It was difficult to go beyond the WH-1000XM4, unanimously considered among the best noise canceling headphones of recent years. Yet Sony has succeeded, with the new model, which obviously is called WH-1000XM5 and was unveiled last month.
This time the difference is evident already starting from the box, in recycled cardboard, very sober. And the design of the headphones has changed: more modern, more simplified, more elegant. The Japanese call it “noiseless”, without noise, and in fact noises are heard: no creaking, squeaking or crackling when you move, twist or stretch them. The XM5s are made from the same recycled automotive plastic used on all new Sony headphones. As for the colors, you can choose between black and white, without any great flights of fancy.
There is one significant change though: the XM5s don’t fold, unlike the XM4s. To store them in the case, you have to flatten the ear cups, you cannot fold the headband. Thus the case – very rigid – is larger than the previous model, although it can be squeezed a bit to make it thinner.
The new Sony are light, the comfort seemed very good even after hours, but this is obviously a fact that varies according to the physical characteristics of the wearer. But the (fake) skin of the ear pads is soft, the pressure on the ears is not excessive, the headband is precisely adjustable.
At the tip of your fingers
The main controls of the Sony WH-1000XM5 are very similar to those of previous generations, and take advantage of a capacitive touch panel on the right ear cup. Here they are:
- Scroll up: volume up
- Scroll down: volume down
- Swipe forward: next song
- Swipe back: previous song
- Press in the center: voice assistant
- Double tap in the center: pause / resume
- Cupped Hand: Switch to ambient sound mode
There are two buttons on the left ear cup of the WH-1000XM5: one for power on and one for ANC mode. By briefly pressing the power button the voice of the integrated assistant will communicate the percentage of charge left. Holding it down for three seconds starts pairing mode. The WH-1000XM5s can be connected to two devices at the same time, so you don’t have to worry about missing a call if you’re watching Netflix on your computer.
Pressing the NC / AMB button activates noise cancellation. You can select ANC, ANC off or Ambient sound modes: the latter allows you to hear everything that happens around, because the microphones will pick up and transmit external noises.
At the bottom of the right ear cup is a USB-C port, which allows you to charge the headphones. Good battery life, about 30 hours, and just three minutes of charging are enough for 180 minutes of playback. If you don’t have a USB-C cable, you can always use the 3.5mm cable for analog playback; Unfortunately, it is not possible to charge the headphones and listen to music at the same time: as soon as you connect the USB-C cable to the XM5, they turn off automatically. Even the standard audio cable connection doesn’t work, which shouldn’t involve battery use either.
Through a sensor in the left pavilion the headphones are able to detect when they are not in use, to stop playback, and resume it when they are worn again. The function was already present in the previous generation, but here it finally works flawlessly.
On the one hand, the noise cancellation limits the interaction with the external environment, on the other hand it allows you to listen to music better. The two are connected, but the first is perhaps more important: in the sense that Sony headphones can also be used just to enjoy silence. Noise cancellation is even better than the already excellent WH-1000XM4. Not only in quantity, but also in quality: in addition to the low frequencies, this time the medium and high frequencies also intervene more incisively, and makes the voices less annoying, even if it does not completely mask them (the baby crying in front of you on the train you will still hear it, unless you turn up the volume a lot). ANC works by analyzing external sounds and generating equal and opposite impulses, a process that requires a minimum of processing time, and the result with sounds that are not prolonged or repetitive is never perfect. But Sony’s technology is at the highest level, and if that of the XM5 isn’t the best cancellation on the market, it’s certainly in the top two or three.
Even on the 1000XM5 by covering the right ear cup with the hand, the volume is instantly lowered and it is possible to listen to external sounds; a useful function for example on the plane, to follow the pilot’s announcements. With Speak to Chat, the headphones automatically pause every time you start talking. Voice detection works well in low noise environments, but although the sensitivity is adjustable, it sometimes activates even in the presence of noises such as buses or trams.
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To get the most out of the XM5 you need the Sony Headphones Connect app (available on iOS and Android). Not only is it needed for features like ANC optimization, 360 Reality Audio, and a custom equalizer that saves settings directly to the headphones, but it’s also the only way to update the headphone firmware (in a month’s trial it’s already happened twice). Also from the app, it is possible to set a voice assistant, again through the app: Sony works with Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri, even if the latter is not indicated on the package.
However, it should be noted that the Sony Headphones Connect app also has some perplexing aspects. In particular as regards the use of personal information. Features like Google’s Fast Pair, for example, require a level of data sharing that can be creepy. Not least is the sharing of location data, which is used both for Find My Device via Android (allows you to locate the place where they last connected to the smartphone), and to activate a specific noise cancellation mode, for example total on the train and reduced when you are at home. Similarly, requesting ear photos can be a bit annoying, but this data according to Sony is only used to calibrate the headphone signal and implement 360-degree audio.
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The sound of these Sony is very accurate in every audio band. The bass is powerful but not excessive (e.g. su Unfinished Sympathy of Massive Attack or on Dancing and Blood of Low). The mids are detailed, guitars and vocals come out with great naturalness: thanks, we imagine, also to the new drivers with a diameter of 30 mm. Of course, Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush it always sounds a bit compressed, but the voices and instruments are clearly localizable in the sound space; obviously goes better with a recent recording, like Shadows, from Bonobo’s latest album, where all the percussion and synths are distinct and the rhythm is rendered with great precision. The same can be said for Trials Of The Past, by SBTRKT, which in addition has low notes that are very difficult to reproduce at high volume without distortion: but not for the Sony, which manage it great. Let’s try to go even further, with Koyania is a country by Philip Glass, from the 1982 film of the same name. The voices are very deep, the organ abysmal, and always without a trace of digital artifacts, distortion or compression of the signal: an excellent result. Mystery Of Loveinstead, it is light and dreamy, with the superimposition of very transparent Sufjan Stevens voices and the various instruments all perfectly isolated and perfectly amalgamated.
Finally, a completely different piece: Follow Jesusdal Requiem by Gabriel Fauré sung by Cecilia Bartoli, exciting for how the singer’s voice is rendered in its various shades, while the orchestra creates an evanescent carpet of sounds.
The headphones are compatible with Sony’s LDAC standard, which is not widespread, and with 360-degree audio (but not with Apple Music’s Spatial Audio). According to the Japanese company, the DSEE Extreme engine is capable of restoring compressed music to near-high-resolution quality; we have noticed some improvements but the effect is not the same on all the tracks.
Excellent audio quality of calls, thanks to the 8 microphones they are equipped with: external noises are barely audible, the voice is captured with great clarity.
We do not like it
- No support for aptX and aptX HD codecs.
- High price
- A little subdued design
We like it
- Noise cancellation
Of the WH-1000XM5 it can be said that the pavilions are a bit bulky, you can be perplexed by certain indications in the manual, which invite you not to sweat with headphones on, you can report some translation and spelling errors in the app. But there is no doubt that these Sony are if not the best, among the best headphones on the market today in the medium-high range: they offer practicality and robustness, useful smart functions, and excellent noise cancellation. The competition is fierce, but those who choose the new Sony certainly won’t be disappointed. On the other hand, those who do not intend to spend 420 euros and do not want to give up quality and practicality can focus on the previous model: the WH-1000XM4, released not even two years ago, are on sale now with considerable discounts.
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