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Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4: Which should you buy?

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4
(Image credit: Future)

A Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4 comparison is vital if you're choosing between these premium headphones. Sony's newest flagship XM5 headphones just launched, not replacing the XM4 but delivering a handful of upgrades in terms of design and features.

Since the Sony WH-1000XM4s are sticking around at $349/AU$395, they’ll remain some of the best headphones you can buy. But the improvements on the $399/AU$649 Sony WH-1000XM5s make what is already a premium pair of cans an even more compelling option. Better noise cancellation, faster charging and a sleeker carbon-fiber design are among the XM5’s standout differences compared to the XM4 headphones.

Again, since both are available now, you might be wondering whether one pair is better for you than the other. Find out what's different between them in our Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4 face-off.

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4: Specs compared

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM5Sony WH-1000XM4
Price$399/AU$649$349/AU$549
ColorsBlack, SilverBlack, Silver, White
Weight0.55 pounds0.56 pounds
Battery life (with ANC, rated)30 hours (3 min charge = 3 hours playback)30 hours (10 min charge = 5 hours playback)
Active noise cancellationAutomatic NC optimizerManual NC optimizer

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4: Price and availability

Sony will not be discontinuing the WH-1000XM4 headphones. Instead, they’ll maintain a $349/AU$395 price tag (in Australia, they launched with a price tag of AU$549) and be available for purchase alongside the WH-1000XM5.

The WH-1000XM5 are available to pre-order now from Amazon and Best Buy, among others, and cost $399, or $50 more than the WH-1000XM4's launch price. For those in Australia, the WH-1000XM5 are available to pre-order directly from Sony for AU$649. The premium pushes Sony’s flagship over-ear headphones into more of the luxury market, though who could forget the AirPods Max cost $549/AU$899.

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4: Design

The Sony WH-1000XM5 have been redesigned, though they still follow Sony’s design language. The chassis is still carbon fiber, which is a lovely lightweight material that gives the headphones a barely there feel on your head. Though the Sony WH-1000XM5 are only 1 gram lighter than the WH-1000XM4, they feel slightly less hefty than many of the best noise cancelling headphones.

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Future)

It helps that the body has been slimmed down, from the headband made of a new synthetic leather to the arms attached to each earcup. The earcups also have a more consistent oval shape. Overall, the WH-1000XM5 look modernized and a bit refined compared to the WH-1000XM4, though the WH-1000XM4 are still attractive. 

At a quick glance you might not even notice the change in appearance, especially since the WH-1000XM5 only come in Black and Silver at launch — two of the existing WH-1000XM4 colors.

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Future)

The case is clearly different, though. With the WH-1000XM5, it’s obvious where the headphones are supposed to sit, whereas with the WH-1000XM4 case you have to contort the headset to stow them away. But what’s probably more noteworthy about the WH-1000XM5 case is that when you have your headphones out, the material bends in a way that flattens it out and saves space.

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4: Sound quality

The WH-1000XM4 were already great-sounding headphones, so it seemed like there wasn't much Sony could improve on. But when listening to the same song, "Stay" by Alessia Cara and Zedd, we were surprised by how the WH-1000XM5 upped the ante.

Something about Cara's vocals felt ever more heartfelt in the WH-1000XM5, capturing the desperation of the song's message. The song layered the anthem masterfully, whereas it seemed like the WH-1000XM4 didn't give each of the elements quite as much space. That's not to say the WH-1000XM4 aren't excellent, the WH-1000XM5 just have more confidence. 

Unlike the Sony WH-1000XM4 vs. WH-1000XM3 contest, the Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4 face-off involves differences in hardware. The XM5 has an all-new 30-millimeter driver, which when paired with the previous-gen model's Integrated Processor V1 and other upgrades has support for High-Resolution Audio — with and without wires. The XM5 also benefit from LDAC and DSEE Extreme restoration that upscales digital music files in real time.

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4: Noise cancellation and other features

The Sony WH-1000XM5 improve on the WH-1000XM4's noise cancellation abilities, with two processors controlling eight microphones now compared to one processor controlling four microphones. Also, the Sony WH-1000XM5 have a new Automatic Personal NC Optimizer, meaning the headset can automatically tune noise cancellation based on your ambient frequencies.

We didn't test the Sony WH-1000XM5 on a plane or other irregular environment, so it's hard to say whether the automatic tuning makes a difference compared to the XM4. But perhaps on our next flight we'll see whether the XM5 adapt better than their predecessor.

ny WH-1000XM5 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Future)

Beyond that, the WH-1000XM5 headphones have tap controls on the right earcup, making it easier to control playback without your smartphone. Similarly, if you stop to chat with someone in the office or on the street, the headset will know to pause your music and resume when the conversation is over. As for phone call quality, the XM5 do a slightly better job at mitigating ambient sounds than the XM4, but the difference is minimal.

Both the WH-1000XM5 and WH-1000XM4 headphones are compatible with Google Assistant and Alexa, so you can ask queries hands-free, but the XM5 has "OK Google" wake word support, so you don't need to press a button before speaking.

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Battery life

ny WH-1000XM5 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Future)

Sony claims up to 40 hours of battery life for the WH-1000XM5, which is 10 hours more than for the XM4. But that's without ANC activated, so for argument's sake the XM5 and XM4 battery life is the same 30 hours.

However, one excellent improvement is in charging: 3 minutes gets the WH-1000XM5 3 hours of playback time, while 10 minutes of charging gets the WH-1000XM4 5 hours of playback time. That math equals faster charging. That said, we do wish that the Sony WH-1000XM5 offered some kind of wireless charging option, given the high price.

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4: Which should you buy?

The Sony WH-1000XM5 offer some compelling upgrades over the WH-1000XM4. Improvements to sound and active noise cancellation add a more premium touch to Sony's flagship headphones than before, while a modernized design and case might appeal to some shoppers.

That said, they probably won't like the higher price for the WH-1000XM5. Considering you can often find the WH-1000XM4 on discount, you can probably spend $100 less for a pair of still-incredible cans. Or, perhaps wait until the Sony WH-1000XM5 price drops — if history is any indication, it'll happen soon.

Kate Kozuch is an editor at Tom’s Guide covering smartwatches, TVs and everything smart-home related. Kate also appears on Fox News to talk tech trends runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following (she'll find you if you don't.) When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her on an exercise bike, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.