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Sony WH-1000XM5, analysis: improving in everything, shining where always

Without a doubt, the WH-1000XM4 have been one of the best ANC headphones in recent years. And they probably still are considering the price at which they can be purchased right now from many dealers. Still, two years is a long time in the tech industry. And Sony, aware of this, has officially presented the successors of the WH-1000XM4, which, as expected, are called WH-1000XM5.

The WH-1000XM5 have an obvious goal: to establish themselves as the best active noise canceling headphones on the market. A not insignificant challenge considering that competition has only increased in recent years.

To remain at the forefront in this field, the Japanese company could have chosen to refine what the WH-1000XM4 offered. However, these WH-1000XM5s bring with them a lot of changes. And several of them, in critical areas such as noise cancellation, which is one of the most important factors in this product.

The question is: are these WH-1000XM5 still the most recommended option for someone looking for a first level noise canceling headphones?

New design, maximum comfort

My first impression of the WH-1000XM5 came from press images that surfaced even before Sony publicly confirmed its existence. The design was different from previous generations. More stylized, more modern, but with the undoubted personality of the brand. From that first moment, they had my full attention.

Once they reached my hands, those same impressions were repeated. The shape of the WH-1000XM5 is convincing both functionally and aesthetically. They are simple, but attractive. And as far as comfort is concerned, they do a great job. You can wear them for hours without feeling any kind of fatigue.

Some details, in addition, are more refined than before. For example:

The arms that allow the headband to be adjusted to the size of each skull have a new free movement mechanism. That is to say: it does not have a series of predetermined levels. You can insert or remove each bar with millimeter precision. No “clack” every time you open the headphones. Everything flows like silk. The covering of the headband, as well as that of the pads, is made of a different material capable of better adopting the shape of our skull – key to insulating you from the outside – but without exerting pressure – which positively affects to comfort. To make a simile that exemplifies the differences: it is like going from a latex pillow to a viscoelastic one. With both you sleep well, but the second adapts a little better to the shape of our skull. The new design “hides” the different microphones better, which not only has an aesthetic benefit, but also a functional one. External microphones are key to noise cancellation. Therefore, hiding them so that they are not affected by possible wind currents is essential so that the cancellation algorithms can do their job as well as possible. However, this new design also has two negative faces. The first is that the arms cannot be folded for easy transport, as the WH-1000XM4 can. It's by no means a drama, but those extra inches can come in handy when you're carrying a loaded backpack on a trip.

On the other hand, the case that Sony includes with the WH-1000XM5 is, in several ways, improvable. Both aesthetically and in terms of finishes. It does not feel like a case that accompanies 450 euros headphones. It is a lesser evil, because in the end what really matters are the headphones, but I would have liked to find a better solution.

What is appreciated about the new case is that it has a small compartment with a lid where you can store the charging cable and the 3.5-millimeter cable that allows you to connect the headphones to equipment that does not have Bluetooth – like the screens of many airplanes–.

The case of the WH-1000XM5 compared to that of its predecessor, the WH-1000XM4. And how do the WH-1000XM5 feel while listening to music with them? I have to say that they are really comfortable. More than previous generations of the 1000X series. And even after long sessions of use, which is the real stress test for a product like this.

Obviously they don't feel as free as true wireless. That is to say: you are aware that they are there because they are in contact with your skull. But the new pads, added to the lightness of the chassis, make them really comfortable. And this is key, since this type of product is usually used during relatively long sessions.

It's not invisible to me, obviously, that these headphones are almost entirely covered in plastic. No metal like, for example, in the AirPods Max. And, although they feel well assembled and resistant, I would be lying if I said that Apple headphones do not convey a more luxurious feeling. However, two observations are necessary here:

The AirPods Max have a higher PVP (150 dollars / 180 euros more than the XM5). And yes, in places like Amazon you can buy Apple ones for less money, but these figures fluctuate constantly. In fact, the XM5s are likely to see a downgrade before too long. Therefore, the best way to judge these products by keeping the variables to a minimum is by going for the RRP. Second, the AirPods Max weigh 384 grams, while the XM5 weigh around 250. That is to say: the metallic finishes make Apple headphones weigh 50% more. And that, inevitably, affects the comfort of them when you wear them for hours. Sony WH-1000XM5 next to the AirPods Max.

The sound of the WH-1000XM5 is good, but the really brilliant thing is the noise cancellation

If I have found an aspect in which the WH-1000XM5 have fascinated me, it is, without a doubt, in noise cancellation. Before receiving them, the brand told me that this generation is up to 50% better than its predecessors. A figure that, personally, initially surprised me, since the XM4 were quite good headphones in this field. However, the real surprise came when I had the opportunity to put them to the test and verify that, indeed, the jump in this field is remarkable.

The improvement is appreciable in all frequency ranges, but, above all, in the band normally occupied by the voices of human beings or everyday sounds. That is where I feel the difference the most compared to other headphones.

Originally, noise canceling headphones were born to make life easier for people who frequently travel by plane. How? Reducing relatively low and constant sounds coming from the turbines of an aircraft. However, over time, their use has been expanding beyond aircraft. Many people use them to concentrate in offices, work in coffee shops, or simply enjoy whatever they're listening to when the world around them is noisy.

However, canceling the sounds that normally bother us in these environments is more complex than, for example, canceling the turbine of an airplane. In part, because they are less constant noises, so parameterizing a wave that effectively “cancels” them is more complex.

The XM5, however, have surprised me quite a bit in this area, as I said above. The combination of the new pads –which improve isolation–, the new and larger set of microphones, the audio signal processors and the cancellation algorithms do, without a doubt, a great job throughout the frequency spectrum. And, as I said, the improvement is significant compared to the XM4.

Obviously, this does not mean that you listen to absolute silence with them. No headset of this type currently achieves this. But, without a doubt, these are among the headphones that come closest to achieving it.

Out of curiosity, I used these headphones at a small concert. And, although it was inevitable to feel what was happening in the room from the decibel level, I was surprised that I was able to hear the music I was playing from my mobile with reasonably good clarity.

Regarding the sound it is not a surprise if I say that the Sony WH-1000XM5 are capable of delivering a great experience. The improvement is easily palpable compared to the XM4 that preceded it. Their sound is simply better. More natural, broader, better balanced and also sharper.

Compared to the AirPods Max, the WH-1000XM5 are, in my opinion, a small step behind. In certain situations, both deliver a fairly close experience. But, in others, the AirPods Max stand out with a slightly cleaner and better balanced sound, in addition to achieving greater amplitude.

It is necessary to remember, yes, that the AirPods Max have a PVP almost 200 euros higher, so, although the WH-1000XM5 remain behind in this field, it speaks well enough of them that we venture to compare them with those of Apple and, in certain cases, are capable of rivaling them.

As in previous generations, it is possible to modify part of the behavior of the XM5 using the equalizer of the Headphones Connect application. Personally, I invite you to do so if, as in my case, you prefer a sound that gives some more visibility to the instrumental parts and subtract some strength to the basses. Although this, obviously, is something mostly subjective.

The Headphones Connect app allows you to control multiple parameters of the WH-1000XM5.

More interesting details

Multipoint connection. The WH-1000XM5, like its predecessors, can be connected simultaneously to several devices . So if you're at your computer but you get a call on your phone, you can answer it with your headset without having to do anything. Managing linked devices is also quite simple from the Headphones Connect app.LDAC. As it couldn't be any other way, the XM5s are compatible with the LDAC codec. This allows you to stream music via Bluetooth with minimal loss. Of course: you have to have a compatible device, as well as a high-resolution audio track. Automatic shutdown sensor. Like other headphones, the XM5 have a sensor that detects whether we are wearing them or not. not. When this is not the case, they stop playback. And after a certain time, they turn off automatically.The microphone system is better. The XM5s have eight microphones in total, several of which are beamforming. In addition, as I mentioned before, they are better protected from the wind, so that it affects them less. And, in general, the quality of the calls is also better than in previous models.The transparency mode still has room for improvement. The WH-1000XM5 have an ambient mode that allows you to hear what is happening around you without removing your headphones. How? They capture external sounds with microphones and reproduce them inside. A function that is complemented by Speak-to-chat, which detects when we start talking and automatically activates this mode without having to press any button. In general, the solution works well, but it is true that other headphones such as Apple AirPods achieve more naturalness and realism.ANC automatically adapts to changes. Previous Sony headphones had an option that measured pressure, as well as other parameters related to isolation and noise cancellation. This, however, had to be activated manually by the user when he deemed it convenient. Now, the XM5s do it automatically in the background, so that if one day you wear glasses, get on a plane or your haircut changes drastically, the headphones will be able to detect it and adapt various parameters related to noise cancellation. do to these new circumstances.An autonomy without equal. With active noise cancellation, they can deliver about 30 hours of use. That's enough to make two flights between Madrid and Los Angeles. And you would have some battery left over for waiting at the airport or traveling to it. Alexa and Assistant repeat. Just say “Alexa” or “Ok Google” so that we can ask them questions in headphones, without touching any button.Swift Pair and Google Fast Pair also repeat. Microsoft and Google solutions to facilitate pairing are also present in the XM5. If you have a Windows computer, a Chrome OS device or an Android mobile, you will appreciate it.

Are the Sony WH-1000XM5 worth it?

The Sony WH-1000XM5 are, without a doubt, one of the best headphones you can buy right now. Where they shine the most is right where you expect: in noise cancellation, which has taken an important step forward, especially in those environments where ANC systems are usually less effective. What's more: they are probably the best in this field.

That brilliance in active noise cancellation is further complemented by a more attractive design than before, a super comfortable chassis even after long sessions of use, brilliant battery life and high-quality sound. Obviously not everything is 100% perfect, as I have indicated on a few occasions throughout the text, but that does not at all overshadow the sensations that the XM5 leave me with. The Japanese brand, once again, has been able to surprise us with a high-quality product that, in many ways, is going to be the benchmark in the sector.