No product succeeds a preeminent position by accident. You win, and when you win in a sector of the consumer electronics market as competitive as active wireless headphones with noise cancellation, you win in the hardest way.
Sony’s WH-1000XM4 wireless active noise canceling headphones were launched in 2020 and have been the best ever since. Like the 2018 WH-1000XM3 until they were replaced. Your choice of alternatives has grown exponentially in this time, however, because if imitation is really the most sincere form of flattery, Sony has been flattered to an inch of its life.
Thus, the new WH-1000XM5 arrives with high expectations. They are supposed to be the best free-to-pound option, as are the headphones they replace. If they really are, well, it won’t be a surprise. If they are not, however, it will be a disgrace in the style of Manchester United.
At $ 399 (£ 379), the WH-1000XM5 is just at the far end of what could be considered the mainstream. There are totally credible alternatives from big beaters like Bose and Sennheiser that are much more affordable, which is why it looks like Sony already has the job. But it is worth noting that the WH-1000XM4 and XM3 were launched with high-end price tags attached, and both became much more affordable in a fairly short time. So unless the unique improvement is an important part of your buying motivation, it may be worthwhile to step back a bit before committing to owning XM5.
However, when you have just bought a pair, you will buy a design that has evolved more than a bit on the outgoing XM4. Everything is relative, of course: the XM5s are still recognizable a pair of earphones. But no one will confuse your new Sony with a couple of old ones.
Ecological design in a stealthy way
The WH-1000XM5s are available in black or raw (which is a Farrow & Ball way of saying “warm beige”), and have no features to the point of anonymity. Aside from a minimal Sony mark on each hinge, the XM5s are stealthy (or bland, depending on your point of view). They are made almost entirely of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene. Sony is very interested in ABS at the moment, because it is a useful material in terms of acoustics and is made mainly of recycled plastic and stone, and can be recycled again at the end of the life of the product.
In fact, the XM5 comes in guaranteed packaging without plastic, without bleaching and without printing and, again, fully recyclable. Sony, more than most rival brands, is accumulating the right eco-credentials.