It is finally time for the next iteration of the 1000X series. Sony’s mainline wireless headphones have been a huge part of the market for the past few years, offering industry-leading technology and innovations that set a standard for many top-selling headphones to abide by, particularly in the areas of noise-canceling and spatial audio. Aptly named the WH-1000XM5, Sony looks to give their popular Bluetooth brand a fresh coat of paint, changing up some familiar aspects of this series and modernizing them. Just how much has changed, and can the XM5 keep to its name?
What You Get
- Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones
- Eighth-inch cable
- USB-C charging cable
- Carrying case
Look and Feel
Sony has reimagined the look of the 1000X series for the XM5. Everything from the earcups to the headband is completely different from the XM3 and XM4 models. It looks as if the XM5 reduced some of the excess plastic of the past versions and produced a more streamlined style. The headband is thinner but still well padded, and it gives the headphones an overall lighter feel. You also have differently shaped earcups that I believe have better breathability than past models.
If you liked how the other models folded their earcups, the XM5 eliminates that by instead making the earcups swivel around so they sit flat on your shoulders. It would have been great to have the XM5 be able to go both ways, aa that would make it easier to pack. I love the new style presented here and can see Sony continuing this style of build for a couple of years.
Design and Functionality
A lot of your favorite features from the 1000x series make a return here, including ambient sound mode, multipoint connection, and of course world-class noise-cancelation. Sony’s adaptive ANC is always top-notch, and on the XM5 it is as good as ever. How effective the ANC is dependent on where you are physical, giving you the proper isolation that makes sense for your environment. Heavy ventilation and proximity noise caused by wind are almost entirely eliminated from your surroundings, and if you ever want to hear what is going on next to you, all you need to do is press down on the right earcup for a few seconds and you’ll be able to hear the world.
With the XM5 even just speaking at a normal volume for a few seconds will automatically activate this feature, without having to use your hands at all. This worked most of the time I needed to use it, much like most of the touch-sensitive features included on the headphones. A series of taps and holds will activate a ton of features ranging from regular playback functions to talk-through mode. These controls are a lot more responsive than the XM3 and XM4, featuring the right amount of sensitivity that makes using these gestures feel natural.
Sony’s “My Headphones” app also continues to be a great hub for all of the XM5’s features, with its in-app EQ and DSEE switch that helps enhance compressed audio. Other new specifications include a whole new driver, which is a 30mm unit that has a thermoplastic polyurethane that is said to enhance ANC, and a carbon fiber dome that should improve sound performance, particularly in the high-frequency range.
The XM5 supports Bluetooth version 5.2 and has a very stable connection. I never experienced any dropouts or imbalances throughout hours of listening, and they always connected instantly after I power them on. You can expect standard SBC CODECs as well as LDAC for certain devices.
Even though total playtime can vary based on what features you are using but after using the XM5 for many hours, I think the 30-hour advertised battery life is accurate. The XM5 also has some features that help conserve battery life, and with the eight-inch cable, you don’t have to worry about the battery dying at all.
Approaching the soundstage is never simple with the 1000X series. The inclusion of Sony’s 360 Reality Audio gives its performance a lot more variables, especially when testing supported tracks through Tidal. I think this tech has come a long way since it has been introduced, and it is better than ever on the XM5. Listening to Atmos tracks through Tidal brought some fun and engaging experiences, such as hearing The Wheel of Time soundtrack engulf my headspace with many instruments and operatic choirs hovering over me in a dramatic fashion.
With 360 Reality Audio, nothing feels like it’s on a flat surface. All of the sound elements have a full shape and move throughout the space with an extra dimension like they are being suspended in front of you and wrapping around you as they move within the dome of sound being presented. Supported tracks are growing more and more, and the inclusion of Atmos-supported albums helps a lot as well, but if you don’t have Tidal or Nugs.net, you won’t get to hear the XM5 at its most engrossing level.
Even with all of its spatial audio capabilities, the XM5 still doesn’t appear very wide, restricting itself to the headphone’s closed-back nature. This mostly affects the headphone’s standard soundstage without spatial audio, as the 1000X series continues to be a very in-your-head experience. A lot of it feels artificial, but some fun can be had with certain bass elements of the sound signature. What the XM5 does better than any of the 1000x’s past entries, is the accuracy of its imaging. Even with its closed and solidified stage, the XM5 makes sure it gives all of its output the proper positioning that allows this headphone to feel the most right out of its former iterations.
It is all about the bass when it comes to the 1000X series, and the XM5 continues that notion. Of course, with every Sony Bluetooth headphone, each frequency range can be adjusted with EQ, which for me is more mandatory for this series than any other wireless headphone. On its own, the XM5’s bass can be a little too boomy, but with a combination of using the app’s Clear Bass option, and slightly adjusting those lower midrange frequencies at 400Hz, the bass can display more clarity without losing any of its grip. And boy is this bass gripping, showcasing a focused and thick punch that makes every track feel alive.
Sometimes I don’t want every track to respond like this, but that’s what the EQ is there for, helping reduce some of that power for mellower tracks that still offer a good amount of presence. I wish there were even more options to adjust the bass within the app, as getting rid of some of the resonance in the lower midrange would make the timbre sound less muddy overall.
With the cloudiness of the low-mids still acting as a major criticism I have personally with the 1000X series, the rest of the midrange shows a lot more clarity. I think male vocals take the brunt of the recession happening here, as they never come out quite as cleanly or with enough amplitude to make them stick out in the mix. Once instruments and effects start to take over the mix, that is when the XM5 is at its most even. It is a far more balanced headphone than the previous 1000X models and better showcases a more transparent mix. Each element comes with a layer of texture that grants more emphasis to the region, making the music feel more energetic.
One of the XM5’s biggest improvements is how well it responds to treble frequencies compared to other 1000X headphones. There’s a more prevalent layer of shine that reveals itself when EQing some of the high frequencies in the app. Everything receives a more extensive pop that not only keeps the sound signature from appearing too dark, but it heightens the image for expanded immersion. You never have to worry about harshness either, no matter how much boost you give the frequencies in EQ.
I was excited to finally get a chance to listen to the WH-1000XM5, and it didn’t let me down. All of its well-renowned features are as good as ever, and its new ones are welcome additions. The XM5 makes many improvements to its usability and sound quality, as long as you’re up to using EQ to clean up some of the headphone’s muddiness. Sony continues to innovate with every major release, and I will be looking forward to seeing how they can make the 1000x experience even better.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 is available from Audio46.