If you're in the market for a cracking set of headphones and have been thinking about picking up a new pair, I recommend you take a look at our guide to the best headphones for music, where you’ll find a selection of kick-ass headphones from some of the hottest audio brands around.
Today, though, I'm going to focus on a particular set of premium headphones – the Sony WH-1000XM5. Launched in May 2022, these wireless noise-cancelling headphones are highly rated among people who’ve bought them. But are they a good fit for your needs? To help you decide, I'm going to give you the full lowdown on these over-ear headphones – from their design and features to how good they sound. I'll also put forward a couple of alternatives to help you compare them with similar products on the market.
Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Design
Some of the classiest headphones of recent times have rocked a vintage aesthetic – the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless and the Marshall Major IV to name two. Not the Sony WH-1000XM5, though. Made from ABS thermoplastic – recycled from car parts – and what the manufacturer describes as “soft-fit leather”, these Sony headphones are smooth and slender. Whether you go for the Black, Silver or Platinum Blue version, you’ll feel bang up to date.
The lack of joints and hinges was actually a deliberate ploy by the Japanese firm to create a “noiseless design” that would maximise the listening experience. On the downside, these headphones only fold flat which means they took up slightly more space in my bag when compared to the more compact Sony WH-1000XM4.
At just 250g - 4g lighter than their predecessor - these headphones didn't feel like a burden when I wore them. Indeed, with deluxe memory foam in both the headband and ear pads, swivelling ear cups and just the right amount of clamping pressure, long listening sessions with these headphones was a pleasure.
While these are wireless headphones, there’s a 3.5mm jack on the left ear cup in case you prefer cabled listening (or run out of battery). You'll find the necessary cable in the box.
Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Features
The Sony WH-1000XM5 paired with my smart device via Bluetooth 5.2, which is the iteration launched in 2020 and offers a range of around 10 metres – which is pretty standard. Battery life is very good with normal mode offering up to 40 hours of listening. Even with noise cancelling enabled, expect around the 30-hour mark. What’s more, charging the headphones for a mere 10 minutes using the USB port on the right ear cup gave me an amazing five hours’ worth of juice.
Noise cancelling is a common feature on many headphones these days, but some do it better than others. Few do it better than the Sony WH-1000XM5, though. Containing two dedicated processors – including the Integrated Processor V1 that was first deployed in the Sony WF-1000XM4 wireless ear buds - and no fewer than eight microphones, these headphones offer an exceptional level of din-suppression, making for a gloriously immersive listening experience.
But there's more, including Adaptive Sound Control, which automatically adjusts the level of noise cancelling according to your surroundings. There’s also a feature called Speak-To-Chat, whereby the headphones will enable you to hear ambient sound as soon as you start talking. This is handy, though it did tend to kick in when I started singing, so you might want to switch the feature off during those impromptu karaoke sessions.
I also liked the fact that taking the headphones off will automatically pause whatever I was listening to. And don’t worry if you forget to put them back on, as the headphones will shut down after a while to preserve that all-important battery life.
Controlling the Sony WH-1000XM5 couldn’t be easier. There are buttons on the left ear cup for powering them on/off and switching between the ANC and Ambient modes, while gently tapping the right ear cup is how to control your music playback. If even this sounds too much like hard work, you can operate everything by asking the Google or Alexa voice assistants.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 will pair with two devices at once and this meant I could flit seamlessly between my smartphone and laptop. And, via the Sony Headphones Connect app, I could even check to see if I was listening at safe volumes (as recommended by the World Health Organisation).
No matter how much you’re enjoying your listening, there are times when you’re going to have to make or take a phone call. But there's no need to remove your headphones. With four beam-forming microphones and an AI-based noise reduction algorithm built in, I could hear my friends loud and clear.
Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Sound
When it comes to the audio performance of the Sony WH-1000XM5, it's easy to see why the audio giant refers to them as offering "superlative” sound. With a new 30mm carbon-fibre driver on board, they deliver stunning clarity and a spacious presentation.
I found that bass sounded tight and detailed, while voices and acoustic instruments in the upper ranges sounded wonderfully smooth. The timing is on point, too, and no matter how much the tempo of my music chopped and changed, the Sony WH-1000XM5 remained as calm and collected as a Las Vegas croupier.
Sony WH-1000XM5 review: The alternatives
If you’re looking for some wireless noise-cancelling headphones but have a smaller budget to work with, then I recommend the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 headphones. They're at the no.1 spot in our list of the best budget wireless headphones and these well-priced over-ears offer very decent ANC as well as up to 60 hours of battery life.
If you prefer wired listening, then the Beyerdynamic Amiron Home are worth a closer look - although they don‘t come cheap. However, these open-back headphones offer exquisite sound quality that aims to recreate the concert experience in your living room. They’re super-comfy, too.
- The best budget wireless headphones
- Best headphones for music: supercharge your listening
- The best audiophile headphones: Get more from your music
- The best earbuds and in-ear headphones: From wireless to wired
- The best headphone amps: Boost the mood
- The best kid's headphones: Headphones that are great for children
- Loudest headphones: You want volume and lots of it? You got it
- Plug your lugs with the best earplugs for concerts