Sony’s WH-1000XM4 has been widely regarded as one of the best pairs of noise-canceling headphones for most people since launching in August 2020, and we at Ars have recommended them in various buying guides over that time. On Thursday, Sony is announcing the next iteration of those flagship wireless headphones: the WH-1000XM5. They’ll arrive on May 20 for $400, which is a $50 increase over the existing XM4.
An updated design
In general, the WH-1000XM5—which remains a mouthful of a name—aren’t a massive shift from their predecessor, and interestingly, Sony will continue to sell the prior XM4 alongside this new pair. Still, there are a few changes of note. The most immediately noticeable tweaks are in the design department: Compared to the XM4, the XM5 has a thinner headband and wider earcups that should better fit those with larger ears. The earcups use a softer synthetic leather material, and the slider used to adjust the headband’s fit now has a smoother, notchless action.
I’ve only had the XM5 on hand for about a day as of this writing, which unfortunately isn’t enough time for me to give more definitive impressions. At first blush, though, the fit feels roomier and lighter on the head, despite only weighing 4 grams less than the XM4 (at 250 g, compared to 254 g before). The XM4 were already comfortable, but the XM5 appears to distribute its weight a bit more evenly, putting less pressure on the sides of your head without letting in a ton of outside noise. They’re closer to Bose’s QuietComfort 45 in that regard, albeit not quite as spacious-feeling.
The overall design is somewhat reminiscent of Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, though the XM5 are still largely composed of a smooth and sturdy-feeling plastic, not the metallic finish of Bose’s pair. There’s still a button for quickly swapping between active noise-canceling and ambient sound modes on the side, and swiping and tapping on the sides of the earcups still allows you to take calls, adjust volume, and change tracks. The headband is also still nicely flexible. The headphones also continue to feature a headphone jack and a cable for wired listening, and you can use the headphones passively without battery power if needed (though you’ll lose noise-canceling functionality and other features in that case).
The big trade-off is that you can’t fold the XM5’s earcups up, only flat. The headphones will take up more room on your desk when you’re not using them as a result, and the included carrying case is significantly larger than that of the XM4. This may not be a dealbreaker for most, but it’s an inconvenience.