The release of Sony’s WH-1000XM5 has been one of the most anticipated wireless headphones launches this year, not just because of its new design, new noise-cancelling tech and even more advanced audio processing. These headphones are the follow up to Sony’s WH1000XM4, which won What Hi-Fi’s Product of the Year in both 2020 and 2021 and were also bestowed with Hall of Fame status as quite simply the very best headphones you can buy.
That’s a tough act to follow, but it’s not a challenge that Sony has shied away from. Instead of resting on its laurels, the Japanese brand has doubled down on areas where it already excels while simultaneously not being afraid to make bold changes.
One of the critical components of the redesign of the XM5 is the 30mm drivers that replace the 40mm unit from the XM4. Bigger isn’t always better, and these new drivers use a light, rigid carbon-fibre dome for more agile response and improved high-frequency sensitivity. Sony has even gone the extra mile and used the same lead-free gold solder as seen in its A100 Walkman portable music player to optimise its circuitry at the most granular level.
The result? The XM5 retains its predecessor's effortless musicality and transparent sound, but delivers even greater clarity and openness. Music and films have a natural authenticity and emotional presence with bass frequencies that are powerful but precise. Agile and responsive, they never miss a beat when it comes to timing, revealing a remarkable level of detail and tonal distinction.
It’s one thing to listen to your music in translucent high definition at home, but the XM5’s advanced noise-cancelling technology also means you can enjoy your audio at its sparkling best, wherever you are.
Almost every pair of wireless headphones now includes some form of noise cancelling as standard, but there’s a huge performance gap between those that perform at a basic level and those that have been refined and developed over several generations.
Sony’s innovative noise-cancelling technology has consistently wowed us in recent years. Having focused on the lower frequencies with previous models, this time Sony has concentrated on improving performance further up the sonic spectrum.
As well as enhancing the tech inside the headphones responsible for identifying noise, the XM5 ups the ante on the XM4 by increasing the number of ANC microphones used from four to eight. Processing is now handled by the Integrated Processor V1, which the company first used on its What Hi-Fi? Award-winning WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds.
Understanding that sometimes users need to hear more environmental ambience, the XM5 cleverly uses all that technology to optimise the noise-cancelling you experience as you move around via its Adaptive Sound Control. This feature responds to where you are wearing the headphones so you can be aware of your surroundings when necessary. But if you prefer manual control, you can simply flick between noise-cancelling and the headphones’ Ambient mode by tapping the corresponding button on the edge of the left earcup.
Whether you want to block out noisy commuter trains, busy offices or the hum of an aeroplane, the XM5 are hugely impressive on the noise-cancelling front and are industry leaders when it comes to audio isolation from constant drones.
Call quality has also been given a sonic boost with Sony's Voice Pickup tech using four beam-forming mics and AI to isolate your voice, while a newly developed wind-noise reduction structure minimises distracting gusts during calls. All of this helps you hear the person on the other end of the line, and be crystal clear yourself, no matter where you are - just another way in which the XM5 combines cutting-edge technology with real-world practicality.
Several tried and tested usability functions from the XM4 have been carried over to allow users to continue effortlessly integrating their headphones into their varied activities. There’s ‘Quick Attention’ that lets you lower the volume and have a conversation by covering the right earcup with your hand, while ‘Speak to Chat’ senses when you start talking, then pauses playback and engages the ambient sound mode. The headphones can also detect when you take them off ; they will automatically pause your music or video – and then restart it as soon as you put them back on. And one of our favourite features is the ability to pair the headphones to two devices simultaneously, meaning you can seamlessly swap between laptop audio and phone calls, for example.
Wearable technology that you use every single day needs to go that extra mile when it comes to comfort, durability and ease of use. This is why the new physical design of the XM5, while deceptively understated, is cleverly configured for convenience. The XM5 benefit from being some of the lightest overears currently available, with a smooth, soft-touch finish made of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). ABS is a reclaimed material formed by taking used car parts from the US and Japan, recycling and then blending them with mica, thus fitting in with Sony’s 'Made to be Remade' philosophy which ensures that no plastics are used in its packaging.
With soft-fit synthetic leather ear cups, a slim headband and a stepless slider to adjust the size, the Sony XM5 feels secure and comfortable without clamping down on your ears. A special effort has been taken to reduce mechanical noises from the headphones themselves, and the sleek finish not only looks good but makes them easy to slip on and off without snagging.
Heading to a one-stop shop for all things technology such as John Lewis means you can try the XM5 to get a feel for what makes the design unique and hear for yourself what makes them stand out from the rest of the competition. You can pick up the Sony WH-1000XM5 at John Lewis now in black or silver priced at £379, with a two-year guarantee and free standard delivery included.