Another Sony best-in-class headphone launch?
Sony has finally shown its latest pair of premium over-ear headphones after weeks of speculation. The Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones continue where the superb WH-1000XM4 left off, with enhancements to active noise cancellation, design, and battery life.
The new headphones will be available for purchase on May 20 for $399 / £380 / AU$650. That’s a little more expensive than their predecessors, which cost $349.99 / £349 / AU$549 when they were released in 2020, but Sony appears to have made enough improvements to its class-leading headphones to justify the price increase.
Sony hasn’t given its flagship wireless headphones a major redesign in the past, but the WH-1000XM5 are noticeably different from their predecessors. They’re significantly more streamlined, with smooth sliders for headband adjustment and less bulky earcups and points of articulation where the earcups meet the headband. They’re still well-padded, so you should be able to wear them all day.
Apart from the architectural improvements, Sony appears to have placed a strong emphasis on active noise cancellation, with two CPUs handling eight microphones to minimise mid-high frequency noise in the environment. This works in conjunction with an Auto NC Optimizer, which adjusts the intensity of noise cancellation based on your location, so you should be able to get a decent amount of noise cancellation.
What about the sound? The WH-1000XM5 is said to be “setting a totally new bar for high quality audio,” according to Sony. 30mm driver units are housed inside the headphones, which have a light and durable carbon fibre composite dome. This appears to boost high frequency sensitivity, resulting in a more lifelike sound.
The fact that the drivers are smaller than the Sony WH-1000XM4’s 40mm drivers is intriguing; perhaps Sony has figured out a way to reproduce the powerful sound of larger drivers that can displace a lot of air in a smaller chassis. That would explain at least part of the XM5’s new, slimmer appearance, but it’s not the sole reason.
By enabling gusts of wind to travel gently over the earcups, the streamlined form of the XM5 appears to help improve noise cancellation and call quality. This means you’ll hear less wind when listening to music and your voice will sound cleaner on calls, with the latter benefiting from beamforming microphones and an AI noise reduction structure that can reduce background noise.
Upscaling and high-resolution audio
Sony’s LDAC codec provides high-resolution audio capability, while its DSEE Extreme upscaling technology allows lower-quality music files to be “restored to high-range sound” in real time. We’re not persuaded that this technique can effectively upscale low-quality sources, but we never had any issues with the Sony WH-1000XM4, which also utilised this technology. The XM5 supports 360 Reality Audio, just like its predecessors, so if you have a compatible device, you may enjoy virtual surround sound.
In fact, several features from the Sony WH-1000XM4 have been carried over. Adaptive Sound Control, Speak-to-Chat, multipoint pairing, Google Fast Pair, Quick Access for quick Spotify listening, and integration with the Sony Headphones Connect are all still available.
The battery life has also been improved (though slightly). While activating ANC will give you the same amount of playback time as the WH-1000XM4 (30 hours), turning it off will give you 40 hours of battery life. That’s a two-hour improvement over the previous model, and although that may not seem like much, any improvement on a good figure is always welcome.