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

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Sony will launch 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 large catalog. After the LinkBuds headphones (with an open design) and LinkBuds S (a middle ground difficult to recommend), the multinational returns to its unpronounceable names with the WH-1000XM5 headphones. While this logically happens to the excellent WH-1000XM4, it doesn’t 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. Otherwise we find a data sheet in line with the high-end positioning, starting with active noise reduction (an area that Sony masters). However, the company has granted itself a small price increase. Thus, the WH-1000XM5 exceeds the symbolic bar of 400 € (thanks Apple, which raises the prices with its AirPods Max to 629 €). And here’s the thing: thanks to its longevity and immense qualities, the more affordable WH-1000XM4 remains an excellent product in 2022.

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

Everything changed

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

On the surface, the WH-1000XM5 is nothing exceptional. There is nothing like headphones that exceed € 400: this is due to the choice, certainly laudable, of relying on recycled materials to make the headphones (as already happens with the LinkBuds and LinkBuds S). The result is a plastic with a texture that can be confusing (it is slightly grainy) and, above all, that contrasts with products that dare to use leather and metal to assert their most luxurious charm.

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 a difference in the eyes of some: it cannot fold in on itself, which will not facilitate transport. You can simply rest the ear cups to reduce thickness and slip them 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 suited 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 the Headphones app, available on iOS and Android. It is first used to pair the headset with your smartphone, then allows access to a whole range of functions. On this point, the WH-1000XM5 forgets nothing. We find the essentials (full equalizer, noise reduction management, transparency mode) and rarer options (adaptive noise reduction, audio signal enhancement, etc.).

The WH-1000XM5 offers touch controls, via the right ear cup only. However, the surface is large enough to offer many practical shortcuts: two taps for playback, a horizontal swipe to manage the track (forward or back) 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 quite relevant from an ergonomic point of view. You do not like it ? You can mute everything and direct everything from the playback device without risking unwanted manipulation.

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

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

A headband that lacks padding?

The WH-1000XM5 cannot fold back on itself. Instead, it benefits from a welcome flexibility to ensure the best possible comfort, on the maximum of possible morphologies. It also shows a fairly controlled weight: around 250 grams.

Despite these two design-related qualities, the WH-1000XM5 does not offer flawless comfort. You can quickly feel a pressure point on the top of your head, possibly due to the lack of padding on the headband. This point may obviously depend on your morphology, but our colleagues at Frandroid made the same observation in their test. It’s a pity, as memory foam pillows are very pleasant to 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 WH-1000XM4’s active noise reduction is an often cited point to justify its benchmark status in the segment. The WH-1000XM5 will not betray the reputation of its predecessor, quite the opposite. With a beefy device (four microphones in each headset and dedicated processors), the headset does exactly what is expected of it: plunging us into a bubble of silence. While some external sounds still manage to make their way, the feeling of tranquility is undeniable, with fair and natural management of the clutter. Sony has also thought of integrating a welcome feature: placing your hand on the right atrium, the sound of the music decreases and you switch to transparency mode to listen to the environment. It is useful in an open space if a colleague comes to talk to you.

As for sound reproduction, one would have thought that switching to 30mm transducers (compared to the previous 40mm) would have an impact on performance. Not so: the WH-1000XM5 once again relies on Sony’s undeniable know-how, with a very warm signature. It goes through some good work on the bass register, which doesn’t stop the headphones from sounding right by default (bass is present, but not ubiquitous).

As a bonus, the songs heard are clear and detailed enough to keep us satisfied, even if we can perceive a less audiophile veil, more artificial and dynamic. It is quite rewarding and a way to enjoy your playlists.

The Sony WH-1000XM5
The Sony WH-1000XM5. // 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

In the end. Although Sony has been too wise with the design of the WH-1000XM4 (which resembles the WH-1000XM3), the company has decided to change everything with the WH-1000XM5. The result is a slightly more modern-looking helmet, even if the materials could be more noble given the high price (the € 400 bar has been exceeded) 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 cheaper WH-1000XM4 does almost the same. In fact, with the WH-1000XM5, you pay mostly for the design.

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