Tom's Guide Verdict
Sony demonstrates across-the-board expertise in the XM5 with a great-sounding pair of headphones that has exceptional ANC performance and eco credentials.
Articulate and engaging sound
Great control options
Long battery life
Stellar call quality
Redesign and eco credentials ups the price
Gets hot around the ears during longer listening
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
Price: $399 / £379 / AU$649
Colors: Black; silver; midnight blue
Battery life (rated): Up to 40 hours; 30 hours (ANC enabled)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2 with SBC, AAC and LDAC
Water resistance: Not specified
Weight: 8.8 ounces
The Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless active noise-canceling, over-ear headphones are a big deal — especially when you consider the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones they replace were widely regarded as the best wireless headphones you could buy for several years and also had many of the right credentials to be among the best audiophile headphones, too.
Unsurprisingly, the WH-1000XM5 don't disappoint and pick up where the XM4 left off. Excellent sound quality in every respect, improved noise-cancelation and a very credible eco proposition make them every bit as compelling a set of cans as the model they replace.
It’s not exclusively good news, though. The XM5's original launch price was higher than we anticipated, and the significantly different design from their predecessors might not be quite as appealing — the WH-1000XM5, particularly in the ‘ecru’ (silver) finish of our review sample, are bland and unremarkable lookers.
Still, it’s easy to forget what they look like when you’re wearing them. And easier still when you’re listening to them.
Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Price and availability
The Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless active noise-canceling over-ear headphones have an MSRP of $399 / £379 / €419 / AU$649. They are available to buy via Sony's website, Amazon and Best Buy, among other retailers. They can regularly be found with substantial discounts on our best headphone deals page, and we have seen them drop as low as $279.
At the full MSRP they are without doubt at the upper end of the ‘mainstream’ over-ear headphone market, although it's becoming an increasingly popular price point with Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e ($399) and Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones ($429) joining the AirPods Max ($549) in the ‘luxury lifestyle’ arena.
You can also check out how they stack up against all of these models in our Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e, Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. AirPods Max.
You might also be torn when it comes to the XM5's predecessor, because the XM4 is still available, and for considerably less. Our Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. WH-1000XM4 face-off will help you choose between them.
Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Design
Sony had a bit of a re-think with the design of the WH-1000XM5. Certainly they’re a departure from the WH-1000XM4 — or, at least, as much of a departure as is possible where wireless over-ear headphones are concerned.
There’s something just slightly stealthy about the way the XM5 look. They're a more streamlined shape than their predecessor, with an aero dynamic design that improves the flow of air across the headphone frame to reduce wind noise.
Branding is minimal — just a little ‘Sony’ logo on each hinge — and the earcups and headband are virtually featureless and entirely anonymous. The WH-1000XM5 are available in black, midnight blue and silver (for which read ‘uninspiring beige’) and are mostly made from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Sony is very keen on ABS just now — it’s a very useful material in acoustic terms and, given that it’s mostly made from recycled plastic and can be recycled again at the end of its life, its eco credentials are impeccable.
The whole eco-friendly aspect of the WH-1000XM5 should be applauded and even carries over to the retail packaging box. The unbleached, unprinted and wholly recyclable packaging is made from ‘original blended material’ and is guaranteed to use no plastic whatsoever.
At 8.8 ounces the XM5 are a touch lighter than the model they replace, and they are supplied with a usefully compact and collapsible carry-case, which is barely larger than the headphones themselves. This is handy, because although there’s a lot of articulation where the hinges meet the earcups, the XM5 only fold flat rather than folding in on themselves like the XM4.
Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Comfort
The WH-1000XM5 are among the lighter premium wireless over-ear headphones around. And thanks to a combination of careful hanger design, soft artificial leather and a smattering of memory foam in the earcup and the central portion of the inside of the headband, they’re no more burdensome to wear than the trim weight implies.
The earcups are of sensible dimensions, so unless your ears are (to be blunt) extravagantly large they should fit nicely. Unlike quite a few alternative designs, the Sony won’t swamp those among us with smaller heads, either. But while they’re unarguably comfortable, the composition of materials in the earpads seems to return your body-heat — with interest — rather quicker than some rival designs.
Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Controls
You have numerous options here and, while that’s good news, the better news is that they all work really, really well.
The capacitive touch-surface on the right earcup deals with the obvious stuff in a consistent and reliable manner. Here you can deal with ‘play/pause’, ‘volume up/down’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’ and ‘answer/end/reject call’ with next-to-no effort. The left earcup, meanwhile, has a physical button that allows you to cycle through your noise-canceling options (‘on’ or ‘ambient sound’).
The level of ‘ambient sound’ you’d like to hear can be specified in the ‘Headphones’ control app — and that’s far from the only facility the app incorporates. Here’s where you can adjust EQ settings, allow active noise-canceling to adjust to your specific circumstances or environment, set up the XM5 for use with Sony’s 360 Reality Audio spatial sound algorithm, and allow the headphones to wirelessly connect to two devices simultaneously. It’s a stable, useful and fully featured app, and as such has the better of virtually any alternative I've encountered.
You’ll want to avoid adjusting the ‘clear bass’ setting, though. Seldom has a feature been more inaccurately named...
Update: Since our review, the Sony WH-1000XM5 now support spatial audio with head-tracking as well as advanced multi-point Bluetooth that allows you to leave the LDAC turned on while connected to multiple devices.
The WH-1000XM5 have a total of eight mics, and as well as noise-cancelation and telephony, they’re also involved in voice-assistant interaction. Naturally the Sony will work with your source player’s native voice-assistant, but they also have Amazon Alexa built in. And no matter your voice-assistant of choice, the Sony are able to communicate with them clearly and consistently. OK Google with full wake-up word detection is very well implemented, which puts them clear of quite a lot of their nominal competition.
Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Sound quality
The WH-1000XM5 use a couple of mica-reinforced cellular full-range dynamic drivers to deliver sound. This seems like a rather retrograde move — on paper, at least — because they’re a mere 30mm in diameter, which is smaller than those fitted to the outgoing XM4 and smaller than the drivers fitted to virtually every over-ear headphone price-comparable rival.
The audio battle isn’t won or lost on paper, though, and the XM5 waste little time in demonstrating it’s not how big your drivers are but what you do with them that counts. In every respect, the Sony are a confident, convincing and enjoyable listen.
Listening was carried out using an iPhone 13 mini as a source playing content from Qobuz and Tidal streaming services. I also tried the headphones wired to an external DAC/headphone amp connected to an Apple MacBook Pro (2020) and streamed music using the same services.
Throughout, tonality was neutral and natural, with only the slightest suggestion of the highs being rolled off. Low frequencies were muscular but agile, loaded with detail and texture, and delivered an ordered foundation without over shadowing the presentation further up the frequency range. This allows midrange frequencies where vocals sit to be delivered unhindered — and because detail levels are equally lavish here, it means the XM5 are about as communicative and articulate as any headphones at anything like this money. At the top end the XM5s had the good taste not to get too carried away, but still managed a polite bite and shine with high treble sounds.
Frequencies from the bottom of the range to the top were even and smooth. There’s good rhythmic expression liberated from music that has it to offer in the first place, and more than enough dynamic headroom to put proper distance between the quieter, more contemplative moments and the raucous charge-into-the-last-chorus counterpoints. Detail levels, as already observed, were high and pay close attention to even the most fleeting, transient information contained in a recording to paint a full and vibrant picture.
Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Active noise cancelation performance
If anything, the news regarding active noise canceling is even better. Sony headphones have always been there-or-thereabouts where sound quality is concerned, of course, but often have been ‘very good’ rather than ‘great’ where noise-canceling is concerned — but that’s not the case here.
Without leaving any trace of how hard the ANC circuitry is working, the XM5 banish pretty much all external sound and leave a nice dark background against which your music can do its thing. Which means the XM5 ranks among the top contenders for the best noise-canceling headphones around.
Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Battery life
The WH-1000XM5 are good for 30 hours between charges if you keep active noise-cancelation switched on, and that will rise to as much as 40 hours if you turn it off. That's not quite as strong as Sennheiser's Momentum 4 Wireless at 60 hours with ANC, but considerably better than the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones at just 24 hours.
The XM5 need a leisurely 3.5 hours to go from ‘flat’ to full when charging via the USB-C input on the right earcup, and can retain an hour’s-worth of power after 10 minutes or so. But unlike the product they replace, the XM5 are USB-PD (Power Delivery) -compatible, and charged in this way can get three hours of power after just three minutes.
Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Call quality and connectivity
Did I mention the eight mics? Well, they help the XM5 exhibit call quality quite easily described as ‘exemplary’. Wind-noise is kept to a minimum, and both ends of a conversation prove distinct and direct. It’s difficult to know what else you can realistically ask for.
The XM5s use Bluetooth 5.2 for wireless connectivity, and — as with the XM4s — it’s compatible with SBC, AAC and LDAC codecs. The ongoing lack of any aptX codec involvement remains a disappointment — we don’t all want a Sony smartphone, after all — but the XM5s are well capable of dealing with the hi-res content on your favorite streaming service’s most expensive tier.
If the worst happens as regards battery life, there’s a 3.5mm analog input on the left-hand earcup and a 3.5mm-to-3.5mm cable supplied in the carry-case (so long as you have a source with a suitable output jack).
Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Verdict
Expectations are always high when it comes to next-gen models, and in terms of overall performance, those expectations have been maintained in the Sony WH-X1000XM5 over-ear headphones.
That's particularly true where ANC performance is concerned, showing rivals that they need to up their game, as well as in the frankly laudable eco credentials Sony has managed to bring with its use of materials in the headphone and packaging.
Whatever you make of the understated design aesthetic, the combination of spectacular sound quality, noise-cancelation and integration with one of the best headphone apps we've encountered is impressive across the board. The Sony WH-1000XM5 are a deserved over-ear headphone flagship that move the series forward.
Simon is a freelance technology journalist and consultant, with particular emphasis on the audio/video aspects of home entertainment. Before embracing the carefree life of the freelancer, he was editor of What Hi-Fi? – since then, he's written for titles such as Wired, Metro, The Guardian and Stuff, among many others. Given time, Simon likes nothing more than publishing and then quickly deleting tweets about the state of the nation (in general), the state of Aston Villa (in particular) and the state of his partner's cat.
- Lee DunkleyAudio Editor