Sony WH-1000XM5 vs 1000XM4: What’s the difference?

(Pocket-lint) – When Sony launched the 1000X in 2016, it was an attempt to shake up the status quo and push a new level of noise cancelling out to customers. The headphones were an instant hit, wildly popular as a premium over-ear choice and updates came in following years. For many, the 1000X is the master of active noise cancellation (ANC).

Jump to 2022 and Sony has announced the WH-1000XM5, the fifth-generation of these over-ear headphones. But with so many tweaks over the previous years, how do these headphones compare to the Sony WH-1000XM4 from 2021?

Here’s what Sony has changed and why it matters.

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Price and availability

  • Sony WH-1000XM5: $399 / £380 / €420
  • Sony WH-1000XM4: $349.99 / £279 / €299

The Sony WH-1000XM4 are widely available, globally and have received a price reduction since launch, so the asking price for these older headphones is cheaper than the new model – and you’re likely to find regular deals on these headphones through events like Prime Day or Black Friday.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 will be available from 20 May, although pre-orders are already open. It might take a little time for them to become available in all areas. They will start at $399 / £380 / €420.

Design and build

  • Sony WH-1000XM5: 250g
  • Sony WH-1000XM4: 254g

While the overall weight of the headphones is pretty much the same, the Sony WH-1000XM5 have a totally new design. They look completely different to the headphones that came before them. While the WH-1000XM4 used the same design as the three iterations prior, the new design has been introduced to boost performance.

The new shape is smoother, reducing edges and gaps, all with the aim of lowering wind noise to make these headphones better. There’s now a clickless slider to help you get the right fit, while they have been designed for comfort for longer wearing. It’s a refreshing new look and those with older 1000X headphones who have been resistant to change might now think there’s a better case for an upgrade.

Not only do they look visually quite different, but the supplied carry case is different too. Previously it was a semi-rigid case, but now it will fold down, making it easier to carry in your bag when wearing your headphones. It still comes with a 3.5mm cable.

Battery and charging

  • Sony WH-1000XM5: Up to 30 hours (NC), 40 hours (NC off), full charge in 3 hours, 3 hours in 3 minutes
  • Sony WH-1000XM4: Up to 30 hours (NC), 38 hours (NC off), full charge in 3 hours, 5 hours in 10 minutes

Claimed battery life is the same on both headsets – up to 30 hours with noise cancelling switched on. However, the 1000XM5 eeks out a little more, with 40 hours with ANC turned off. Ultimately, how you use your headphones will determine the life – but you’ll be able to last through the longest of long haul flights with either of these headphones. The 1000XM5 takes approximately 3.5 hours to fully charge; the 1000XM4 takes approximately 3 hours to charge.

The new model is now capable of faster charging than it was before. Both charge via USB-C, but the new model supports Power Delivery, and will give you 3 hours of playback from just 3 minutes on a charger. The XM4 is capable of 5 hours of playback with just 10 minutes of charge time.

Audio tech and ANC

  • Sony WH-1000XM5: 30mm drivers, DSEE Extreme, QN1 processor, V1 processor, 8 mics
  • Sony WH-1000XM4: 40mm drivers, DSEE Extreme, QN1 processor, 4 mics

One of the big changes on the preivous version of these headphones was the move away from aptX codecs and that stays in place: both these headphones use LDAC to deliver the high-resolution audio, but you’ll need a source device that supports that. SBC and AAC are also supported, as well as multipoint connections so you can connect your headphones to more than one device at the same time.

Both support DSEE Extreme upscaling to bring the best out of your compressed audio, while also supporting 360 Reality Audio, if you have a compatible source.

There’s a change in the driver however, moving from the previous 40mm driver to a new 30mm driver. Sony puts the emphasis on quality in the 1000XM5, using a carbonfibre composite, while also using solder with gold to ensure there’s the best connections possible for signal transfer. The result should be better sound quality, but we’re yet to test this in person.

When it comes to active noise cancellation, the 1000XM5 have doubled the number of microphones the headphones use. This means there’s more data on the sounds inside and outside the cups, so the noise cancellation can be more accurate and more advanced. The big change here is that the 1000XM5 are better at cutting out high frequency noise, at pitches that the XM4 would struggle. Both remain great with low frequency sounds, but the XM5 are likely to be better overall.

That new design, as we mentioned, is designed to reduce wind noise over the outside of the XM5 headphones, while they also have impoved noise sensing, to make them more accurate with noise cancellation.

Features

  • Sony WH-1000XM5: Speak-to-chat, voice assistant wake words
  • Sony WH-1000XM4: Speak-to-chat, voice assistant 

There’s a full range of features on these headphones and many are similar. Both offer various modes of noise cancellation, or will let through varying amount of exterior noise depending on what you’re doing. This remains controlled by the Sony Headphone app, which you’ll need to get the most out of your headphones. 

Both also support speak-to-chat, where the headphones detect that you’re talking and pause the music so that you can have your conversation – ordering a coffee for example – before the music resumes. The support voice assistants – Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant – continues, but the 1000XM5 now supports wake words.

When it comes to calling, there is a doubling of beamforming mics – so there are four on the XM5 compared to two on the XM4, for better call quality and to ensure that the caller can hear you loud and clear. The calling is boosted by AI, which attempts to identify your voice outside of other voices to boost clarity.

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Conclusions

With a fresh new look and better performance, it’s clear that the 1000XM5 will be more desirable than previous updates to the family. With previous updates, those with an existing pair of 1000X might have been happy to stick to what they already had – and the 1000XM5 changes all that. 

While we can’t yet draw any conclusions on sound quality and performance, this is what Sony is really targetting, with enhancements to the noise cancellation system to make the new model even more effective – and we don’t doubt they will prove to be so. With tweaks to other features – better calling, wake words – the Sony WH-1000XM5 just look like a more attractive package. 

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However, the previous models are still great headphones and with the price reduced from its original launch price, you’re still getting a lot of headphone for your money should you choose the Sony WH-1000XM4.

More about this story

When we make comparisons on Pocket-lint, we’re not just pulling the spec sheets and showing those side-by-side, we analyse and interpret in information we have to highlight the details that actually matter. In the case of these Sony headphones, we have fully reviewed the Sony WH-1000X, Sony WH-1000XM2, Sony WH-1000XM3 and Sony WH-1000XM4 – and the comparisons we draw are based on real-world experiences using these products.

Of course the Sony WH-1000XM5 are brand new and have not yet been released, so real-world information on these headphones isn’t available to us, so the comparison is based on real-world use on one hand, with information provided by Sony and in the public domain on the other. This isn’t just a spec comparison however, it’s an evaluation of what impact these changes will have on the experience of using these products. 

The aim is to ensure that you have a better understanding of what’s changed and what might be important when it comes to making a decision on what headphones you might want – or just because you’re interested.

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Writing by Chris Hall.

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