Sony WH-1000XM5 Headphones Review: Finally a Different Design

Sony launched its new high-end headphones in 2022: the WH-1000XM5. It retains all the qualities of its predecessor, in a different design last.

Sony has doubled down on new audio product launches, to the point of complicating a very comprehensive catalog. After the LinkBuds (with an open design) and LinkBuds S (in the middle it’s hard to recommend), the multinationals are returning to their unpronounceable names with the WH-1000XM5 headphones. Despite its logical success in the excellent WH-1000XM4, it doesn’t completely eliminate it from the range.

It must be said that the WH-1000XM5 represents a real break, in terms of design, from its predecessor. Other than that, we find a technical sheet in line with the high-end placement, starting with active noise reduction (the area that Sony has mastered). The company still allows itself a small price increase. Thus, the WH-1000XM5 exceeds the symbolic bar of 400 euros (thanks to Apple, which raises prices with AirPods Max at 629 euros). And that’s the bottom line: With its longevity and tremendous characteristics, the accessible WH-1000XM4 remains an excellent product for 2022.

everything changed

Sony engineers have reached some form of technological perfection with the WH-1000XM4. But, there was one criteria they based their laurels on compared to the WH-1000XM3: the design. With the WH-1000XM5, the idea is to create the aesthetic comfort expected between two generations. Sony is tangibly introducing a more refined headset, with a thinner headband and better shaped ear cups. The stem has been reworked: it no longer separates in two to surround the top of the ear cups, being contained by a single attachment point (which rotates).

In appearance, the WH-1000XM5 is nothing excellent. There is no such thing as headphones over €400: this is due to the selection, certainly commendable, of relying on recycled materials to make the headphones (as is already the case with the LinkBuds and LinkBuds S). The result is a plastic material with a feel that can be overwhelming (a little grainy) and most importantly contrasts with products that dare to use leather and metal to underscore its more luxurious appeal.

Aesthetically more modern than its predecessor

If the WH-1000XM5 turns out to be more aesthetically modern than the WH-1000XM4, it loses an argument that might make a difference in the eyes of some: it can’t fold on itself, which wouldn’t facilitate portability. You can simply lay the ear cups flat to reduce thickness and slip them into the included sleeve – which takes the form of a small backpack without straps. If you are looking for a compact, the WH-1000XM4 will be more suitable to satisfy you.

Large headphone pocket for Sony WH-1000XM5
Large pocket for Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones. // Source: Maxime Claudel by Numerama

full of features

As always with Sony, the best way to take advantage of its audio accessories is through the headphones app, available on iOS and Android. It is first used to connect the headset to your smartphone, and then it gives you access to a whole host of features. At this point, the WH-1000XM5 doesn’t forget anything. We find the basics (full equalizer, noise reduction management, transparency mode) and rare options (adaptive noise reduction, audio signal enhancement, etc.).

The WH-1000XM5 offers touch controls, just via the right ear piece. Néanmoins, la surface suffisamment grande pour proposer beaucoup de raccourcis pratiques: deux tapotements pour la lecture, un glissé horizontal pour gérer la piste (vers l’avant ou vers l’arrière) and un glissé vertical pour le volume (vers le down). The controls respond very well and the fact that everything is focused on one aspect is rather important from an ergonomic point of view. You do not like ? You can deactivate everything, and route everything from the playback device without risking unwanted tampering.

The left earbud has to handle a physical NC/AMB button to switch between noise reduction mode and transparency mode. In the app, you can add a shortcut to take advantage of instant access to Spotify (two or three clicks). In short, Sony allows you to use the WH-1000XM5 correctly.

Sony WH-1000XM5 headphone buttons
Sony WH-1000XM5 headphone buttons. // Source: Maxime Claudel by Numerama

Headband lacks padding?

WH-1000XM5 is not able to fold itself. On the other hand, it benefits from a welcome flexibility to ensure the best possible comfort, in the widest possible shapes. It also displays a fairly controlled weight: about 250 grams.

Despite these two design qualities, the WH-1000XM5 does not offer impeccable comfort. You can quickly feel a pressure point on top of the head, possibly due to lack of padding in the headband. This point can of course depend on your shape, but our colleagues from Frandroid made the same observation in their testing. It’s a shame, because the memory foam pillows are so much fun to the ears.

Headphone headband Sony WH-1000XM5
Headphone headband Sony WH-1000XM5. // Source: Maxime Claudel by Numerama

Sony Audio Mastery

The WH-1000XM4’s active noise reduction is a point that is often cited to justify the state of the standard in this sector. The WH-1000XM5 will not betray the reputation of its predecessor, quite the contrary. With a muscular device (four microphones on each headset and dedicated processors), the headset does exactly what is expected of it: plunges us into a bubble of silence. While some outside sounds still find their way inside, the sense of calm is undeniable, with a fair and natural handling of chaos. Sony has also thought about incorporating a welcome feature: by placing your hand on the right-hand lobby, the volume of the music decreases and you switch to Transparency mode to hear the environment. It is useful in an open place, if a colleague comes to talk to you.

In terms of audio reproduction, one would think that switching to 30mm transducers (compared to 40mm previously) would have an impact on performance. That’s not the case: the WH-1000XM5 once again builds on Sony’s undeniable expertise, with a very warm signature. It does a good job on the bass record, which doesn’t stop the headphones from sounding fair by default (bass is there, but it’s not ubiquitous).

As a bonus, the tracks listened to were clear and detailed enough to feel good, even if we could perceive a less audible, more synthetic and dynamic veil. It is somewhat rewarding and a way to enjoy your playlists.

Sony WH-1000XM5 Headphones
Sony WH-1000XM5 Headphones. // Source: Maxime Claudel by Numerama

30 hours of fun

Sony advertises up to 30 hours of battery life on a single charge, with noise reduction activated (40 hours without it). No evolution compared to the WH-1000XM4, but it’s a value that rises to the very best in the market. For comparison, the Bose Headphones 700 do not exceed 20 hours. As long as the helmet can last an entire day, the job is done.


finally. While Sony was very wise in the design of the WH-1000XM4 (which is similar to the WH-1000XM3), the company decided to change everything with the WH-1000XM5. The result is a helmet with a slightly more modern look, even if the materials are more noble given the high price (the 400 euro bar was exceeded) and some will regret the impossibility of folding it back on itself.
Technologically speaking, the WH-1000XM5 remains a very successful product. In addition to the active noise reduction that Sony has perfected for several years now, the headphones deliver elegant listening quality. The main drawback remains that the WH-1000XM4, which is sold at a lower price, works almost as well. In fact, with the WH-1000XM5, you’re basically paying for the design.

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