The Sony WH-1000XM5 may well be the best wireless headphones around. With an extensive feature set, superb performance and an often-discounted price, they've been the noise-cancelling cans to beat since they launched in May 2022.
But, although they're far from ancient, the headphone market is ultra-competitive, and has already seen plenty of developments since the XM5 burst onto the scene. In that short time, we've seen big pairs like the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e and Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless throw their hats into the ring, all looking to chip away at Sony's dominance.
Which they have done, here and there. The Px7 S2e feel more premium than the XM5, for example, while the Momentum 4 Wireless beat them for battery life. But Sony's pair have remained the best all-rounders.
There's no time for Sony to sit back and revel in its accolades (even if it did clean up in the headphones category at the 2023 What Hi-Fi? Awards). If we're thinking about what's next, you can guarantee Sony is too. Improving on the XM5 might sound like a tall order, but they were a major step up from the Award-winning XM4. If Sony can do it once, there's nothing to say it can't repeat the feat.
Below, you'll find some of our predictions for when a potential successor to the XM5 might launch, how much it might cost and what improvements we'd like to see from a potential new pair...
Sony WH-1000XM6: release date speculation
We haven't seen any leaks yet regarding a possible release date, but Sony's recent history suggests we might not have too long to wait...
Sony's Award-winning run started in August 2018, with the launch of the WH-1000XM3. They were followed by the XM4 in August 2020, then the XM5 landed in May 2022. Seeing a pattern yet?
If Sony continues to release an updated version every two years, we would expect the XM6 to launch in the summer of 2024 – around August, going on past form.
Sony WH-1000XM6: expected price
Sony's noise-cancelling over-ears are a premium offering and are priced appropriately. The WF-1000XM3 cost £330 / $350 / $500 at launch, but for subsequent models, the price has steadily crept up. The WF-1000XM4 launched at £350 / $350 / AU$550 and the XM5 £380 / $399 / AU$550.
This is in keeping with the general trend in consumer electronics, coupled with rampant inflation in the last couple of years. Since the AirPods Max arrived in 2020, flagship/premium pars from a lot of manufacturers seem to have crept up in price: just look at the B&W Px7 S2e (£379 / $399 / AU$599), and Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones (£449 / $429 / AU$649).
Will this mean a higher price for the XM6? We think Sony will still endeavour to keep it below £400 / $450 / AU$600 unless the new model justifies a significant jump through a new design and new feature set.
Sony WH-1000XM6: 5 things we'd like to see
1. A more premium design
For the XM5, Sony overhauled the headphones' look and feel. It was a bold move, diverging from a multi-Award-winning design that had won plaudits across the board. And largely, it paid off.
But while we praise Sony's comfortable fit and "noiseless" design that cuts down on the number of joints and hinges – not to mention its use of recycled materials – there's no getting away from the headphones' plasticky feel. Put them next to the B&W Px7 S2e, and they feel positively cheap.
2. The ability to fold away
Once upon a time (well, earlier this century) most noise-cancelling over-ears folded away. That was a big part of their appeal: they're designed for use on planes, and as such, fold down to fit in your hand baggage more easily. Not any more.
Nowadays, the trend at this level is to have swivelling ear cups that fold flat, but that's it. Instead of folding up, they come with a carry case to keep them safe. Which is fine, except these cases can take up quite a bit of space themselves.
While we like the XM5's "noiseless" design, we miss the folding design of their predecessors, the WF-1000XM4. It's unlikely Sony will go back to the drawing board for their successors, but who knows what their design team is thinking.
3. Next-gen noise cancelling
The XM5 are among the best noise-cancelling headphones money can buy, but the competition is fierce at this level. Bose is never too far away and neither are B&W and Sennheiser. Apple's AirPods Max are also very good in this regard. So how can Sony stay one step ahead?
With a new noise-cancelling chip, that's how. The XM5 use Sony's Integrated Processor V1, to very good effect. But that made its debut in the WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds in 2021. For now, the WH-1000XM5 are the best all-rounders available, but by next year Sony might need to silence a wider range of frequencies and to deal with variable sounds like traffic noise a little better to keep its over-ears near the top of the pile.
4. Longer battery life
When the XM5 were just a glint in Sony's eye, rumours abounded that the battery life would top 40 hours. That turned out to be only partly true – the XM5 can last for 40 hours, but with noise cancelling switched on they conk out after 30.
That's still very respectable (and 10 hours more than the AirPods Max). But it's the same as the XM5's predecessors going all the way back to the WH-1000XM2 in 2017.
What makes this more pressing is that some rivals have upped their game significantly. The Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless offer a staggering 60 hours of runtime between charges.
5. aptX support
Sony's never been one to support aptX through all generations of its WH-1000 series headphones and, to be honest, we doubt it will change with a new model. It seems to be happy with SBC, AAC and support for its own LDAC codec which offers higher data rates than traditional Bluetooth (when paired with a compatible source).
However, rival pairs from B&W, Bose, and Sennheiser now support aptX Adaptive, the latest variant of the tech which promises improved latency with supported mobile devices. Is it a box you want Sony to tick?
Sony WH-1000XM5 tips: how to connect to two devices, use wired and more
Decide which is best for you: Sony WH-1000XM5 or WH-1000XM4