Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones review: new design and improved sound quality

Sony has stuck to tradition with its latest flagship headphones in that they have incredible sound quality and noise cancellation, but an absolute mouthful of a name. The WH-1000XM5 over-ear noise canceling headphones hit the market in May 2022 with an MSRP of $399.99, which is $50 more than their predecessor, Sony’s WH-1000XM4s.

The new headphones have an updated design, as well as improved sound and noise cancellation, but there’s nothing so new about them that would make me dying to buy them if I already had the WH-1000XM4. However, these are definitely standout headphones for someone looking to buy a new pair.

A stylish design update

The most noticeable difference between the Sony WH-1000XM5 and WH-1000XM4 headphones is the design. The new model is sleek and looks a bit like Apple’s AirPods Max. The earcups don’t have a cage around them, but instead are connected to the headset by an adjustable stem that grants them some range of motion to suit your head.

They look really nice, but that sleek design doesn’t allow the headphones to fold up for storage. The carrying case is comically large, but thin enough to slip into the side of a bag. I opted to travel with the headphones loose in my purse rather than having the carrying case take up most of my bag. Even with the headphones out of the case, I’d rather they folded up to take up less space.

The headphones don’t fold up, so their carrying case is bigger than I’d like.
Credit: Molly Flores/Mashable

As for comfort, the ear cups and headphone band are nice and plush. I didn’t feel any uncomfortable pressure on my head or ears.

As nice as the headphones are, they aren’t waterproof or water resistant, which seems to be the norm at this point. So if you sweat a lot when working out, this probably won’t be the best pair of gym headphones.

Unbeatable sound quality

woman wearing in-ear headphones

The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones have a comfortable fit and a battery life of up to 30 hours.
Credit: Molly Flores/Mashable

I’m someone who likes to blast my music, and the maximum headphone volume never feels loud enough. This was surprisingly not the case with the 1000XM5 (I have to shorten that name for everyone’s sake). The volume is very loud even before reaching the maximum level.

The sound itself is also impressive – it’s full and clear, and feels like surround sound. I’m a big fan of power ballads (I’m not allowed to choose the music at parties) and “Just in timesounded like it was meant to be listened to on those headphones. The vocals and instruments all shone, and the headphones made me feel like I was right there in the studio. These are probably the best headphones I have ever tried.

Sony has added more microphones to this model, which means voice calls are clearer. This is a complaint I had with other headsets I’ve tested in the past – having less than stellar call quality both indoors and outdoors. I called my mom using the Sony WH-1000XM5s on my way home from the gym and I could hear her perfectly, and she could hear me with no problem. She put me on speakerphone so I could talk to her and my brother and again I could hear clearly. When I reached my apartment, there was a super smooth transition from outside to inside.

Noise canceling that really blocks sound

earphones on orange background

Comfortable ear cushions create a nice seal for noise cancellation.
Credit: Molly Flores/Mashable

I usually work from home, but I went to the office while testing the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones and found that they stood up to office noise in addition to NYC apartment noise. They completely blocked out all normal office noise like air conditioning and other people talking, but they also silenced the ongoing construction in the building next door. In my apartment, I was able to work without the distractions of my noisy neighbor and the company forklift below. With other noise-canceling headphones I’ve tried, I could still hear faint noises from construction or power tools, so I was impressed with the 1000XM5s.

Admittedly, I had to play some music to block out the noise. Simply wearing the headset without playing anything attenuates outside sounds, but doesn’t completely block them out. But that’s pretty standard for noise-canceling headphones, so no complaints there.

I tried noise canceling in an exceptionally noisy environment just to see how it would hold up. My friends and I went to happy hour and the restaurant was blaring to the point where we had to shout just to talk to each other. So, we put the headphones to the test, and I was still fully able to hear restaurant music even though my music was at a normal volume. It’s not a typical environment and I didn’t expect the headphones to be able to block out loud restaurant noises, so I’m not going to beat them for that – just wanted to experiment.

Customizable controls

One thing I really liked about these headphones is that they come in plastic-free packaging and Sony has reduced the amount of paper inside the packaging. However, this means that I did not receive a manual or guide on how to use the headphones. Not a big deal as I’ve used headphones before and they don’t really stray too far from the norm, but I was a bit confused by the controls at first.

If you have the WH-1000XM4s, the M5s (shortening that name even further) use the same touch controls. I don’t own the M4s so I pressed the right ear cup once thinking it would play/pause my music. But, it turns out that a double-click controls this feature. It wasn’t really an adjustment, I just had to play around with the headphones to see which actions controlled what.

headphone buttons close-up

The headphones have a power/Bluetooth button, ANC/ambient sound button, charging port and headphone jack.
Credit: Molly Flores/Mashable

I love being able to swipe up to increase the volume, and the Sony headphones have a cool feature where you can place your palm on the right earcup to switch to ambient mode. It’s great if you need to hear a fast train announcement or just need to hear your surroundings for a second.

I’m a certified hater of Ambient Mode because I think it fattens up white noise too much, but I don’t mind Sony’s Ambient Sound because I can customize it in the headset’s companion app. I can turn the sound level down so there’s no white noise in my ears, and I can choose to focus it on vocals while cutting out other background noise.

The app is also great because you can customize ‘services’, which are quick-access features controlled by the noise canceling/ambient sound button on the headphones. I set mine to open Spotify if I press the button twice. There are also plenty of other customization options in the app if you want to play around with the equalizer or configure 360 ​​audio.

How do the WH-1000XM5 compare to the WH-1000XM4?

There is no huge difference in sound quality, but it’s noticeable when you switch between the two headphones. The WH-1000XM5 headphones sound fuller and louder (yes, I tested them at the same volume level). Noise cancellation in the new headphones is also slightly better, but not dramatically different.

The M5s have a sleeker design, but the M4s win out in terms of portability. You can fold them and their carrying case is smaller than that of the new model. However, the M5s are more comfortable and don’t constrict the ears and head as much, and have more of a cushion on the headband.

Should you upgrade to the WH-1000XM5?

I was really impressed with the sound quality and noise cancellation of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones. As someone who primarily listens to music through AirPods Pro, the noise cancellation on Sony headphones is a game-changer. I found myself looking for these headphones on my AirPods and Sennheiser PXC 550-II.

If you have an older model of headphones and are looking to upgrade it should be the Sony WH-1000XM5s. But if you already own the WH-1000XM4s, you can probably wait for Sony’s next release.

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