Sony WH-1000XM5 review: The best noise-cancelling headphones are back.
Sony has been brave. The reviews of these headphones that this brand has placed on the market so far have managed to stand out from a good part of its competitors due to the quality of its active noise cancellation technology, its autonomy, and its very well resolved ergonomics. Their sound is also convincing, although, in our opinion, they don’t shine as brightly in this area as they do in the three places I just mentioned.
When a consumer electronics manufacturer comes up with a winning formula, it is often difficult for them to introduce new ingredients with the potential to increase their risk margin. Even so, Sony has decided to assume in this fifth revision of its WH-1000 some changes that allow these headphones to stand out from their predecessors, although, yes, keeping the pedigree of this model intact. At least on paper.
Here’s a statement of intent before we go any further: we’ve planned this review to find out not only if this brand has taken the right course by making relatively substantial changes to these headphones, but We have also set out to identify if they represent an attractive option for users who already have any of the previous revisions of the WH-1000. And we anticipate that our conclusions will bring us some surprises.
Sony WH-1000XM5: technical specifications
The architecture of these headphones is the same as that proposed by the four reviews that have preceded them: their coupling system is circumaural (this strategy allows them to surround our ear), they use a closed enclosure, and their speaker is electrodynamic.
The choice of the circumaural coupling and the closed enclosure responds to the need to take as a starting point a high level of mechanical isolation from ambient noise that will be added to the active cancellation that we will investigate later.
Its frequency response extends between 4 Hz and 40 kHz. This range guarantees the ability with which the electrodynamic transducer can restore the low end and the highest frequencies of the audible spectrum.
On the other hand, in its specifications, Sony promises us that its frequency response when we connect them to the sound source using the cable extends between 4 Hz and 40 kHz.
This range guarantees the ability with which the electrodynamic transducer is capable of restoring the low end and the highest frequencies of the audible spectrum, which in the best of cases extends between 20 Hz and 20 kHz (with age, we all inevitably lose something of hearing, especially when picking up the highest frequencies of the audible spectrum).
Sony has taken a risk with the design of these headphones. and he was right
This brand has opted for a conservative strategy since it launched the first revision of these headphones, so its design has hardly changed since the arrival of the original WH-1000. However, this fifth version introduces several changes that have a noticeable impact on its ergonomics, as we are about to discover.
From the diamond to silk, passing through nylon: the exotic materials that already build the loudspeakers of the future
From the diamond to silk, it passes through nylon: the exotic materials that already build the loudspeakers of the future.
These are the softest and best-resolved pads at this price level.
The pads are made of a synthetic material that emulates skin’s finish and has an incredibly soft touch. It is a real delicacy. In addition, they manage to distribute the pressure on our skull very evenly. These are the best-resolved pads I have come across at this price level.
But this is not all. As I mentioned a few paragraphs above, the superb execution of the circumaural coupling of these headphones (in this area, the quality of the pads plays a fundamental role) and the choice of a closed enclosure go hand in hand to offer us a level of mechanical isolation of the loud ambient noise without the need to resort to active noise cancellation.
If you know any of the previous versions of these headphones, you will realize that the headband of this XM5 is noticeably more stylized when you look at the following detailed photograph.
However, although the surface in contact with our skull is now a little smaller, the material responsible for distributing the pressure is very soft. It resolves this interface effectively, allowing these headphones to be more comfortable than their predecessors.
Its 250 g works in its favour from an ergonomic point of view, so it is possible to use it for long sessions with hardly any mechanical fatigue.
In addition, they are very light (they weigh 250 g). Sony has managed to ‘scratch’ 4 g if we take the WH-1000XM4 as a reference, a hardly noticeable figure in practice, but which keeps these headphones among the lightest in their category.
And there is no doubt that this moderate weight plays in its favour from the point of view of ergonomics. In fact, during my tests, I have used them on several occasions and without interruption in sessions of between 4 and 5 hours, and they are so comfortable that you almost forget that you are wearing them.
Sony assures that its engineers have introduced several innovations in the transducers of these headphones that seek to increase their sound quality, so to put them to the test, I put them face to face with some WH-1000XM4. The two improvements that seem most interesting to me are the introduction of the carbon fibre composite diaphragm and the fine-tuning of a new D/A conversion circuit and audio signal amplification management that, according to Sony, increases the signal/noise ratio.
The XM5 have a slightly higher level of detail than the XM4 and resolves transients better
These types of improvements are sometimes not noticeable in blind listening, but if we stick to the headphones we are reviewing and compare them with their predecessors, the increase in sound quality is perceived. The XM5’s level of detail is slightly higher than the XM4’s, especially when both are reproducing the high end of the audible frequency spectrum (Hugh Masekela’s ‘Stimela’ cut is perfect for analyzing this quality).
In addition, the XM5 have a slightly higher dynamic capacity than the XM4 (to check this, I equalized the sound pressure level of the two headphones using my Velleman DVM805 sound level meter). And they also better resolve transients (intense and short-lived sounds that many audio components cannot reproduce correctly, such as castanets). Finally, when it comes to the reproduction of vocals and the low end, I did not identify a tangible difference between the XM5 and the XM4.
Do the new WH-1000XM5s sound better than their predecessors? Yes, without a doubt, its sound quality is higher. But yes, it is not a huge difference. In my opinion, they play in the league of the Philips Fidelio L3, which are fabulous headphones, and in some respects, they rival the Apple AirPods Max, which are much more expensive. And this leaves them in a perfect place. But, in my opinion, they need a little push for their sound quality to shine and the sections we are about to investigate.
The noise cancellation that previous reviews of these headphones have offered us has stood out for its quality, so these XM5 have a very comfortable starting point in their favour. The efficiency with which they attenuate the sound pressure level of homogeneous and persistent noise sources is similar to that proposed by the XM4. Still, they stand out from their predecessors when under unfavourable circumstances.
A good part of the headphones equipped with active noise cancellation solves the attenuation of homogeneous sounds well. Still, they fail when the noise source experiences constant variations in intensity and cadence. These WH-1000XM5s don’t.
The mitigation they offer us in these circumstances is not as convincing as the one they give us when we make it easy for them. Still, in this area, they beat both their predecessors and the competitors that I have had the opportunity to analyze: the Apple AirPods Max or Philips Fidelio L3.