Sony WH-1000XM5

Sony WH-1000XM5

While there are of course a number of headphones that are relatively easy to recommend to casual enthusiasts, the experts seem to be relatively in agreement that the crowned king of recent years has been Sony, which first with the WH-1000XM3 and then successor XM4 managed to offer excellent active noise cancellation, solid build quality and all the many features connoisseurs expect.

Although Sony has sat comfortably on the throne, they are not resting as the brand new WH-1000XM5 is quite different from its predecessors. It starts with the construction itself, because although they come in the same colors, these new ones don’t fold up, but sit, like the Bose NC700, with the cups folded inward in a housing therefore enlarged and less portable. It’s a slightly quirky design philosophy, now that they’ve outgrown previous space-saving designs.

Sony WH-1000XM5

The new design looks cleaner though, and while they’re not exactly ‘small’, they’re surprisingly light at 249 grams, and that’s by switching to an all-plastic construction. This makes them flexible and lightweight, but compared to other competing designs, that’s perhaps a bit too much function over form. After all, you’re paying £380 for these, so maybe a bit of aluminium, canvas or even faux leather would have been better.

So we seem to have gotten off to a bit of an odd start, because while they’re nice to look at, the whole thing is a little too simple, and the lack of a portable folding design is an annoying step backwards. But that is, until you put them on.

This is an announcement:

Looking at the specs, this seems disappointing at first, as Sony has actually gone from 40 millimeters of neodymium drivers to 30 millimeters, but it actually turns out to offer an entirely different profile. Gone is the sometimes heavy bass of the XM3 and XM4, and what Sony’s sound engineers have done is build the cleanest soundstage we’ve heard outside of Apple’s AirPods Max. There’s a pretty wild tonal balance between all the layers, and it’s definitely a pleasure to listen to. However, it’s worth clarifying that if you’re a ‘fan’ of say the XM4s, the XM5 won’t necessarily feel like a natural evolution – they’re very different.

There’s still the same great active noise cancellation across the board, which is still done via a combination of feedback and advance microphones that pick up noise inside and outside the ear respectively. There are now two QN1 chips instead of one, and it’s now noticeable. It’s hard to judge other ANC headphones after trying the AirPods Max, but god are they effective, and you don’t have to live with Apple’s rather savage limitations either.

Sony WH-1000XM5

The touch controls work the same way and are relatively efficient overall. Additionally, there are now four dedicated microphones for conversations, and the ones we tested on calls work just as well as having the phone itself up to your ear. Add around 30 hours of battery life, and you have a headset that does just about anything.

This is an announcement:

The WH-1000XM5 isn’t a mainstream successor, nor does it feel like it’s coming from a manufacturer that knows it’s already the one to beat. No, instead it’s a bit bolder, and it’s rare to see such big differences between two generations in the same product line. But it’s impressive, and you’ll find one of the cleanest soundscapes and best ANC, no doubt about it, even if there’s now an additional limitation or two.

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