The Sony WH-1000XM6 are this year’s most anticipated headphones – but I'm waiting for something else

Sony MDR-MV1 wired headphones
(Image credit: Sony)

With the first pair of Sonos headphones finally here (and sadly not quite the Ace we hoped for), headphones fans are now looking forward to the launch of Sony’s next flagships with the same eagerness that a nipper awaits the arrival of Santa Claus. And with good reason.

The Sony WH-1000XM6 are expected to succeed the current WH-1000XM5 in a few months if they are to follow the model’s bi-annual release pattern, and if the past seven or so years of form is anything to go by, they should build on the current pair’s class-leading position with sound quality improvements and perhaps the odd new feature. The cogs in that particular rumour mill haven’t started churning yet – unlike that of the AirPod Max 2‘s – but we have huddled together to curate a wishlist for the anticipated XM6, from aptX Bluetooth codec support to longer battery life.

But what I want from Sony – more than a new-and-improved WH-1000XM model, even – is something else entirely. Or perhaps more appropriately, another model entirely.

Lifting the ceiling of ambition

Sony’s headphone catalogue spans as many types and budgets as any other, from cheap and cheerful wireless earbuds (WF-C500) to extraordinary-performing wired over-ear headphones (MDR-1ZR). But it has a glaring gap: a high-end wireless pair to take on the likes of the Apple AirPods Max, Bose QuietComfort Ultra and Sonos Ace.

In the four years since Apple valiantly pushed the wireless headphones parameters past the likes of Sony’s, Sennheiser’s and Bose’s (then) flagships to a new price point, more than a handful of headphones and hi-fi manufacturers have risen to similar ambition and produced worthy competitors. Surprisingly, Sony isn’t yet among them.

Our hopes were high that a higher-end Bluetooth model to sit above its flagship XM5 would surface earlier this year when we heard whispers of ‘new Sony Bluetooth headphones’, but that turned out to be the brand’s new ULT Wear range of mid-priced, bass-boosted models. There’s nothing wrong with that – Sony is going after an important mass-market sector of the headphone space, and with mostly great success. But – and I’m aware this may sound like spoilt behaviour – the continual success of its premium wireless model has me hankering for a more aspirational effort from Sony’s engineering team. I know they are capable, and surely there’s a market for one?

I’d be the first to oppose such aspiration taking shape as a WH-1000XM6, as that model’s price point is, while reasonably attainable, higher than many can reach as it is. What I'm after is a model above them; a higher tier of flagship.

A music and movie maestro?

So what would this (hopefully additional) all-singing-all-dancing model look like in my eyes? It goes without saying that sound quality at least as sophisticated as that delivered by the premium-premium crop’s current class leaders (the five-star AirPods Max, Focal Bathys and Bowers & Wilkins Px8) would be a must.

Sony somewhat downgrading the premium-ness of the WH-1000XM5’s build and aesthetic compared to its predecessor (the XM4) leaves more luxury to be desired in the design department, too. Not least when you have blingy lookers like the aforementioned Focals and B&Ws in the ring. Touch control is as 21st century as TikTok, of course, but does anyone actually like it on headphones? Proper, nicely integrated buttons please, Sony.

And as my colleague who recently penned fervently about his wish for more home cinema headphones would no doubt agree, wouldn’t it be nice for Sony to also make these a great pair of immersive, cinema-like, spatial audio-supporting headphones for more immersive personal listening while movie watching? Sony has done a stellar job with its Dolby Atmos soundbars, after all, and it hasn't really given much gravitas to its spatial 360 Reality Audio technology so far, so Atmos-friendly operation, perhaps complete with in-room calibration (similar to that offered by the Sonos Ace), doesn’t stretch the imagination too much.

Despite its serious sound performance accolades, we can’t imagine Sony would be the first to offer next-gen wi-fi connectivity in headphones (what a statement that would make, eh!), though perhaps we would, more realistically, finally get aptX Bluetooth codec support of the aptX Lossless (I'm being greedy now) flavour. Wired listening over USB-C (in addition to over 3.5mm) would be high on the wishlist too, as would greater levels of noise cancellation adjustability to complement what would likely be, as per the XM5’s skillset, class-leading sound-blocking effectiveness.

It’s nice to dream, and in this instance I don’t think I’m dreaming too big. Sony is in a fantastic position to combine all the best bits of the current pairs – the AirPods Max's luxurious design, the Bose's class-leading ANC and Sonos's home cinema USP – and top that all off with superior sound quality to lead the pack, as it does at the level below with its WH-1000XM5.

Hopefully Sony is already at work, simply putting some finishing touches on its next wireless wonders. Maybe their entry would even slightly lower the WH-1000XM model’s price? OK, now I’m getting ahead of myself…


The best wireless headphones you can buy, tried and tested by yours truly

Sony WH-1000XM6: release date speculation, price predictions, 6 things we want to see

Sonos Ace wireless headphones finally launch with spatial audio for movies and music. Here is our surprising Sonos Ace review

Becky Roberts

Becky is the managing editor of What Hi-Fi? and, since her recent move to Melbourne, also the editor of Australian Hi-Fi magazine. During her 10+ years in the hi-fi industry, she has reviewed all manner of audio gear, from budget amplifiers to high-end speakers, and particularly specialises in headphones and head-fi devices. In her spare time, Becky can often be found running, watching Liverpool FC and horror movies, and hunting for gluten-free cake.