Sony WH-1000XM5: ANC with the sleek design!

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These Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones come from one of the most illustrious families in audio history. The WH-1000XM5 arrives with a degree of expectation uncommon in the world of personal audio after two best-in-class over-ear noise canceling predecessors.

Both Sony WH-1000XM3 & Sony WH-1000XM4 received high honors in their individual evaluations, and the WH-1000XM5 is expected to follow in similar footsteps.

In terms of stats and performance, they mainly follow in the footsteps of their predecessors (a bit too closely), but in terms of design, the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones are the most significant divergence in the line’s history. Are the design differences, however, sufficient to elevate Sony’s already high bar?

More streamlined design

Sony WH-1000XM5: Design

When it comes to the design of WH-1000XM5, Sony has made several changes. They’re unquestionably different from the WH-1000XM4 — or at least as different as wireless over-ear headphones can get.

The XM5 looks stealthy. They get a more streamlined shape than their predecessors, with an aerodynamic design that increases airflow across the headphone frame, reducing wind noise.

The earcups & headband are almost featureless and completely anonymous, with only a little ‘Sony’ insignia on each hinge. The Sony WH-1000XM5headphones is constructed largely of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and comes in black or ecru (read: ‘uninspiring beige’) (ABS). ABS is a popular choice among Sony engineers right now since it’s a versatile acoustic material that’s primarily comprised of recycled plastic and it can be recycled again towards the end of its useful life.

The WH-1000XM5’s whole eco-friendly component should be commended, and it even extends to the retail packing box. The unbleached, unprinted, and completely recyclable packaging is manufactured from ‘original mixed material,’ with no plastic assured.

The XM5 headphones are somewhat lighter than the type they replace, weighing 8.8 ounces, and they come with a handy small and foldable carry-case that is scarcely larger than that of the headphones themselves. This is useful because, although having a lot of movement where the hinges contact the earcups, it XM5 only folds flat, not inwards like the XM4.

Controls 

Controls

You have a lot of options here, which is great, but even better is that they all function quite well.

The right earcup’s capacitive touch surface takes care of the obvious items in a consistent and dependable manner. With little effort, you can ‘play/pause,’ ‘volume up/down,”skip forwards/backwards,’ and ‘answer/end/reject call’. A tactile button on the left earcup, however, lets you cycle between your noise-canceling settings (‘on’ or ‘ambient sound’).

Headphones control app

The ‘Headphones’ control app allows you to specify the volume of ‘ambient sound’ you want to hear — yet that’s far from the app’s sole feature. Set up the XM5 for usage with Sony’s 360 Reality Audio spatial sound technology, and wirelessly connect the headphones to two devices at the same time. It’s a reliable, helpful, and comprehensive program that outperforms practically every other option.

However, you should avoid altering the ‘clear bass’ setting. Rarely has a feature been called more incorrectly…

Microphones and Voice assistant

The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones have eight microphones, which are used for voice-assistant interaction as well as noise cancellation and telephony. Naturally, the Sony will function with the speech assistant included in your source player. But they also feature Amazon Alexa integrated. And, regardless of whose voice assistant you choose, Sony can communicate with you clearly and reliably. OK, Google has a very well-implemented comprehensive wake-up word recognition. That puts them ahead of a lot of its nominal rivals.

Lightweight and Comfortable Earcups

Sony WH-1000XM5: Comfort

The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones are one of the most lightweight premium wireless over-ear headphones on the market. They’re also not as heavy to wear as the trim weight suggests, owing to a mix of thoughtful hanger design, soft fake leather, and a scattering of memory foam within the earcup and the middle piece inside the headband.

The earcups are of reasonable size, so they should fit well unless your ears are (to be honest) too enormous. Unlike a number of other designs, the Sony won’t suffocate those of us with smaller skulls. While the earpads are undeniably comfy, the materials used in their construction appear to return your body heat – with interest — faster than some competing designs.

Audio quality

Audio Quality

We were originally concerned about the transition from a 40mm driver within WH-1000XM4 headphones to a new 30mm driver in the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones. Would the WH line’s distinctive dynamism and spaciousness lose with a smaller driver? Thankfully, such suspicions misplace; they sound almost identical to the outstanding XM4s, but we must concede they don’t sound significantly better.

The soundstage remains expansive and capable of allowing all aspects of a mix to breathe and shine, even with the driver adjustment. Take, for example, the tremendous solo part of Metallica’s iconic One, which is full of thrash metal riffs and double bass drum mayhem. Yet Kirk Hammett’s blazing high-register finger tapping shines through. An acoustic strum rhythmic rattles beneath the harmonized vocals & chorus-pedal guitar line in a more tranquil but rich composition like Jeff Buckley’s Grace. But there’s also room for a strolling bassline to sit alongside rising strings. Outside the 360 Reality Audio spatial settings, the Sony WH-1000XM5s finds its home. The outcome is a magnificent engulfing of sound.

LDAC and DSEE

Sony is relying on a one-two punch of LDAC codec & DSEE Extreme support to provide the finest possible sound quality for your connected devices once again. LDAC is a high-resolution audio option that compresses and decompresses music on the fly to provide far more wireless bandwidth than a conventional Bluetooth connection could. Even if you’re utilizing a low-resolution Bluetooth streaming service. DSEE Extreme adds a bit of extra information by employing AI upscaling algorithms to recover some of the audio data that would otherwise lose. Both are excellent.

Bass tightness

If you’re looking for bass tightness, go no further than Rage Against the Machine’s Bullet in the Head, where Tim Commerford’s bass work rushes through the track like a piston-powered machine. The WH-1000XM5s allow the bassline to kick hard behind the treble guitar riff without flattening the rest of the mix. Massive Attack’s somber Angel shows how low the cans can without losing clarity, with the WH-1000XM5s retaining melody and detail even at the lowest frequencies.

Jumping into Prince’s joyful Raspberry Beret, on the other hand, revealed elements previously overlooked. With cracking snares & handclaps shattering the wizard-like blend of synthesizers, strings, and guitars, it’s Prince’s 80s “more-is-more” production at its peak. You might be wrong, but is it a harpsichord underneath it all? If it is, it is the first time in 35 years of listening to the song that observes.

And, if you want to cry while listening to the clarity of a beautifully realized vocal performance, put on the Prince-penned, Sinead O’Connor-performed Nothing Compares 2 U – she might even be in the room with you, from the forceful chorus to the trembling bridge, O’Connor runs the gamut from anger to heartbreak, with Sony cans picking up each inflection as well as sibilant cry with wondrous effect.

There’s also extremely minimal noise leaking. Even with the volume turned up to its maximum level, they didn’t record any sound. This is an improvement from last year’s edition, according to what folks around them reported at the time.

Active noise cancelation

ANC Noise Cancelation

The news about active noise cancellation is really better. Sony headphones are always decent in terms of sound quality, but more often than not. They’ve been very excellent’ rather than ‘amazing’ in terms of noise cancellation — but that’s not the situation here.

The XM5 banishes almost all external sound and leaves a wonderful black background for which your music can do its job without leaving any indication as to how difficult the ANC circuitry is working. That means the XM5 can compete with the greatest noise-canceling headphones on the market (which, let’s face it, means Bose).

Battery life

Sony WH-1000XM5: Battery life

There were a few areas where the Sony WH-1000XM5s might have outperformed their 1000XM4 predecessor. So many thought that battery life would be one of them. Sony claims a two-hour increase over the WH-1000XM4s in terms of battery life. Although 30 hours with noise canceling enabled matches the previous, 40 hours with noise canceling turned off is a two-hour boost. 

Some readers may disappoint by this since competitors are starting to squeeze out greater battery life per charge. However, the other features more than make up for any shortcomings here. Particularly in terms of noise-canceling capabilities, 30-40 hours of playback is more than plenty nonetheless.

Are Sony’s playback predictions accurate?

They’re roughly correct based on the experience. You cannot quite reach the marketed 30 hours with ANC turned on. But you also tend to crank a volume up louder than that of the average person (or even the recommended safe level). So you’d expect the battery to drain faster throughout the line with the high volume.

However, Sony has made an attempt to improve the charging experience in general; utilizing the USB-PD standard, you can receive three hours of music from a three-minute charge. It allows you to get out the door and into your songs as fast as possible.

Price and availability

Price and availability

At the end of this month, these Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless active noise-canceling over-ear headphones will be available for purchase. They’ll start at $399 / £379 / €419 / AU$649 & will also be available for pre-order through Sony’s website, Amazon, and Best Buy, among others. The WH-1000XM5 is available for pre-order straight from Sony in Australia.

Without a doubt, this is at the top of the mainstream over-ear headphone market, pushing closer to the ‘luxury lifestyle’ segment, where brands like Bang & Olufsen, Apple (with its AirPods Max), and Montblanc hang out. The XM5’s most apparent rivals, such as Bose and Sennheiser, are all far less expensive.

However, it is doubtful that Sony will keep this pricing for long. Each prior 1000X model came with a high price tag at debut, but over time, each past 1000X model became significantly cheaper. So, unless you prefer being among the first to try anything (and don’t mind paying for the opportunity). It’s worth waiting to see what deals emerge.

You could also divide between the XM5 and its predecessor, the XM4. This is still available for at least $50 cheaper.

Conclusion

The advent of Sony’s next-generation XM-series over-ear headphones met great expectations, and those expectations were met in terms of overall performance.

That’s especially true in terms of ANC performance, which shows competitors that they need to step up their game. The respectable environmental credentials Sony has achieved with its headphone and package materials.

Whatever you think of the minimalist design aesthetic and price hike. The next-gen Sony WH-1000XM5’s music quality, noise-canceling, and interactivity are all outstanding, and it’s a decent step forward.

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