Sony’s role in headphones digs deep into the history of both consumer audio as well as professional audio. I can’t tell you how many Sony headphones that I’ve seen on directors while making movies or commercials on set here in Hollywood. In the consumer world, who didn’t own at least one Sony Walkman product over the years? I had several that provided the soundtrack to my 1980s FM-radio and cassette tape youth for my commute on a school bus to and from my house for over an hour each way. Man, would I have killed for a pair of headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM5s back in the day.
The Sony WH-1000XM5s (buy at Amazon) is a wireless over-the-ear headphone that is at the top of the Sony product offering. They are a lifestyle-first, comfortable headphone from a company known (with Bose) for having the best noise cancelation technology on the market. Priced at $399, Sony WH-1000XM5s are priced right in the fray with headphones from Beats, Apple and Bose on the consumer side while also competing with more audiophile brands such as the new Bowers and Wilkins Px7s S2s and the Sennheiser Momentum 4 headphones. How do the Sony WH-1000XM5s compete? Let’s find out.
What Makes the Sony WH-1000XM5s Headphones Special?
- Let’s make this clear, the Sony WH-1000XM5s are known for their noise cancelation and they absolutely deliver in this top-level, over-the-ear pair of headphones. Complaining children, snoring jackasses next to you on the plane or just general background noise is gone with the push of a button thus leaving a quiet canvas for you to listen to your favorite musical artists in solitude. Sony uses a pretty sophisticated chipset that is unique to their headphones as well as up to eight microphones to sense outside noise and then crush it.
- Sony headphones can accept Hi-Res files both wirelessly and via the included wire.
- The Sony WH-1000XM5s have pretty damn good battery life even with ANC (noise cancelation) engaged. I am going out on a limb and suggest that they best Apple and Bose who suggest that their headphones get 20 hours of life. Sony suggest that the Sony WH-1000XM5s can go for 30 hours but I never really got to the end of the battery even with ANC on. Like the other mainstream headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM5s charge back up quickly which is a great trend that I am seeing in the mainstream headphones. You can head to the bathroom on a plane, do a few stretches and then come back and your headphones have hours more of battery time. They suggest that three minutes of charge gets you three hours. That’s pretty impressive.
- The audible notifications on the Sony WH-1000XM5s aren’t as slick as the comparable Apple or Bose products but they are good. Simply press the Bluetooth (aka: the on-off button) and the headphones will tell you how you are doing in battery life. At the same time, Apple users like me can click the Bluetooth icon in the upper-right of my screen (or easily found in System Preferences/Bluetooth) and you can see the percentage left – I am at 60 percent right now after hours of listening from less than a full charge.
- More and more companies are using USB-C over Micro (or Lightening) connections to charge headphones in this product category. Sony includes a USB-A to USB-C cable as part of the packaging. They also include a cable with a 1/8 inch jack in the event that you want to use the Sony WH-1000XM5s as hardwired headphones if you are so inspired. This is common among headphones in this class.
- The packaging of the Sony WH-1000XM5s is commendably green. While others in the class have glossy, gorgeous packaging with colorful photos – the Sony WH-1000XM5s is much more environmentally sensitive. If you’ve ever eaten at a Chipotle, you will notice the packaging that Sony uses is not all that different from the bowls that are used at the recycling motivated restaurant chain. Simply put – we don’t use the packaging for any of these headphones as part of the ownership process very much and making the product more environmentally responsible should be embraced.
- The case that comes with the Sony WH-1000XM5s matches the look of the recycled packaging but is far more luxurious in its texture and overall feel. It is a bit of a departure from that of the other cases included from the competition but it is nothing like Apple’s Smart Case found on the $499 AirPods Max headphones which is really out-of-the-box. This case is quite suitable and perfect for protecting your headphones when on the road.
- The Sony WH-1000XM5s take phone calls if you find utility for that as many consumers do. More and more people are wearing headphones at the office in this allegedly “post-COVID” workplace thus I can see how this can be of utility for tens of thousands of users. For me, I use the Sony WH-1000XM5s more for air travel, walking by the beach (which can be noisy thanks to Pacific Coast Highway) and in the gym.
- You can use your hand to gesture control of the track on the song that you are playing. You can mute said song by pulling your headphones off. These are some smart headphones and competitive in the class.
- Sony up-samples your digital files using AI on the Sony WH-1000XM5s.
- Google Voice and Amazon Alexa commands work through your Sony WH-1000XM5s nicely, if desired.
- Pairing the Sony WH-1000XM5s was a breeze. My only tip for you is to hold the power-Bluetooth button just a second or two longer than you think that you need to and you will be set.
- There are some surround sound type processing included in the Sony WH-1000XM5s, including some that include a Dolby Atmos experience, that simply didn’t do it for me. And that’s not a Sony thing as much as a global phenomenon in the wireless headphone space. I like me some really good sounding stereo sound. I have simple needs like that.
Why Should You Care About The Sony WH-1000XM5s Headphones?
- They are packaged in an environmentally responsible way.
- They have technology not found elsewhere for noise cancelation.
- They are light and easy to wear.
- They have a long legacy of industry-leading performance dating back 40 years plus in terms of headphones.
Some Things You Might Not Like About Sony WH-1000XM5s Headphones?
- While the ANC (noise cancelation) is on the sound of these Sony WH-1000XM5s is kinda flat and a bit lifeless. I say this when others in the product category go perhaps too far in the other direction. The Sony WH-1000XM5s are balanced sounding. They just don’t stand out with any specific characteristics that draw you in sonically as you might look for in an audiophile headphone.
- I would have liked to see a USB-C to USB-C cable included in the packaging as well at these prices.
Listening To The Sony WH-1000XM5s Headphones…
On “Know Your Enemy” from Rage Against The Machine’s self-titled record (AIFF 1440 CD resolution) (buy at Amazon) you can hear a very coherent presentation on an explosive track with lots of dynamics. With the ANC engaged, gone is the outside world and that is the draw on the Sony WH-1000XM5s headphones. The bass is low but not the most tight or taught that you will hear in the category. The vocals are clear with the highs ever-so-slightly rolled off especially with the ANC engaged. Relative to the upscaling used in the Sony WH-1000XM5s headphones even the You Tube version of the track sounded as good as the Compact Disc (ripped lossless) version.
I liked the overall sound of “When It Is Love” by Van Halen from The Best of Van Halen Vol. 1 (1440 AIFF – CD quality) (buy at Amazon on CD) in terms of overall timbre and balance. Michael Anthony’s bass comes in strong with Sammy’s vocals politely presented. The multi-layer backup vocals (Sammy and Michael over-dubbed, I assume) in the chorus sound engaging and lively. Alex’s cymbal crashes are slightly bright for my tastes but only a little bit so on the Sony WH-1000XM5s headphones. Eddie’s solo isn’t his most flamboyant but it is stands out nicely about half way through the song. I found myself reaching for a lighter with this Van-Haggar power ballad. Somebody, please explain why one might fire up a lighter to my kids, OK?
Who Is the Competition For The Sony WH-1000XM5s Wireless Headphones?
Oh boy, there are a lot of players in this product category. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Let me see how many that I can cover here.
Sennheiser Momentum 4 audiophile headphones ($379) (buy at Amazon) Physically, these headphones are about as close as you will get to the Sony WH-1000XM5s look and feel. Sonically, the Sennheiser are pretty much the best in their product category with tight-deep bass, open midrange performance that let’s vocals shine but don’t suffer from a highly sibilant high frequency performance as I heard on the Bose Noise Canceling 700s. The fit of the Sennheiser (which is good for bass) was also tight for my big head. For longer listening sessions, I liked the Sony Sony WH-1000XM5s over the Apple AirPods Max and the Sennheisers.
Bowers & Wilkins’ Px7 S2 audiophile wireless headphones ($399) (buy at Amazon) these headphones got knocked for their low end which the Sony WH-1000XM5s are able to outperform. The mids and highs are great with the Bowers & Wilkins as is the industrial design. Their battery life is really strong too. Custom colors, like a really slick dark blue, lets the Px7 S2s compete in Apple’s world even if they aren’t sold in Apple Stores anymore.
Bose Noise Canceling 700 Wireless Bluetooth Headphones ($379) (buy at Amazon) Those drawn to the Sony WH-1000XM5s will come for the noise canceling technology as the strongest calling card. That would make the Bose Noise Canceling 700 headphones the closest competitor on the market. The Bose come in the same colors and maybe are slightly better in terms of ANC but that’s debatable. Bose and Sony rule the wireless ANC market thus have the best noise cancelation in class. The Bose 700s have slightly better industrial design and are about equal in both price and comfort.
Final Thoughts On The Sony WH-1000XM5s Headphones…
The Sony WH-1000XM5s headphones (buy at Amazon) are comfortable, well pedigreed headphones that have industry leading noise cancelation. They have processing power and technology over a fancy exterior as the main part of their value proposition. If you are looking to leave the noisy world behind and drift off into a world of your own audiophile experiences – take a listen to the Sony WH-1000 XM5s. They might be just what the doctor ordered.