Sony WH-1000XM4 Review: Improving in Everything, Shining Where Always

Without a doubt, the WH-1000XM4 has been one of the best ANC headphones in recent years. And they probably still are considering the price at which they can be purchased right now from many dealers. Still, two years is a long time in the tech industry. And Sony, aware of this, has officially presented the successors of the WH-1000XM4, which, as expected, are called WH-1000XM5.

The WH-1000XM5 has an obvious goal: to establish itself as the best active noise-cancelling headphones. A not insignificant challenge considering that competition has only increased in recent years.

To remain at the forefront in this field, the Japanese company could have chosen to define what the WH-1000XM4 offered. However, these WH-1000XM5s bring with them a lot of changes. And several of them are in critical areas, such as noise cancellation, which is one of the most important factors in this product.

Are these WH-1000XM5 still the most recommended option for someone looking for first-rate noise-cancelling headphones?

Sony WH-1000XM5: New design, Maximum comfort

My first impression of the WH-1000XM5 came from press images even before Sony publicly confirmed its existence. The design was different from previous generations. More stylized, more modern, but with the undoubted personality of the brand. From that first moment, they had my full attention.

Once they reached my hands, those same impressions were repeated. The shape of the WH-1000XM5 is convincing both functionally and aesthetically. They are simple but attractive. And as far as comfort is concerned, they do a great job. You can wear them for hours without feeling any fatigue. 

Some details, in addition, are more refined than before. For example:

  • The arms that allow the headband to be adjusted to the size of each skull have a new free movement mechanism. That is to say: it does not have a series of predetermined levels. You can insert or remove each bar with millimetre precision. No “clack” every time you open the headphones. Everything flows like silk.
  • The covering of the headband and that of the pads are made of a different material capable of better adopting the shape of our skull – key to insulating you from the outside – but without exerting pressure – which positively affects comfort. Making a simile that exemplifies the differences is like going from a latex pillow to a viscoelastic one. With both, you sleep well, but the second adapt a little better to the shape of our skull.
  • The new design better “hides” the different microphones, which have an aesthetic benefit and a functional one. External microphones are key to noise cancellation. Therefore, hiding them so that they are not affected by possible wind currents is essential so that the cancellation algorithms can do their job as well as possible.

However, this new design also has two negative faces. The first is that the arms cannot be folded for easy transport, as the WH-1000XM4 can. It’s hardly a drama, but those extra inches can come in handy when carrying a loaded pack on a trip.

On the other hand, the case that Sony includes with the WH-1000XM5 is, in several ways, improvable. Both aesthetically and in terms of finishes. It does not feel like a case that accompanies 450 euros headphones. It is a lesser evil because, in the end, what matters are the headphones, but I would have liked to find a better solution.

What is appreciated about the new case is that it has a small compartment with a lid where you can store the charging cable and the 3.5-millimetre cable that allows you to connect the headphones to equipment that does not have Bluetooth – such as the screens of many aeroplanes.

And how do the WH-1000XM5 feel while listening to music with them? I have to say they are comfortable. More than previous generations of the 1000X series. And even after long sessions of use, which is the real stress test for a product like this.

They don’t feel as free as true wireless. That is to say: you are aware that they are there because they are in contact with your skull. But the new pads, added to the lightness of the chassis, make them comfortable. And this is key since this type of product is usually used during relatively long sessions.

It’s not invisible that these headphones are almost entirely covered in plastic. No metal like, for example, in the AirPods Max. And although they feel well put together and sturdy, I’d be lying if I said that Apple’s headphones don’t convey a more luxurious feeling. However, it is necessary to make two observations here:

  • The AirPods Max has a higher PVP (150 dollars / 180 euros more than the XM5). And yes, in places like Amazon, you can buy Apple ones for less money, but these figures fluctuate constantly. The XM5s are likely to see a downgrade before too long. Therefore, the best way to judge these products by keeping the variables to a minimum is by using the RRP.
  • In the second place, the AirPods Max weighs 384 grams, while the XM5 remain at about 250. That is to say: the metallic finishes make the Apple headphones weigh 50% more. And that, inevitably, affects their comfort when you wear them for hours.

The sound of the WH-1000XM5 is good, but the brilliant thing is the noise cancellation.

If I have found an aspect in which the WH-1000XM5 has fascinated me, it is, without a doubt, noise cancellation. Before receiving them, the brand told me that this generation is up to 50% better than its predecessors. Personally, a figure initially surprised me since the XM4 were quite good headphones in this field. However, the real surprise came when I had the opportunity to put them to the test and verify that, indeed, the jump in this field is remarkable.

The improvement is appreciable in all frequency ranges, but, above all, in the band normally occupied by the voices of human beings or everyday sounds. That is where I most feel the difference compared to other headphones.

Originally, noise-cancelling headphones were born to make life easier for people who frequently travel by plane. How? Reducing relatively low and constant sounds coming from the turbines of an aircraft. However, over time, their use has been expanding beyond aircraft. Many people use them to concentrate in offices, work in coffee shops, or enjoy whatever they listen to when the world around them is noisy.

However, cancelling the sounds that normally bother us in these environments is more complex than cancelling an aeroplane’s turbine. Partly because they are less constant noises, parameterizing a wave that “cancels” them effectively is more complex.

The XM5, however, has surprised me quite a bit in this area, as I said above. The combination of the new pads –which improve isolation–, the new and larger set of microphones, the audio signal processors and the cancellation algorithms do, without a doubt, a great job throughout the frequency spectrum. And, as I said, the improvement is significant compared to the XM4.

This does not mean that you listen to absolute silence with them. No headset of this type currently achieves this. But, without a doubt, these are among the headphones that come closest to achieving it.

Out of curiosity, I used these headphones at a small concert. And although it was inevitable to feel what was happening in the room from the decibel level, I was surprised that I could hear the music I was playing from my mobile with reasonably good clarity.

When it comes to sound, it’s no surprise if I say that the Sony WH-1000XM5 can deliver a great experience. The improvement is easily palpable compared to the XM4 that preceded it. Their sound is better. More natural, broader, better balanced and also sharper.

Compared to the AirPods Max, the WH-1000XM5 are, in my opinion, a small step behind. In certain situations, both deliver a fairly intimate experience. But, in others, the AirPods Max stands out with a slightly cleaner and better-balanced sound and achieves greater amplitude. 

It is necessary to remember, yes, that the AirPods Max have a PVP almost 200 euros higher, so, although the WH-1000XM5 are behind in this field, it speaks quite well of them that we venture to compare them with those of Apple and, in certain cases, can compete with them.

As in previous generations, it is possible to modify part of the behaviour of the XM5 using the equalizer of the Headphones Connect application. I invite you to do it if, as in my case, you prefer a sound that gives a little more visibility to the instrumental parts and subtracts some strength from the basses. However, this is something mostly subjective.

More Interesting Details about Sony WH-1000XM5

  • Multipoint connection. The WH-1000XM5, like its predecessors, can be connected to multiple devices simultaneously. So if you’re at your computer, but you get a call on your phone, you can answer it with your headset without having to do anything. Management of linked devices is also quite simple from the Headphones Connect app.
  • LDAC. How could it be otherwise than the XM5 are compatible with the LDAC codec? This allows you to stream music via Bluetooth with minimal loss. Of course: you must have a compatible device and a high-resolution audio track.
  • Automatic shutdown sensor. Like other headphones, the XM5 have a sensor that detects whether we are wearing them or not. When this is not the case, they stop playback. And after a certain time, they turn off automatically.
  • The microphone system is better. The XM5s have eight microphones in total, several of which are beamforming. In addition, as I mentioned before, they are better protected from the wind so that it affects them less. And overall, call quality is better than in previous models, too.
  • The transparency mode still has room for improvement. The WH-1000XM5 have an ambient mode that allows you to listen to what is happening around you without removing your headphones. How? They capture external sounds with microphones and reproduce them inside. A function complemented by Speak-to-chat, which detects when we start talking and automatically activates this mode without having to press any button. In general, the solution works correctly, but it is true that other headphones, such as Apple’s AirPods, achieve more naturalness and realism.
  • ANC automatically adapts to changes. Previous Sony headphones had an option that measured pressure and other parameters related to isolation and noise cancellation. This, however, had to be activated manually by the user when he deemed it convenient. Now, the XM5s do it automatically in the background so that if one day you wear glasses, get on a plane or your haircut changes drastically, the headphones will be able to detect it and adapt various parameters related to noise cancellation to those new ones. Circumstances.
  • An autonomy without equality. With active noise cancellation, they can deliver about 30 hours of use. That’s enough to make two flights between Madrid and Los Angeles. And you would have some battery left over for waiting at the airport or travelling to it.
  • Alexa and Assistant repeat. Just say “Alexa” or “Ok Google”, and we can launch questions into the headphones without touching any buttons.
  • Swift Pair and Google Fast Pair also repeat. Microsoft and Google solutions to facilitate pairing are also present in the XM5. If you have a Windows computer, a Chrome OS device or an Android mobile, you will appreciate it.

Are the Sony WH-1000XM5 worth it?

The Sony WH-1000XM5 is undoubtedly one of the best headphones you can buy. Where they shine the most is right where you expect them: in noise cancellation, which has taken an important step forward, especially in those environments where ANC systems are usually less effective. What’s more: they are probably the best in this field.

That brilliance in active noise cancellation is further complemented by a more attractive design, a super comfortable chassis even after long use sessions, brilliant battery life and high-quality sound. Not everything is 100% perfect, as I have indicated on a few occasions throughout the text, but that does not overshadow the sensations that the XM5 leave me with. The Japanese brand, once again, has been able to surprise us with a high-quality product that, in many ways, is going to be the benchmark in the sector.