Two years on from the XM4, a new model of Sony’s benchmark noise cancelling headphones arrives, and it’s not just a minor refresh.
Isolating yourself from the sound of the world is made a little easier with headphones, and if you have some technology to help you along, it can make the listening experience just that much better.
While regular headphones are great at isolating you and providing you with music to listen to, active noise cancelling headphones improve isolation by listening to the world, sampling the sound, and reversing it, in effect cutting it out and cancelling things. Noise cancellation won’t work on everything, and is primarily made for repeatable sounds — buses, trains, flight, the choir of human noise — but it’s improving, and is gradually moving to cancelling out more sounds.
Sony could well be on the way there with its latest headphones, the fifth in its 1000X range, which started back in 2016 and has been steadily improving since.
Rumours kicked in only recently that Sony would have a new pair of headphones on the way shortly, and it appears to not be all that long until Australians can see them for themselves.
An announcement to end the week, the Sony WH-1000XM5 is the latest in the range, after the WF-1000XM4 were released as an update for the in-ear variation last year.
This year, it’s all about the over-ear headphones, and sporting a new look, the fifth generation of Sony’s noise cancelling headphones bring more than a new style to the table, with a bunch of technology along for the ride.
In fact, it’s almost as if Sony has added more of everything to this generation.
A staggering eight microphones have been included in the 1000XM5, with four on each side controlled by two audio chips inside, relying on the Sony Integrated Processor V1 and the Sony HD Noise Cancelling QN1, a combination that also works with a new driver.
Each side of the headphone offers up a newly designed 30mm driver with carbon fibre in the makeup, working together with the tech not just for noise cancellation but also for sound quality.
Like previous models, there’s upscaling built-in with the Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) Extreme, and an automatic noise cancellation mode, “Auto NC Optimiser”. Think of this as a variation of adaptive noise cancellation, whereby the cancellation is tweaked based on the fit, a feature that previously had to be triggered manually.
In the 1000XM5, the auto noise cancelling optimiser adjusts the sound based on if hair is sitting inside the headphone cup, or even the frames from glasses, while also adjusting for pressure of high altitudes.
You won’t likely get the pressure changing unless you mid-flight, but it’s there if you need it, and working automatically, without manually triggering like on the original MDR-1000X or even the previous WH-1000XM4.
There’s more going on under the hood, with wearing detection using a capacitive sensor built around the headphone driver, AI-based signal processing to work with voices to separate noise to clear up what’s being heard in calls, and alongside four microphones set to work with beamforming, picking up on the sounds of your voice and improving the quality.
The style is different, clearly, with a new style built to fit your head better, and synthetic leather encasing the design, which still features a touch controller in the side of the headphones, plus some physical buttons along the bottom edge.
Sony is also working with the World Health Organisation to alert listeners when the sound is too high, using the Sony Headphones app and sound pressure data taken from inside the headphones to alert owners if the audio is too loud.
Of course, you can listen to them at whatever volume you want, but the alerts will provide a hint if your sound level is too loud, handy if you intend to keep your heading solid.
There’s also support for Sony 360 Reality Audio, and support for Bluetooth multipoint, connecting as many as two devices at once, and as much as 30 hours of battery life.
Availability isn’t too far off, either with the Sony WH-1000XM5 set to arrive in Australia in late June, priced at a recommended retail price of of $649.95. Locally, that’s a fairly high price for noise cancelling headphones, coming in at $50 higher than the $599.95 Bose NC 700, but also lower than the $899 price of the Apple AirPods Max, though you can certainly find those for lower if you look.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see the previous generation also stick around given the price difference — the WH-1000XM4 were $549 at launch, but the street price is typically much less — though we’ll know more soon.
For now, you can expect the WH-1000XM5 in stores about a month from now for $650 locally.