Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones review: finally a different design

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

Sony has multiplied the launches of new audio products, to the point of complicating a very extensive catalog. After the LinkBuds headphones (with an open design) and LinkBuds S (an in-between difficult to recommend), the multinational returns to its unpronounceable names with the WH-1000XM5 headphones. Although it logically succeeds the excellent WH-1000XM4, it does not completely eliminate it from the range.

It must be said that the WH-1000XM5 marks a real break, in terms of design, with its predecessor. We find otherwise a technical sheet in line with the high-end positioning, starting with active noise reduction (area that Sony masters). The company still allowed itself a small price increase. Thus, the WH-1000XM5 exceeds the symbolic bar of 400 € (thanks Apple, which pulls the prices up with its AirPods Max at 629 €). And that’s the whole point: thanks to its longevity and immense qualities, the more accessible WH-1000XM4 remains an excellent product in 2022.

Everything changed

Sony engineers had reached a form of technological perfection with the WH-1000XM4. But, there was one criterion on which they rested on their laurels compared to the WH-1000XM3: the design. With the WH-1000XM5, the idea is to finally create the expected aesthetic break between two generations. Sony concretely offers a much more refined headset, with a thinner headband and ear cups with better blended shapes. The stem is reworked: it no longer separates in two to surround the upper part of the ear cups, being content with a single attachment point (which pivots).

In appearance, the WH-1000XM5 is nothing premium. It doesn’t even have anything of a helmet that exceeds 400 €: this is due to the choice, certainly commendable, of relying on recycled materials to constitute the helmet (as is already the case with the LinkBuds and the LinkBuds S). The result is a plastic with a texture that can be confusing (it’s slightly grainy) and, above all, which contrasts with products that dare to use leather and metal to assert their more luxurious appeal.

Aesthetically more modern than its predecessor

If the WH-1000XM5 turns out to be aesthetically more modern than the WH-1000XM4, it loses an argument that could make the difference in the eyes of some: it cannot fold up on itself, which will not facilitate transport. You can simply put the ear cups flat to reduce the thickness and slip it into a supplied shell – which takes the form of a mini backpack without straps. If you are looking for compactness, the WH-1000XM4 will be more suitable to satisfy you.

The large pocket of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones
The large pocket of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones. // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

Full of features

As always with Sony, the best way to take advantage of its audio accessories is through its Headphones application, available on iOS and Android. It is first used to associate the headset with your smartphone, then gives access to a whole host of features. On this point, the WH-1000XM5 forgets nothing. We find the essentials (full equalizer, management of noise reduction, transparency mode) and rarer options (adaptive noise reduction, improvement of the audio signal, etc.).

The WH-1000XM5 offers touch controls, only via the right earcup. Nevertheless, the surface is large enough to offer many practical shortcuts: two taps for playback, a horizontal swipe to manage the track (forwards or backwards) and a vertical swipe for the volume (up or down). The controls respond very well and the fact of concentrating everything on one side is rather relevant from an ergonomic point of view. You do not like ? You can deactivate everything, and direct everything from the playback device without risking unwanted manipulation.

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

Sony WH-1000XM5 headset buttons
The buttons of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones. // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

A headband that lacks padding?

The WH-1000XM5 is unable to fold in on itself. On the other hand, it benefits from a welcome flexibility to ensure the best possible comfort, on a maximum of possible morphologies. It also displays a fairly controlled weight: about 250 grams.

Despite these two design-related qualities, the WH-1000XM5 does not provide impeccable comfort. You can quickly feel a pressure point on the top of the head, probably due to a lack of padding at the headband. This point can of course depend on your morphology, but our colleagues from Frandroid have made the same observation in their test. It’s a shame, because the memory foam cushions are very pleasant for the ears.

The headband of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones
The headband of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones. // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

Sony’s acoustic mastery

The active noise reduction of the WH-1000XM4 is a point often cited to justify its benchmark status in the segment. The WH-1000XM5 will not betray the reputation of its predecessor, quite the contrary. With a muscular device (four microphones in each earpiece and dedicated processors), the headset does exactly what is expected of it: plunging us into a bubble of silence. While some outside sounds still manage to find their way in, the feeling of tranquility is undeniable, with fair and natural handling of clutter. Sony has also thought of integrating a welcome feature: by placing your hand on the right atrium, the sound of the music drops and you switch to transparency mode to hear the environment. It is useful in an open space, if a colleague comes to talk to you.

On the sound reproduction side, one would have thought that the switch to 30 mm transducers (compared to 40 mm previously) was going to have an impact on performance. This is not the case: the WH-1000XM5 once again relies on Sony’s undeniable know-how, with a very warm signature. It goes through a good job on the bass register, which does not prevent the headphones from sounding fair by default (the bass is present, but not omnipresent).

As a bonus, the pieces listened to are sufficiently clear and detailed for us to be satisfied, even if we can perceive a less audiophile veil, more artificial and dynamic. It’s rather rewarding and a way to enjoy your playlists.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones
The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones. // Source: Maxime Claudel for Numerama

30 hours of fun

Sony announces a battery life of 30 hours on a single charge, with noise reduction activated (40 hours without). There is no evolution compared to the WH-1000XM4, but it is a value that rises to the best on the market. For comparison, the Bose Headphones 700 do not exceed 20 hours. As long as the helmet can last a full day, the mission is accomplished.

The verdict

Finally. While Sony had been too wise with the design of the WH-1000XM4 (which looks like 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 could be more noble in view of the high price (the €400 bar has been crossed) and some will regret the impossibility of folding it back on itself.
Technologically, however, the WH-1000XM5 remains a very successful product. In addition to the active noise reduction that Sony has mastered for several years now, the headphones offer elegant listening quality. Its main flaw remains that the WH-1000XM4, sold for less, does almost as well. In fact, with the WH-1000XM5, you mainly pay for the design.

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