Sony has revamped the flagship model of its line of audio headphones with a serious makeover and a still not very sexy name, the WH-1000XM5 (?). The XM5, which hits shelves on May 20, comes with longer battery life, a more comfortable build, larger audio drivers and an advanced new noise-cancelling system. It is in many ways a significant improvement over its worthy predecessors.
The XM5s are the latest descendant of the groundbreaking WH-1000X, which changed the game for high-end consumer headphones with Active Noise Canceling, or ANC. The most recent previous model, the WH-1000MX4, had enough to recommend itself, but the competition had caught up and sent Sony back to the drawing board.
The result is the WH-1000XM5, with an all-new design that is both slimmer and more comfortable than the XM4. The headphones weigh just over half a pound, light enough for extended listening without discomfort. Sony touts a 30-hour battery life, which can be about accurate according to my testing. Your mileage may vary.
The noise cancellation is top notch, powered by two processors and a total of eight microphones spread across each earpiece to properly pick up ambient noise from all directions.
The new, larger 30mm drivers in each earcup deliver enhanced sound quality with support for Hi-Res audio. Audiophiles may want to check out Sony’s 360 Reality Audio service, with sound that masters an immersive, all-round sensation. The XM5s are optimized for the size and Sony includes a trial subscription coupon with the headphones.
The headphones also paired painlessly and quickly via Bluetooth with my MacBook Pro and iPhone 13, playing various genres of songs streamed to Apple Music with good separation and punch.
Once connected, they delivered all of the crunchy, dashing rock of I am the ocean by Neil Young and Pearl Jam to the delicacy of Yolanda Kondonassis’ solo harp work on her just-released Hear the dust blow, recorded in the Hi-Res Lossless and Apple Digital Master formats common to Apple Music†
The headphones come in a sleek black or silver color, with a matching case. The XM5’s redesigned wedge-shaped case is larger and slightly bulkier than its oval predecessor, but also a bit more convenient. It includes a handy internal flip-top container that holds the included matching 1/4-inch audio cable and a very short USB-A to USB-C charging cable.
The new cans have a lot to offer, but they have some limitations. In particular, Sony warns that they should not be worn in the rain or during sweaty workouts. That’s not ideal for some potential buyers, but if you’re spending nearly $400 for a high-quality audio experience, you probably have a cheaper water-resistant alternative to use during your workouts.
Overall, the WH-1000MX5 headphones are winners, a strong competitor in the higher end market for noise canceling, stylish and great sounding consumer headphones. They deserve a listen if you’re looking for the best way to block out office noise, airplane engines, or street traffic, while delivering hours of great music and audio experiences.