The average consumer does not know what they are missing when it comes to audio. We live in a world that is very visually driven — Instagram, 8K TVs, you get the picture — but audio is more personal and more difficult to explain.
I’ll admit to being in that same boat, despite the ironies. I have a degree in music (alongside journalism) and spent a lot of evenings in college sitting in different concert halls, sound boxes and music venues. But back in those days, the best I could do for personal audio was just cheap, in-ear headphones, which were frankly about the same quality as you get from a free airplane headset. I only really used them when I ran in the mornings or walked between classes. I never even considered that my headphones could not only be a way for me to enjoy listening to music but would actually amplify the experience.
When the WH-1000XM5 headphones from Sony Electronics showed up at my door, I had high expectations. I knew these were more expensive (retailing at $399.99) than even my latest iteration of bone conduction headphones, and I was curious to see what all the fuss was about.
Noise Cancelling the Way You Want It
After charging the headphones and downloading the corresponding app, I was guided through Adaptive Sound Control, which learns how you use your headphones and switches headphone settings at an optimal timing for you. There are automatic switching features, which could register locations to you frequent to places (like workplace or home) to switch headphone settings when you visit that location. For example, you can listen to music while taking in ambient noise, or you can be completely immersed in what you are listening to.
The WH-1000XM5 headphones follow their predecessor, the WH-1000XM4 headphones, and build on a legacy of wireless, noise cancelling audio products. The WH-1000XM5 headphones are able to cancel out noise with two processors, which control eight microphones that dramatically reduce frequency — particularly mid-to-high frequency noise. What this boils down to is shocking (for someone who has never experienced it).
When I turned on noise cancelling, it felt like someone had put mufflers over my ears. This felt particularly strange since I already had headphones on, but the ambient noise feature allowed me to hear surrounding noise. I know noise cancelling headphones are everywhere on the market, but the quality of these surprised me. Especially as a mom with a household of boys, I found this feature particularly helpful.
Detailed, Immersive Audio
It was once I actually turned on audio that I was truly impressed. I decided to be stereotypical and play “Never Enough,” by Lorren Allred – I feel like this is in every audio and/or video demo I’ve been to — and immediately got goosebumps. Especially considering how many times I’ve heard that song, that still says something. The bass was so deep, the tone of the singer’s voice so detailed and clear and the strings so rich, it felt like I was sitting on stage at a live performance. And I was just sitting at my desk.
Sony is able to achieve this audio quality through features like a 30mm driver unit with a light and rigid dome, which uses carbon fiber composite material to improves high-frequency sensitivity. Sony’s audio coding technology, LDAC, enables the transmission of audio content, including High Resolution (Hi-Res) Audio, at the maximum bitrate of 990kbps even over a Bluetooth. In addition, DSEE Extreme, uses AI technology to reproduce with high accuracy the frequency responses of the original sound source lost during compression.
Real Life Applications
Sadly, most people can’t just walk around all day immersed in great audio. Sony offers ways to use the headphones as much as possible (with up to 30 hours of battery life) with tools like Speak-to-Chat, where users can stop to have a quick conversation and the headphones will automatically stop music and let in ambient sound. Once the headphones sense that you are done talking, the music will continue where it left off. In addition, if the headphones are taken off, the music also immediately pauses.
When a phone call comes in, users can keep using their headphones with Sony’s Voice Pickup technology, which utilizes four beamforming microphones and an AI-based noise reduction structure to isolate the user’s voice with perfect precision. Meanwhile a wind noise reduction structure minimizes wind noise, which I found particularly helpful while taking a short walk outside during the day. For smart home enthusiasts, the WH-1000XM5 headphones are compatible with Google Assistant and Alexa. Simply by prompting the voice assistant, you can get information, set reminders, play music on command and more.
Audio with a Conscious
The packaging is sleek and the headphones obviously high quality, but it wasn’t until I dived into the research that I realized that these headphones are also eco-friendly. There wasn’t any plastic in the packaging, and the product box itself is made with recycled and sustainable materials, which were developed especially for Sony. The headphones are made from recycled plastic materials from automobile parts, which helps explain their modern, sleek look.
I appreciated that these were an all-around, high-quality product, with looks of options for customization and for using different forms of audio throughout the day.
Sony’s WH-1000XM5 Headphones
Headphone Type: Wireless, Noise-Cancelling, Over-Ear Headphones
Available: Now from sony.com