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Sony WH-1000XM5 vs Sony WH-1000XM4

We pit these two stellar headsets against each other to see which is worth it.
By
May 16, 2022
Top-down view of Sony WH-1000XM5 beside the Sony WH-1000XM4 blended into one image with versus text overlaid.

With the release of the Sony WH-1000XM5, it may seem the Sony WH-1000XM4 has lost its luster but that’s not necessarily the case. While the WH-1000XM5 active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones are newer, the WH-1000XM4 still stands among the best headphones available. Whether you need a headset for conference calls or for your daily commute, both Sony headphones perform valiantly. We’ve tested each headset in and out of the lab to give you a clear picture of which one is right for you.

What’s it like to use the Sony WH-1000XM5 compared to the Sony WH-1000XM4?

The Sony WH-1000XM5 features a modern design that trades in the notched headband track on the WH-1000XM4 for a friction rod adjustment system. With this new headband mechanism, Sony forgoes the yokes on the older model in favor of a trimmed down, cleaner look. This update offers a more custom fit but it also limits the mobility of the WH-1000XM5: you can only rotate the headphones to lay flat but can’t ball them up, meanwhile, the XM4 can do both.

Top-down view of Sony WH-1000XM5 beside the Sony WH-1000XM4 on a metal surface
The Sony WH-1000XM5 (left) diverges from the WH-1000XM4 (right) with its new headband adjustment system and cleaner design.

If you’re reading this and have larger ears, we recommend the WH-1000XM5 for the sake of comfort. Both headsets boast plush memory foam padding wrapped with soft-touch leatherette, but the padding is wider on the WH-1000XM5. No matter which Sony headphones you go with, you can replace the ear pads to extend the life of the headset.

Sony’s headphones are packed with hardware and it carries over the WH-1000XM4 proximity sensor to the fifth-generation model. With this, media immediately pauses when you remove either headset and only resumes when you don the headphones again. Sony sheathes this behind the ear cup mesh on the fifth-gen model, but it’s in plain view on the older headset. If sweat or condensation accumulates on the WH-1000XM4 sensor, this may not work flawlessly. At that point, it’s good to air out and clean your headphones. Not only will this get the sensor to work consistently again but the XM4 lacks any kind of water resistance (along with the XM5). It’s best to avoid moisture where you can.

With either headset, you get a detachable 3.5mm jack cable for wired listening, a hardshell carrying case, and a USB-C charging cable. The case for the XM4 over-ears is more oblong than the XM5, because of the flexibility on the WH-1000XM5.


How do you control the Sony WH-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM5?

Close-up of the proximity sensor on the inside of the left earcup of the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones.
Both headsets have a sensor that will automatically play or resume music as you put the headphones on or remove them.

For the most part, the WH-1000XM5 and WH-1000XM4 have the same controls, and the touch panel gestures are identical, including the ability to cup your hand over the right ear cup for ambient mode. This listening mode allows ambient noise to come through the headset for as long as you keep your hand over the ear cup, which is a convenient way to hear your surroundings at a moment’s notice.

The XM5 relabels the “Custom” button of the WH-1000XM4 as “ANC/AMB.” The function remains the same on either button, and it’s how you cycle through ANC on, ANC off, or Ambient sound mode.

ActionFunction
Swipe up
Volume up
Swipe down
Volume down
Swipe forward
Track forward
Swipe back
Track back
Hold (center)
Voice assistant
Double tap center
Pause / resume
Cup hand
Ambient sound passthrough

How are the features different on the Sony WH-1000XM5 compared to the WH-1000XM4?

Right ear cup of the Sony WH-1000XM5 placed flat on table
The Sony WH-1000XM5 features ear cups designed with minimal seams and sharp edges.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 offers the same features as the XM4, including Ambient sound controls, 360 Reality Audio and ANC optimization, speak-to-chat functionality, a custom EQ and EQ presets, and more. What makes the Headphones Connect app (iOS/Android) unique is that it gives you the option to prioritize sound quality or connection stability. If you choose to prioritize sound quality it will default to the highest quality codec available depending on your operating system, and if you choose connection stability, the app may force SBC instead.

You can also switch automatic ear detection on and off within the app for both headsets. When you turn it on, your music will automatically pause when you remove the headset and resume when you put it on. This is a nifty feature, but it can shorten the battery life, much like DSEE Extreme which upscales compressed music files.

The Sony Headphones Connect headphone app on a smartphone with a hand reaching out to the terms of use warning.
Remember, you must accept the end user license agreement to access the Headphones Connect app.

Beyond the Sony app, you can use Google’s Find My Device feature to locate either set of headphones. You’ll need to download that app and link your headphones with the account but after that, you can tell Google to play a tone to help you locate the headphones within your apartment or check their last-known location on an in-app map.

Both Sony headsets support Bluetooth multipoint and to enable it, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Sony Headphones Connect app and connect your headset.
  2. Select the System tab in the app.
  3. The first option reads, “Connect to 2 devices simultaneously.” Enable this toggle.
  4. You cannot use LDAC with Bluetooth multipoint enabled.
  5. The headset will need to disconnect from your mobile device and then reconnect.
  6. After that, you can then simultaneously connect the headset to a pre-paired secondary device like a laptop.

What Bluetooth codecs does the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Sony WH-1000XM5 support?

The Sony WH-1000XM3 and Sony WH-1000XM4 lay folded up on a wooden bench.
The WH-1000xM3 (top) and WH-1000XM4 (bottom) can both ball up, unlike the WH-1000XM5.

Each Sony headset supports the SBC, AAC, and LDAC Bluetooth codecs for high-quality wireless audio to iPhones and Android devices alike. Sony retains the headphone jack on its latest wireless headphones, so you can use a 3.5mm TRS plug on either device for analog playback too. The two differ in Bluetooth versions, with the WH-1000XM4 supporting Bluetooth 5.0 and the XM5 receiving the more modern Bluetooth 5.2 version.

Any headset that uses Bluetooth 5.2 will be compatible with LE Audio and the LC3 codec once it’s ubiquitous. LC3 data transfer rates range from 345kbps right down to 160kbps. While this appears less impressive than SBC transfer rates (240-345kbps), listeners posit that LC3 audio sounds better than SBC even at its lower transfer rates. This makes LC3 a great, compact Bluetooth codec. You can read all about the benefits of LE Audio and the LC3 codec here.


How do you pair these Sony headphones?

When it comes to pairing, you can get started in the Sony Headphones Connect app and follow the prompts there for either headset. Both headsets support Google Fast Pair along with Swift Pair for Windows 10 and up. Alternatively, you can go the old-fashioned route and hold the power on button for a few seconds and wait for either headset to enter pairing mode. (You must do this from a powered-off state.) If you want NFC one-touch pairing, you’ll need to invest in the older WH-1000XM4, since Sony dropped this feature from its fifth-generation flagship.

Does the Sony WH-1000XM5 have better battery life than the Sony WH-1000XM4?

USB-C charging port of the Sony WH-1000XM5
Like the previous generation, the Sony WH-1000XM5 charges via USB-C.

According to our standard testing method, the Sony WH-1000XM4 lasts 19 hours, 59 minutes with ANC on and this falls short of the 30-hour specification. The Sony WH-1000XM5 outdoes this at 31 hours, 53 minutes with ANC on. Both headsets support fast charging with it being more efficient on the newer model. Three minutes of charging the WH-1000XM5 provides 180 minutes of playtime, compared to five minutes of charge yielding 180 minutes of playback. It’s a minor improvement but still an impressive one.

Is noise cancelling better on the Sony WH-1000XM4 or WH-1000XM5?

A chart compares the ANC performance of the Sony WH-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM5 Bluetooth headphones, revealing the XM5 to be the better pick in this regard.
Although the WH-1000XM4 has good ANC performance, the WH-1000XM5 generally outshines it especially when it comes to blocking out sounds above 1kHz.

Sony outdoes itself again with the WH-1000XM5, improving on the already excellent ANC of its fourth-generation headset. If you really want to melt away sub-bass frequencies like a plane engine or subway car’s rumble, it will be easy to justify springing for the XM5 over-ear headphones. The Sony WH-1000XM4 does a very good job with frequencies from 20-100Hz, but the WH-1000XM5 just takes the cake, topping out at 30dB of attenuation at 75Hz.

Isolation is even better this time around on the XM5 thanks to the redesigned ear pads and headband. Frequencies above 1kHz are plainly blocked out by the headset’s ability to create a cogent, physical barrier between your ears and your surroundings. Even if you turn ANC off on the fifth-generation WH-1000X headphones, incidental sounds like nearby chatter and clanging dishware will sound anywhere from one-eighth to one-thirty-second their original perceived loudness. This is bonkers. On its own, the WH-1000XM4 does a great job here too, but it just goes to show just how well the newer headphones perform.

Even though the WH-1000XM5 does an objectively better job with attenuation across the board, the WH-1000XM5 and WH-1000XM4 both stand as great choices when it comes to noise cancelling headphones.

Does the Sony WH-1000XM5 sound better than the WH-1000XM4?

The Sony WH-1000XM4 has far more emphasized highs than the WH-1000XM5
With more emphasized highs, the Sony WH-1000XM4 (yellow dash) sounds less pleasant than the WH-1000XM5 (pink).

Cutting to the chase, the WH-1000XM5 sounds more pleasing than the WH-1000XM4 and requires less work in the Headphones Connect app EQ module. Both headsets amplify bass notes relative to the mids, and this can make it hard to hear string instruments and woodwinds during particularly busy choruses. (See: An Evening with Silk Sonic, by Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars.)

While neither pair of headphones will knock an audiophile’s socks off, these frequency responses are similar to that of other consumer headsets, with the exception of the 2-10kHz boost on the WH-1000XM4. This treble response is much louder than our target consumer curve suggests and makes poorly mixed songs sound that much worse. The newer WH-1000XM5 has a marked rolloff beyond 10kHz, and addresses the overemphasis heard in the previous generation, meaning less EQ tweaking for many listeners.

Is the Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone better than the Sony WH-1000XM4?

The Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone quality is the best of the entire WH-1000X line, and in terms of noise and wind cancellation, outperforms pretty much any other headset on the market. Listen and compare the demos below. Help other readers and vote on what you think sounds best!

Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone demo (Ideal):

Sony WH-1000XM4 microphone demo (Ideal):

As you can hear below, the XM5 handily outperforms the XM4 when it comes to sub-optimal conditions like a windy day.

Sony WH-1000XM5 microphone demo (Wind):

Sony WH-1000XM4 microphone demo (Wind):

Which microphone sounds better?

3016 votes

Should you get the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Sony WH-1000XM5?

Top-down view of the Sony WH-1000XM5 folded flat on a dark grey table
The WH-1000XM5 has some of the best overall attenuation around in tandem with a stellar microphone system.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 is unquestionably the better buy for listeners who want the best active noise cancelling. It also has a more pleasing default frequency response that’s easier to equalize than the treble-heavy WH-1000XM4. What’s more, if you often take hands-free calls or rely on your headphones to speak during conference calls, it really doesn’t get much better than the Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones.

Product shot of the Sony WH-1000XM5 in black on a white background.
Sony WH-1000XM5
All prices listed in USD unless otherwise specified. Prices may change over time, and vary by region. Unfortunately, we cannot list Amazon prices on the site, as they vary greatly by currency.

With that said, you can expect the Sony WH-1000XM4 to go on sale soon enough. If we see the WH-1000XM4 drop to $249 or even $279 USD, it will be an absolute steal. The ANC is still nearly best-in-class and the fit is still very good for those with average-sized ears. We highly recommend either headset to listeners who want to toggle the sound directly from the app, or have the option to enable Bluetooth multipoint. If you need a workhorse headset, either of Sony’s headphones will be a trusty steed, but the WH-1000XM5 is objectively the better performer.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 noise cancelling headphones in black against a white background.
Sony WH-1000XM4
All prices listed in USD unless otherwise specified. Prices may change over time, and vary by region. Unfortunately, we cannot list Amazon prices on the site, as they vary greatly by currency.
A photo of the back of the Bose QuietComfort 45's ear cups, along with the control cluster.
The QC 45 features button controls and no touch panel.

The Bose QuietComfort 45 is another great active noise cancelling headset with an in-app EQ and support for wired/wireless playback. If you have an Android phone, we recommend the Sony WH-1000XM5 over the Bose QC 45 because Bose’s headphones lack aptX support, offering just SBC and AAC Bluetooth codec options.

Like the Sony WH-1000XM4, the Bose QC 45 boosts treble notes much more than our house curve recommends, and you’ll run into the same issue with poorly mixed tracks. Bass and midrange notes, however, sound more palatable through the QC 45, which could make it easier to equalize since you really only need to focus on the treble response.

Battery life is better on the Bose QC 45 than the Sony WH-1000XM4, and it lasts 24 hours, 49 minutes before you need to recharge it via USB-C. This also outperforms Sony’s official 24-hour battery rating for the XM5 headphones. If you’re on a tighter budget, the $329 USD QuietComfort 45 is a more affordable purchase that still features excellent ANC and a very comfortable design.

We encourage you to read our complete Sony WH-1000XM5 vs Bose QuietComfort 45 article to learn more.


What should you get instead of the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Sony WH-1000XM5?

If you’ve gotten this far and decided that neither headset is for you, there are a plethora of great ANC headphones at your disposal. If you want something of a similar caliber as the WH-1000XM5, check out the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. This also has some of the best ANC performance around with excellent touch controls and an in-app EQ. Bose is known for improving noise cancelling performance with updates, which is what keeps the QC 35 II relevant, and this makes it a promising contender in the long run.

The Apple AirPods Max in white on a coffee table next to a newspaper.
The AirPods Max is built well and connects nicely to any iOS device.

Anyone considering the Sony WH-1000XM5 may also have the Apple AirPods Max on their mind (they compare well). Once you get into this price point, the AirPods Max doesn’t seem that absurd. If you have an iPhone, it’s actually quite a good buy with all of the conveniences that come with Apple’s H1 chip. Plus, Apple’s headphones have even better low-frequency attenuation than the WH-1000XM5, making the AirPods Max the best option for long-haul flights. Isolation isn’t as good on the AirPods Max as it is with Sony’s headphones though. Read our AirPods Max vs Sony WH-1000XM5 breakdown to learn more.

What if you want to spend less?

Maybe you don’t want like the ultra-modern look and the cost that comes with it. Fair enough! For those who want to stay within a reasonable budget, we recommend the Sennheiser PXC 550-II and the Monoprice BT-600ANC.

The Sennheiser PXC 550-II worn by a woman reading on a porch.
The PXC 550-II is long in the tooth but stands as a great headset for daily use.

Sennheiser’s headset has a very versatile frequency response that’s easy to equalize from the app, or your preferred EQ app. Since it’s a few years old and has some outdated hardware (microUSB charging), you can often find it for $200 USD or less. Monoprice’s noise cancelling headset offers the best ANC for less than $100 USD, and even surpasses headsets double or triple its price. The default sound is very bassy and the design is uninspiring but you’re getting very good ANC at a steal.

Frequently asked questions about the Sony WH-1000XM4 and WH-1000XM5

A great pair of noise cancelling headphones will nullify loud, disruptive sounds around you. Not only does this make it easier to concentrate in loud environments, but it will also mitigate the risk of incurring noise-induced hearing loss. When our surroundings are loud and our headphones fit poorly or lack ANC, we have a tendency to increase the volume to combat the loud, external sounds. While this works in the short term, it puts our auditory health at risk for permanent hearing damage. Since great ANC headsets have the ability to block out low frequencies to varying degrees, you’re less likely to pump up the volume to dangerous levels.