Review: are Sony’s WH-1000XM5 better than the WH-1000XM4?

The new Sony WH-1000XM5 are their 5th generation top of the line noise cancelling headphones and therefore have the tough job of competing with previous generations that were already very good, including the WH-1000XM4 which will still be sold in parallel.

Read on to find out who the WH-1000XM5 is best suited for and whether they’re worth buying.

Unboxing and Design Thoughts

First of all, if you want to buy these headphones consider whether you want black or off-white.

Off-white may be a better look for people with blonde hair and women who use skin tone makeup as it would be less obvious if it rubs off onto the headphones. I chose to review the black ones since I’m a guy and have black hair.

Plus points go to Sony for sustainability as the product box is made from recycled materials and the headphones are made from recycled plastic materials left over from automobile manufacturing.

The case is bigger than the previous generation WH-1000XM4, WH-1000XM3 etc and no longer includes an airline adaptor but does include a short headphone and USB-C cable. On the plus side, the XM5 still has a headphone jack so you can connect them to a wired device and not use the battery.

Don’t try to bend and fold the WH-1000XM5 like you did with previous generations because they’ll break!

Previous generations of the Sony WH-1000XM headphones could bend in on themselves and fold into a small space for packing in the official case or just throwing into a backpack. That’s not possible anymore as the new WH-1000XM5 slider and joint design only allow flat-pack ear cups down into the case.

Sony makes it really clear with little pictures that these headphones (and all WH-1000XM models) shouldn’t be:

  • Worn in the rain
  • Worn while your head is sweating eg in the gym or running
  • Handled with wet hands
  • Resting on your shoulders while your neck and face is sweating

Comparing the WH-1000XM3/XM4 case and the WH-1000XM5 case it’s clear that the new WH-1000XM5 case while thinner on one end is bigger overall and this makes it less practical for packing in carry on luggage or a small backpack.

Swipe Controls

  • These are the same as previous WH-1000XM models using your fingers on the ear cups:
  • Swipe up – Volume up
  • Swipe down – Volume down
  • Swipe forward – Track forward
  • Swipe back – Track back
  • Hold (center) – Voice assistant
  • Double tap center – Pause / resume
  • Cover hand over right ear cup – turns on Ambient sound passthrough temporarily

There’s an app for that

If you’re going to spend several hundred dollars for Sony WH-1000XM series headphones you need to use the Headphones Connect App (iOS/Android) otherwise you’ll miss out on headphone update software patches, custom equalizer, 360 Reality Audio setup,  ambient sound customisation eg voice focus mode, speak to chat on/off, prioritise sound quality vs connection stability, DSEE Extreme on/off etc.

Sony | Headphones Connect
Sony | Headphones Connect

Battery Life

Theoretical battery life for wireless use is 30 hours if noise cancelling is on. My tests showed this to be fairly accurate however your battery life may be totally different because of the reason below.

Sony warns that “If you enable the following functions, the operating time will be shorter” and if you activate several of these at the same time “the operating time will be shorter than if you enable only one of the functions” so don’t enable all of the following unless you’ll actually use them a lot otherwise your battery life will take a severe hit:

  • Equalizer,
  • DSEE Extreme,
  • Speak-to-Chat,
  • Priority on sound mode while using Bluetooth,
  • Voice assistant.

Mentioning speak to chat, it’s an interesting idea in theory but I turned it off because I found it annoying that my playback paused every time I gave my smart speakers an Alexa command. Sometimes eating and drinking sounds like accidentally burping after slurping a fizzy drink also caused a pause.

Three minutes of fast PD charging enables 3 hours of listening which is fantastic if your headphones are flat but you still want to use them. You’ll need a solid 3 hours+ to recharge them fully from flat.

Sound Quality

If you have an Android phone connected to the WH-1000XM5 you have the choice of enabling Sony’s proprietary high-bitrate codec LDAC or disabling that for the compromise of lower quality audio with the benefit of multipoint connection eg: so you can connect to your laptop and phone audio simultaneously. I prefer LDAC on for better audio quality.

As with previous generations of WH-1000XM headphones, the WH-1000XM5 is slightly biased towards bass which helps enhance the amazing bass recorder dominated Disney+ Mandalorian theme song as well as the classic background bass sound that powers Fleetwood Mac’s the Chain and Hans Zimmer’s Time.

If you’d prefer a more neutral sound just reduce bass a bit in the Sony headphones app custom equalizer.

I used the WH-1000XM5 headphones for several WFH video calls and the voice quality was good however the lack of a dedicated mute button means you might be better off with a dedicated Zoom/Teams certified headset if you make a lot of calls.

One area previous generations of WH-1000XM headphones weren’t as great at blocking noise was other people’s voices. This has improved with the new model which makes it more suitable for wearing in situations like a library while studying for exams or in an office if you need to concentrate while your colleagues talk loudly.

Should you buy the Sony WH-1000XM5?

if you’re going to wear headphones while studying, commuting, on holidays or working from home then the Sony WH-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM5 are both great choices.

I prefer to have noise cancelling on most of the time because when I listen to headphones it’s because I want to block out the outside world.

The WH-1000XM5 has been great during commutes on Sydney buses the last few days when it effectively blocked most of the noisy diesel engine sound.

On the plus side the new slider design is quiet and on trend with changes to other major headphones company designs, on the minus side because there’s no ratchet anymore it’s not as easy to quickly get the exact slide position you want.

The older model has the benefits of being much more affordable at $395 and with a smaller case. The newer model looks better and has a small benefit in noise cancelling/audio quality but costs more at $548.

If you’re looking for headphones that can go with you to the office, on your next holiday or handle working from home both the WH-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM5 are an excellent buy. Which one you should choose depends on whether you need a smaller case and your budget.

Disclosure Statement

Sony has allowed Ausdroid to keep these headphones for hygiene reasons