Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones review: finally a different design

Sony will launch its new high-end headphones in 2022: the WH-1000XM5. It retains all the qualities of its predecessor, in a finally different design.

Sony has multiplied the number of new audio product launches to such an extent that it complicates a very extensive catalog. After the LinkBuds headphones (with an open design) and LinkBuds S (a hard to recommend in between), the multinational returns to its unpronounceable names with the WH-1000XM5 headphones. While it logically succeeds the excellent WH-1000XM4, it is not completely eliminated from the range.

It must be said that the WH-1000XM5 is a real break with its predecessor in terms of design. Furthermore, we find a technical sheet in line with the high-end positioning, starting with active noise reduction (area that Sony has mastered). The company allowed itself a small price increase. Thus, the WH-1000XM5 exceeds the symbolic bar of 400 € (thanks Apple, which draws the prices with its AirPods Max at 629 €). And that’s the whole point: thanks to its longevity and immense qualities, the more accessible WH-1000XM4 will remain an outstanding product in 2022.

Everything changed

Sony engineers had achieved a form of technological perfection with the WH-1000XM4. But there was one criterion they rested on their laurels when compared to the WH-1000XM3: the design. With the WH-1000XM5, the aim is to finally create the expected aesthetic break between two generations. Specifically, Sony offers a much more refined headset, with a thinner headband and better-mixed earcups. The stem has been reworked: it no longer separates in two to surround the upper part of the ear cups, but is content with a single attachment point (that pivots).

In appearance, the WH-1000XM5 is nothing premium. There is no such thing as headphones over 400 €: this is due to the choice, certainly commendable, to rely on recycled materials to make the headphones (as is already the case with the LinkBuds and the LinkBuds S) . The result is a plastic with a texture that can be confusing (it’s a bit grainy) and especially contrasts with products that dare to use leather and metal to emphasize their more luxurious look.

Aesthetically more modern than its predecessor

If the WH-1000XM5 proves to be more aesthetically modern than the WH-1000XM4, it loses an argument that in the eyes of some could make all the difference: it cannot fold itself, which does not facilitate transport. You can simply lay the ear cups flat to reduce thickness and place them in an included shell – which is shaped like a mini backpack with no straps. If you are looking for compactness, the WH-1000XM4 is more suitable to satisfy you.

The big bag of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones
The large compartment of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones. // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

Full of features

As always with Sony, the best way to take advantage of its audio accessories is through the Headphones application, available on iOS and Android. It is first used to associate the headset with your smartphone and then gives access to a whole host of functions. At this point, the WH-1000XM5 doesn’t forget anything. We find the essentials (full equalizer, noise reduction management, transparency mode) and rarer options (adaptive noise reduction, audio signal enhancement, etc.).

The WH-1000XM5 offers touch control only via the right earcup. Nevertheless, the surface is large enough to offer many practical shortcuts: two taps for playback, a horizontal swipe to manage the track (forward or back) and a vertical swipe for the volume (up or down). The controls are very responsive and the fact that everything is concentrated on one side is quite relevant from an ergonomic point of view. You do not like ? You can deactivate everything and control everything from the playback device without running the risk of unwanted manipulation.

The left earpiece has to make do with a physical NC/AMB button to switch between noise cancellation and transparency mode. In the application, you can add a shortcut to take advantage of direct access to Spotify (two clicks or three clicks). In short, Sony allows you to use its WH-1000XM5 correctly.

Sony WH-1000XM5 headset buttons
The buttons of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones. // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

A headband that has no padding?

The WH-1000XM5 cannot fold itself. On the other hand, it benefits from a welcome flexibility to guarantee the best possible comfort, on a maximum of possible morphologies. It also shows a fairly controlled weight: about 250 grams.

Despite these two design-related features, the WH-1000XM5 does not offer impeccable comfort. You may quickly feel a pressure point on the top of the head, probably due to a lack of padding at the headband. This point may of course depend on your morphology, but our colleagues at Frandroid made the same observation in their test. Too bad, because the memory foam cushions are very pleasant for the ears.

The headband of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones
The headband of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones. // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

Sony Acoustics Mastery

The WH-1000XM4’s active noise cancellation is a point often mentioned to justify its benchmark status in the segment. The WH-1000XM5 will not betray the reputation of its predecessor, on the contrary. With a muscular device (four microphones in each earpiece and dedicated processors), the headset does exactly what it’s expected to do: immerse us in a bubble of silence. While some outside noises still find their way in, the sense of tranquility is unmistakable, with an honest and natural handling of clutter. Sony has also thought of integrating a welcome function: by placing your hand on the right atrium, the sound of the music cuts out and you switch to transparency mode to hear the environment. It is useful in an open space when a colleague comes to talk to you.

In terms of sound reproduction, one would have thought that switching to 30mm transducers (compared to 40mm previously) would have an impact on performance. This is not the case: the WH-1000XM5 once again relies on Sony’s undeniable know-how, with a very warm signature. It does a good job on the bass register, which doesn’t prevent the headphones from sounding honest by default (the bass is there, but not ubiquitous).

As a bonus, the heard parts are sufficiently clear and detailed to be satisfied, even if we can perceive a less audiophile veil, more artificial and dynamic. It’s quite rewarding and a way to enjoy your playlists.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones
The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones. // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

30 hours of fun

Sony announces a battery life of 30 hours on a single charge, with noise cancellation activated (40 hours without). There is no evolution compared to the WH-1000XM4, but it is a value that rises to the best on the market. In comparison, the Bose Headphones 700 don’t last more than 20 hours. As long as the helmet can last an entire day, the mission is accomplished.

The verdict

Finally. Although Sony had been too smart with the design of the WH-1000XM4 (which looks like the WH-1000XM3), the company decided to change everything with the WH-1000XM5. The result is a helmet with a slightly more modern look, even if the materials could be more noble given the high price (the €400 bar has been exceeded) and some will regret the impossibility of folding it back on itself.
Technologically, however, the WH-1000XM5 remains a very successful product. In addition to the active noise cancellation that Sony has mastered for several years, the headphones offer an elegant listening quality. The biggest flaw remains that the WH-1000XM4, which sells for less, does almost as well. In fact, with the WH-1000XM5 you mainly pay for the design.

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