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Sony's WH-1000XM5 headphones are basically perfect

Review: Sony continues to demonstrate its prowess in headphone technology and the latest model is simply superb.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer on
Pros
  • Stunning audio performance
  • Immersive active noise-cancellation
  • Extremely comfortable
  • Simple, efficient folding design
  • Very long battery life
  • Simple, reliable touch controls
Cons
  • 360 Reality Audio requires a compatible music service

I have spent a lot of time this year with Sony earbuds and enjoyed those experiences, but the full size over-the-ear experience of the Sony WH-1000XM5 makes it clear that nothing is better than headphones like this. I spent the last couple of months traveling, commuting, working, and relaxing with the headphones and didn't think the XM4 could get better, but Sony found a way.

Key improvements over the WH-1000XM4 include a simpler folding design, a better carrying case, more comfortable earpads, and Bluetooth 5.2 instead of 5.0. My ears like the WH-1000XM5 better with the ability to wear the headphones for hours on end without any discomfort. My recent flights have been heavenly as I escape into my music, podcasts, and movies with the WH-1000XM5 headset.

Specifications

Microphones Eight microphones and two processors
Noise cancellation Sony HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1
Speaker size 30mm driver
Audio codecs SBC, AAC, LDAC
Sensors Capacitive touch on right headphone, accelerometers for on-ear detection
Battery life (music) 30 hours with ANC, 40 hours with ANC off
Wireless connectivity Bluetooth 5.2 with multipoint connection support
Headset weight 250 grams (8.82 ounces)

Design and fit

The retail package includes the Sony headphones, a carrying case, an airplane adapter, a 47-inch 3.5mm audio cable, and a USB-A to USB-C cable. Silver and black headphones are available to purchase and this year I tested the silver color option.

sony-wh1000xm5-headset-5

XM4 (left) vs XM5 (right)

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

All parts of the headphones are covered in matte soft-touch coating. The earcups and top piece of the band resting on your head are synthetic leather that is softer and more comfortable than the material on the last model. The headset is also a few grams lighter than the XM4 headset.

The earcups are longer and more oval-shaped, fitting on my larger ears better than the XM4. This has resulted in me being able to wear the XM5 for a full day with zero discomfort. The earcups only fold down flat and do not rotate in like we saw on the XM4. This makes for an easier process to fold and store the headset while also making the fit a bit more stable.

Also: Sony LinkBuds S review: The magic is in the software

With a single folding orientation, the carrying case is a bit longer than the XM4 case. It is thin though and I personally like the case design better on the XM5 than on the XM4.

sony-wh1000xm5-headset-1

The headset is extremely comfortable for many hours of wear

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

The outside flat surface of the right earcup is touch sensitive and provides consistent performance of the controls. Touch controls let you manage volume, play/pause, skip forward and back, and more. The headset charges via USB-C with the option to connect via a 3.5mm connection.

Smartphone software

In order to optimize your use of the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones, you need to download and install the Sony Headphones Connect application to your Android or iOS smartphone. After installation, simply turn on the headphones to initiate pairing with your smartphone.

There are four main tabs in the application; Status, Sound, System, and Services. The Status tab shows the music being played and provides back, play, and forward buttons with a volume slider below the controls. The Sound screen lets you control the listening experience, including an equalizer, connection quality, and 360 Reality. On the System screen you set up your voice assistant and control more settings of your headphones and audio source connection. Spotify Tap and other services are also available. You should explore the smartphone software in order to create an optimal listening experience that works best for you.

Also: Sony LinkBuds review: Unique open ring facilitates online and offline listening

sony-wh1000xm5-headset-3

The touch surface performs flawlessly

Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Bottom line

While we don't often think about phone calls with headphones optimized for a listening experience, it is more important today than ever with so many people using headphones like this for their remote work communications. The call quality on both ends when using the WH-1000XM5 is outstanding and it's great to have a single headset with long battery life taking on all of my headset duties.

Audio quality is superb, the active noise-canceling creates an environment of isolation and focus, and the customization available means the headset can be set up for your specific needs. It's pretty incredible to hear the change in noise cancellation over the years with no discernible white noise heard on this latest Sony model.

I thought the previous WH-1000XM4 headset was nearly perfect so I was pleasantly surprised by the improved comfort, noise canceling, and call performance of the WH-1000XM5. I don't know what else Sony can do to improve in the next version, but the company did a good job of finding ways to improve a nearly perfect product so I look forward to finding out.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 headset is available now for $399.99. Keep an eye out for deals during the upcoming holiday season and make sure to add this Sony headset to your wish list. You will not be disappointed and will enjoy an amazing world of audio experiences.

Alternatives to consider

The Sony WH-1000XM5 is arguably the best wireless headset available today. If you can't justify the price, there are deals available from time-to-time, here are some options to consider:

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