Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Still an ANC masterclass
(Pocket-lint) – With the WH-1000XM5, Sony has completely revamped the design of its ever-popular flagship headphone line.
Moving on from a style that barely changed over the four previous iterations is a bold move, and it’s also not the only significant change Sony has up its sleeve for the XM5s.
However, change alone doesn’t mean that this latest model is automatically an improvement on the WH-1000XM4 – a model we’ve rated as best-in-class.
So, is the WH-1000XM5 a worthy upgrade that stands up to the increasingly strong competition, or is this one update you can afford to skip? We find out.
The WH-1000XM5 is another masterclass from this line of Sony headphones, pairing comfort, a fresh new design and stellar performance – both sonically and in terms of active noise cancellation.
That makes for a great combination. Whether you’re a regular traveller and want to cut out all that background noise, or if you just want to lose yourself in your music while walking to work or school, the Sony WH-1000XM5 has something to offer.
The negatives are minimal: the lack of aptX support might irk some potential users, and the fact that they now don’t fold as flat as they used to is all we have to complain about. The Sony WH-1000XM5 come highly recommended.
5 stars – Pocket-lint editors choice
- Outstanding noise cancellation
- Excellent sound quality
- Comfortable to wear
- Packed with functions
- No support for aptX
- Don’t fold as small as they used to
Design and build
- Fresh new design
- Folding case
- Superbly comfortable
The first thing you’ll notice about the WH-1000XM5 is that they now look very different. The structure of the headband and how it connects to the cups is entirely new, removing the sharp edges of previous models for a smoother profile.
Like the sculpting of a sports car, this isn’t just to look good, it’s designed to reduce the number of edges that the wind catches. Why? So that there’s less noise interference when you’re walking outside wearing these headphones.
It works, too. Wear these headphones out on a breezy day, noise is still present, but it’s far from intrusive – and that’s the important point. It’s all about making the outside of these headphones quieter to ensure there’s less impact on what you’re hearing inside.
The headband is now slightly more rounded rather than flat, as well, with a smooth action to extend it to fit your head, exposing rounded stalks. These also rotate, allowing the cups to sit flat. There’s no longer the option to fold the headphones into a more compact shape, as offered in previous models. Instead, you’ll just fold the cups flat and slip them into the case.
All this change does create a downside, though. As these headphones aren’t as compact as they were, the case is considerably larger than it was before. This will no doubt be a bit of a burden to those who want to toss the XM5s into a travel bag.
The silver lining here is that the protective case does also come with folding zones designed into it, so it’s not always the same bulky box, but it’s still a bit of a shame.
The headband and pads, meanwhile, are covered in soft synthetic leather, and we found the padding suitable for long periods of listening.
The outside of the cups is matte plastic, with external microphone openings on each cup, a 3.5mm cable connection and buttons on the left for control, while the right houses the USB Type-C charging socket. Within the case, there’s a compartment that houses the USB and 3.5mm cables so that they’re nice and tucked away, although we found it odd that our “silver” headphones came with black cables and didn’t match.
It’s a refreshing design – welcomed – and that will perhaps be a motivator to owners of the original 1000X, or perhaps the second-gen model, who are looking to upgrade and will now have the feeling of something new. The only real downside is they don’t fold as compactly as they did before.
Setup, connection and app
- Google Fast Pair
- Sony Headphones app
- LDAC support for hi-res music
- Multipoint support
As soon as you turn on the WH-1000XM5, a pop-up will appear on your Android device, thanks to Google Fast Pair. This makes pairing an incredibly simple and fast process for those using Android. It’s basically replicating the experience that Apple users get with AirPods Max – a natural rival to these headphones.
As these are Sony headphones, it’s no surprise that they support Sony’s LDAC codec for hi-res music. LDAC allows for three times the data transmission (990kbps) compared to standard Bluetooth connections, meaning you can get more out of your music, especially if you’re listening to a hi-res source, like Tidal.
Many phones support LDAC – it’s not limited to Sony Xperia devices – but it’s something to consider: if you want to best, you might want to ensure that you can access that LDAC codec. We tested it with an Honor phone and the Google Pixel 6 Pro and both offered LDAC. (On most phones you can head into the Bluetooth settings and check the device to see what connection protocol you’re using – SBC and AAC are also supported, but there’s no aptX or aptX HD.)
There’s also an important setting here, as LDAC is offered with two options – for audio quality or stability. To get the best sound quality, you obviously have to select the ‘Priority on Sound Quality’ option, but, if there’s any breakup in the signal, you’ll have to move to the stability setting. The connection quality will differ from device to device, but we had no problems using the high-quality LDAC connection during our testing.
Once connected, you’re ready to go, but there’s a lot more that these headphones can do, and you’ll want the Sony Headphones app to control them – something with Google Fast Pair will also prompt you to download.
The Sony Headphones app will be familiar to anyone who has used more advanced Sony headphones over the past few years, having been introduced with the WH-1000XM2. It doesn’t look as though a huge amount has changed, though, and the app isn’t the most enticing to use.
With that said, it does still give you granular control of all the features, allowing you to customise various functions (which we’ll get into below). In all likelihood, you’ll set up those features to your preference and then rarely ever use the app again.
There’s also support for multipoint connections – which you’ll have to enable in the app – but this removes the LDAC option, as it reverts to a lower quality connection. That will allow you to connect to two devices, for example, to play music through one and take calls on another.
When it comes to taking calls, these headphones also do a good job of picking up your voice so those on the other end of the line can hear you, even in noisy conditions.
- Touch controls
- Voice Assistant
- Button controls
There are several ways to control the Sony WH-1000XM5. As these headphones have always offered, you can still tap the right-hand cup to interact. This will let you play/pause, while a swipe forward or backwards allows you to skip.
Then there’s the option of putting your palm over the whole cup, which switches to ambient sound, letting exterior sound in. This is ideal when ordering a coffee, for example.
There are two buttons on the left-hand cup. The power button doubles up as a battery check with a press; the second button lets you switch between ANC or ambient sound. You also have the option to assign Spotify Tap to this button, meaning a double or triple press of the button will launch you instantly into Spotify.
Beyond physical controls, there’s also the option for voice control using smart assistants – Google Assistant, Alexa or Siri. This will allow you to trigger the assistant with your voice using the normal wake word and get the results back through your headphones.
We tested this with Google Assistant and experienced seamless performance. Exactly what you’ll be able to get your assistant to do will depend on the service you use, but it’s also worth remembering that you might have to change settings on your source device to get the best results, rather than the headphones.
There’s another option included with these headphones, Speak-to-Chat. This lets the headphones detect your voice when you start talking, at which point it will stop the audio. It’s designed so you can just walk up to someone and start speaking – the music stops, switching to ambient mode so that you can hear the reply.
This was also in the previous generation headphones, but we’re not huge fans. You can change the sensitivity of activation, but we find it either triggers when we don’t want it (on automatic) or triggers only after we’ve said a couple of lines (on low). Given that you can palm mute the headphones anyway, it probably doesn’t matter, but we just ended up switching this function off.
Elsewhere, there are 30 hours of battery life with ANC on, with a full charge taking a fairly lengthy 3.5 hours. Thankfully, they do support fast charging, so you’ll be able to quickly get some life into these headphones. With the port being USB-C, as well, this means you can probably use the same charger as your phone.
Active noise cancellation and audio performance
- Class-leading ANC
- Ambient mode
- Adaptive sound control
- Spatial audio
The Sony WH-1000XM5 are all about active noise cancellation (ANC). When this headphones series launched, that was the primary focus – and with ANC more popular than ever, that’s the reason why they remain popular, rivalling the Bose QuietComfort 45.
Whether you want silence at home, in the office or when travelling, the WH-1000XM5s offer superb performance. Stepping out onto a street and engaging ANC is like a blanket of silence descending around you. There’s something ethereal about it.
Sony says that the real gains here over the previous generation of headphones are in higher tone cancellation. These headphones have always been really good at removing low rumbles, like aircraft noise – so much so that we’ve often slept on long flights wearing a pair of WH-1000Xs – but they are now more capable when dealing with higher, sharper noises.
Busy traffic noise is minimised, with that noisy Vespa slipping past in complete silence. Everything around you in a busy café will essentially be blocked out by the WH-1000XM5s, too, but, of course, the performance will depend on how loud things are around you and what you’re doing.
This can also be automated using Sony’s adaptive sound control, which is driven by the Headphones app. This will detect what you’re doing and adjust the level of ambient sound allowed in, so that, for example, you can have complete silence when working, then a little more ambient noise when walking around. It’s optional, thankfully, so you can turn it off if you find it doesn’t really end up doing what you want.
The advantage that strong noise cancellation offers is that you don’t have to play music at high volume to block it out. That gives you more control, so you can listen to music at levels that suit you, you don’t have to disturb those around you and the music isn’t fighting with other sounds.
There are new drivers in the 1000XM5, we should note. It’s now 10mm smaller than the driver in older models, but don’t be lured into thinking that there will be a drop in quality. The Sony WH-1000XM5s offer excellent audio performance, with expertise in delivering bass and subtlety when handling more detailed highs.
There’s the option to adapt the balance of the sound output within the app, should you choose to do so, while there’s also support for spatial audio thanks to 360 Reality Audio support – along with a tuning function to set up the headphones for your ears.
The result is that the WH-1000XM5s offer great performance on the audio front, backed up with that solid active noise cancellation and in a comfortable package, making them a pleasure to listen to for long periods.
Returning to that 3.5mm cab gives you the option to bypass the Bluetooth connection, so you can plug into an in-flight entertainment system, for example. Ideally, you’ll power on the headphones to take advantage of the noise cancellation, but they will also work passively (i.e. when powered off), although the sound quality drops in this mode.
Sony’s flagship headphones remain a great choice for those who prioritise noise cancellation. These headphones are better performing than ever, with a comfortable new design – the only real downside being that they don’t fold as small as they once did.
Writing by Chris Hall.