Sony WH-1000XM5 Review — Audiophile ON (2023)

Sony WH-1000XM5 Review — Audiophile ON (1)

It’s been coming for 2 years and finally arrived this week. The new Sony WH-1000XM5 is the hotly anticipated successor to the best noise-canceling headphones, the companies own the XM4 model. In this review of the new XM5, we will be taking a look to see if Sony was able to take them to the next level as well as comparing them to the latest competition from Bose and Apple.

What’s New in The Sony WH-1000XM5?

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Given that we already rate the XM4 as the best all-around headphone on the market, the question is where do you go from there. Well, it’s about refinements and materials. The WH-1000XM5 retains the DNA of the line that came to market years ago but they are just streamlined.

By far the biggest physical and visual change is the headband. There is a new design that strikes some resemblances with the Bose 700 series. It’s a tubular design that no longer folds into a neat little package like the XM3 and XM4. That’s going to ruffle a few feathers because traditionally XM headphones are hugely popular among travelers to whom space in a carry-on is at a premium.

On the inside, there are new drivers for claimed improved sound performance increases . I will, of course, talk about it later in this review. There are also more microphones and a new chip to improve the noise-canceling strength.

Battery life remains the same at 30 hours and there is an updated quick-charge function. There will also be a light and a dark color option we but choose to review the black version of the XM5 and it’s holding up well.

Finally, the earpads and materials have been upgraded to make an all-around higher quality product leaning into the luxury market while retaining a fair consumer price (RRP $400 USD).

Sony WH-1000XM5 Pricing and Availability

With the Sony XM5 set to be one of the most popular headphones released this year, there should be no issue with availability. Most large chain electronic stores should have availability in the coming weeks as well as large consumer websites and stores like Best Buy, Walmart, and more.

To check the price at Amazon feel free to click the localized link below that will take you to the nearest Amazon store to your location. Links to buy the WH-1000XM5 directly from Sony can also be found at the bottom of this review.

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Rather than listing a boring sheet of specifications, let’s talk about the most important features of the WH-1000XM5.

The XM5, as mentioned before, has a quick charge function but it’s not any old type of quick charge. Depending on the type of power brick you use. you receive either 5 hours of playback from a 10-minute charge (standard charger) or 3 hours in 3 minutes (from a PD - Power Delivery Charger).

That’s a bold claim and not really true in our testing. The 10-minute charge gave us just 4 hours of playback whereas the 3-minute charge proved to be accurate. This of course will vary on volume levels and is still a mighty impressive feature to have on any headphone. Especially if you travel a lot with them and need a fast top-up of power.

Sadly there was still no inclusion of APTX or APTX HD. You are stuck using only Sony’s proprietary LDAC technology if you want to stream music at higher bitrates than conventional Bluetooth. LDAC is good but we love options so it was a disappointment that they have again omitted this much-requested feature.

The range and stability of connection have been improved with the relocation of the receivers and the updated materials. I found I was able to travel significantly further from my source device using the XM5 than with other leading noise-canceling headphones. Updates to the Bluetooth codec and the hardware are extremely welcome and I didn’t receive any dropped connections during our review process.

The other features we liked from the previous models like upscaling audio and the ability to cover an earpiece to get passthrough audio are still all there and present. It seems like Sony refined existing features and added just a few significant spec bumps to get our attention.

Design, Styling and Build Quality

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Ok so as I mentioned above there is a significant change in this new model and I’m on the fence on whether or not it’s a step forward or they are just following a trend.

The headband departs from the line’s flat band shape and now is tubular. From the side, this looks very sleek but from the front, it increases the negative space between the head and headband yoke mechanism. I don’t think it looks bad, it’s just a little less refined than if the yoke was more integrated.

Of course, with this new design, you lose the ability to fold the XM5 as you had on previous versions. This is probably going to irritate travelers who enjoyed the compact folding size of previous versions. However, there is a benefit.

Traditionally, the weakest point of Sony’s XM headphones was the folding mechanism and while it got better through the versions, your headphones were still prone to cracking there if you weren’t careful.

It’s really a trade-off, a bit of modern styling to increase reliability, yet at the same time losing the compact nature and streamlined fit. I call this neither a win nor a loss. Just something a little different and it should be noted Sony told us that the XM4 line will continue to be sold.

Build quality overall is greatly improved. They feel like an overall more quality product with a lean towards the luxury headphone category. This was obviously to keep them competitive against new Apple and Bang & Olufsen headphones that inspire a lot of confidence through their material choices.

The earcups of the Sony WH-1000XM5 feel more premium and substantial but they aren’t metal so you do lose out a little in that regard to more expensive models.

The headband we discussed above makes them sturdier than ever and a new slider mechanism that runs on metal rails allowed for precision adjustments of fit.

It doesn’t stop there, because the points of contact have also been upgraded. When we tested them they instantly felt better on the head, more balanced and anchored. The headband padding is a more resistive memory foam that conformed to the shape of my head and relieved me from contact pressure.

The earpads are just stunning. It’s a protein leather and probably the softest and most breathable I have used to date on any headphones. All-day comfort is achieved and it’s a noticeable step forward for the lineup.

How Strong is the Noise Cancelling?

The noise-canceling is absolutely class-leading. Sony took over from Bose as the best noise-canceling headphones some time ago but with this new model, they take another step forward offering the strongest noise-canceling performance we have ever tested.

To test this I took three headphones to three situations. All in search of insight into where people seeking ANC headphones would likely use them. I took a 3-hour (each-way) flight to Panama, used them for a week in a busy co-working space, and commuted with them daily. The results weren’t even up for debate.

The headphones I chose to do the comparisons for this review are the flagship Bose 700 and the expensive Apple Airpods Max.

First up on the flights the level of ambient noise that is drowned out by the technology in the XM5 is jaw-dropping. Engine noise is reduced to a minimum. It works even better when you use the Sony app to control your environment by doing a pressure test. But in reality, there was no need because Sony now automatical adapts the headphones.

The XM5 measure the atmosphere values and adjust the response of the headphones in order to remove the pressure from the headphone. That’s something that the Max and 700 failed to do well and a big reason I recommend these headphones for flying.

In the office environment and for commuting Sony won again with the background murmurs and hiss of aircon units being non-existent. It was relaxing and I found it greatly reduced my fatigue at the end of the day.

From my testing, the Sony performed better in every situation than the Bose but it did lose out in one area to the Apple Airpods Max. That was in ambient sound where the algorithm in the Max just outdid the Sony leading to a much more realistic and natural appearance sounding as if I wasn’t even wearing a set of headphones.

The Sound Quality is Still Class Leading

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I talked way back in our XM2 review that something Sony did better than any other noise-canceling headphone manufacturer was sound quality. The presentation just always seemed more normal and without obvious interference from the ANC tech inside.

The XM5 is now ever more refined and detailed. New driver technology seems to have taken things to another level in terms of fidelity.

Again, tests were done between the Bose 700 and Airpods max and I once again preferred the sound and tuning of the WH-1000XM5 over those. However, it should be noted none of those headphones can hold a candle to the best audiophile headphones at this price point.

The tuning of the XM5 is one that works with a wide variety of genres. A slight V-Shaped frequency curve was detected with elevated bass and treble making them energetic and punchy sounding.

Sub-bass rumble is possible and works well with musical genres like EDM and Rap yet when things get a bit more subdued listening to rock or jazz the XM5 keeps composure. The driver is tight enough that it can adapt to the situation and not get loose or fat sounding. There was also no detectable bleed into the midrange.

The midrange is smooth and natural sounding. There are no weak points in the upper midrange that can induce sibilant fatigue. Male and female vocals both sound great with warmth and intimacy but perhaps lack depth and reverb compared to a sound first headphone like the Sivga P-II.

The good thing is stringed instruments hold up very well and are boosted by the sense of openness and imaging that lets them stand out even in complicated tracks like 1812 overture by Tchaikovsky.

Treble is done nicely on the WH-1000XM5. It’s not too hot that it becomes fatiguing but delivers a nice sparkle when called upon that adds synergy to the rest of the tuning. It also creates a sense of artificial soundstage which impressed us within this closed-back headphone.

When I say the XM5 doesn’t compete with audiophile headphones that is true but as a consumer-focussed headphone that is trying to do a lot in the one package this really stands out. It’s an immensely enjoyable listening experience even with the ANC turned on. The detail retrieval is high and clearly something Sony worked on to put themselves ahead of the pack in regards to sound. Soundstage and timbre both also perform well.

If you go into the dedicated Sony headphone app you will see that you can customize the WH-1000XM5 in many different ways. There are presets for replicating listening environments such as studio, concert, and home. There are preset EQs depending on the type of music you listen to as well as custom preset and equalizer options to set them up the way you like. There are even sections to dial in the amount of noise canceling.

Sony was already the best sounding noise-canceling headphones but the WH-1000XM5 takes them to the next level through well-thought-out refinements and hardware upgrades.

Comparisons:

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs Bose 700 & Apple Airpods Max

I have to preface this section of the review with the fact that I am a Sony ANC headphone user and have been since I switched from the Bose QC35 to the Sony WH-1000XM2 many years ago. During that time I have upgraded to the XM4 and have happily used them for the past 2 years.

Since the release of the XM4 Bose released the 700 and the QC40 headphones to challenge Sony which had taken a massive chunk of their market share. I like both those headphones but comfort and styling are going to play a huge part in which ones you will choose to buy. For me, there is a clear winner. Sony.

I feel like the XM5 when compared directly to the Bose 700 just performs a little better in almost every area. It sounds better, looks better, and most importantly cancels noise better. The Bose however does have the XM5 beaten on comfort with their generous earpads and lightweight build making a difference on long flights.

Apple has also entered the market at this time but I just can’t bring myself to love them despite being thoroughly entrenched in the Apple ecosystem. Yes, the build quality of the max is better, and, yes there is something about taking the headphones out of the carry case and having them automatically connect.

However, just like with the Bose the sound is better, the canceling is better and I really, really don’t like the design of the AirPods max. Especially when holding them hand in hand next to the Sony WH-1000XM5.

The Airpods Max as I mentioned above does have an advantage in ambient sound but that is not enough to touch Sony in my opinion. Especially considering how expensive the Max headphones are.

Conclusion - Not a Revolution BUT enough to retain their position as kings of noise-canceling

The Sony WH-1000XM5 are better than the XM4 but it’s not clear cut and there is still a case to be made to still recommend the older model which Sony says they will still be selling. The latter still retains a number of top-selling points that shouldn’t be overlooked and with the release of the XM5 they should now come at a lower price point.

However, there is no doubt in my mind after the extensive testing done for this review that the XM5 is indeed the better headphone and with its release, Sony has extended its run at the top. It’s probably the best all-around headphone on the market right now and definitely the best noise-canceling headphone.

Sometimes you don’t need to go and reinvent the wheel you just need to keep things rolling. That’s exactly what has been done here. For that reason, it’s an easy recommendation from us at Audiophile On.

Links

Official Sony Website for WH-1000XM5

How we test Headphones

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Audiophile On is dedicated to bringing reviews of high-end portable audio products with an easy-to-understand format. If you want better-sounding headphones, earphones, amps, and DACs we are sure to have something to suit your tastes and price points.

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