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  • Cheryl Tan

Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: Still One Of The Best ANC Headphones Around

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

I honestly wasn’t sure how Sony would improve on the WH-1000XM4 headphones, because they were so good. In fact, they were so good that I bought a pair with my own money. Does the WH-1000XM5 make me want to do the same? Well…

We have the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones with us today, and it’s quite a departure from the XM4. So let’s talk design first. The biggest change here that you’ll notice immediately, is how the headphones no longer fold in on themselves. This means only the earcups can swivel, and that means, the case is now much bigger than the XM4’s and it’s more triangular rather than the oblong shape we’re used to. Personally, I’m not a big fan of this change. I much prefer compactness, especially when these headphone cases take up space in my bag when I’m travelling. Anyway, inside, there’s a hidden compartment for the cables. One USB-A to C for charging and one 3.5mm audio cable. The headphones no longer come with a flight adapter, which is a bit of a shame. There’s a lot of padding around the bottom edges to protect the earcups, and that’s nice to see.

Moving on to the headphones themselves, you’ll notice that the sliding arms of the headphones have changed as well. They’re now using a friction rod design instead of the notched adjustor. It’s really personal preference which you like. The friction rod allows for easy adjustment while the notched adjuster allows for precision. Personally, I’m okay with both but I do prefer the notched adjuster a bit more. This new design does help to reduce some of the plastic clacking noises, though. It does feel like it sticks out more from my head, although that could just be my imagination.

The headphones are very, very light and that’s something inherited from the previous XM4 and XM3 models, but the XM5 is even lighter at just 250 grams. It’s not the lightest, sure, but it’s very comfortable for long periods of use. The plastic used here has also been changed, resulting in a slight difference in hand feel. The XM4 plastic is smoother, while the XM5’s plastic is slightly more textured.

Thankfully, Sony has decided to keep the buttons in all their original places, so you get the noise cancelling/ambient sound button and the power button on the left, as well as the 3.5mm port. On the right, you get the USB-C port for charging. You’ll also notice there are plenty of microphone grills all around the earcups, with four microphones on each side that are used for calls and for ANC.

Something that I would like from Sony would be the ability to just pull off the earpads for easy replacement, because these are held in place with plastic clips and you can’t just pull them off to replace them, you need a tool to pry them out. In this regard, the Apple AirPods Max has pretty much every other brand’s headphones beat. But anyway, the padding on the earpads is about the same thickness as the XM4’s, and they’re super comfortable. The leather on the earpads and headband is different though, and they do feel more durable than the leather on the XM4, so that’s nice.

Inside, there’s also a big change. There are now two processor chips inside, the standard QN1 noise cancelling processor, as well as a new Integrated Processor V1, which is supposed to help with the noise cancelling performance. We’ll touch more on that later though. The drivers have also changed, from a 40mm driver in the XM4, to a 30mm driver that uses carbon fibre composite material. We’ll see how it performs in the sound test later.

These still operate predominantly on touch controls, and it’s all on the right earcup. Double tap for play/pause, swipe forward to skip tracks forward, or swipe backwards to skip tracks back. Swipe up for volume up and swipe down for volume down. Put your entire palm on the touch control sensor to activate quick attention mode, which pauses your music and pipes in external noise. Honestly, it’s very intuitive and easy to use, and I’m glad Sony didn’t mess with this.

As for the app, it’s the same old app we’re used to. You get battery levels, as well as an indicator telling you what codec is being used, AAC in this case, as well as whether you have DSEE Extreme enabled. There’s also the ability to customise the adaptive sound control, allowing you to switch between different modes based on whether you’re sitting still, walking, running or on a commute. Personally, I found this wasn’t quite as smart on the XM4, since it would sometimes switch to sitting still when I was on a train, so I mostly left this off. It can be helpful if you’re planning on using the location switching though, so if you want to turn ANC off while you’re in the office but turn it on once you leave, it’s easily customisable here.

There are also all the other features we’re used to, ambient sound customisation, speak to chat, the equaliser, 360 Reality Audio, multipoint connectivity activation, auto power-off options, and of course, software updates. If you have an Android phone though, you get features like Google’s Fast Pair, which also provides Find My Device support. There’s wear detection here too, although the sensor is now hidden away. It’s incredibly responsive though, just pulling the headphones away from my ears a little bit will result in my music being paused.

Sony has finally upgraded the Bluetooth side of things, with the XM5 now using Bluetooth 5.2. There’s still support for SBC, AAC and LDAC, although of course, LDAC is only available on Android phones. There’s also multipoint connectivity available, although the same problem from the XM4 is still present: You can’t use multipoint connectivity with LDAC, so you’ll default to AAC or SBC.

Battery life is ever so slightly better in certain ways. You still get 30 hours with ANC on, but the headphones now last 40 hours with ANC off, and a three-minute charge with a power delivery compatible adapter gives you three hours of battery life. It was 10 minutes for five hours for the XM4 if you need a refresher.

Let’s talk about ANC though. A big change here is that you no longer have to run the noise cancelling optimiser anymore because it’s all automatic. It’s nice, but I’ll definitely miss running that feature. It might have just been a placebo effect, but I definitely felt like running the optimiser helped to get the most out of the ANC. That being said, the ANC here has improved slightly. Low rumbles and such are just as effectively cancelled out, but Sony has managed to improve the noise cancelling for higher pitched noises, which was a slight weak point for the XM4s. Personally, I felt like the XM5 actually provided a slightly better seal compared to the XM4 as well, which is always good. Perhaps it’s because of the new sliders or the new leather earpads, I’m not sure, but hey, I’m not gonna question it. All in all, Sony is still on top when it comes to ANC.

Microphone quality is quite decent, far better than the XM4, in any case. The microphones do a very good job of making sure wind noise and such isn’t picked up, and my voice comes across clearly.

As for sound quality, well, it’s that same Sony sound. The first thing you’ll notice is that the bass is certainly emphasised here, so if you like more bassy headphones, you’ll definitely enjoy these. It’s thumpy and powerful while still retaining detail. That being said, you will notice the bass crowds into the mids a bit because the mids are comparatively recessed. This can be solved by tweaking the EQ in the app, and I’d actually recommend trying that out. As for the treble, it’s quite up my alley. It’s sparkly and bright and energetic and I’m just a big fan. For some people though, it could be a bit too much, so again, you might want to adjust the sound via the EQ.

It’s certainly a little unfortunate that Sony has raised the price of the XM5 a little, to S$569 or US$399, but it’s to be expected. Most electronics are only going up in price, and in any case, Sony does have quite a few sales throughout the year, so we can probably expect to see this closer to the US$350 mark after six months or so, and if you have the XM3 or XM4, well, they’re still very good headphones in their own right and you can afford to wait a bit to upgrade.

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