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Sony WH-1000XM5

Sony WH-1000XM5 review: Near-flawless headphones and a price to match

A redesign, new features and a bigger price tag. Do the WH-1000XM5 make enough changes to be worth the investment?

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Our review

The leaders in over-ear headphones do it again, offering a headphone experience that is hard to beat.
Pros: - Fantastic audio quality
- Market-leading noise cancellation
- Host of added features and adjustments
- Comfortable fit
- Long battery life
Cons: - Don’t easily fold down
- Not the cheapest headphones

If you’re into the world of audio, or even cast the occasional eye over it, you will likely be aware of the legacy of Sony’s WH series headphones. Year after year, these over-ear headphones have received glowing reviews from both critics and the general public, and now the latest version is here.


The new Sony WH-1000XM5, other than possessing a rather tedious name, seem to be a near-perfect headphone experience in every category. They sound great, they are packed with features, a long battery life, and have had a major boost in noise cancellation functionality.

But with excellence comes a cost to match. Priced at £379, the Sony WH-1000XM5 are by no means cheap and require a significant investment. With such fierce competition and a huge number of cheaper over-ear alternatives, do the Sony WH-1000XM5 deserve to become your new daily headphones? 

A complete redesign

Since Sony’s first version of these headphones all the way back in 2016, they have used a nearly identical design, making small changes each year to modernise slightly. This year, Sony instead decided to completely revolutionise their style.

The end result is a sleek and cut down pair of headphones. The headband is slim and circular, and the cups are a smooth rounded metal. This minimalist design is an approach seen by the WH-1000XM5’s biggest competitor – the Apple Airpods Max.

While the redesign gives the WH-1000XM5 a nice modern look and feel, the main benefit of this redesign is the comfort. These are seriously light headphones, and you can easily wear them for hours without really noticing them – a feat many over-ear headphones don’t manage.

Sony has also added a section of memory foam in the middle of the headband and they seem to apply just the right amount of clamping not to feel like your head is being squeezed.

There is one major downside to the new design of Sony’s headphones. Unlike previous versions, these cannot be folded up. Instead, you can only rotate the earcups to make the headphones flat. They do come with a convenient case to store them but chucking them in your bag without the case is a bit more of a challenge.

Top-tier audio

While style and looks are important, it’s what’s inside that counts. In terms of audio, the Sony WH-1000XM5 are a leading choice, offering a fantastic performance across genres.

An obvious, but still excellent test for these headphones is Bad Guy by Billy Eilish. The aggressive bass kicks in hard but still with a clarity that balances out the fuzziness of the song.

Equally, tracks like Childish Gambino’s Redbone or Blinding Lights by The Weeknd offer a pleasant pump of bass without overloading your ears.

Switch to tracks with more of a rock or metal influence and the headphones hold up.

Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love shoots fluently from the left earcup to right, demonstrating the headphone’s ability around big soundstages. Push into the grungier In Bloom from Nirvana, and the distorted instruments are crisp but still heavy.

While there is a clear proficiency with bass-heavy electronic genres and distortion-lead heavier songs, clean tracks like Amy Winehouse’s Rehab or Lorde’s Mood Ring shine without any emphasis on any particular frequency.

On top of the audio quality itself, one of the best features of these headphones is the noise-cancellation. If you choose to shut off the world, Sony’s noise-cancellation does so easily.

Thanks to the intreated processor V1 in the headphones and the use of eight exterior microphones, Sony’s noise-cancellation is still market-leading.

Whether you’re on the London Underground, in a busy part of town, or sat in the office with your co-workers desperately trying to get your attention while you write a headphone review, you won’t have to hear a thing.

Features galore

While it is by no means a deal-breaker, added features and clever tricks are always nice to have with a pair of headphones that cost this much; luckily the Sony WH-100XM5 have plenty available.

There are only two buttons on the device: one that controls Bluetooth and power, and one for noise cancellation and ambient sound. Everything else is handled via swipes and presses of the earcups.

Tap twice to pause, swipe up and down for volume, back and forth to skip or rewind and our personal favourite, ‘Quick Attention’ where you cover the right earcup with your hand to turn the volume down and activate ambient sound.

This can be used to temporarily alert yourself to your surroundings to hear a train announcement, have a quick conversation, or check to see if someone is knocking on your door.

Using this same ambient technology, you can switch on a setting in the Sony app that will adjust the volume based on your surroundings.

This utilises the exterior microphones to hear the volume around you. If your surroundings are quiet, more exterior volume will come in. If things are louder, if you are near lots of traffic or roadworks for example, the headphones will let less outside sound in.


Like the PlayStation, Godfather films and albums from ABBA, making an improved version of a beloved product is never an easy challenge. And yet, while the WH-1000XM5 only make small improvements over its predecessor, it’s in the places that matter.

If you’re looking for a new pair of headphones and aren’t too worried about how much you’re spending, there will be few that offer a better overall package than these.

They sound incredible, whether in bass-heavy tracks, soft acoustic melodies, or balanced pop anthems, and when combined with the impressive noise-cancelling, comfortable fit and long battery life, you can cut yourself off from the world for hours on end with comfort and ease.


Apple Airpods Max

© Apple

For dedicated Apple users, there will be no better headphones for you than the Apple AirPods Max. It is well worth noting that these headphones do come at a very steep price, but that gets you one of the best sounding pairs of over-ear headphones out there, fantastic noise-cancellation, and a stylish design using premium materials.

In our review of the Apple AirPods Max, we were impressed by how comfortable they were, their cinematic surround sound and their best-in-class bluetooth connection.

Sony WH-1000XM4

© Sony

If you like everything about the Sony WH-1000XM4 except for the price, your best option could be to go for the brand’s previous model. The Sony WH-1000XM4 are much cheaper than the newer model and frequently go on sale.

While the design looks slightly more dated, they do fold down into a more portable format than the WH-1000XM5.

They still sound incredible, offer excellent noise-cancellation and a wide range of features to try out.

Bose Noise-cancelling 700

© Bose

For a cheaper, but still great alternative, you can’t go wrong with the Bose 700. Like the WH-1000XM5, these Bose headphones feature a minimalist design, fantastic audio and noise cancellation, and features that make these a great option for making phone calls.

While they are a fair bit older than some of its competitors, they still hold up well.

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