The Sony WH-1000XM5 headset builds on its 2020 release of the WH-1000XM4. Sony has made a great name for itself with these flagship, high-end, leading headphones. The XM4 was itself highly anticipated, based on the previous performance of the WH-1000XM3, and it was the same again with this year’s XM5. Happily, Sony has delivered and the result is an immersive headset that cocoons you in a private realm of music and voice where only your world matters and nothing else around you seeps in.
One thing to get out of the way first and foremost is the XM5 does not fold. The earcups and headband alike are all soft-fit leather, with more stretchability than general synthetic leather, providing a solid feel while remaining lightweight. The result is a headset that accommodates the difference in head shape and size without placing weight on you, while also providing long-lasting durability. As a result, the design is different from previous models with a thicker connection between the headband and earcups and a thicker, one-piece, non-articulated headband. What this means is that it does not fold up to fill a smaller size carry case. Now, it’s not at all unusual for a headset to not fold up. iTWire has reviewed many gaming headsets, for instance, where folding isn’t a consideration (or concern) whatsoever. Yet, it is notable because it is a departure from the Sony WH-1000 predecessors, and it is noteworthy for travellers and commuters who are used to collapsable headsets to minimize bag space usage. In response, iTWire did not find this a constraint. Actually, it meant we could always place the headphones back in the included padded case without pausing to get the orientation correct. So, while the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Bose QuietComfort45 – as two comparable high-end examples – fold, the XM5 does not, just as the Apple AirPods Max does not either. For me, the lack of folding is a non-issue. The headset still fits fine in my backpack and it’s more important to me to have a secure, padded carry case (which you do get) than for it to be economical on size. The case also includes a nifty space for the included 3.5mm audio cable and USB-A to USB-C cable.
With what the XM5 does not do out of the way, let’s see what it does. Firstly, the XM5 is powered by Sony’s new Integrated Processor V1 chip which combines the noise-canceling processor and Bluetooth system-on-chip technology in a single piece of silicon to deliver incredible noise-cancelling while reducing power consumption in doing so.
Also driving the noise cancellation is an astonishing four microphones on each earcup, each combining to provide accurate ambient sound capture, which the processor then filters out.
Additionally, the XM5 is equipped with a new 30mm precision-engineered driver unit with a soft thermoplastic polyurethane edge. What this means practically is, again, noise-cancelling is enhanced, as is sound clarity and bass sound reproduction.
This hardware is the magic behind Sony’s noise cancellation. On paper, it makes sense how the microphones, driver, and integrated processor work in harmony, but it’s another to experience it.
iTWire tested the XM5 in a variety of situations. In a typical living room, with air-conditioned heating turned on, the television playing, people chatting, and keyboards clacking we found
- simply donning the headset softened much of the noise around us, before powering the unit on at all
- powering the device, and without playing anything else, completely removed all noises except for voices – including the television – which are reduced. The XM5 completely sucked the noise of air conditioning, keyboards, and other background noises out of the room entirely.
- playing music through the headset wrapped our ears and minds completely in every beat and tune; the television and family members were relegated to simply moving pictures and a backdrop to my music. If anybody was talking to me I had no idea. It was only my music and I.
You might not always want to be completely disconnected from the real world, in which case Sony has your back. An NC/AMB button on the left earcup lets you switch easily between noise-canceling and ambient noise modes at will.
An office is one thing; iTWire tested the headphones in an airport lounge. As before, we could focus purely on our own music and everything around us was removed, but importantly, we could also participate in meetings and calls. While people around me were struggling to use their phones on speaker mode (why would you do that?) battling airport announcements and the general hubbub of the crowd, my team heard me clearly and I them.
Next, I used the headphones while walking along a highway, and once again I was alone in my music – and it was so absorbing, so world-removing, that I turned ambient mode on to ensure I was mindful of my surroundings.
That hardware is augmented by the headphone’s software, with LDAC and DSEE Extreme. LDAC is a proprietary audio coding technology Sony has developed, which allows streaming high-resolution audio over Bluetooth connections at up to 990 kbps at 32 bit/96 kHz. Sony’s LDAC is used by various Sony products, including headphones, earphones, smartphones, portable media players, active speakers, and home theatres – including the WH-1000XM5. Meanwhile, DSEE Extreme uses artificial intelligence to upscale compressed digital music files in real-time, intelligently and accurately recognizing vocals and instruments to restore the high-range sound lost during compression.
The AI also comes into play with voice pickup; iTWire has tried headphones from other manufacturers which were awesome to listen to but not so great at being your workhorse for voice calls and the myriad of Zoom and Teams calls that office workers to find themselves on day-in and day-out. Happily, Sony has tackled this problem and the WH-1000XM5 separates voice from environmental noises through its four beam-forming microphones and an AI-based filter algorithm. This not only enhances voices but the headphones are built to separate wind noise from your voice during phone calls, as well as when listening to music with ambient noise switched on.
There’s more; the XM5 uses adaptive sound control to adjust ambient sound settings according to your movement such as commuting or walking to ensure the ideal listening experience. You can even have the headphone recognize frequently visited places such as your office or a gym and tailor the sound levels for these locations. These features are enabled within the accompanying smartphone Sony Headphones Connect app.
You also use this app to fine-tune your experience; from the app you can turn on or off a multi-point connection, allowing you to use your phone and laptop, or any other pair of Bluetooth devices simultaneously. This means you can play music on your laptop while also taking calls on your phone, without having to unpair/repair, fumble for controls, or deal with cables. This is an outstanding feature, though with only one downside: LDAC cannot be used if you turn on two simultaneous device connections, but despite that caveat, multi-point is hugely useful and, if you know you don’t need it, you can easily disable it or re-enable it from the app.
The app also provides a range of equaliser options and allows you to make your own, lets you enable voice assistant support, and gives you options to change the NC/AMB button functions although currently, the only additional function seems to be Spotify-related, the app hints at future services coming.
You’ll also find an option to turn on or off speak-to-chat. With this switched on the XM5 will recognise when you’re speaking and pause your music so you can have a quick conversation without taking your headphones off.
The app also shows you the current sound pressure on your ears to help you manage your hearing safety, and will alert you if the sound reaches a level that is likely to have a negative impact on your hearing.
The WH-1000XM5 comes in both silver and black; iTWire tested the silver option and found it stylish and aesthetic. The unit is packaged in plastic-free material, and the headphones are constructed from recycled ABS plastic from automobile parts.
The battery runs to an incredible 40 hours with noise cancelling off, but even with noise cancelling on is still up to 30 hours.
Check out more details online on the tech behind the Sony WH1000-XM5 headphones to see how the integrated processor and smart listening wearing detection power auto power off, auto pause and resume, and other features, and how these are improved from the XM4.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 premium noise-cancelling wireless headphones are available for prices beginning at $548.