Review: Sony WH-1000XM5 ANC Headphones Set a New Standard

Sony WH-1000XM5
The WH-1000XM5 headphones are the latest model in Sony's ongoing series. TYLER HAYES

People ask all the time about the best headphones. And I have plenty of suggestions, with considerations for ANC, sound and comfort, but included somewhere in there is always mention of headphones from Sony. For the last few years, the answer has been the Sony WH-1000XM4. Now it's undeniably these new Sony WH-1000XM5.

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Predictably, and still kind of amazingly, these headphones are more comfortable, sound better and have an improved feature set over the 1000XM4. If you really want the previous generation, those headphones are still available for the same retail price of $349.99, but the new headphones, for $399.99, are easily worth their extra $50.

Equipped with eight microphones, the WH-1000XM5's adaptive ANC is outstanding. Noise doesn't stand a chance against these headphones. But, that's expected from the company. The unexpected advancement here is that Sony raised the bar, slightly and finally giving their premium headphones some style.

TL;DR

Pros:

  • Comfortable earcups—space and padded cushioning
  • Incredible ANC performance

Cons:

  • Increased price over previous models
  • Not the most compact headphones

Buy at Best Buy.

What Are the Best ANC Headphones?

Sony WH-1000XM5
The Sony WH-1000XM5 feature eight microphones for incredible ANC performance. TYLER HAYES

The WH-1000XM5 headphones can add 3 hours of listening time in merely 3 minutes of charging. That's a helpful feature, but the most noticeable advancement in these headphones is better ANC, thanks to eight microphones and a new, second, integrated V1 processor. Plus, the Auto NC Optimizer, their noise canceling function, will tune the ANC performance depending on environmental factors.

So, to recap, the WH-1000XM5 headphones include a lot of microphones to hear what's around and then use a combination of two internal processors and software smarts to intelligently block out all kinds of noise. It's not revolutionary, but it's better than the best was before.

I was able to put the headphones to the test immediately on a cross-country flight, and they worked fantastically. The hum of the plane was pushed away, and I could watch a movie at a low volume in peace.

I purposefully removed and put the headphones back on. When I did that, I could hear the noise disappear as the headphones optimized for their surroundings. I was intently listening and could hear subtle hums or whooshes begin to fade away even more within moments of reapplying the headphones over my ears.

Are these WH-1000XM5 the absolute best consumer ANC headphones? I haven't used them all, but they are pretty unbelievable.

Sony WH-1000XM5
The Sony WH-1000XM5 take on a new, more refined style from past headphones in the line. TYLER HAYES

Comparing the WH-1000XM5 With the AirPods Max

The WH-1000XM5 inch up the price scale to a premium $400. They aren't quite at the $549 price level of the AirPods Max, but they also aren't far off for people who want really good headphones. Anyone deciding on these will have looked at Apple's offering.

When comparing these two headphones, I think the biggest consideration is their weight. AirPods Max are heavy. When swapping the headphones back and forth for direct comparison, one feels a night and day difference. In isolation, the weight of the AirPods Max is acceptable, but putting on the WH-1000XM5 is a relief. The AirPods Max tend to put less pressure on the top of your head and more around the temples, compared with a more even balance from headband to earcups on the WH-1000XM5.

The active-noise cancellation is very good on both headphones, but the WH-1000XM5 are noticeably better. I also think the transparency effect is more natural on the Sony headphones, as well. The AirPods Max amplify your surroundings for a better awareness with their transparency mode turned on, but they can also sound quite artificial.

Do the WH-1000XM5 Sound Good?

Sony WH-1000XM5
The Sony WH-1000XM5 headband is narrower than the WH-1000XM4's. While more fashionable, it is also ever so slightly less comfortable. TYLER HAYES

I can't think of any modern Sony earbuds or headphones that don't have decent sound quality. But I was never blown away by the audio of the WH-1000XM4. They sound great, but I never found them to be as crisp and detailed as other similar competitors'. Personally, I think the WH-1000XM5 improve significantly on the sound quality over the previous generation's.

These new WH-1000XM5 headphones use a new 30 millimeter carbon fiber driver unit. I'm not sure if that improvement is the sole reason for the better audio, or if there are more things behind the scenes that are contributing, but, these sound fantastic.

Comparing the WH-1000XM5 directly with the Technics EAH-A800, I think the Sony headphones provide a little more balance in the default audio profile. The EAH-A800 headphones sound wonderful, with detailed clarity, but they don't quite offer the midrange that the WH-1000XM5 do to my ears.

The WH-1000XM5 don't forgo any high-end details, however. All of the unique instrumentation was still pointed while listening to Ludwig Göransson's theme song for The Mandalorian.

On the flip side, the microphones provide exceptional audio quality for calls. Whereas a lot of mics on headphones make voices sound muffled or hollow in some fashion, I found the WH-1000XM5 to make my voice sound clear and accurate. Even better than a gaming headset with an extended microphone arm.

Should You Buy the Sony WH-1000XM5?

These headphones are probably overkill for casual use around the house. This can make the price hard to justify. But, in my use, I found that the WH-1000XM5 perfectly blend style, comfort and features. These Sony headphones are at the top of their class in every regard.

If you're considering your headphones' use, these are especially good for air travel or places where noise is unpredictable and prolonged. They're also great for taking calls and comfortable enough for long meetings.

If I needed to pick one pair of headphones to use for the next several years, I would pick these. Are they the best wireless consumer ones ever? Maybe. I hate the price but love pretty much everything else about them.

Buy at Best Buy for $399.99.

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