How to get the most from Sony’s WH-1000XM5 headphones

Sony’s WH-1000XM5 are the company’s latest flagship noise-canceling headphones. And as our review can attest, they’re perhaps the most comfortable, best-sounding set in the 1000X series so far.

As a result, you’re inevitably going to see them a lot — on flights, at the coffee shop, etc. — over the next several years. And should you end up with a pair yourself, it’s worth knowing about some of their more advanced features and tricks that aren’t always obvious in basic day-to-day use. Here are some worth trying out as you explore your new headphones.

How to control the WH-1000XM5 headphones

Like their predecessors, the WH-1000XM5 headphones are controlled using touch gestures on the surface of the right ear cup.

  • Tap twice to play/pause.
  • Swipe forward to skip to the next track or swipe backward to return to the previous song. Swipe and hold in either direction to fast-forward or rewind the current track.
  • Slide your finger upwards on the touch surface to raise the volume, or slide down to decrease it. You can also swipe and hold in either direction to make larger volume adjustments without having to repeat the gesture over and over again.

How to connect the WH-1000XM5 to two devices at once

Sony added multipoint, the ability to pair with two devices over Bluetooth simultaneously, to the previous WH-1000XM4 headphones — and this convenient feature is available once again with the XM5s. But out of the box, it’s disabled by default, and you’ll only be able to connect to a single audio source. Thankfully, it’s quite easy to change this and enable multipoint.

There is one unfortunate tradeoff that comes with multipoint that might matter to audiophiles with Android phones: you cannot enjoy music using the higher-quality LDAC Bluetooth codec when the feature is enabled. This isn’t a sacrifice for iPhone owners, since LDAC isn’t available on Apple’s products.

  • Open the Headphones Connect app and tap on the System tab.
  • At the top you’ll see a toggle for Connect to two devices simultaneously. Tap this to enable the multipoint feature of the WH-1000XM5 headphones.
  • Once you’ve done that, just pair your second device the same way you did the first: hold down the power button for several seconds until you hear “pairing” through the headphones.

How to briefly hear your surroundings in a hurry

If you need to hear something like an airport or train station announcement, Sony’s “Quick Attention” feature will come in handy. To activate it, hold your hand over the entirety of the right ear cup’s touch surface. The volume of your music will turn down and ambient sound will come into the headphones, letting you hear whatever’s happening.

Once you don’t need to pay attention any longer, just remove your hand from the ear cup and both your audio and the headphones’ active noise cancellation will return to normal.

The right ear cup is used for gesture controls and features like Quick Attention.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

How to let your headphones adjust settings automatically based on your location or activity

One of the most overlooked features of Sony headphones is called Adaptive Sound Control. You can use this to have the Headphones Connect app detect frequent activities or locations and automatically switch to your preferred headphone settings in each scenario. For example, you can have the WH-1000XM5 automatically activate ambient sound when it detects that you’re walking or running — or dial up the active noise cancellation when you’re sitting. You can also have these settings change based on where you are: you can set different preferences for home and the office.

(Note that to use Adaptive Sound Control, you’ll need to grant the Headphones Connect app “at all times” location access, which some people might not be comfortable with.)

Adaptive Sound Control can automatically switch headphone settings based on your activity or location.
Screenshots by Chris Welch / The Verge

  • Open the Headphones Connect app and choose the Status tab.
  • Tap on the Adaptive Sound Control section, which is set to off by default.
  • On this screen you’ll find various options like Detection of Actions, Learning of locations you frequentand Registered Locations.
  • Experiment with each one to land on your ideal settings. The Detection of Actions section lets you choose different ANC/ambient settings for four scenarios: listening while still, walking, running, or commuting.
  • You can let the Headphones Connect app attempt to guess your frequent locations with Learning of locations you frequentbut I think it’s easier to just register different spots like home or the office manually.

The noise cancellation button can also serve as a shortcut to Spotify.
Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

How to quickly start playing your favorite Spotify playlist with a couple of button presses

The WH-1000XM5 headphones support Spotify Tap, which allows them to immediately start playing audio from the popular streaming service with a handy button shortcut.

  • In the Headphones Connect app, head to the Services tab.
  • Here you’ll see the option for Spotify Tap: Quick Access.
  • Tap on that text and you’ll be able to choose to trigger Spotify Tap with either two or three presses of the noise cancellation/ambient sound mode button. I tend to opt for the three-presses option since it’s very intentional and hard to activate by accident.
  • After the setting is enabled, just press the button however many times you’ve chosen and Spotify will immediately resume playback of what you were last listening to.

How to use Sony’s helpful Speak to Chat feature

Sony’s more recent headphones and earbuds include a Speak to Chat option that, when enabled, can detect when you’re speaking out loud. Whenever the headphones recognize that you’re talking, audio is immediately paused or muted and ambient sound is made louder so that you can carry out a conversation. Once you stop speaking for a customizable amount of time, your music starts playing again. Check out the article linked below for more details on using Speak to Chat.

How to switch to a different voice assistant

The WH-1000XM5s let you choose between several voice assistant services. You can use your device’s default (Siri on iOS, Google Assistant on Android) or select Alexa as an alternative. The Alexa mobile app must be installed on your phone if you want to use that for voice commands.

  • Pick the System tab in the Headphones Connect app.
  • Tap on Voice Assistant and choose your preferred option.

Sony gives you more than one choice for voice commands on the WH-1000XM5s.
Screenshot by Chris Welch / The Verge

How to make sure you’re getting the best sound

In the Headphones Connect app, Sony lets you pick between two priorities when the headphones are connected to a device: you can choose either sound quality or connection stability. In my experience, I’ve always chosen the sound quality option here — and still haven’t encountered any dropouts or connection blips with most Sony headphones. But if you find yourself somewhere with significant wireless interference, it’s always good to have the option to briefly prioritize the Bluetooth stability.

  • In the Headphones Connect app, select the Sound tab.
  • Scroll down to Bluetooth Connection Quality and select whether you’d like to prioritize sound or stability.

Those are just a few helpful tricks beyond the basics for mastering Sony’s very best noise-canceling headphones. I’ll update this article with other features if the company adds more options in the coming months.

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