We’ve anticipated the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones to launch this year, and it looks like we won’t have to wait much longer: a big leak has revealed their expected looks and new features.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 have topped our list of best headphones since their launch, but they were a pretty subtle update over their predecessor – the design barely changed and they used a lot of the same features.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 looks like a more drastic upgrade, however… in fact, from what we’re seeing so far, there might not be a single thing that will carry over from the last one. model to this one.
So here are the five key updates you need to know about based on the big leak, and one area where it looks like the new headphones will actually be less useful.
1. Smarter noise cancellation
This is the big upgrade you’ve come to expect from Sony headphones, and it sounds like (ahem) what the WH-1000XM5 will deliver. The original leak said Sony would be using two dedicated active noise canceling chips here, and I would expect them to feature a design similar to the Sony V1 integrated system first used in the Sony WF-1000XM4 .
Why is the Sony V1 good? It compresses a bunch of different chips into a single package, including the wireless connectivity, signal processing, and digital-to-analog conversion needed to actually create sound from the drivers. Integrating these chips together reduces the lag that occurs when you pass information from one chip to another, which can really help improve active noise cancellation: the noise cancellation system needs to “hear” what happening around you before you can compensate for that – it’s always reactive. And the faster it can react, the less sound will escape before it kicks in.
I also expect Sony to use a different, more dynamic driver design, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
2. A cooler look
The Sony WH-1000XM4 don’t look bad by any means, but with their flowing, wraparound plastic, they don’t quite follow the more modern headphone design trend you see in Bose 700 or Apple noise canceling headphones. AirPods Max. .
The leaked new look in the images above takes a big step towards a simpler design – you now have an evenly round headband all the way through, a simple post where it connects to the headset, and a super simple design and balanced for the headphones themselves.
I think it looks great – I don’t mind the busier design of the current models at all, but it definitely looks like a next-gen model, whereas the XM4 barely changed the look of the XM3.
The only thing that disappoints me a bit is that apparently it will come in the same colors as before: black and a kind of putty-like gray shade. Nobody told Sony that we are now in the age of color technology?
3. Better sound
As you’d expect, the leak says we’ll be getting better sound from the new model, but there aren’t many details. But here’s what my money is on: it will mostly come from the more dynamic driver mentioned above.
When we talk about a more dynamic speaker, we basically mean that it can change motion faster than a less dynamic speaker. Speakers work by vibrating back and forth, moving air, and they have to keep changing the type of movement to create different sounds. Like anything that moves, they build up momentum as they move – and too much momentum makes it hard to change direction quickly – just ask anyone with an SUV.
A more dynamic driver can react more quickly to changes in the music, which helps it reveal more detail (because it can respond more easily to the need for subtle sounds) – and that delivers better sound quality. You will hear more details in the same music streams.
And the more dynamic a driver, the better it will be for active noise cancellation, as the headphones constantly monitor and adjust the sound to cancel out the noise around you. Again, a more dynamic driver responds faster, so more noise is successfully blocked.
More dynamic drivers are also better for Spatial Audio (for the exact reasons outlined above), and with Sony still pushing its 360 Reality Audio technology, it would make sense for it to use speaker technology that’s also best for this purpose. That’s why I expect a new driver to, uh, drive the improvements here.
4. Even longer battery life
The XM5 leak says we can expect 40 hours of battery life from the new model, which is a big step up from the 30 hours offered by the XM4.
Giant battery life is increasingly common among top headphones, no doubt in part due to models like Sony setting high standards. So it’s nice to see that Sony is likely to keep up.
And note that it’s 40 hours with ANC on, apparently – it’ll be even longer with it off.
5. Best Bluetooth
The XM5 will apparently include support for Bluetooth 5.2, which provides some nice improvements, but the two you’re most likely to benefit from are support for a new low-power codec, which means you can listen in standard streaming quality while using less battery. life (and I suspect that’s not counted towards the 40 hour battery life, so it may extend even more); and the ability for the headphones to connect to multiple devices at the same time.
Note that with the second, I don’t want to pair multiple devices at once. This is old news. The headphones will actually maintain a connection with your laptop and phone at the same time, so if you need to switch between them it would be instantaneous. No reconnection or annoying pause is necessary.
But… no more folding
I’ve already mentioned that I love the new look promised here, but there’s one major downside to the design change (for me, at least): they won’t bend anymore. You’ll still have a travel case, but it’s larger than the old model.
It’s by no means a dealbreaker, but I think it’s a real step backwards for a pair of headphones designed for travel to lose their ability to fold up smaller. I use this pretty whenever I go anywhere with them – especially in flight.
But I’ve talked to other headphone enthusiasts about it too, and not everyone feels the same way about the need to bend. Still, it’s a shame that’s not even an option for people like me.