Highlights

  • 30mm drivers
  • Better ANC
  • 40-hour battery life

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Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: The best just got better!

Sony's WH-1000XM5 headphones follow the wildly successful XM3 and XM4 models, which crowned Sony as the king of ANC bluetooth audio. Do the XM5s uphold the legacy? Are they the clear winner in this competitive segment?

Key Specifications
Price : ₹34,990
30mm drivers Adaptive Noise Cancelling
Wired/Wireless mode 30 - 40 hour battery life
Our Review
9 / 10
Design9/10
Utility9/10
Performance8/10
Battery9/10
Pros
  • Class-leading design and comfort
  • Impeccable noise cancellation
  • Long-lasting battery life
Cons
  • Bass heavy sound profile
  • Lack of folding ability affects portability

These are the WH-1000XM5s, the fifth generation of Sony’s flagship noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones. Its predecessors, the XM3 and XM4, were industry-leading products that have crowned Sony as the king of ANC wireless audio. The XM5s do change up a few things, like the design, and offer some ambitious features, but are they still the best choice?

Design

Unlike the XM3s and XM4s, which do look quite similar to each other, the XM5s get a new look that helps them stand out. These look more sleek and modern, with less visible articulation points, and the noise-cancelling mics are more discreet as well. Even the headband gets a new leather-feel covering that hides the extension joints, which gives it a more minimal aesthetic.

The material used here is mostly a form of recycled plastic, but it feels a lot like leather, and is very soft to touch. Build quality is extremely sturdy too.

This redesign is not just for looks - the curvier design is intended to make them more aerodynamic and reduce wind-drag, much like an F1 car, which actually helps with better noise-cancelling performance on a windy day.

In general, the XM5s are more comfortable than their predecessors, which were pretty comfortable to begin with. There’s a lot of padding around the ears, which is softer than before, and the earcups still twist and pivot to sit at a comfortable and snug place according to your head shape. There’s not too much clamping force either. The headband area has a little less padding this time around, but I wore these for around 6 hours on a stretch without feeling any sort of discomfort. At 250g, they are also pretty lightweight.

The trade-off for this new sleeker look is that the XM5s do not offer the same portability as earlier models. They no longer fold in on themselves, and take up more space as result, with or without the case. The included hard carrying case has also gotten larger, and you will need more space to fit it in your bag. It does get a new and more sleek design though, and is covered by really nice fabric.

Also Watch: Sony Bravia X80K review: the perfect ultra-premium smart TV?

Utility and Battery

For connectivity, the XM5s support the common SBC and AAC codecs, and Sony’s own LDAC codec, which compresses and decompresses tracks on the fly to deliver hi-res audio.

However, if you use the multi-point connection feature, which will let them connect to two devices simultaneously, you cannot use the LDAC codec. Multi-point itself works flawlessly, and is a very convenient feature if you want to use the headphones with both a phone and a laptop.

Although the XM5s are primarily wireless headphones, you can use them in wired mode as well. There’s an included 3.5mm cable, and you can use the wired connection either with the unit on, which will use up battery life, or with the unit off, which makes it sound quite different.

The placement of the controls will be familiar to those who’ve used previous models. On the right earcup you get a USB Type-C charging port, while the left houses the 3.5mm jack, and the power and ANC control buttons.

You can switch between ANC or ambient noise modes with the button of course, but there’s the speak-to-chat feature, which will switch modes if you just start talking. I found it works a bit too well, and if you find this annoying, you can switch this off in the app.

Of course, you can cover the right earcup to mute any music playing and turn on ambient mode temporarily. This is a killer feature, which I also used on the XM4's, and it remains very convenient

The XM5s also support Google Assistant or Siri, which can easily be triggered by speaking out their respective keywords.

They also offer excellent in-ear detection, which means that if you take the headphones off they will pause playback, and resume when you put them on.

You can still control playback and volume through taps and swipes on the right earcup of course. The controls work well, detection is not a problem, but it’s a little annoying to repeatedly swipe up or down for volume, for example. Something like the analog crown on Apple’s AirPods Max works so much better.

One thing the XM5s do miss out on is any sort of water resistance rating, which is a big miss. You’ll have to be careful wearing them outdoors if it's raining, and it makes them less viable for workouts and the like.

As for battery, Sony rates them for 30 hours of playback with ANC on, and 40 hours with it off, which sounds about right according to my usage.

They charge up completely in around 3.5 hours, but with a fast USB PD charger a three-minute charge can give you three hours of playback time.

Also Watch: Sony WH-XB910N Review: best affordable wireless ANC headphones?

Performance

There are three main facets of performance for the XM5s - how well they cancel sound, what the calling experience is like, and of course, just how good they sound.

Let’s start with the ANC. Noise cancellation has always been Sony’s strong suit, and this is their most high-tech package which includes 8 active microphones and two processors for improved ANC.

Noise cancelling is also automatically optimised based on environmental sound.

ANC performance on the XM5s is slightly better than the previous generation, which is to say it’s still one of the best around. Low-end rumbles like ACs or engines are blocked out completely, and high and medium to high pitched sounds are cancelled out to a large extent, even if you dial back music volume to a minimum.

The ambient mode also works very well, and you can easily use them in an office while listening to music, and still be able to hear if someone calls you.

Calling performance, I found to be quite excellent as well. There are 4 beamforming mics on this unit which are designed to pick up only your voice, and drown out other ambient sound or noise. In my experience this worked well, and people on the other side heard me clearly even if talking on a street. Of course, the general comfort also makes long phone calls or meetings very viable while wearing these.

Let’s get down to the brass tacks - sound quality. The XM5s get a new 30mm driver, which is physically smaller than the 40mm driver found in the XM4s.

The change in driver size, however, does not lead to a vast difference in terms of sound profile, as they do sound pretty similar to the XM4s overall. The soundstage is very spacious and roomy, giving all instruments space to breathe. Given that these are Sony headphones, it comes as no surprise that they’re very bass-heavy, with an extra thump in mixes, and a very well-defined low-end. The emphasis on the low-end, however, can take away the spotlight from lead instruments and vocals.

You can adjust this using EQ in the app, which we’ll talk about in a bit, but overall, these will sound extremely refined and pleasing to fans of good bass, but people who prefer a more flat sound signature may not be as impressed.

App

The WH-1000XM5 works with Sony’s Headphones Connect app, available on both Android and iOS, which will help with firmware upgrades and also let you access some of the smart features they support. Among these is the Adaptive Sound Control mode, which will switch settings like Ambient Sound or ANC modes depending on your actions or locations, or even the time of day.

You also get a 5-band graphic equalizer, which has a number of pre-set modes, and of course manual control mode. You can save your own presets too.

The app is also where you can access Sony’s 360 Reality Audio feature, for which it will analyze your ear shape and deliver customised immersive audio. It only works with specific apps and services though, and doesn’t work with popular services like YouTube, Spotify, or Apple Music.

There’s also a new services feature, which currently works only with Spotify. If you set this up, you can double tap the ANC control button to switch playlists in Spotify. Support for more services can be added over time too.

Verdict

Sony has priced the WH-1000XM5s at ₹29,990, and customers who pre-book can get a special introductory price of ₹26,990. In my opinion it's a great deal, because for that money you get an extremely refined product with class-leading ANC, long-lasting battery life, excellent comfort, and good sound. These are lofty expectations, which the XM5s meet, and surpass, with flying colours.

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