Sony WH-1000XM5 review

It’s not something I’m doing casually when I say a product is “the best” of everything. Because everyone has unique tastes and requirements, I always strive to tailor my recommendations to the person receiving them. On the other hand, when someone asks, “Which noise canceling headphones should I buy?” My answer to this question is “the Sonys” almost every time.

Okay, one of the newer models from Bose can also be hailed from time to time, and in general I find the sound of Bose headphones to be more balanced right out of the box. Plus, there are other fantastic choices available for people working on a budget. However, Sony has been at the forefront of noise-canceling headphone innovation for the past few years, and the all-new WH-1000XM5 headphones, which retail for $400, are no exception to this trend.

Multiple leaks have revealed that the WH-1000XM5 sports a more streamlined and modern appearance. While the beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, I find the WH-1000XM5 earphones simply look more sophisticated than their predecessors. This is especially true considering that Sony has only made minor design tweaks to the MDR-1000X headphones since their introduction in 2016. That look was starting to look a bit dated and the headphones had never really been all what fashion to start with.

In addition, the new layout is more comfortable. The headband padding now extends across the entire top of the helmet, and the material that makes up the pads seems to be denser and a bit more substantial. Those with larger ears may also appreciate the extra space provided in the cups.

All this contributes to a design that is not only more aesthetic, but also more comfortable and robust to the touch. The only major downside to the new, bigger design is that it’s just taller.

The headphones no longer have secondary hinges, so to store them, the Sonys have to be folded flat (instead of compressing into a smaller size). Consequently, the new carrying case is also larger, taking up more room in your handbag as a result of this change.

However, making a travel-friendly helmet larger, rather than smaller, seems odd. Another odd decision for travel: no adapter for those weird dual 3.5mm jacks only used on airplanes. The $400 price tag might be problematic for frequent travelers (you can get one for around five bucks, though). The 1000XM5 has undergone iterative and substantial advancements. 1000XM5 noise cancellation is better than 1000XM4. There’s a small improvement in suppressing high-frequency noises like speech (vs. low-frequency sounds like the hum of the air conditioner).

Sony believes AI, additional microphones and more powerful processors will improve performance. Either way, you get some of the best noise canceling performance available. Headphones that sound better than before. The 1000XM4’s bass and treble were too “V-shaped” for my liking. My ears and headphone measurement setup prefer the 1000XM5. Still too much bass, but otherwise neutral. Picky audiophiles don’t have to worry about an explosive low end thanks to Sony’s Headphone Connect software.

Having huge hair like me can cause distortion artifacts. The 1000XM5s use their microphones to limit bass output in low tightness, which affects many eyeglass wearers. This is useful because you don’t lose low end due to poor fit. This can cause noticeable distortion when playing loud music with other noise canceling headphones.

Poor sealing forces the speaker to work harder to produce more powerful bass. Sony can improve bass output and distortion for people with thick hair, or make thicker earpads for a universal fit. Reducing the amount of bass in the Sony app helps reduce distortion.

Aside from sound quality, my favorite upgrade is proper Google Assistant (and Alexa) keyword detection. Previous Sony models included the Google Assistant connection, but required holding down a button while speaking. It was clunky, so I rarely used it.

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