Lush, powerful sound
Top-notch comfort and features
Incredible noise canceling
Same battery as XM4
Less portable than rivals
About the Sony WH-1000XM5
Here are the WH-1000XM5’s main specs:
- Price: $400
- Battery life: 30 hours
- Fast charging: 3 hours of playback in 3 minutes
- Colors: Black, Light Gray
- Ambient sound modes: Adaptive Active Noise Canceling (ANC) via QN1 and V1 chips, Transparency mode
- Speakers: New 30mm carbon fiber drivers
- Microphones: 4 beamforming microphones for calling, 8 microphones for ANC
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
- Audio codecs: DSEE Extreme, LDAC, AAC
- Dust/water resistance: No IP rating)
- Passive operation: Yes (3.5mm cable included)
- Weight: 250 grams
- Extras: Speak to Chat, Adaptive Sound Control, Multipoint pairing, Autopause, Quick Attention, 360 Reality Audio support, Safe Listening
The Sony XM5 arrive in an eco-friendly gray box, inside of which is a rounded fabric case that's notably larger than previous models in the lineup. Inside the case you’ll find the XM5 laying face down in velvety material, circled around a small compartment. Flipping the compartment’s lid reveals two accessories, including a short USB-C to USB-A charging cable and a 3.5mm audio cable for plugging in directly.
What we like
A new look—and an even comfier fit
At first blush, the XM5 look a lot like the XM4 with their matte plastic exterior and cushy pads along the band and ear cups. But closer examination soon reveals some marked changes over the XM4. For starters, the ear cups are longer and more oval-shaped, set along lean arms that attach at the top, rather than gripping the cups around the middle. The ear cups now retract and extend on a uniform piece, but they no longer fold inward. This accounts for the extending of the case, all of which is worth noting for portability (more on that later).
The longer pads are cloaked in a new synthetic leather that feels less natural than previous iterations but has the advantage of being easy to clean and luxuriously smooth to the touch. Design-wise, Sony is more efficiently using up the extra space, shaving a few grams of weight compared to the XM4 (hey, we’re all working on ourselves).
Though the larger size can be a little cumbersome, the overall result is a smoother, cushier ride, engulfing my head and ears in luxe comfort (even with glasses on). While the band tends to wear on my head after a few hours for both pairs, the XM5 have a slight edge.
Luscious, customizable sound
As we noted in our XM4 review, the sound signature for Sony’s flagship travel cans is not what audiophiles would call “linear.” The last few pairs have revealed some extra punch in the bass and midbass registers (you can thank Dr. Dre and Beats there) alongside some snappy sparkle in the upper midrange. The XM5 don’t deviate from the heavier punch, but Sony’s loaded Headphones Connect app makes it easy to EQ the sound to taste if you prefer more balance (like me)—a feature Bose is still missing.
Whether you stick with the default sound or tinker, the XM5 offer a rich palette of sonic colors in accordance with their price and pedigree. Instruments are brilliantly reproduced in all their textural glory. The soundstage is both spacious and energetic, with enough attention to dynamic expression to breed excitement in the biggest moments and soft reflection in the solemn ones. And the stereo image is wide and intricate, allowing you to easily locate instruments in the mix. All of this leads to some spectacular sonic adventures for your favorite tunes.
While the attack of instruments isn’t as bright or sparkly as the XM4, the XM5’s tactile touch reveals plenty of detail to savor. They’re most effective in sparse or well-balanced mixes where everything is given equal space to breathe, bend, vibrate, and expand. In these moments it’s easy to get lost in the dimensions of the sound, from powdery cymbals and buzzy saxophones to vivid synths that zip across the soundstage in trailing electric ribbons.
Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” was one such example. The glossy bounce of the main groove is hefty without taking over the sonic space, while each synth and instrument finds its own little pocket in the stereo field to show off its individual timbre. Most impressive are the dynamics, building from a quiet lull to an almost frantic explosion at the song's climax.
Like all great headphones, you may also find new moments in old songs that surprise you. For me it was Sublime’s “Scarlet Begonias.” While the song was a mainstay in the soundtrack of my youth, I’d never before noticed the vocals singing along with the arpeggiating instrumental motif leading into the rap section. This is why we buy good headphones.
If you do intend to ramp up the bass, you’ll find that it’s handled with impressive musicality that enhances the flavors down low. While things can get a bit crowded in heavier mixes, the added chutzpah lends an almost primal rhythm to tunes like “Stay High” by Brittany Howard and Childish Gambino. Whether it's The Weeknd’s “Starboy” or REM’s “I Don’t Sleep I Dream” the thunderous low-end often works in the XM5’s favor.
The headphones also work great for calls, both video and otherwise, though I did find that they tend to isolate the flaws in callers’ devices of choice. In particular, a lot of headphones end up sounding thin and metallic on Teams calls, to the point that I considered a separate EQ preset for them—regular calls sounded much better. From my end, while I wasn’t able to test in windy conditions, even under a bathroom fan multiple callers said they could hear me loud and clear.
Incredible noise canceling
Noise cancellation is serious business these days. Sony and Bose are engaged in a sort of ANC arms race, with each new model claiming “industry-leading” noise canceling. To that end, the XM5 employ both of Sony’s noise-canceling chips: the QN1 from the WH-1000XM4 and the V1 set inside its top wireless earbuds (confusingly called the WF-1000XM4). The XM5 add in eight discrete microphones (double the XM4), and the results are impressive.
From the moment I put on the XM5, my ears were wrapped in sweet, sanguine silence. Maybe most apparent, the system introduces much less white noise than the XM4 or Bose’s QC45 in quiet environments. That’s likely because it's designed to respond dynamically, ramping up or down according to your needs. This takes a second or two, but it’s usually worth the wait.
In our battery of tests the XM5 outpaced its predecessor and locked horns remarkably well with the QC45, our current top pick for noise canceling. Both the QC45 and XM5 quelled drone sounds with serious command—the QC45 seemed to create a bit less white noise in the process, while the XM5 seemed to push down some of the lower frequencies just a touch more. Honestly, it was so close that it’s tough to hear much difference.
Similarly, both headphones outperformed previous models in our “group talking” test, as well as the combination of airplane and group chatter barreling through our studio monitors. While I’ll need to engage in more real-world testing to make final judgment (hopefully a flight or two soon), in the few days I spent with the XM5, they did not disappoint.
All the features
Seriously, it may be a cliche but you’re probably better off asking which features the XM5 don’t offer. These suckers are loaded, and while you can just use them blissfully detached from the all-powerful Headphones Connect app, learning its ways can provide incredible command over your experience.
Within the app are multiple feature tiers labeled Status, Sound, System, and Services. Within each, you’ll find all you could ask for, from a customizable 5-band EQ with saveable presets to imaging that measures your ears for Sony’s 3D Reality Audio system.
The usability features are perhaps most helpful: the headphones are set to pause when you pull them off by default, while the Quick Attention feature will pause and illuminate your sonic environment instantly when you put your hand over the right cup. The headphones power down automatically when resting (you can decide how long or turn it off), and they also allow you to connect to multiple devices at once (AKA multipoint pairing) with a couple of taps.
There is much more to discover, but Sony has chosen well which features are at the ready for all users and which require you to dig deeper into the app. As an example, the Speak to Chat feature never works well for me, pausing whenever I clear my throat, but it’s off by default. Similarly, you can decide whether the headphones track your movement to automatically adjust noise canceling and transparency mode (suppressing or amplifying your environment based on location) or just leave that feature on the shelf.
Other available features include your choice of engaging Alexa or your phone’s voice assistant, connection to various streaming services directly, and other settings. About the only thing I can think of that's missing is the ability to adjust ANC level (transparency is adjustable), which can come in handy with ANC this strong. Overall, it’s a brilliant suite of features carried over from Sony models past, which is why they’re among the industry’s most advanced headphones.
Intuitive controls and great wireless range
Sony’s touch commands have evolved over the years, but there’s not much new here. The right ear cup allows for simple and accurate touch controls for playback and call control (I only had one flub in a few days and it was my fault), while the left ear cup includes a pairing/power key and a key to cycle through ANC and transparency mode (Off is also an option). XM4 users will notice the Ambient Sound key replaces the Custom key for the XM5, but this configuration is nearly perfect for me.
I also just applaud the XM5’s polish. They’re more responsive than the XM4 for features like Quick Attention, pausing music almost instantly when you touch the right earcup. Meanwhile, the wireless range is impressive. At one point in my testing, I forgot I’d connected to my laptop rather than my phone and went galavanting around my backyard without a single sonic blip.
What we don’t like
Same battery, higher price
More battery life is something a lot of folks were hoping for in Sony’s latest model, but unfortunately it remains the same. On the bright side, 30 hours is a lot of battery life, and the quick charging has also improved to offer around three hours of playback on three minutes charge. Still, at $50 more, it would have been nice to see another 10 hours tacked on—especially since newcomers like Technics’ EAH-A800 now offer up to 50 hours.
They’re tougher to take along
While the headphones are only marginally bigger than their predecessors, the new design means the ear cups don’t fold in for travel. That makes their carrying case a fair sight bigger than cases for both the Bose QC45 and the Sony XM4. It’s still pretty thin so you can likely fit it into most carry-on travel bags, but all this makes the XM5 harder to bring along when space is tight.
No water resistance
Waterproofing isn’t something I really expected Sony to add—the XM4 don’t have any IP rating for water resistance, nor do Bose’s QC45. But given the XM5’s price, some moderate water resistance would’ve been a welcome addition.
Should you buy the Sony WH-1000XM5?
Yes, but consider the XM4 if money is tight
Sony’s WH-1000XM5 offer virtually everything we love about the XM4, refined. They provide as good or better sound, with especially impressive stereo imaging and dynamics. They raise the bar for noise canceling and offer a comfier new design. And they offer impressive polish in design and performance, worthy of their premium status. Really the only complaints I can drum up are the higher price tag ($400 is really pushing it) and the larger case.
If those are concerns, the obvious solution is the WH-1000XM4. They’re nearly equal to the XM5 in most regards, they offer a smaller and more portable profile and, especially if you find them on sale, they’re a lot cheaper. If noise canceling is your primary aim, Bose’s QC45 headphones are also a fine alternative. Bose’s flagship headphones don’t have nearly as many features as Sony’s, and they can’t match the XM5 in sound quality or customization, but they’re also cheaper and their smaller size makes them the easiest of all three pairs to tote around.
If you want the next step in the 1000XM ascendancy—and money is a secondary consideration—the Sony WH-1000XM5 are a fantastic pair of noise-canceling headphones you’re sure to treasure for years to come.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Managing Editor - Electronics@ryanwaniata
Hailing originally from Montana, Ryan parlayed his time working as a musician and audio engineer into a career in digital media in 2012. Since then he's had extensive experience as a writer and editor, including everything from op-eds and features to reviews on TVs, audio gear, smart home devices, and more.
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