Sony WH–1000XM5 Review

Since launching the WH–1000XM3 active noise–cancelling headphones back in 2018, and updating them with the WH–1000XM4 in 2020, Sony has led the field. The WH–1000XM5 is aiming for the hat–trick. Read our Sony WH-1000XM5 Review.

Sony WH 1000XM5 Review

SONY WH–1000XM5

$ sony.com

Features 2x 30mm drivers, Active noise cancelling (ANC), 360 Reality Audio, 8 microphones, 30 hours battery life (ANC on) /40 hours (ANC off), 250g

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Needs USB, 3.5mm jack, Bluetooth 5.2 with LDAC

+ Expansive, nicely balanced sound

+ Sony’s best–ever noise cancelling

+ Numerous control options, all of them good

– Very expensive

AWESOMES 5/5

The WH–1000XM5 use Bluetooth 5.2 for wireless connectivity and offer compatibility with SBC, AAC and LDAC codecs; aptX codec support would be nice but is missing here.

Once those full–fat digital audio files are on board, they’re handed over to your ears by a couple of 30mm mica–reinforced cellular full–range dynamic drivers. That’s an unpromising number when compared to the size of the drivers in every other pair of headphones that might be judged realistic competition. Fingers crossed, then, that it’s not all about the size of your drivers…

Fortunately, the WH–1000XM5 sound excellent. Their tonality, for example, is very nicely judged. From the top of the frequency range to the bottom, they’re detailed and naturalistic — nothing’s overplayed or understated, and consequently the impression of unity is strong. The low end is punchy and controlled, the top end is politely aggressive, and in between there’s more than enough fine detail revealed to make a singer sound characterful.

The soundstage that the WH–1000XM5 generate is equally convincing. It’s decently wide and deep, and organization and control is first–rate — every element of a recording gets plenty of space in which to stretch out and express itself. The unity of presentation isn’t at the expense of separation, but the ability to locate and isolate individual strands of a recording doesn’t come at the expense of integration or cohesion.

What might come as a gentle surprise is how much Sony has stepped up its active noise–cancellation (ANC) game. The noise cancellation on the WH–1000XM4 was strongly of the “very good” rather than the “great” type. But with the WH–1000XM5, Sony has delivered a pair of headphones that can deal with virtually any external sound short of a truck moving off from the lights. And it can do so without affecting the audio performance, without introducing that “cabin pressure” sensation into the earcups.

The ANC is also adaptive relative to your circumstances. The WH–1000XM5 will learn (or can be told) about your most commonly visited locations and can (if you wish) adapt itself to suit.

The WH–1000XM5 are mostly built from ABS — which is useful from an acoustic point of view, and good for the environment also. Here it’s moulded into a smooth and almost entirely featureless shape — in the black finish that’s available it looks quite sophisticated, in the ecru alternative of our review sample it looks as bland as warm milk.

The contact points of the earpads and the inside of the headband are of pleather–covered memory–foam, and they’re comfortable over the long haul. Sooner rather than later, though, those earpads will return your body heat to you, with interest.

Sony WH 1000XM5 Review

There’s a capacitive touch–surface on the right earcup complementing a pair of physical controls on the left. There’s also the option of voice control, which proves every bit as capable as the touch–surface controls thanks to the WH–1000XM5’s eight microphones.

The most wide–ranging control, though, is available via Sony’s exemplary “Headphones” control app. Here’s where you can fiddle with EQ settings, adjust ambient sound levels, set up the 360 Reality Audio spatial algorithm, pair the WH–1000XM5 with two devices simultaneously, and plenty more besides.

No, they’re not the most exciting–looking headphones around and no, they don’t come cheap. But as a combination of sonic fidelity and excitement, top–tier active noise–cancellation, flawless ergonomics, competitive battery life and impeccable eco credentials, it’s impossible to lay a glove on the WH–1000XM5.

THE BOTTOM LINE

10 Total Score
Sony WH 1000XM5 Review

Sony has replaced the best active noise–cancelling headphones you can buy with the best active noise–cancelling headphones you can buy. But they don’t come cheap.

PROS
  • Expansive, nicely balanced sound
  • Sony’s best–ever noise cancelling
  • Numerous control options, all of them good
CONS
  • Very expensive
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