beaten like a dead horse by reviewers, but the ease of transport for travel situations has taken a hit with the new design. It’s clear that a large emphasis on style has been brought to the forefront with the WH-1000XM5 and while the previous generation XM4 could fold into what was essentially a bag half the size of the current generation, the XM5 can only fold flat.
It’s an issue that’s less of a problem for those who haven’t travelled post-pandemic as they simply won’t be able to tell the difference. Factor in a little more space for your next overnight trip and we’d be surprised if you found it an issue at all.
Touch and Feel
Holding both pairs in hand and you can hardly tell the difference in weight (254g vs. 250g) but you can immediately tell the difference in materials. The WH-1000XM5 uses ABS plastics in its construction (same as the Linkbuds we tested), and while we wouldn’t call them ‘cheaper’ in feeling, the lack of a substantial hinged design and removal of the metal top band does accentuate the ‘plastic’ feeling which isn’t something we love on a circa. $600 AUD pair of headphones. Would we trade the materials used for the sleeker design? Yes, every day of the week. And if we had to take a minor stab at anything with the materials, they’re a little prone to fingerprints.
Memory foam is abundant with both the faux-leather wrapped top band and earcups benefitting from the material. The headphones remained comfortable for extended use (we tested them for 8-12 hours straight on numerous occasions) without any discomfort at all. There’s a fine balance between a top band that is strong enough to hold the headphones on your head versus one that gives your ears pain and the WH-1000XM5 strikes that balance perfectly as expected.
Adjustment is found in the ABS plastic slider that replaces the outgoing metal top band and it remains slippery yet reassuring. We had no issues with fitment on our above-average head size.
Sony WH-1000XM5 Sound and Noise Cancelling
Sony has taken the audio industry’s top crown for noise-cancelling technology in the last half-decade, and with the introduction of their V1 processor into the WF-1000XM4, and the subsequent inclusion in the WH-1000XM5 alongside the HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1, they still hang onto the crown. While the previous generation had a strong focus on low-end frequency cancellation, the XM5 puts a much-needed focus on the high frequencies by utilising eight microphones strategically placed around the exterior.
As expected, the noise-cancelling in the WH-1000XM5 is as good as it gets, but the brand understands users need a little more than just good isolation. The inclusion of location-based ambient noise control is some of the best we’ve experienced. In essence, the headphones adjust the amount of ambient noise they offer based on the current scenario (traffic, transport, etc.) for example, as we leave our office and walk up the street the headphones understand that you don’t want complete silence as you walk so they offer a touch of ambient noise (footsteps, breathe, loud talking) but as we get up to the main road with traffic, the headphones begin silencing 98% of ambient noise. Hop on public transport (train in our case) and they adjust their ambient noise again.
The system isn’t perfect, sometimes you want a little more isolation, but that can be changed with a physical button on the headphones.
The sound quality itself takes advantage of Sony’s DSEE-HX Extreme engine that upscales compressed music. It’s not something that you’ll immediately notice, but moving between different sets of headphones brings the upscaling to life and adds maybe 10% to the overall sound quality. These aren’t audiophile-level headphones, but they do feature Sony’s LDAC technology that allows them to stream higher bitrate audio over Bluetooth, an advantage considering there’s no aptX of aptX HD support.
Take the headphones off and they’ll pause audio, put your hand over the earcup and they’ll lower the volume so you can have a conversation. When you start talking the headphones will automatically start transparency mode, something they’ve made a conscious effort to improve and they’re certainly now close to being on par with Apple’s AirPods Max. Two devices can be paired to the WH-1000XM5.
The sound quality in the WH-1000XM5 has been improved up and down the sound stage. Comparing them to other headphones on the market and these strike the neutral ground better than most – like before – however, find themselves far more comfortable at either extreme of the sound spectrum too. To test our theory we threw on a few classic tracks that would certainly find any issues.
Low End (Ella Mai – How): This track has a great blend of female feature vocals in the upper range, countered by the low slapping bass. Thankfully, the bass never becomes too overpowering for the vocals as they accurately cut through. Remove the bass line and the duet between Mai and Roddy Rich is perfectly balanced before reintroducing the bass line.
Mid Range (Benny the Butcher – Weekends in the Perry’s): A classic hip-hop track (produced by The Alchemist) sits comfortably in the mid-range with the sample of Marlene’s ‘Inspereable’ holding Benny’s vocals accountable. The driving bassline hardly moves around, at least never into the lower frequency range, and the WH-1000XM5 keeps the vocals prominent while perfectly playing between the bassline, sample, and fleeting guitar. Balanced about as well as you could hope for in a pair of sub-$1000 Bluetooth headphones.
High Frequency (Hurry Up This Way Again – The Stylistics): About as paired back as they come, not only does this track challenge the DSEE-HX Extreme machine’s ability to upscale lower quality audio – of which it does incredibly well here – but it challenges with jumps between high pitch vocals, a low bassline, and jabs of guitar, keys, and percussion instruments (triangle). We were so impressed by how the WH-1000XM5 performed on this track, full marks.
Call quality is far better than you’d be used to if you’re rocking any of the previous generation models, or anything outside of Apple’s Air Pods Max. Four beaming mics combine with AI-powered noise-reduction to reduce everything from wind noise to traffic in order to create a truly respectable calling experience. We spend the first 30-mins of our daily commute continuously talking on the phone, moving from quiet backstreets to busy main road intersections and nothing troubles the WH-1000XM5.
How do you improve on a fan favourite? The Sony WH-1000XM4 was a pair of headphones we ranked highly in our list of best noise-cancelling headphones for years, they were one of the biggest foregone conclusions in headphones – if you could bare design, buy them. Do the WH-1000XM5 stack up? Yes, yes, and yes.
Apple saw the only opportunity it had with the AirPods Max and created a better-looking pair with industry-leading transparency mode to keep Sony on their toes, and what have they done with the WH-1000XM5? They’ve created the most polished pair of noise-cancelling headphones money can buy that also look great. Unless you’re an absolute die-hard Apple fan, let us kindly steer you in the direction of the XM5, they’re still the biggest no-brainer in headphones.
What Do You Get in the Box?
Here’s what you get with the WH-1000XM5.
- 1x Sony WH-1000XM5 Premium Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones
- 1x Headphone cable for wired operation (1.2m approx.)
- 1x USB Cable (USB Type-C) for charging (20cm approx.)
- 1x Travel Case
- 1x Operating instructions