The updated version of Sony's flagship noise-canceling headphones was launched this week. If you only want to know how Sony stacks up against Apple, be sure to check out our direct comparison. There is a review of the latest headphones from Sony.
Despite the release of this latest iteration of the headphones, Sony has chosen to keep them in its lineup, which is probably because they have been among the best cans on the over- ear noise-canceling market. You can buy the XM4 for $349, while the XM5 costs $399. Do you get a better listening experience if you pay an extra $50? The answer is yes, but the performance gains are less than revolutionary, and any decision to upgrade is likely to be dictated by the overhauled design.
Sony has changed the look and feel of its flagship WH-1000 series headphones, which are still available in black or silver. The XM5's have exposed arms with a single stem attached to the cups, which are slightly wider and more padded than the previous generation, and they have shrouded arms that cradle the ear cups on both sides.
The headphones are shown on the right.
Sony has moved the microphone holes closer to the head in order to lower wind noise when out and about. The headband has been made a little thinner, and this makes for a cleaner style that is reminiscent of Bose's 700. The weight of the headphones hasn't gone down much, but Sony's cans are still much lighter than Apple's.
The XM5's look more plastic than their predecessors, but they feel more robust in the hand. The differences in the cups could be due to the fact that there are fewer pivot points and therefore fewer potential points of weakness, but either way the differences instill confidence when adjusting the cups, and they do feel exceedingly comfortable even after wearing them for several hours straight.
The redesign has forced Sony to come up with a larger, less portable carry case because the headphones don't fold like they do on the XM4's. It has to be said that this feels like a downgrade when you're used to keeping your XM4 in a small compartment and not the main section of your bag. Regardless of how many people intend to keep these headphones at home, there is no getting away from the fact that noise-canceling cans are made for travel/commuting.
The 40mm drivers of the XM4 have been replaced with 30mm drivers by Sony. The low bass frequencies on the XM5 sound more fleshed out, while the mid-range remains wonderfully balanced, and the highs still sparkle on instrumental tracks, even though the difference is hard to notice.
As before, the headphones use LDAC to deliver the high-resolution audio, given the correct source device, while aptX/aptX HD, and AAC codecs are all supported, as is DSEE Extreme upscaling for compressed audio. The effect is clear and enveloping for those who like that sort of thing. Purists can plug in the supplied cable into the jack.
You still have the full range of adaptive NC options at your fingertips, because Sony has kept with the same QN1 processor that it uses in the XM4's. You can use the Sony Headphones Connect app to manually change the degree of noise-cancelation, allowing you to select maximum isolation, wind noise reduction, or choose from among 20 levels of varying ambient attenuation.
When you are on the move, the built-in QN1 processor will do just as good a job as the adaptive sound control, which is great for finding your ideal NC range while you are stationary.
Sony has increased the number of microphones to eight and moved them into a more optimal position, and they would be right. It sounds like jet engines and traffic melt away just like before, but the XM5's are better at cutting out background chatter in busy coffee shops or on a commute.
Ambient noise on voice calls is decent enough for over- ear headphones. I didn't have a pair of Airpods Max on hand to compare the NC chops of the XM5 and the Airpods Pro, but the transparency mode on the Airpods Pro is better than Sony has managed. The noise-canceling cans are up there with the best of them.
The personal NC optimizer feature, which samples ambient noise and cancels out a wider range of sounds with corresponding inverted frequencies, was missing from the previous model. The feature on the XM4 makes the speakers emit a series of tones that bounce back and forth between the mics to analyze the shape of your head, work out whether you have big hair, wear glasses, and so on. Sony says this is now done automatically and in the background, and that I missed its manually enabled incarnation.
The same 30 hours of wireless battery life with ANC as the XM4's do, and 40 hours with ANC off, is what Sony has to offer when it comes to battery life. You can now get three hours of play time from the suppliedUSB-C charge, and Sony has increased the ante in the Power Delivery stakes. You can connect to two devices at the same time with the multipoint feature in the XM5 but you cannot use it at the same time.
The two buttons on the left ear cup are the same as on the previous cans. The power button can be pressed quickly for a battery level update, and a long press can initiate the pairing sequence. The right ear cup has a touch-sensitive back that responds to taps and gestures to control music, skip tracks, change volume, and invoke your virtual assistant. It can also be used to take calls.
The fact that these headphones look more in keeping with the current Zeitgeist is because Sony didn't have to redesign the XM5's. If you are a frequent traveler, the new design might be enough to put you off.
If you already have a pair of XM4's, the difference between them and the XM5's isn't enough to necessitate an upgrade. If you are in the market for a solid pair of high-performance noise-canceling headphones with sonics to match, I can only recommend them because Sony has built on the success of the previous model without too much compromise.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones are available to order from the Sony website and on Amazon for $399.
MacRumors received the headphones from Sony for the purpose of the review. No other compensation was received. MacRumors is an Amazon partner. We may receive a small payment when you click a link and make a purchase.