Sony WH-1000XM5 review: done, absorbed

No product reached Accidental superiority.It’s earned, when it’s earned in a segment as competitive as wireless is active in the consumer electronics market Noise reduction Over-ear headphones, it’s won the hard way.

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 Wireless active noise-cancelling headphones launched in 2020, and they’ve been a standout ever since. Like 2018’s WH-1000XM3 until they were replaced. During that time, though, your options for alternatives have grown exponentially, because if imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, Sony has been flattered to the point of being one step away from its life.

Therefore, the new WH-1000XM5 has high hopes. They should be the best sterling option, just like the headphones they replace. If they are, well, it won’t be a surprise. But if they weren’t, it would be a United-style fall from grace.

At $399 (£379), the WH-1000XM5 is right at the high end of the mainstream. Big companies like Bose and Sennheiser have completely reliable alternatives that are much less expensive – so Sony seems to have done its job. But it’s worth noting that both the WH-1000XM4 and XM3 come with high-end price tags and have both become more affordable in a short period of time. So unless your buying motives matter, it might be worth a pause before committing to owning an XM5.

But if you do have time to buy a pair, you’ll be buying a design that’s a little more evolved than the outgoing XM4. Of course, everything is relative — the XM5s are still a pair of over-ear headphones. But no one will mistake your new Sony for an old pair.

Hidden and bland ecological design

Photo: Sony

The WH-1000XM5s are available in black or hazel (which is what Farrow & Ball calls a “tepid beige”), and they’re so featureless that it’s impossible to remain anonymous. Aside from some minimal Sony branding on each hinge, the XM5s are invisible (or bland, depending on your point of view). They are made almost entirely of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. Sony is very keen on ABS at the moment because it is a useful material in terms of acoustics and is mostly made from recycled plastic and stone, and can be recycled again at the end of the product’s useful life.

In fact, XM5’s packaging is guaranteed to be plastic-free, unbleached and unprinted, and fully recyclable. Sony is amassing proper ecological credentials compared to most rival brands.

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