Review and opinion Sony WH-1000XM5: Excellence in noise cancellation

Sony has been offering the best noise cancelling headphones over the last few years, but the competition is now getting hold of the batteries and trying to take the throne away from the Japanese company. In this review, we look at whether the company’s new WH-1000XM5 headphones are still the best in the business, and whether they even go a step further than their predecessor.

They are particularly suitable for people who listen to music during the day in different conditions, such as on public transport, in the office or when teleworking, as well as for students who want to concentrate by reducing external noise, and also for those who spend a lot of time on the phone and want better Bluetooth audio performance.

Next, we will tell you about all the new features these headphones offer, how they perform in terms of noise cancellation, sound quality, comfort and connectivity. We will also compare them to the previous version to let you know if it is worth making the move.

Don’t miss our review of the Sony WH-1000XM5 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones if you’re looking for a pair of headphones that will help you avoid distractions and concentrate on what you’re listening to while studying or travelling. Find out what we think and why they are one of our most recommended headphones.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review
9.5
Price on Amazon
Sony WH-1000XM5

Sony WH-1000XM5 review

ADVANTAGES
  • The best noise cancellation on the market
  • They are very comfortable
  • Automatic pause when you take off your helmet.
  • Bluetooth 5.2 with SBC, AAC, LDAC
  • Pair two devices simultaneously via Bluetooth
  • Auxiliary input for wired use
  • Long battery life
  • Application very complete and easy to use
  • More modern design
DISADVANTAGES
  • Cannot be folded like the previous generation
  • Ultra short charging cable included
  • Not splash proof or water resistant

Design of the Sony WH-1000XM5

After several generations, the external appearance has been modified, although the design is almost identical. It is not that there has been a revolution, but there have been a number of changes that distinguish it from the previous generation.

Design of new Sony WH-1000XM5 headphonesDesign new Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

The first thing you notice is that Sony has given it softer lines and a headband that is narrower than the previous model. The head contact surface is covered in a soft vegan leatherette that provides enough friction but is soft enough not to be uncomfortable, and they feel slightly more comfortable than the XM4 version.

Whereas the ear pads on the previous WH-1000XM4 headphones could be a little uncomfortable for people with large ears, the Sony WH-1000XM5 ear pads are deep and wide enough to fit large ears and are therefore more comfortable. They are made from memory foam and faux leather for an extra soft feel.

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM5 design comparison.Comparison design Sony WH-1000XM4 vs WH-1000XM5

Weighing in at 250 grams, they are not the lightest headphones on the market, but they are lighter than the previous version (4 grams) and, combined with the padding on the headband, they do not put much pressure on the head. The headband itself has a friction bar, not a serrated bar like Sony’s old wireless headphones. This is not a big deal, but it does mean that there is no setting to remember, you just have to adjust on the fly.

Sony WH-1000XM5 in silver color.Sony WH-1000XM5 in silver color

They look more modern and stylish than previous generations, but retain the same good old-fashioned construction and robustness.

There have also been changes to the carrying case, which now uses recycled materials, but the most curious thing is that the new XM5s cannot be folded. This means a reduction in portability and seems to us to be a step backwards. If this is the case, it could be a deliberate decision by the brand to offer better durability, as folding the headphones can cause more damage over time. By not offering this option, the case is larger than before. The high-quality, textured pouch that comes with the headphones protects the headphones by providing a solid and rigid cover.

Included in the box are a USB cable, an analogue audio cable and an airplane travel adapter. The USB-C charging cable is still extremely short and practically unusable, so you’ll end up using the one from your phone or another one you have that’s longer.

Box of the new Sony WH-1000XM5Box of the new Sony WH-1000XM5

In terms of available colours, there are still two versions on sale, one in black and the other in silver.

Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones in black and white.Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones in black and white

Connectivity and extras

The right earbud has a USB-C port, while the left earbud has a 3.5mm jack, next to the battery indicator LED, the on/off buttons and the new ‘Custom’ button that corresponds to the old NC / Ambient button.

There are no dedicated buttons to control the other functions, which can be done tactilely by touching the right earpiece. Tap twice to pause the music, tap again to resume.

Gesturing up and down raises and lowers the volume respectively. And to move backwards or forwards, slide your finger to the right or left.

We noticed that the touch controls are more precise and responsive than on the XM4.

The Bluetooth version is 5.2 and allows you to pair two devices simultaneously. You can switch from one device to the other with a single touch. When you receive a call, the headset detects which device is ringing and automatically connects to it.

As well as Bluetooth, the headset also supports NFC and Google’s Fast Pair. With the latter, you can easily locate where you left your headphones by calling them.

If you want to have a one-to-one conversation with someone without taking your headphones off, just say something and the headphones will recognise your voice and automatically stop the music and turn on the ambient sound. Sony calls this feature Speak To Chat. You can use it with Google Assistant and Alexa smart assistants, using voice prompts.

Wear detection has been updated with a new capacitive sensor that improves accuracy and stops the audio when the headphones are not in use, saving battery life and ensuring you don’t miss a moment of your favourite content. The in-ear sensor is good enough to stop the music as soon as you take your headphones off. Other touches include the ability to block out ambient noise by placing your hand on the right ear cup. It’s nice to be able to leave the headphones on while someone leaves something on the desk, rather than taking them off and putting them on a hundred times while carrying on an incoherent conversation.

1 Sony WH-1000XM5 review
Sony has been offering the best noise cancelling headphones over the last few years, but the competition is now getting hold of the batteries and trying to take the throne away from the Japanese company. In this review, we look at whether the …
9.5

There’s also a mode called Quick Attention, which means that if you need to listen to a prompt or say something short, just cradle your right hand over the earpiece to instantly lower the volume and let in ambient sound.

As well as Bluetooth, they also support NFC and Google’s Fast Pair, which allows you to easily locate where you left your headphones by calling them up. As is now commonplace, you can use them via voice with the Google and Alexa assistants.

To set them up, download the Sony Headphones Connect app and you’re ready to go in minutes. The ‘Custom’ button on the left earpiece comes as standard, so you can quickly activate the feature by voice.

If you want to get the most out of your headphones, don’t hesitate to get the Sony Headphones Connect app (iOS/Android) for your phone. Not only is it necessary for features like ANC optimisation, 360-degree audio and a custom equaliser that saves settings directly to the headphones, but it’s also Sony’s main way of delivering updates to the headphones.

Battery life

The battery life is very good, which means you can use these headphones for a long time without having to recharge them. With the noise cancelling turned off, you can get up to 38 hours of use, depending on your usage, the options you have enabled and the volume. With noise cancelling on, you can get up to 30 hours of battery life.

These are the manufacturer’s figures, but the truth is that we got slightly more than that using it at a moderate volume at home.

The quick charge function has been improved and can now provide up to 3 hours of playback with a quick charge of 3 minutes, which is undoubtedly incredible. A 10-minute charge gives you up to 5 hours. To give you an idea, the previous generation XM4 had a battery life of up to 70 minutes on a 10-minute charge.

The headphones detect when you are using them and adjust playback accordingly to conserve battery life. Using the headphones’ proximity sensor and two accelerometers, the headphones automatically stop playing when you take them off and resume when you put them back on.

If you don’t have a USB-C cable, you can use the handy 3.5mm cable for direct analogue playback and save battery life by turning off noise cancellation.

Noise cancelling Sony WH-1000XM4

Sony has developed a number of noise cancellation technologies in recent years, catapulting it to the top of the league in this respect. Their headphones are top of the class in this respect, offering superior ambient noise reduction than the vast majority of their direct competitors.

We told you about this in our review of the WH-1000XM4s, where we rated noise cancellation as one of the most accomplished and popular features. As expected, the new WH-1000XM5 series continues to offer spectacular performance in this area, but there have been a number of improvements.

The new WH-1000XM5 headphones use Multi Noise Sensing technology. This involves the addition of several microphones, in particular 3 external microphones in each earbud that pick up ambient noise such as traffic, speech and surroundings. In addition, an internal feedback microphone has been placed inside each earphone to pick up and eliminate sounds coming from inside. In total, there are 6 microphones to pick up outside noise and 2 for the inside.

As you can see, Sony has not rested on its laurels and continues to lead the way in noise cancellation technology, offering better results than its direct competitors such as the Bose 700.

As well as reducing low frequencies, which is what most noise cancelling headphones do, high and mid frequencies are also reduced thanks to the use of two microphones in each earphone and the use of Dual Noise Sensor technology.

This technology detects ambient noise and passes the data to the QN1 HD Noise Cancelling Processor. The combination of the HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1 and Sony’s integrated V1 processor unlocks the full potential of noise cancellation and delivers unprecedented performance by controlling 8 microphones in the WH-1000XM5.

Dual Processor integrated into the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones.Dual Processor integrated in Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

Automatic Noise Cancelling optimisation is another new feature on the WH-1000XM5. Now you no longer need to press any buttons as the headphones automatically adjust the noise cancellation settings based on your features (e.g. hairstyle, ear shape, wearing glasses, etc.) and environment, including automatic sound optimisation at high altitudes.

Meanwhile, the wind noise reduction algorithm has been improved. The 6 pre-feedback microphones surrounding the headset have been redesigned to reduce wind noise during calls and when listening to music with NC/ASM activated.

The Precise Voice Pickup with Artificial Intelligence technology uses AI-based machine learning algorithms to reduce ambient noise for clear, high-quality calls. More than 500 million voice samples are used to suppress ambient noise and extract your voice clearly.

The headset has a built-in microphone that picks up ambient noise. The waveform is then inverted and the result is played back through the user’s earpiece. By adding a positive waveform to a negative waveform, the noise disappears completely.

Sony has also done a great job with passive isolation. In this new generation it is even better and just by putting them on you will notice a big reduction in external noise without having to activate active noise cancellation.

Sony WH-1000XM5 noise-cancelling headphonesSony WH-1000XM5 Noise Canceling Headphones WH-1000XM5

The headphones reduce noise by around 30dB in the area where you hear most music. They also reduce engine, train and road noise to an eighth of the original level. The WH-1000XM5 are the perfect headphones if this is what you value most.

The reduction of vocals, which is one of the most complicated things for any headphone to do, is spectacular. Of course, it is very difficult to eliminate this type of noise completely, and in very noisy environments such as offices, or if you do not want to listen to the TV or radio from another room, you will hear something.

However, it’s still far superior to other headphones we’ve tested, such as Bose’s QuietComfort 45 and 700 series, and the previous WH-1000XM4.

The WH1000XM5s are still the kings of noise cancellation and the ANC system has improved on the previous WH-1000XM4s.

What is more, unlike other noise cancelling headphones, the sound quality hardly suffers at all when the function is activated. With other headphones, the loss is very noticeable and the sound becomes flatter, losing a lot in the low frequencies. However, this is not the case with the WH1000XM5.

There is a slight background hiss when noise reduction is activated, but this is only noticeable when there is no music playing. Once music is playing, it is imperceptible and in no way distracting.

You can set the level of noise cancellation on the WH 1000XM5 using the Sony Headphones Connect app. There are up to 20 levels to choose from, so depending on where you are, you can set the level to suit you.

From this app, you can configure the Custom button so that instead of controlling the assistant by voice, it takes care of the noise cancellation. This gives you several options to control from the helmets themselves.

You can use the custom button to listen to ambient sound through the microphones in each headset, turn ambient sound off and turn noise cancellation on.

The ambient mode works quite well, picking up the sound from the microphones and the sound you hear in this mode is quite natural.

There is also a system in place that intelligently detects where you are and what you are doing in order to adjust the settings for the ambient sound.

Called Adaptive Sound, this system learns over time to recognise the places you visit most, and adjusts the sound to each situation. You will need to download the app to configure your most frequently visited locations and your preferred settings.

To sum up, while the WH-1000XM4s have good ANC performance, the WH-1000XM5 is better overall, especially when it comes to noise suppression above 1 kHz.

Noise cancellation improvements Sony WH-1000XM5 vs WH-1000XM4
Noise cancellation improvements Sony WH-1000XM5 vs WH-1000XM4

Sound quality

The WH-1000XM5s uses a new 30mm diaphragm unit with a rigid, lightweight dome made from reinforced carbon fibre composite material. This helps to improve high-frequency response and create a more natural sound. It also uses lead-free solder with gold for excellent driveability, a sound resistor for better power distribution and circuitry to improve the signal-to-noise ratio.

Previous XM4s used a liquid crystal polymer, 40mm domed diaphragm and neodymium magnet.

Distortion is minimal, with a good signal-to-noise ratio achieved by the Noise Cancelling HD QN1 processor amplifier.

The frequency response is the same as on the XM4s, ranging from 4 Hz to 40,000 Hz when wired and from 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz when Bluetooth is used.

Overall, the sound does not disappoint and these headphones deliver a very high quality of sound. As they come out of the factory, they deliver quite a powerful bass that will please fans of music styles such as hip hop, reggaeton or electro.

Sony’s WH-1000XM5s are a little more treble and bass oriented, targeting the mass market and boosting the bass more than our listening curve suggests. For those who don’t like such a punchy bass, it’s very easy to adjust this via the phone app. There you can select different modes or adjust more precisely by frequency band.

The mid-range reproduction is excellent, with a well-balanced response throughout the range, making vocals and instruments sound clear and present.

Vocals are well separated from instruments, and on some rock songs the guitars are well below the vocals on other headphones.

They support the company’s high-bit-rate LDAC codec, which offers excellent audio quality with few compromises. To get the most out of this codec, however, you need to get to grips with the smartphone’s developer options.

High quality wireless listening with LDAC in Sony WH-1000XM5
High quality wireless listening with LDAC in Sony WH-1000XM5

By default, the headphones are connected in ‘Best Effort’ mode, which almost always results in a lower bit rate. We recommend 660 kbps if you are adventurous enough to delve into the depths of the configuration. This option seems to offer the best combination of sound quality and signal stability. The high quality 909kbps option seems to work well in terms of skips, but you may notice some skips in audio playback if you leave your phone in your pocket with this setting.

Another interesting technology that is included is called DSEE Extreme. This feature reconstructs the audio lost during digital compression in a more efficient way.

Using artificial intelligence, it analyses the music in real time and the different instruments individually to restore the high frequency sounds lost during compression. The previous generation also has this feature, but in the DSEE HX version, which does not use artificial intelligence.

DSEE Extreme on the Sony WH-1000XM5
DSEE Extreme on the Sony WH-1000XM5

Sony’s WH 1000XM5 are compatible with the immersive audio system 360 Reality Audio, which delivers three-dimensional audio. There is not much music available in this format yet, but some is available on streaming music apps such as Tidal or Deezer.

We did some testing and it really is a miracle to be able to listen to music in this way. You can appreciate a fully three-dimensional sound space and each instrument moves across that space. It is the cinema equivalent of Dolby Atmos.

Let’s sincerely hope that formats like 360 Reality Audio or its competitor will follow suit. Dolby Atmos MusicThe Dolby Atmos music system is finally going to be massive and we will be able to enjoy a lot more music than we do now.

In terms of voice quality, it reduces noise above 6 kHz, which is good for vocal clarity. Although the Sony WH-1000XM5 has problems above 6 kHz, it is fine for voice recordings. As mentioned earlier, it has eight microphones and an artificial intelligence algorithm to eliminate unwanted noise, so voice quality is quite good. It won’t replace a dedicated condenser microphone, but the quality is more than adequate.

Sony WH-1000XM5 features
  • Circumaural closed-back headphones
  • Active Noise Cancellation
  • 30 mm rigid dome diaphragm
  • Frequency Response: 4 Hz – 40,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 105 dB (1 kHz)
  • DSEE Extreme
  • 32-bit audio signal processing
  • Noise Cancellation
  • Atmospheric Pressure Optimization
  • Ambient mode
  • Touch volume control
  • Talk to chat
  • Quick alerts
  • Up to 30 hours of battery life with noise reduction enabled
  • Up to 38 hours battery life with noise reduction off
  • Bluetooth 5.2 wireless technology
  • NEAR FIELD COMMUNICATION (NFC)
  • Works with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa
  • Includes 1.2 meter cable (OFC)
  • Available colors: Black and Silver

Advantages and disadvantages Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones

Pros

  • Impressive noise cancellation
  • Greater aircraft noise reduction than the WH-1000XM4
  • Greater daily noise reduction than the WH-1000XM4
  • Powerful bass
  • Very clean sound
  • Connection with two devices at the same time
  • Automatic pause when removing the headphones
  • 32-bit audio signal processing
  • Integrated digital-to-analog amplifier and converter
  • Long battery life
  • Good connectivity
  • The mobile app works very well

Cons

  • Do not allow folding
  • Ridiculously short USB charging cable included

Our opinion on the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones.

Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones review and opinionHeadphones Sony WH-1000XM5 review and opinion

The XM4 is undoubtedly a spectacular performer in most respects, but with this update Sony has improved on a couple of key points.

Firstly, one of the areas that has improved is noise reduction, which is now even more effective. It is amazing how far technology has come in this area, and the XM5s are the best at what they do.

The revised design is now more modern, the weight is slightly lower and the comfort has been improved so that you can wear them for long sessions without feeling any discomfort.

To be honest, these are headphones that have very few drawbacks, and the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. They are not the best headphones on the market in terms of sound, but if you want the best noise cancellation, great comfort to use, all kinds of connectivity and a quality of sound that may not be outstanding, but is remarkably high, then the Sony WH-1000XM5 will not disappoint.

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4 comparison

WH-1000XM5WH-1000XM4
OverviewNew version with improved noise cancellation and other new featuresPerformance similar in many respects to the WH-1000XM5 but at a lower price.
AdvantagesImproved noise reduction
Even better passive isolation
Slightly improved sound
Super fast charging
More comfortable
More affordable price
Foldable design
Price
Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4 comparison table

Is it worth buying the new Sony WH-1000XM5 or the previous WH-1000XM4?

Although Sony’s WH-1000XM4s have been around for a while, there is no reason to prefer them to the newer WH-1000XM5s, unless you can get them at a heavily discounted price.

The sound quality is a little worse, the features are a little fewer and some of the controls don’t work as well as on the WH-1000XM5s. However, if you can find the WH-1000XM4 for less than €300, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to buy it at that price. You won’t get exactly the same features, but you’ll enjoy most of the things we like about the WH-1000XM5, such as 360-degree audio, ear detection, multi-touch and app features.

Below we leave you with the prices of both the new XM5 version and the previous XM4s.

See Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones price

Sony WH-1000XM5 Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones

Crystal Clear Hands-Free Calling, and Alexa Voice Control, Silver
amazon logo

Sony WH-1000XM5 Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones

Crystal Clear Hands-Free Calling, and Alexa Voice Control, Black
amazon logo

See previous version Sony WH-1000XM4 price

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones

Mic for Phone-Call and Alexa Voice Control, Black
amazon logo

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones

Mic for Phone-Call and Alexa Voice Control, Silver
amazon logo

9.5 Total Score
Sony WH-1000XM5 review

Sony's new generation WH1000XM5 headphones follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, maintaining the same noise cancelling performance while introducing some improvements in terms of sound, design and accessibility. All this makes the Sony WH-1000XM5 a wise decision for anyone looking for an everyday headset that offers good sound, comfort and excellent external noise isolation.

Design and comfort
9
Connectivity and extras
10
Battery life
9.3
Noise cancellation
10
Sound quality
9
PROS
  • The best noise cancellation on the market
  • They are very comfortable
  • Automatic pause when you take off your helmet.
  • Bluetooth 5.2 with SBC, AAC, LDAC
  • Pair two devices simultaneously via Bluetooth
  • Auxiliary input for wired use
  • Long battery life
  • Application very complete and easy to use
  • More modern design
CONS
  • Cannot be folded like the previous generation
  • Ultra short charging cable included
  • Not splash proof or water resistant

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