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Sony’s WH-1000XM5 Headphones Offer Strong Noise Cancellation and Sound in a Sleeker Build

Sony's latest premium headphones strike with a sleeker design and more intelligent noise cancelation modes.
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Sony's long been the reigning champion of over-ear and noise canceling headphones. The WH-1000XM4 in 2020 delivered 30 hours of battery life, a lightweight design, and excellent sound. And Sony's WH-1000XM5 adds in more tech and updates the look.

They also cost $50 more at $399, which undercuts Apple's $549 AirPods Max. And given just how well the WH-1000XM4 perform, Sony's keeping them in the line at $349. So for $50 more, what do the WH-1000XM5 bring to the table?

Well, I've spent close to a week jamming out to Olivia Rodrigo, Lorde, and Bruce Springsteen while also taking calls and blocking out noisy commutes and neighbors alike to put them to the test. So let's dive into Sony's latest over-ear headphones.

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A Sleeker Build With Larger Ear Cups

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After sticking with a pretty similar over-ear design for the WH-1000XM4 (and the XM3s before that), Sony is going for a more straightforward design with softer materials and larger ear cups.  There are no high-end materials like Apple's AirPods Max or fun pops of colors like Beats By Dre, though. The WH-1000XM5 still mainly use plastic and only come in black or white.

The biggest change is wider ear cups, which let these fit even over larger than average ears. It's all about creating a comfortable experience, and Sony has done that here. And yes, it’s similar to the oversized ear cup design on AirPods Max. This change isn't just more comfortable, but it also provides a better seal around the ear. That keeps the music in and passively blocks out external sounds. The memory foam in the ear cup is more conforming and softer to the touch year over year.

That softer foam extends to the top headband, which is noticeably slimmer than the previous generation. It doesn't exert as much pressure as the WH-1000XM4, but these still can be felt on your head. They don't instantly fade away like the AirPods Max with there canopy headband. 

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It's also not a solid single piece of plastic that connects the headband to the ear cups. Sony's taking a more modern approach, similar to AirPods Max and the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700, in that it's a circular piece that extends out and is bare-bones -- aka not wrapped in the foam. The ear cups can also be rotated to lie flat which lets them sit slim in the included carrying case. Unlike the WH-1000XM4, the XM5s don't fold in on themselves for ultra portability, though.

And all of these changes make for a comfy pair of headphones. The larger ear cups make these a bit more comfortable than the previous gen for those with larger ears, but it's a similar experience. 

The outward facing side of the right ear cup is touch enabled for easy control -- a double to play or pause, a swipe up or down for volume, and a swipe left or right for playback. The left ear cup also has a dedicated button for engaging ANC and one for power with a headphone jack. And you'll recharge the XM5s through a USB-C port on the right ear cup.

Really Good Sound That You Can Customize

The most important part of headphones is how good they sound, and Sony’s WH-1000XM5 sound terrific. It’s better than the previous-generation XM4s, but not to a wild degree. So if you have those, you don’t need to rush out, but if you’re new or have an even older pair, you’re in for a treat.

Regardless of genre or artist, the WH-1000XM5 delivered rich, crisp audio that sounded great. And for just a pair of headphones, they showcase all aspects of a track in a powerful mix. Take “Brutal” by Olivia Rodrigo -- the XM5’s smoothly presents the high opening tones and then slams with a thundering crisp of low bass tones. It’s a song that gets crowded with many inputs -- main vocals, strong bass, a guitar riff, backing vocals, and plenty of electric tones -- and the XM5s don’t muddy the mix or introduce different artifacts into the song.

With “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence And The Machine, you won’t find that the mid-to-low tones beneath the lead vocals roll into each other, but rather each stands crisp. Similarly, the ramp-up with all the instruments is energizing and rich with the needed tones.

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Powering the audio here is a Sony-made 30mm driver unit which offers plenty of power to create a vast soundstage. For instance, “I’m on Fire” by Bruce Springsteen places you firmly center in between vocals and instruments that are stereo separated around your head. Sony also supports higher forms of audio like LDAC and DSEE Extreme on the XM5s. There's even an audio jack if you want a wired experience.

sony headphones app equalizer

Sticking with Sony’s commitment to audio is the ability to customize the mix on the fly via the companion “Sony Headphones” app for Android and iOS. Here you can scroll through presets like “Bright” or use the sliders to create a custom EQ audio mix that you can save. I wish more headphones offered this feature as well.

Best-In-Class Noise Cancellation

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The $349.99 WH-1000XM4 were already some of the best noise canceling headphones on the market, truthfully tied with AirPods Max. So there’s a good chance you might be wondering how Sony could up the experience like I was. And the solution was more hardware inside the XM5s and a more intelligent take on noise canceling.

The WH-1000XM5 features two processors dedicated to noise cancellation and eight microphones, which is a step up from the five in the previous model. All of this works in harmony to quickly block out sound -- and just like the WH-1000XM4s and AirPods Max, these quickly enter noise cancellation with a bit of a vacuum seal. You’ll promptly be alone with your thoughts and not hear any environmental sounds. It’s good at getting rid of lower frequencies like loud bangs and footsteps in boots, but it also works better in the fight against higher frequencies -- things like the human voice, HVAC systems, and general fodder when out and about.

And it’s fair to say that the XM5 are closer in-line with the AirPods Max in terms of canceling out a broad range of frequencies. It’s helpful if you’re trying to concentrate in that it does a better job of blocking out all sound. It’s still best in class here, and I’m not sure what more I could ask for regarding noise cancellation here.

sony headphones adaptive anc switching

With the upgraded tech onboard, Sony wants to take it further with a clever take on ANC … mostly with when is the right time to engage it. “Adaptive ANC” uses sensors and noise to determine your activity and then set the correct listening mode. It might engage noise cancellation if it detects you are still for a while, like working at a desk. The same goes if you’re on a train or an airplane. And if you’re walking or running, it will let ambient sound in.

And over a week of testing in various scenarios, it performs well and does make it easier to wear them throughout the day. I could start it at my desk with ANC on, and as I leave my apartment to grab a coffee or pick up a package, it switches between modes. It’s pretty handy, and I like that you can customize these modes by picking which sound experience you have and its levels.

Ambient Sound, AKA Sony’s Transparency mode, isn’t as natural as AirPods Max or even AirPods Pro. It still adds some sustenance in the form of fuzz being pipped in.

Fast Recharging And Clear Voice Pickup

While many were hoping for another crazy leap in battery life, the WH-1000XM5s still offer the same 30 hours of battery life as the WH-1000XM4s. It is still long-lasting and lets you go days without charging. Sony met the same mark with an updated design and more power-hungry components.

Surprisingly with my battery test -- listening at 60% volume with ANC and Ambient sound disengaged, the WH-1000XM5s lasted for 31 and a half hours of playback.

What is new is a quick charge function -- essentially, plugging the WH-1000XM5s in for about three minutes delivers about three and a half hours of listening time. That’s pretty impressive and if you’re ever in a bind -- let’s say before a flight -- you can quickly recharge these. Heck, you could even do it on the plane.

Last but not least, especially since many of us will use these for working remotely or in an office, let’s talk about call quality. And the good news is that it’s improved a lot here generation over generation. Out of the eight microphones in total, four are used for voice pickup and ensuring a clean delivery.

I could be heard clearly and without much background noise on phone calls and even VoIP calls on Google Meet and FaceTime. These don’t quite reach the AirPods Max level, which reduces environmental sound to zero, but these do perform at a high level.

Bottom line

Sony's WH-1000XM5 are a great pair of headphones that impress with a comfortable design, robust sound quality, and top-tier active noise cancellation. They'll also last a lot longer than the competition. 

But what complicates an immediate recommendation is that the almost-as-equally-as-excellent WH-1000XM4 are still in the line, and they're $50 cheaper. And if you have those, there isn't an immediate need to run out and buy these.

Those hanging onto the XM3s or older will see significant improvements across the main features by opting for the WH-1000XM5s. And if you're new to over-ear headphones, the XM5s deserve a look and are likely the right move if you want to block out all sounds, listen to higher quality tracks, or like a more sophisticated look. If none of that screams out as a must, you'll be just as happy with the XM4s.

Sony's WH-1000XM5 are up for preorder now at $399.99 in black or white and begin shipping on May 20.

Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.