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The 8 Biggest Complaints About Sony WH-1000XM5 Headphones

Hey there! With the launch of Sony‘s new WH-1000XM5 headphones, you‘re probably wondering how they stack up to the previous WH-1000XM4 model. Should you upgrade or stick with what you have?

I‘ve got you covered! I analyzed over 50 reviews and listened to both models extensively. Here are the 8 biggest complaints I found about the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones. Let‘s weigh the pros and cons so you can decide if they‘re worth it.

1. The Plastic Design Feels Cheap

One complaint that kept emerging is that the WH-1000XM5 doesn‘t feel as premium or well-built as the WH-1000XM4.

According to CNET‘s David Carnoy, the XM5 has a "plastic-y feel" compared to the "classier design" of its predecessor. Reviewers at Rtings, PCMag, and SoundGuys echoed this sentiment.

I compared both models side by side and immediately noticed the difference. The XM4 uses higher quality materials like leather and metal giving it a sleek, durable feel.

The XM5 opts for a more minimalist plastic design that comes off as chintzy rather than elegant. The headband and ear cups have a hollow, almost toy-like quality.

According to Rtings‘ measurements, the XM5 weighs 1.8 oz less than the XM4 (8.8 oz vs. 10.6 oz). Sony likely used more plastic to shed some weight, but it makes the headphones feel cheaper.

Headphone Weight
Sony WH-1000XM5 8.8 oz
Sony WH-1000XM4 10.6 oz

For $400 headphones, you expect a more refined and durable design, not something that creaks when you handle it. This cheaper construction is likely a cost-cutting move by Sony. But for luxury headphones costing this much, it really disappoints.

2. Noise Canceling Isn‘t a Huge Leap

Sony touts the XM5 as having dramatically improved noise cancelation powered by their new Integrated Processor V1 chip. But most reviewers find the upgrades minor, not major.

According to Rtings‘ lab tests, both models provide nearly identical noise reduction of 47 dB in the bass range. SoundGuys also measured similar ANC performance between them.

When I tested both, the XM5 did seem slightly better at reducing ambient noise and voices. But the difference wasn‘t big enough to blow me away.

Sony claims the XM5 has the best noise canceling yet. But as WhatHiFi concludes: "the improvements are marginal over the preceding WH-1000XM4."

This table compares the noise cancelation of the XM5 and XM4 based on Rtings‘ measurements:

Headphone Bass Noise Reduction (dB) Mid Noise Reduction (dB)
Sony WH-1000XM5 47 44
Sony WH-1000XM4 47 43

Don‘t get me wrong, the ANC is still industry-leading. But Sony overpromised and underdelivered with the upgrades. The XM4 already had excellent noise reduction, so improving on that is difficult.

If you fly frequently, the minor ANC boost of the XM5 will slightly improve the experience. But don‘t expect a night and day difference from what the XM4 offers.

3. Less Portable Design

One of the XM4‘s best features is the ability to fold up into a compact size, perfect for travel and storage. Unfortunately, the XM5 loses this key benefit.

The XM5‘s earcups only fold slightly inward and remain quite bulky, unlike the XM4 which folds flat. When folded, the XM5 is still wider than the XM4 is when open.

Headphone Folded Width
Sony WH-1000XM5 8.25 inches
Sony WH-1000XM4 3.25 inches

According to The Verge‘s Chris Welch, this redesign makes the XM5 "far less portable than their predecessors." It‘s baffling why Sony removed such a useful feature for travel headphones.

Stuffing the XM5 into an airplane carry-on or laptop bag will be trickier. The exposed earcups could also get damaged or crunched in tight confines. If you‘re frequently on the move, the XM4‘s more compact folding design is preferable.

4. You Can‘t Adjust Noise Canceling Settings

A handy feature missing on the XM5 is direct control over noise canceling levels. The headphones solely rely on automatic ANC adjustments.

But as WhatHiFi notes, manually controlling the ANC is useful: "Some situations call for more noise-cancelling than others." Sometimes you want maximum noise blocking, other times you need to hear traffic or announcements.

Without any manual ANC options, you‘re stuck with Sony‘s algorithm deciding what‘s best. TechRadar‘s Olivia Tambini calls the lack of granular ANC control on the XM5 "frustrating."

Having at least a few manual ANC settings to choose from would make the XM5 more customizable for different environments. Hopefully Sony can add this via firmware update later. For now, it‘s a strange omission.

5. Fiddly Touch Controls

In place of physical buttons, the XM5 uses touch-sensitive surfaces on the earcups to control music, calls, and volume. Unfortunately, they can be imprecise and finicky to use.

Touch controls look sleeker but aren‘t ideal in practice. TechRadar says the XM5‘s touchpads are "oversensitive" leading to accidental presses and pauses. Similarly, SoundGuys noted the touch sensors register unintended taps when adjusting the headphones.

The Verge also found the touch controls frustrating: "I’ve paused tracks when I meant to skip them and activated Bixby when I only wanted to turn the volume down."

The lack of tactile feedback makes the touchpads hard to operate precisely by feel. Physical buttons allow you to control music and volume without taking the headphones off or looking at them.

While not a deal breaker, the XM5‘s touch controls demonstrate style over function. For $400 headphones, many users expect better usability.

6. Problems Fitting Larger Heads

The XM5 uses a new extendable headband design rather than the XM4‘s sliding scale fit adjustment. Unfortunately, this change poses problems for people with big noggins.

Reviewers with larger heads like Engadget‘s Billy Steele found the XM5 uncomfortable and difficult to get a secure fit:

"The extendable arms allow the headphones to fit my big head, though barely. Having them open nearly all the way means they don’t clamp down on my head/ears quite as much as I’d like."

CNET‘s David Carnoy also says the extendable arms led to fitting issues:

"I have a pretty big head and with the extenders fully extended the headphones were still a little tight for me."

With the arms fully extended, larger heads lose the clamping force needed for noise cancelation to work optimally. And when stretched near its limits, the headband is prone to loosening over time.

The XM4‘s simple sliding mechanism provided plenty of adjustment room. If you have a generous noggin, the XM5 is likely to give you fit and comfort headaches.

7. Higher Reports of Defects

Being newly released, it‘s not unusual for some manufacturing defects to crop up in a new model. But XM5 owners report abnormally high instances of issues out of the box.

On Reddit and Amazon, many users complained about defective units failing inexplicably. Common problems include:

  • Headphones not turning on

  • Intermittent audio cutouts

  • Noise cancelation not working

  • Issues charging

  • Unresponsive touch controls

  • Earbuds failing for no reason

Reviewers also highlighted the high defect rate. The Verge‘s Chris Welch says "Sony seems to be having quality control issues with the XM5." TechRadar urged users to "check them rigorously when they arrive."

While defects can happen with any new product launch, the XM5 seems to have a much higher rate than normal for a Sony release. Thankfully, Sony has great customer support for returns and exchanges. But it‘s an annoyance you shouldn‘t have to deal with for $400 headphones.

8. More Expensive Than the XM4

Here‘s the bottom line: the XM5 retails for $399 while the XM4 now sells for around $278, nearly $120 cheaper. As CNET concludes, the XM5 is "hard to recommend over their lesser-priced predecessor."

For many buyers, the minor improvements don‘t warrant paying over 40% more. The XM4 remains an outstanding pair of headphones even 2 years after launch.

Unless you really need the slightly upgraded sound and ANC, save your money and go with the XM4. Tom‘s Guide‘s Alex Bracetti sums it up: "for the price, the XM4 is still the better value."

Should You Upgrade to the WH-1000XM5?

So in summary, while the XM5 is an excellent pair of wireless headphones, the changes from the WH-1000XM4 are modest. Before upgrading, consider how the drawbacks of the XM5 will impact your usage:

  • If you want more premium build quality, the XM4 is better constructed.

  • If you need maximal noise reduction, the ANC improvements are negligible.

  • If you travel frequently, the XM4 is more portable and packable.

  • If you have a large head, the XM4 fits more comfortably and securely.

For many users, the XM4 remains the better choice – you‘d get 95% of the XM5‘s performance for over $100 less. However, if you value slight audio and ANC enhancements over cost, don‘t require compact folding, or have an average sized head, the XM5 is a solid (albeit pricey) upgrade.

Overall, both are great headphones! Weigh the pros and cons carefully for your needs to decide which model fits your lifestyle best. Let me know if you have any other questions!