The task was not the easiest and yet Sony has managed to offer a worthy successor to the WH-1000XM4. After a few weeks with it, here is our test of the Sony WH-1000XM5.
Are you still introduced to Sony in the world of nomadic audio? No, we can now do without it, the Japanese manufacturer has managed to impose itself by simply offering the best headphones with active noise reduction on the market. Yes, sony stole the show from Bose and Sennheiser and even Apple failed to dethrone Sony in this segment with its excellent WH-1000XM3 and WH-1000XM4.
It’s been two years since the WH-1000XM4 came out and it’s clear that since then, no competitor has managed to do better than Sony’s headphones. Also, the only one able to offer an alternative is none other than Sony itself. Also, the Japanese manufacturer is taking advantage of this spring 2022 to announce its brand new headphones with active noise reduction, the Sony WH-1000XM5 or Mark 5 for the close friends.
We spent about ten days with it and here is our opinion on the Sony WH-1000XM5. It will be available from the end of May 2022 at the official price of 420 euros.
A new design
Before this year, the WH-1000X shared the same base and, in absolute terms, all offered a fairly similar design. Suddenly, if we weren’t careful, all the WHs looked the same, with certainly some subtleties at each iteration, but with in the end very little evolution over the years. Afterwards, some have always preferred this classic and basic side to the design. Once again, tastes and colors are not discussed.
The brand new design of the WH-1000XM5 marks a real change. The design has been refined in order to be thinner and more homogeneous, which gives a sober and elegant design, even minimalist according to some. The finish has been revised upwards with a so-called felted texture. The pads offer a softer leather for more comfort and finally, the sliding headband has been revised to be quieter. The pads completely encompass the ears without any adjustment. If some had noticed some creaks because of the plastic on the WH-1000XM4 and its folding system, there are no longer these little problems on the WH-1000XM5. And again, we’re impressed by the weight of the headset, it’s so light (235g), especially when compared to Apple’s AirPods Max.
Like its predecessors, Sony has chosen to mix physical controls and sensitive controls. There is thus a tactile surface on the right atrium. With the latter, the use is very intuitive, you can then control the volume, the tracks, the answer to telephone calls and above all, you have the possibility of being able to interact with the outside world by placing your hand on the entire surface, this is the famous Quick Attention function. Practice. And as on the WH-1000XM4, the WH-1000XM5 is able to recognize the voice of the user and thus automatically mute the music while activating the Ambience mode to communicate with the outside world. Voice sensitivity is adjustable in the iOS/Android app and in our tests, it works pretty well, too much. Suddenly, impossible to push the song under penalty of cutting his music. And speaking of music, once cut, it will have to be restarted manually. Everything is therefore a matter of taste and for our part, we prefer to put our hands on the headset to communicate with the outside world.
On the left ear cup is the power and pairing button and the NC/AMB button which allows the user to turn noise canceling on or off, or turn on Ambient mode to hear the outside world . Note that it is customizable in the iOS / Android application. Added to this is a sensor inside the left atrium that detects whether or not the helmet is worn. New this year is that this detection sensor is completely invisible to the user. The left ear cup also offers a jack socket for wired use. On the side of the right ear cup is a USB-C port for charging. It should be noted that 3 minutes of recharging allows an autonomy of 3 hours. Practice !
But that’s not all since Sony offers an entire packaging based on recycled paper and this, without any plastic. The carrying case has also been revised to be now in fabric and with a design that allows it to be easily flattened when empty. As a result, the most discerning will have noticed that the WH-1000XM5 no longer folds like its predecessor. On the other hand, it is flatter, which makes it easier to store in a bag.
With a USB-C port for charging, the Sony headphones provide 30 hours of battery life with active noise reduction and up to 40 hours without. Without making any scientific measurements, in about ten days, we only recharged it once, which is to say the excellent autonomy of this new WH-1000XM5. On a daily basis, such autonomy provides unparalleled comfort of use.
The jack is of the 3.5mm type and not 2.5mm as is the case with some competitors. And unsurprisingly for headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM5 can pair with two devices at the same time. On the other hand, with the multi-device function, the LDAC technology will be deactivated. The WH-1000XM5 supports LDAC, AAC and SBC codecs. There is also Bluetooth and NFC. And as on the WH-1000XM4, we no longer find Qualcomm’s AptX. Two years ago, we thought that this was going to impact our uses but in reality, apart from the announcement itself, we did not miss this deletion more than that. Ditto on the WH-1000XM5.
And if we find the same QN1 processor as on its predecessors, the WH-1000XM5 has an additional V1 processor for even better sound analysis and active noise reduction in order to offer the best possible performance. Note the support for the Fast Pair function which allows you to launch the connection prompt on your smartphone when the headset is nearby for the first pairing. Always practical.
The WH-1000XM5 offers brand new 30mm diaphragms (compared to 40mm for its predecessors). And finally, we find the DSEE Extreme technology which uses artificial intelligence to better “upscale” the compressed sounds. The Sony WH-1000XM5 obviously supports HiRes Audio and HiRes Wireless Audio, as does 360 Audio.
Active Reduction and Efficiency
We start with the active noise reduction and we will be honest. To date, Sony already offered one of the best if not the best active noise reduction in consumer headphones with the WH-1000XM4. So, before this test, it was hard to imagine how Sony was going to do even better with the WH-1000XM5. On paper, we find everything that characterized the WH-1000XM4 such as the QN1 processor, the use of artificial intelligence to adapt to uses and the environment in real time. But Sony goes further with now 8 microphones and a wind noise protection structure on the hardware side. That’s not all since Sony has also worked on the software side for better automatic optimization of noise reduction. Added to this is a new V1 processor which is also dedicated to noise reduction and which will work in concert with the QN1 processor for active noise reduction that is both efficient and qualitative.
But in reality, how does it work with the WH-1000XM5? Well it’s going very well. We’re not going to lie to you, the active noise reduction is great. We were able to test it on the street, on a bike (yes, it’s bad, but it was over a short distance and to test the wind resistance), in the metro and even on a train. Now, that of the WH-1000XM4 was already at the top so we didn’t necessarily see any real differences on a daily basis. It’s quite subjective and from a user point of view, we will note a little more on the treble but it remains very personal. We will still note a few lags compared to the automatic adaptation of the environment but it is really to nitpick.
In any case, it goes without saying that the WH-1000XM5 is formidable when it comes to noise reduction. Now, its two predecessors were just as good and we will not necessarily measure any significant differences, at least over such a short test period (10 days). We will have to continue to test the product in different conditions to get a real idea. Once the music starts, we’re in our bubble and that’s the main thing! With in addition a featherweight of only 235g, we even tend to forget it and only the current heat reminds us that it is still better headphones.
And if not, how is the sound?
We finish on the audio quality, and from the first notes, we get a “wow effect” in the ears. Without even touching the equalizers, the sound is rich and detailed. We threw ourselves into our favorite music and whatever the style, we were captivated by the quality of the WH-1000XM5. It must be said that the WH-1000XM3 and WH-1000XM4 were already excellent in this area and there is no reason to see Sony offer less. During the announcement, we were afraid that the new 30mm diaphragms might offer less well compared to the old 40mm ones, but from the first titles, we were reassured.
As usual with Sony, there are fairly insistent mids and lows. It’s that Sony signature which is for those who like a warmer sound. In our tests, we tried out tracks by Marcus Miller and Joe Hisaishi and whether it was jazz or classical, we were carried away by the music and above all, in this specific case, we could clearly distinguish all the instruments. Needless to say that with Pop or Rap, the bass was always present but not so tiring.
And finally, we did not forget to test telephone conversations. Sony is thus based on four beam microphones (compared to two on the WH-1000XM4) and Precise Voice Pickup technology to precisely isolate the voice. And if we also add a microphone structure to be protected from the wind, we had an excellent experience with our interlocutors. Whether for our correspondent or for the user, the experience is more than conclusive, without parasitic noise, without robot voices.