Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: Subjectively Better
June 22, 2022 Andrew Cheng

Sony makes some of the most popular wireless headphones with active noise cancellation (ANC). So much so that the WH-1000XM4 is always in the conversation when one is looking for such headphones, for better or worse. However, as popular as it is, it also has some shortcomings, especially in its tuning.

And that’s one area the new Sony WH-1000XM5 improved upon, among other things. Not only does it offer a slightly more balanced tuning, it also has superior ANC and a more comfortable fit. Yes, it still has its fair share of disadvantages, but in my opinion, the XM5 is a better pair of headphones…though some may not agree.

What It Is

Design wise, the WH-1000XM5 is quite a departure from its predecessor. Now sporting a more modern-looking aesthetic, the stepped adjustments for the band have also been replaced with a “friction rod” design. Because of this, it can be a little annoying to find for the right fit every time I put on the headphones.

Aside from that, the XM5 also gets another processor (V1) that complements the QN1 noise cancellation processor. These two hardware control eight microphones, and a specially designed 30mm driver unit further enhances the noise-cancelling capability of the headphones.

Basically, the XM5 is said to have superior ANC over the XM4.

As for pricing, the XM5 costs RM1,799 in Malaysia, which is RM200 more than the launch price of the XM4. Given the dearer asking price, the XM5 does offer a more comprehensive feature set – more on this in the next section.

The Good Stuff

One of the biggest improvements to the WH-1000XM5 is its audio quality with a more balanced tuning. Compared to the XM4’s very bass-heavy tuning, the XM5′ bass response isn’t as emphasised. Don’t get me wrong, it still has a lot of bass, albeit not quite as pronounced as the XM4.

Thanks to the more controlled bass response, the XM5 is more “resolving” over its predecessor. As the bass doesn’t bleed into the mids quite as much, the headphones can retrieve more details, and it doesn’t sound quite as muddy either. Basically, I can get better clarity out of the XM5.

But this is where I think the XM5 is subjectively better than the XM4. Because the former’s bass isn’t as pronounced as the XM4, some may describe this as a “flat and boring” sound signature; a step back from the bass-heavy nature of its predecessor. I’ll get back to this further down this review.

When it comes to ANC performance, the XM5 does not disappoint. It doesn’t have the deafening effect of the XM4 when ANC is activated, which makes for a more comfortable listening experience. On top of that, the XM5 can also cancel out higher frequency sounds, but the XM4 is better at eliminating low frequency rumbles.

If you want a comfortable pair of headphones, you’ll definitely be happy with the XM5. Even though its earpads are not as plush as the XM4’s, they are noticeably softer. It doesn’t put as much pressure on my head either, and paired with its more lightweight design, it’s comfortable to be worn for long periods of time.

Touch controls of the XM5 remain as intuitive as ever. I can easily play or pause music playback with a double tap on the right earcup’s touch sensor, and swiping forward allows me to skip to the next song. I can even swipe up and down to increase and lower the volume respectively.

Naturally, the XM5 still have the long battery life of its predecessor. Sony quotes a total usage of up to 30 hours with these headphones – yes, even with noise-cancelling enabled – which is easily achievable in my testing. The XM5 also supports fast charging; just three minutes of charging can give three hours of use.

The Bad Stuff

I personally think the WH-1000XM5 offers better audio quality over its predecessor with its less emphasised bass response, but as mentioned, this can also be described by some folks to be a more boring, flat sound signature. This is especially true if you’re coming from the XM4 or XM3, which are very bassy headphones.

Beyond audio quality, another downside of the XM5 is the fact that it’s not as portable as its predecessor. The XM4’s earcups can be folded, allowing it to be kept in a smaller, more compact storage case. The same cannot be done to the XM5’s new design, so the case (even if it’s collapsible when not in use) takes up more space.

My last qualm with the XM5 is the choice of material. Compared to the XM4, the XM5 doesn’t feel as “substantial.” While it’s great that the headphones are made from recycled plastic for sustainability reasons, the XM5 doesn’t feel as smooth or as premium to the touch as the previous model.

Is It Worth It?

In my opinion, yes! Although the Sony WH-1000XM5 doesn’t have the very emphasised bass of its predecessor, I still much prefer the more balanced (but still quite bassy) sound signature of these headphones. I love the fact that I can get more details and clarity with the XM5.

On top of that, the XM5 also has better overall noise-cancelling performance, even if the XM4 is better at eliminating low frequency rumbles. The XM5 is also more comfortable, and it can still return very long battery life.

Yes, it doesn’t feel as premium or as compact as the previous model, and some may find the WH-1000XM5 to have a flatter sound signature. But this is only because both the XM4 and XM3 have too much bass, so if you’re upgrading from these two headphones, the XM5 may sound…well, subjectively worse.