No product achieves a preference by chance. It’s earned, and when it’s earned in a sector of the consumer electronics market that is as fiercely competitive as wireless active noise-canceling over-ear headphones, it’s earned the hard way.
Sony’s WH-1000XM4 wireless active noise canceling headphones were launched in 2020 and they have been top dog ever since. Like 2018’s WH-1000XM3 was until they were replaced. However, your choice of alternatives has grown exponentially in that time, for whose imitation is truly the most sincere form of flattery, Sony has been flattered to within an inch of its life.
So the all-new WH-1000XM5 arrives with high expectations. They are supposed to be the best pound-for-pound option, just like the headphones they replace. If they actually are, then it will not be a surprise. If they are not, however, it will be a fall in Manchester United style.
At $ 399 (£ 379), the WH-1000XM5 is right at the upper end of what can be considered mainstream. There are fully credible alternatives from big hits like Bose and Sennheiser that are a lot more affordable – and therefore Sony already seems to have worked out. But it is worth noting that the WH-1000XM4 and XM3 were both launched with top-end price tags attached, and both became much more affordable in a very short time. So unless one-upmanship is a big part of your buying motivation, it may be worth hanging back a bit before committing to XM5 ownership.
However, if and when you get around to buying a pair, you will want to buy a design that has evolved more than a little compared to the outgoing XM4. Everything is relative, of course – the XM5 is still recognizably a pair of over-ear headphones. But no one is going to confuse your new Sony with a few of the old ones.
Smoothly bland Eco Design
WH-1000XM5 are available in black or ecru (which is a Farrow & Ball way of saying “lukewarm beige”), and they are characterless for anonymity. Aside from some minimal Sony branding on each hinge, the XM5s are insidious (or bland, depending on your point of view). They are made almost exclusively of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. Sony is very keen on ABS at the moment because it is a usable material in acoustic terms and it is mostly made of recycled plastic and stone, and can be recycled again when the product’s life is over.
In fact, the XM5s arrive in packaging that is guaranteed plastic-free, unbleached and unprinted and again fully recyclable. Sony, more than most rival brands, gathers proper eco-credentials.