Sony WH-1000XM5 review | Laptop Mag

In August of 2020, Sony released what would become the best noise-cancelling headphones: the WH-1000XM4. As rumors circulated about a next-gen version hitting the market in late Spring 2022, all I could ask myself is why? The WH-1000XM4 remains the model to beat. 

Nonetheless, Sony pulled the trigger and gave us the WH-1000XM5 with an all-new design and some hardware upgrades. These include dual processors, twice as many microphones, and a carbon-fiber 30mm driver. Proprietary technologies such as 360 Reality Audio, Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) Extreme, and LDAC are all accounted for. And you get access to a plethora of features via the Sony Headphones Connect app.

Sony WH-1000XM5 SPECS

Price: $399
Colors: Black; Silver
Battery life (rated): 30 hours (ANC on); 40 hours (ANC off)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
Water resistance: None
Size: 10.36 x 3.03 x 8.85 inches
Weight: 8.8 ounces

Sony WH-1000XM5 at Amazon for $398 (opens in new tab)

However, not all of Sony’s decisions pay off. A less premium design, some bugs, and a higher MSRP will raise a few flags for those wanting the absolute best.

So, do the all-new WH-1000XM5s eclipse their predecessor as Sony’s true flagship headphones or are they a letdown? Our full review breaks it all down.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Availability and price

You can purchase the Sony WH-1000XM5 for $399 at major online retailers, including Amazon (opens in new tab) and Best Buy (opens in new tab), or directly from Sony. Two colors are sold: Black and White. Inside the box is a carrying case, headphone cable, USB-C charging cable, instruction manual, warranty, and a free trial for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio platform.

Sony released these headphones at a higher price point than the WH-1000XM4 ($349), as well as other premium ANC savants like the Bose 700 ($379) and QuietComfort 45 ($329). Should the price point be too high, we recommend looking at a mid-range gem like the Cleer Enduro ANC for their fantastic battery life and noise cancellation. It even makes sense to check out the WH-1000XM4 considering how often they’re on sale; we’ve seen them go for as low as $259.

Be sure to bookmark our headphone deals page for the latest sales.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Design and comfort

This might be a controversial take, but the over-ear Mark Series redesign looks generic and unattractive. I’ve seen the contoured earcup design on many low-end wireless headphones. Construction-wise, it’s also a downgrade from the WH-1000XM4, which looked and felt much more premium. 

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

These headphones have a flimsy quality that you would expect from sub-$100 Sony headphones. The padding has been upgraded with luxurious synthetic leather, but it doesn’t look as natural as the leatherette featured on past versions.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Even the carrying case received an unnecessary makeover. It’s slimmer and slides easily into any backpack. Unfortunately, the materials feel just like the cardboard Sony used to create the package. The WH-1000XM4’s case with exterior mesh pocket was far more attractive and offered better protection, and it had more space to store extra items.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

One benefit to the lighter design is that the WH-1000XM5 provides better comfort than the WH-1000XM4. The headphones don’t weigh heavily on the skull after several hours of listening and the padding feels gentle around the ears. The cutouts grant enough circulation for your ears to breathe. Sony updated the extenders with a setting-less mechanism that allows for seamless adjustment.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Controls and digital assistant

Sony left the controls untouched for the most part, assigning a wide array of functions to tap/slide gestures, physical buttons, motion detection, and smart voice features. Let’s start with the touchpad on the right earpad that handles playback, call management, and volume management. It’s a bit wonky this time around, which is unfortunate considering how smoothly it operated on the previous model. There were times when nothing would register, leading me to power the headphones off and on to get them functioning again. When it did work, taps and slides registered with precision. 

Sony claims they improved Wearing Detection to auto-pause more accurately when removing the headphones. I barely noticed a difference between this version and the previous one, but the feature continues to work well.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

The buttons produce solid tactility to enable power/on and the listening modes. You can also assign Spotify Tap to the action button in the companion app.

All of Sony’s smart controls are here. Quick Attention lowers volume down to 10% whenever placing your hand over the right earcup and Speak-to-Chat uses the built-in mics advanced signal processing to pick up vocals and pause music whenever you speak. Each of them works incredibly well, specifically Speak-to-Chat, which is intuitive enough to pick up whispers.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Sony increased the number of mics to eight (four more than the previous model) and included PVP (Precise Voice Pickup) technology to enhance voice command performance. Using Siri and Google Assistant was a breeze. The mics demonstrated great speech recognition. These headphones also come programmed with Alexa and Google Assistant integration, firing up your preferred AI bot by saying its wake-word phrase, without any latency. 

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Audio quality

Sony’s smaller driver and monstrous V1 chip give the WH-1000XM5 more clarity and definition than the last-gen model. These cans also maintain the signature boomy presence associated with the Mark Series.

Pressing play on Anderson .Paak’s “Room in Here” stimulated a laid-back head nod that indicated my approval for the well-balanced low end. The throbbing bassline wasn’t too aggressive, nor too mild, but impactful enough to give the melodic production extra oomph. I was also surprised by how crisp the crawling piano chords and low-fi vocals sounded, particularly in the chorus, where the singer’s harmonizing had an airy delivery.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Classic Rock tracks like The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night” sounded like a modern recording on the WH-1000XM5. The distorted and jagged roar from the bass riff was strikingly clear, and the drums hit hard.

Jazz classics like John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” are what sold me on Sony’s soundstage. The channel separation was excellent, and the instruments sounded vivid. The hi-hats steadily tapped on my left ear while the right ear was serenaded with a soothing soprano sax, which made for an intimate and lively listening experience.

All of Sony’s killer sound features are accessible. You get a five-band EQ to manually adjust frequencies and several well-engineered presets that complement all music genres and media content. Bass and Treble Boost amp up lows and mids on contemporary tracks, whereas Speech and Vocal emphasize clarity and pronunciation on dialogue-heavy tracks.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Then there’s DSEE Extreme, another Sony-developed technology that upscales fidelity lost on digitally compressed files. There was a huge boost in quality when listening to Wu-Tang Clan’s Enter the 36 Chambers album; the gritty production had a cleaner presence. Sony’s 360 Reality Audio platform is also available for spatial audio. The 3D effects were convincing and brought an immersive feel to tracks. Keep in mind that the feature only works with select streaming services (e.g., Deezer, Tidal).

The WH-1000XM5 uses AAC and SBC, along with Sony’s own LDAC Bluetooth codec for high-resolution audio (you must disable the multipoint feature in the app to access it). As expected, the feature boosts sound quality and signal stability when streaming.

For traditionalists who prefer listening with an aux cable, the WH-1000XM5 comes bundled with one and it increases the bass and volume levels.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Active noise cancellation

Sony paired their QN1 ANC and V1 processors together to give the WH-1000XM5 even better noise cancellation than the WH-1000XM4. Another key change is Sony programmed its NC Optimizer feature to automatically adjust noise cancellation based on your wearing conditions and environment. Overall, noise neutralization is fantastic on these cans.

Listening to music outside was peaceful. I walked through loud, heavy-traffic environments such as bridges and shopping districts and wasn’t bothered by any incidental sounds. Construction work, dog barking, police sirens, and rowdy teens screaming through the streets all went unnoticed. Every minute at home was even more quiet. Certain high-frequency sounds came through the soundscape such as my toddler’s cries, but they didn’t pull me away from the music.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Sony moved the microphone holes closer to the head, which is said to help lower wind noise. It turned out to be an effective move because wind resistance is noticeably stronger on the WH-1000XM5. Whooshing effects caused by gusty conditions sounded mild. 

Ambient Sound is still a highlight on the Mark Series, offering up to 20 levels of ambient attenuation. The default is set at level 20, and you’ll want to keep it there for maximum awareness. Sitting in the backyard was entertaining, as I could hear my son’s laughter during playtime with mom, as well as family conversations around the gazebo (toggle the Focus on Voice setting for clearer voice input).

There is an Adaptive Sound Control feature that adjusts ANC by detecting your actions and the locations you frequent. It works well. I could hear the difference when using the headphones in common areas like the TV room and gazebo.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: App and special features

As with all current Sony wireless headphones and earbuds, the Sony Headphones Connect app is the primary hub for extended functionality. Most features have been discussed in detail like ANC/Ambient Sound, Adaptive Sound Control, DSEE Extreme, Equalizer, Speak-to-Chat, Spotify Tap, and 360 Reality Audio. There are a few others worth checking out if you’re curious to explore other ways of personalizing the headphones.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Safe Listening is one of Sony’s newer features that tracks the decibel level and sound pressure of what you’re hearing and gives warnings for when you’re listening too loudly. This helps avoid hearing loss. There’s a widget that can be set to your homescreen for enabling the EQ and monitoring battery levels. Other notables include a music player, automatic power off, firmware updates, visual guides, and the ability to prioritize sound quality or connectivity.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

The headphones perform another cool trick outside of the app. They’re compatible with Sony’s wireless TV adapter, so you can pair them or any other compatible Sony Headphones with Bravia XR TVs for Dolby Atmos sound.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Battery life

Battery life has been slightly increased, but only when listening with ANC off (up to 40 hours). You’re still getting up to 30 hours of ANC use per charge. I could fault Sony for not pushing the portable power envelope, especially when lower-priced competitors like the Endure ANC are offering 60 hours of ANC playtime, but the reality is that 30-40 hours is more than sufficient. You can use the WH-1000XM5 moderately for a week and only drain about 30% of the battery.

If you ever forget to charge these bad boys before heading to the airport, don’t sweat it because Sony’s quick-charging technology is top tier. A three-minute charge is said to give you three hours of listening time, though an additional USB-PD compatible AC adapter is required (it is not bundled with the purchase). The WH-1000XM4 gets you 5 hours on a 10-minute charge.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

I did encounter a few bugs during testing. There were times when the app and widget said my headphones were at 60%, but that clearly wasn’t the case after more than 25 hours of use. Another issue was the headphones turned off after 20 minutes while still listening to music. This happened more than once.  

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Call quality and connectivity

Finally, Sony got call quality right on its flagship headphones!

The WH-1000XM5 is now my go-to for voice and video calls. Most of the conversations I had outside were met with positive feedback. My wife raved about how loud and clear I sounded in front of the house, especially with background noises like speeding cars and minor wind interference. Quality was even better in quiet settings like my backyard and home office; two clients thought I was speaking directly into my smartphone.

(Image credit: Alex Bracetti/Future)

Bluetooth 5.2 performed as it should: quickly and reliably. Range was exceptional and extended up to 60 feet in open spaces, nearly doubling what Sony has advertised on the product page. Pairing was instantaneous, especially on Android devices via one-tap Google Fast Pair. Multipoint technology lets you connect to two devices simultaneously. There’s also Find My Device support to help locate misplaced headphones using your Android phone.

Sadly, Sony decided to drop NFC, a fan-favorite feature that let users tap their headphones on the back of a compatible smartphone to automatically pair.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Verdict

Sony’s WH-1000XM5 headphones deliver superior sound and noise cancellation only second to the Bose 700. The improved call quality, vast number of features, and updated hardware strengthen their case as the industry’s top ANC model.  

At the same time, some things were better left untouched. Ditching the sleek and premium craftsmanship of past Mark Series entries was a mistake. The same can be said for staple features like NFC. In addition, Sony could have done a better job with the touch controls and eliminating software bugs.

Would your money be better spent on this model or the previous one? More testing is required to determine that answer, but as of right now, the WH-1000XM5 is the category’s best offering.



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