Sony WH-1000XM5 review: The best headphones get better

The Sony WH-1000XM4 has long reigned as our pick for the best headphones, thanks to impeccable sound quality, battery life and active noise cancellation. So how do you improve to near perfection? It’s a difficult task, but one that the new Sony WH-1000XM5 can do.

Sony’s latest wireless earbuds bring some notable refinements to noise cancellation, call quality and charging speed, all packaged in a sleeker housing that’s a joy to wear for days on end. But is that enough to justify its higher price tag of $399? I spent a week working, walking and traveling with the Sony WH-1000XM5 on – and listening to a Many of music in the process. Here’s what you should know.

The best ANC headphones get better

The Sony WH-10000XM5 enhances the best headphones you can buy with a slimmer design and refined noise-canceling microphones. XM4 owners have little reason to upgrade, but if you don’t mind the higher price tag, the XM5s are the new high-end headphones.

what we like

Excellent comfort, style and sound

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The Sony WH-1000XM5 has been on my mind for most of the past week, and I won’t be taking it out anytime soon. I’m not big on headphones, but the Mark 5’s flexible, roomy faux leather earcups and lightweight frame made them a delight to wear on hikes, subway rides, and full days of work in my home office.

They look great too, with an understated black or silver design that cuts down on the headband of the previous-gen model. It’s just a fraction of a pound lighter, but the entire design is much more elegant overall. I especially like the cans’ sleek and slim mesh carrying case, which kept the WH-1000XM5 safe in my bag without taking up too much space.

But attractive headphones are useless without great sound, and unsurprisingly, Sony continues to hit that mark. Listening to music was an absolute joy on the WH-1000XM5, which produced a rich, balanced sound that brought out the smallest details of my favorite songs across multiple genres.

The beefy distorted guitars and guttural screams of Silverstein’s newest album sounded appropriately urgent through Sony’s headphones, and I could hear every little guitar chord and string arrangement hovering around my head in stereo as I listened to the quiet indie tune. rock by Phoebe Bridgers. The WH-1000XM5 produced consistently satisfying bass, but never to the point where it was overwhelming. As a headphone user, I’ve constantly noticed new sonic details in songs I’ve listened to dozens of times – especially when listening to high-res audio on apps like Tidal. It will be very difficult to come back.

Sony’s latest headphones sound great, but you can customize them to your liking via the Sony Headphones app for iOS or Android. The app’s equalizer lets you choose from several presets (which do things like boost bass or provide a quieter mix), and those who want to get into the nitty-gritty can also create their own sound profiles. You can also enjoy immersive 360 ​​Reality Audio – Sony’s proprietary spatial audio technology that puts sound all around you – in compatible apps like Tidal, Deezer and Amazon Music.

Excellent noise cancellation and transparency

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Sony has held the top spot in our best noise-canceling headphones rankings for years, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The WH-1000XM5’s Active Noise Canceling (ANC) remains one of the best, turning most of the audible chaos of everyday life into a blissfully silent hum.

Chatty subway cars, crowded grocery stores, noisy construction sites, and my dog’s piercing bark were no match for Sony’s headphones, which made it easy to block out the outside world while I got lost in a great album or caught up on podcasts. . And when I did need to hear the outside world during my daily dog ​​walks, the Mark 5’s excellent ambient noise functionality did a great job of amplifying the sounds of nearby cars and pedestrians without completely drowning out my music. But the real magic of Sony’s headphones is how these two features work together.

If you enable Adaptive Sound Control in the app, the WH-1000XM5 can automatically switch between active noise cancellation and ambient sound using a variety of sensors (as well as your location) to find out what you’re doing. For example, the headphones will stay in noise canceling mode if the app senses you’re sitting or riding the subway, but it can automatically turn on ambient sound if you go for a walk. This worked perfectly in my tests as the headphones automatically switched to ANC when I was on a train for a while, before quickly reverting back to ambient sound when I got out of the car. And when I needed to manually switch sound modes, all I had to do was click a single button on the left earcup.

I also appreciate the optional Speak-to-Chat feature, which will automatically pause your music and activate ambient noise once you start talking. This allowed me to have a quick chat with a friend on the street and immediately get back to my music afterwards, all without having to pick up my phone or fiddle with the controls in my ear.

In addition to excellent noise cancellation and transparency, Sony’s latest headphones continue to support multipoint connectivity for pairing with two devices at the same time. This was helpful in making the seamless transition from listening to music on my phone to watching a YouTube video on my Windows desktop, and the feature is very useful for any home setup job.

Incredible battery life

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You’ll also get stellar battery life, with enough power to handle a weekend trip (or several days at the office) on a single charge. The WH-1000XM5 lasted five straight days of intense use – including long hours of work, commuting and calling using a mix of sound modes – before the battery finally ran out.

According to the Headphones app, I got around 34 hours of total listening time before needing to recharge, which beats the 30 hours they’re rated for. This is on par with what we got from the previous-generation WH-1000XM4, and still noticeably better than Sony’s close competitor in the Bose 700. The XM5s also ramp up quickly, with quick-charge capabilities that give you around three hours of listening time. of a three-minute charge.

what we don’t like

Ringing, detection and call quality controls are unpredictable

Mike Andrônico/CNN

The WH-1000XM5’s on-ear controls are simple – just double tap the right earcup to pause and play, and perform various motions to do things like skip tracks or adjust the volume. But as someone relatively new to Sony headphones, it took some getting used to. My double taps occasionally didn’t register, and it took me a few days to get comfortable holding and swiping to navigate my playlists. This wasn’t a problem, but it did lead to me reaching for my phone more often than I would have liked.

Another small gripe I have is with the headphones usage detection, which is designed to automatically pause your music whenever you take them out. While this worked reliably about 90% of the time, there were some frustrating instances where my music continued to play when I rested the headphones on my neck or placed them on a table.

The WH-1000XM5 got me through a lot of phone calls and work meetings just fine, although one person pointed out that my voice had a slight echo – something I’ve also noticed in my voice recordings. You can still rely on them or make daily calls, but those who want to sound as clear as possible during an important video conference may still want to use headphones with a dedicated microphone.

They are more expensive than before.

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Sony’s best-in-class noise cancellation and great audio have never come cheap, and that’s especially true for the WH-1000XM5. These headphones are priced at $399, which is a $50 price increase over the previous generation WH-1000XM4. What’s more disconcerting is that the Mark 4 model remains in Sony’s lineup and isn’t getting any sort of price cut (yet).

So what do you get for the extra $50? The main advantages of the XM5 are an improved processor and microphone array for active noise cancellation, improved call quality, slightly faster load times, automatic ANC optimization, and a slightly sleeker design. But you’ll still get the same core audio experience, special features, and great noise cancellation in the cheaper Mark 4 models – which we’ve seen on sale often for just $248.

Final result

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The Sony WH-1000XM5 brings useful enhancements to the best headphones you can buy. The audio quality, battery life and noise cancellation of these cans remain in a class of their own, and it’s all packaged in a sleeker design that has slightly better noise cancellation, faster charging, and smarter, more adaptive ANC.

But at $399, Sony’s flagship headphones are more expensive than ever. The previous-gen WH-1000XM4 is still available for $349 (and is usually on sale), and considering you’ll get equally great sound, ANC and special features are still a great buy. And if you already own Sony’s Mark 4 headphones, there’s not much reason to upgrade. But if you want the best of the best — and you’re willing to pay for it — the $399 Sony WH-1000XM5 is well worth the premium price.

How it compares to other headphones we’ve tested

Sony WH-1000XM4

Bose 700 noise canceling over-ear headphones

AirPods Max

battery life 30 hours 30 hours 20 hours 20 hours
fast charging 3 hours of playback in 3 minutes 5 hours of playback in 10 minutes 3.5 hours of playback in 15 minutes 1.5 hours of playback in 5 minutes
Weight 0.55 pounds 0.56 pounds 0.56 pounds 0.85 pounds
microphones 8 (for ANC), 4 (for phone calls) 4 (for ANC), without dedicated call microphone 6 (for ANC), 4 (for phone calls) 8 (for ANC), 3 (for phone calls)
Pairing multiple devices Yes (two devices) Yes (two devices) Yes (two devices) Yes (two devices)
Colors black White black, white, blue Black, Silver Luxury Space Gray, Silver, Green, Pink, Sky Blue
Price

$398

$348

$379

$479

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