Sony’s WH-1000 series is a consumer and critical favorite among noise-canceling wireless headphones. Usually considered the best of its style, the competition is at home. That’s why we’ve decided to test the last three generations and tell you what we think.
Today, we are going to compare the three latest circumaural headphones that Sony has launched, the WH-1000XM3, the WH-1000XM4, and the recently launched WH-1000XM5 to see if the new features of the new generation are worth investing more money in them, or if the contrary, we can save some money for the same features, with their predecessors.
Sony WH-1000XM5 vs XM4 vs XM3 technical comparison
|Sony WH-1000XM5||Sony WH-1000XM4||Sony WH-1000XM3|
|Coupling||closed circumaural||closed circumaural||closed circumaural|
|Diaphragm||30mm carbon fiber transducer||40mm Aluminum Clad LCP Dome Type (CCAW Coil)||40mm Aluminum Clad LCP Dome Type (CCAW Coil)|
|Microprocessor||Sony Noise Canceling Processor QN1|
Sony Integrated Processor V1
|Sony Noise Canceling Processor QN1||Sony Noise Canceling Processor QN1|
|Frequency Response||4 Hz to 40 kHz|
20 Hz to 40 kHz (BT)
|4 Hz to 40 kHz|
20 Hz to 40 kHz (BT)
|4 Hz to 40 kHz|
20 Hz to 40 kHz (BT)
|Connectivity||Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, multi-connection (up to 2 devices)||Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, multi-connection (up to 2 devices)||Bluetooth 4.2, NFC|
|Sound Profile||A2DP, AVRCP, HFP and HSP|
SBC, AAC, and LDAC
|A2DP, AVRCP, HFP and HSP|
SBC, AAC, and LDAC
|A2DP, AVRCP, HFP and HSP|
SBC, AAC, and LDAC
|Battery||Up to 30 hours (with active noise cancellation)||Up to 30 hours (with active noise cancellation)||Up to 30 hours (with active noise cancellation)|
Going into the subject, the first difference that we perceive between the two headphones of the last generation of Sony compared to the current generation, we find it in the design section. After 5 years, Sony has decided to innovate in this section to introduce certain changes in the construction of the XM5, which have some impact on their ergonomics.
While the XM3 and XM4 maintain a design virtually identical to their previous generations, the XM5 arrives with a slimmer and slimmer body, something that is noticeable in the construction of the headband, which is now a little thinner.
We also see changes in the integration of the drivers or speakers in the set, which in this generation say goodbye to the plastic arch that attached them to the headband.
In terms of construction materials, the XM5 seems to maintain the same composition as in previous generations. We say seems because the company does not detail the material used for the coating of this device, although we can bet on a kind of reinforced polycarbonate.
Sony’s formula, in terms of the construction of its headphones works, and the XM5 transmit the same feeling of quality and robustness that we have had with the XM3 and XM4 in the past, so, we have good news in this section.
However, in my experience, these headphones are very easy to get dirty, and the natural grease we have on our hands tend to show up on the dark-colored models. First-world problems can be fixed by wiping with a cloth or chamois.
The ear cushions that cover the earphones have a different finish on the XM5 compared to the XM4 and XM3 models, although the feel, comfort, and softness of the ear cushions are practically similar in all three devices.
Another major change we see in the construction of the XM5 is that the right earpiece does not fold inward, as we could do with the XM4 and XM3. This function was useful for storage and transport in their case, but in this generation, it is not necessary.
But in case anyone is concerned, the XM5 can be stored perfectly well inside its semi-rigid case, without the need to fold them, and they do not take up much more space than previous generations. Some may miss the ability to fold their headphones in this new generation, but we believe that this reduces the potential for breakage or wear and tear of the headphones over time and use.
Ergonomics and comfort
Sony continues to maintain in this fifth generation of headphones the touch control of the headphones, which is integrated, once again, into the right ear cup. This type of control had and has plenty of room for improvement in the XM3, and the same was true of the XM4, as there were certain errors in tactile identification, and therefore, interpretation by the headphones.
In the new generation, Sony seems to have learned from its mistakes and has brought a much more accurate touch interface than in previous models. Switching songs, pausing music, canceling active noise cancellation by covering the right earphone, or answering calls, has greatly improved thanks to this improvement. In fact, with the Sony WH-1000XM3, we have not used practically anything that interface because of its many errors, and instead, with the XM5 we have used them more.
One of the most important aspects when comparing headphones is their comfort and ergonomics. Despite the changes in the design of the XM5, compared to previous generations, it should be noted that the feeling, once we wear them, is quite similar to that of the XM4 and XM3.
The last three Sony helmets launched on the market are comfortable, and not too heavy, and the pads on the headband and drivers favor prolonged use, even after several hours.
What I would like to highlight about the XM5 compared to the XM4 and XM3, is that the fit to ears seems to have improved slightly, thanks to the small enlargement of the opening of the ear pads, which is now less oval, and therefore, its adherence to the ears is more prominent. In addition, the pressure exerted by the new headband on our heads is very well compensated and is not uncomfortable.
How has the sound of the Sony WH-1000 evolved?
I am going to tell you about my experience with these three headphones, and I want to be honest. I have been a user of Sony headphones for years, so I have experience with this type of headphones, and I must emphasize that the tests I have done to make this comparison, have been the closest to the experience that an average user usually has. That is, using the headphones to work, listen to music and make the occasional call, with the headphones connected wirelessly to devices such as phones, PC, and Macs, via Bluetooth, on most occasions.
Admittedly, there are scenarios where these headphones can be put to their best use. For the XM5 review, my colleague and sound editor were testing them connected, via cable, to his hi-fi equipment, going through a preamplifier. Undoubtedly, this is the ideal test scenario for headphones of these characteristics, but at the same time, not all of us have equipment of this quality at home. To be honest, most of us use headphones for traveling, going on the street, or working, and most of the time we connect them wirelessly.
In terms of sound quality, and as we would expect, the WH-1000XM5 takes the win in this section. This generation has benefited from a diaphragm featuring a carbon fiber transducer, as opposed to the 40 mm aluminum-coated liquid crystal polymer diaphragms of the XM4 and XM3. In this sense, and leaving the technical aspect, the sound development of the latest model of this range of Sony headphones, is much clearer and more defined in most scenarios, being much more palpable in music playback.
The high and mid frequencies can be easily distinguished with very good clarity, and the bass continues to have a very remarkable and satisfactory punch. The clarity of the sound is what stands out above all in this section. While on the WH-1000XM3s the sound seems much more boxy and noisy when listening to music, on the XM5s the audio is liberated demonstrating many more nuances and frequencies. And all this talking about Bluetooth connectivity, so imagine the quality with a wired connection.
The good news is that the XM5 is closely followed by the WH-1000XM4 which, fortunately, are not too far away in sound quality, despite the difference in hardware level that we find in the diaphragms. We indeed lose clarity in music playback very slightly, but honestly, it is almost imperceptible.
The WH-1000XM3s are further behind, and although they continue to defend a considerable quality in the overall sound development, they are perceived as aging badly, especially after having tested and experienced the improvements of their big brothers.
Noise cancellation: long live the king
If Sony’s WH-1000 headphone series has been recognized for anything, it is not only for its sound but also for its high quality around the active noise cancellation developed by its headphones. This feature is already amazing in the company’s XM3, and this section only gets better with the new generations, especially when noise sources are variable.
In the case of the XM5, noise cancellation maintains the high standard of its predecessors, but at the hardware level it has integrated certain improvements thanks to the inclusion, for the first time, of two microprocessors dedicated to it (instead of one), and the work of a module of eight microphones to capture ambient sound.
The XM5’s performance is exemplary when it comes to dampening noise coming from the outside, although, honestly, I found it very similar to what the XM4s already do, and I would dare say what the XM3s already do in this section. Despite this, the game is won, again, by the XM5 as the inclusion of that second microprocessor, helps the headphones to be more accurate when canceling variable ambient noise, such as when we are near people talking and raising the pitch of the conversation when they laugh, for example.
User experience and features
My advice is that regardless of what your final purchase decision is, use and take advantage of the Sony Headphones Connect application, as it allows us to get a lot out of it, at the level of headphone configuration. I recommend above all configuring the equalizer to adapt the sound to your taste.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 and XM4 beat the XM3 in terms of functionality, as they have some features we can get more out of the headphones. Functions such as “Chat Chat”, the possibility of connecting the headphones simultaneously to two devices, or the fact of being able to stop playback automatically when we remove the headphones, are details that give much more versatility to this device, and fortunately, we can take advantage of it, both in the new model, as in the previous generation.
There is indeed room for improvement in the “chat chat” function. This feature minimizes the sound of the content we are playing when the headset detects that we are talking. But this is something that also happens during video calls, at least when we have the headset connected to the PC. That is, we are talking to the other person, and every time it detects our voice, the volume is reduced to a minimum, making it almost impossible to hear what our interlocutor is saying. In this sense, the chat function works similarly in the XM4 and XM5.
Sony has been introducing improvements in the microphone section of its Sony WH-1000, as well as in the process of capturing our voice, and external noise damping. The latest model is capable of damping, almost perfectly, all the noise generated by a fan, unlike the XM3 and XM4, which have room for improvement in this area.
Voice quality is also much better and clearer in the XM5, although there is not a huge difference compared to the XM4 microphone. On the other hand, the worst performers in this microphone comparison are the XM3s, which, although they manage to capture the voice well, do not avoid a robotic tone on most occasions.
Autonomy: a sensational result that stands the test of time
And what about the battery? Honestly, I can’t do anything but heap praise on it. Sony has, for the moment, the best battery section we have ever tested in any technological device. In the more than two and a half years that I have had the XM3, I must say that it has not degraded, presenting an autonomy very similar to what it had in the first charge cycle. It is simply spectacular.
Comparing figures, the Sony XM5s is back on the podium with very positive figures and during the use I have given them, I must emphasize that these headphones have endured 31 hours and 15 minutes without charging, with noise cancellation enabled at all times, and just over 40 hours with noise cancellation disabled. These are incredible figures and slightly better than those presented by the Sony WH-1000XM4, or the Sony WH-1000XM3 which are close to these numbers.
Comparison Sony WH-1000, the opinion of Techidence
If we put these three headphones on the table and have to choose only one, the best is the WH-1000XM5. It is a truism that after testing them has become clear. Indeed, the leap between last year’s XM4 and the XM5 is not abysmal, since the improvement in sound and noise cancellation is practically imperceptible. But their new design, the improvement of the touch interface, the small increase in battery life, the better sound clarity, and the good performance of the active noise cancellation in variable conditions, make me opt for them.
Now then, the question that comes to all of us is: Is it worth betting for the WH1000-XM5 against the models of previous years? Well, this will depend on the taste of each one of us, on the headphones we have today, and also on the budget we have available.
If we have a Sony WH-1000XM3, XM4, or headphones from another brand with similar features, we are happy with them and they continue to work well, the jump is not worth it. The XM5 is great, but if we have a pair of headphones that work well, it is not worth the jump, unless we want to indulge ourselves.
On the other hand, if we do not have a headset with these features, money is not a problem for us, and we do not mind paying the $398 recommended price of these headphones, honestly, they are worth it for everything they offer in return.
But if we take into account the price, and we want to save something, the best option in this scenario, is the WH-1000XM4. For an approximate price of $284, they are, without any doubt, the best headphones in this comparison, since, as I have explained, they are not so far behind the XM5 in practically any section.
As for the WH-1000XM3, it depends on the price. We currently have them on Amazon for $169.