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Sony shoots for the wireless headphones top spot again with the WH-1000XM5

Sony shoots for the wireless headphones top spot again with the WH-1000XM5

A new design and plenty of improvements should make for an amazing headset, out in a matter of days
The best wireless headphones on the market are officially succeeded by a new, improved version that strives to retain that leading position —even in the face of strong competition from other top brands. (Image: Sony)

Despite the rise of several worthy challengers in the wireless headphones market during the last few years — Apple among them — Sony has admittedly managed to keep its enviable position in the premium segment by steadily improving its famous, wildly popular WH-1000XMx products every year. The WH-1000XM4 model of 2020 was practically flawless, so when rumors started making the rounds about its successor many reviewers — including yours truly — wondered just what Sony chose to add or change in order to make the inevitable WH-1000XM5 even better. Well, now we know at least what Sony’s claims on the matter are, as the WH-1000XM5 — after a number of leaks that mildly spoiled the fun — are now officially announced.

After only a few minor adjustments in the overall style of the last three WH-1000XM models, the design of the XM5 is significantly different: it is more angular and aggressive but exceptionally good-looking, especially in black, with a narrower headband — not foldable this time around — and larger, angled earcups that are way cushier than before. The materials used are as premium as one expects from this product series, while the new model is still remarkably light (250g) compared to other hi-end wireless headphones.

Sony’s new wireless headphones sport a different, more angular but still extremely pleasing, modern design. They do not fold anymore, a change that frequent travelers may not like. (Image: Sony)

The new WH-1000XM headphones are built around a couple of specially-designed Neodymium 30mm drivers with “a light and rigid dome that uses carbon fiber composite material to improve high-frequency sensitivity for more natural sound quality”, according to Sony. The company claims that this headset delivers better sound than any of its predecessors in terms of sound clarity and bass reproduction — regardless of the listening material’s original quality no less, thanks to its famous DSEE Extreme processing system that upscales digital music files’ fidelity in real-time. Audiophiles will be happy to know that hi-res music is properly supported through the LDAC codec, while 360 Reality Audio is also supported out of the box.

The WH-1000XMx range is famous for its noise-canceling capabilities and Sony seems to have found a way to make the XM5 even better in that regard: now two processors control eight microphones (up from one and four respectively), “dramatically reducing noise, especially in the mid-high frequency range”, while an Auto NC Optimizer function strives to tune noise cancellation automatically depending on the surrounding environment. At the same time, Sony’s Voice Pickup tech uses four beamforming microphones and an AI-based noise reduction algorithm in order to isolate the user’s voice with precision (a newly developed wind noise reduction algorithm also minimizes wind noise during calls).

Sony managed to improve upon the already excellent noise canceling of the 1000XM4 by employing two processors and double the number of microphones. (Image: Sony)

Sony has made sure that a number of smart features of the WH-1000XM5 make its owner’s life easier: Adaptive Sound Control, for instance, automatically tailors sound to suit specific situations, recognizing the listener’s most frequented locations and adjusting the ambient sound settings accordingly. The Speak-to-Chat function, on the other hand, detects when the listener engages in a quick conversation, automatically stops the music and lets in ambient sound so he/she can have it freely. Once the chat is over the music plays back on. The XM5 also pauses the music played as soon as the listener takes the headphones off. Just like its predecessors, Sony’s new wireless headset supports Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa for carrying out voice commands.

The WH-1000XM5 is easier than ever to pair with different devices too: the Fast Pair function links the headset instantly to Android devices or Windows 10/11 PCs, while traditional Bluetooth does the job with everything else. Sony’s newest supports up to two connected devices at the same time, just like before, allowing the quick switch between them at the touch of a button. In terms of battery life, Sony fans will not be disappointed: the XM5 boasts an impressive 30 hours of operation with noise-canceling activated (it’s 40 hours without it), while the USB-C port now supports the PD (power delivery) standard, making the charging of the headset for 3 hours of operation a 3-minute affair.

Sony’s top new wireless headphones are more expensive than their predecessors but they seem to be worth it, given the number of improvements they offer — if sound quality is better too, obviously. (Image: Sony)

The Sony WH-1000XM5 will be available in black and platinum silver by the end of May for €419/$399. Already a “best-in-class” contender for 2022? It sure seems so!

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