Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: A More Refined Package

The Sony WH-1000XM5 goes through a design overhaul and a bunch of incremental upgrades. But is that enough to justify a jump in the price tag? Find out in our review.

Sony’s WH-1000XM series of wireless headphones have set a standard in the audio industry for years. The flagship headphones from the Japanese company are mainly known for their noise-cancellation capabilities, among other qualities that it packs. The Sony WH-1000XM4 was launched about two years ago, and they are still quite relevant in today’s market. The XM4s were quite the package with top-of-the-line noise cancelling, good sound quality and Sony’s signature premium build quality.

They recently launched its successor, the Sony WH-1000XM5, which comes with a new design language after having followed the same layout for the past couple of iterations. It also brings along slight changes to the insides. But are the new ‘modern approach’ and incremental upgrades in the sound and noise cancelling department worth the premium, especially when its predecessor is still competent? The latest iteration will cost you Rs 29,990. But, with the XM4s selling for as low as Rs 22,490 (even lower during sales), does it make sense to splurge the extra bucks? We’ve used the Sony WH-1000XM5 for over two weeks and also compared it with the XM4s. Here’s our full review.

Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: Design and comfort

The XM5 falls into the premium category of Bluetooth headphones. With the latest iteration in this series, Sony seems to be keener on changing a few things with the looks of the device. The design overhaul is fairly decent, and telling the XM4s and XM5s apart is quite easy. The modern and minimal design approach seems to be slowly brewing in the headphones industry as Sennheiser’s Momentum 4 Wireless Headphones have also modified their blueprint. Sony calls this the noiseless design. To achieve that tag, the XM5s have gone through some cutdowns. In addition, the company uses recycled plastic materials from automobile parts for the headphones, which is a good move.

The in-hand feel and build quality of the XM5 are good, but it feels less premium than its predecessors. On paper, the weight difference between the two is insignificant, though holding the XM5 feels much lighter. The dome earcups house the new 30mm drivers made out of carbon fibre composite, which is said to improve sound clarity. The hinges slightly fall off on them with the ‘Sony’ branding embossed in golden colours.

The padding on the headband has been moderately reduced. The memory foam padding covered in leather is plush and does not cause any discomfort. However, it feels like they have cut down on the cushions a bit here, too, when compared to previous headphones in this lineup. While the XM4s felt more comfortable due to the excess padding, the XM5s do not cause any issues.

The headband sliders do not have any adjustment indents, though this mechanism is smoother and helps in aiding this design approach. The Sony WH-1000XM5 also follows the same touch sensor controls as its previous edition. All necessary controls have been integrated into the right ear cup. A swipe up will increase the volume, while a swipe down will decrease it. Swiping right or left helps you switch between tracks, which is quite convenient. We are not big fans of touch controls, as they tend to be inconsistent. Fortunately, they worked flawlessly on the XM5.

The right earcup also has a USB-Type C port for charging purposes. The left earcup is home to all the physical buttons. It has a power button (which also acts as a pairing button), a noise-cancellation/ambient mode button, and a 3.5mm headphone jack for wired listening. The XM5 has a total of eight microphones, four on each cup, for better noise cancellation.

The hinges also go through some major changes, which, sadly, takes away the portability factor of the headphones. The XM5, unlike its predecessor, cannot fold inwards while packing and neither does it rest flat on your neck when not in use. To add insult to injury, the XM5 comes with a slightly taller and collapsible case which eats up most of your space in the backpack. The case, or rather, the headphone backpack, comes with a USB Type-C cable and a 3.5mm cable. Unfortunately, it misses out on an aeroplane adapter.

For this review, we have the matte black colour variant with us, and it looks as classy as ever and has a silky feel to it. Sadly, it picks up smudges very easily. The cans are also available in a silver colour variant. If you are into fitness and plan to take these out for a run, keep in mind there is no water resistance on these headphones.

Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: Performance and companion app

There’s no doubt the XM5s fall under the premium category, and it performs in a similar way. Pushing the overall quality of a headphone lineup that has already been on the top of its game from generation to generation can be tricky. However, Sony has done a decent job on the latest edition. The ‘WH-1000XM’ series has been at a pinnacle when it comes to noise cancelling, and at this point, the XM5s are just bragging. The upgrade from four microphones overall to eight has helped improve its ability to dampen unnecessary noise. We spent over two weeks with the headphones, and during this, we used them in airports, crowded buses, and the infamous Mumbai locals. Besides the introduction of more microphones, Sony has also used a new V1 integrated processor, which is said to help the headphones cancel more high-frequency noise after having focused mainly on low-frequency noise in the previous iterations.

It’s safe to say that the noise cancellation has been improved from the past edition. Chattering noises, along with train sounds, were easily dampened by the XM5s. In one instance, a group of 8-10 people in the airport were discussing India’s painful and sad exit in the ongoing T20 World Cup — and to not go through that again, we just put on the XM5s with John Newman’s “Love Me Again” playing, and the dialogues were not audible anymore.

With the XM4 and older models, the NC optimiser (in the app) had to be run if you entered a new location for optimal performance. This has been changed with the XM5, and now, it automatically detects and chooses a preset for best noise cancellation. This is done in the ‘Headphones Connect’ app. Unlike the modern and minimal design language of the XM5, the app still continues to have an unfinished look and feel to it.

The features are fairly the same, and there’s no major change overall. The app offers a bunch of settings to fiddle around with, and it’s pretty straightforward, especially for a first-time user. You can enable ‘Adaptive Sound Control’ and also control media playback from the ‘Status’ section of the app. Digging deeper, the ‘Sound’ section of the app helps you switch between Noise Cancelling mode and Ambient Sound mode. There’s also a tab to just focus on voice, this works well in practical use.

Speak-to-Chat is a feature that is quite traditional in this lineup. This essentially pauses the media being played when you start conversing. While this is quite a useful feature to have, it can, at times, be annoying as it gets triggered very easily. If you are someone who likes to sing along with the music, you might wanna keep this one disabled. Cupping the right earcup lowers the volume of the playback and lets you talk to people in front of you. It’s a nice feature that works flawlessly — something that was available on the XM4s too.

DSEE Extreme mode, 360 Reality Audio, and Voice Assistant settings are also available. The app also allows you to set double-tap and triple-tap shortcuts for the NC/AMB physical button, though both settings only show the ‘Spotify Tap’ option for some odd reason. This shortcut has a lot of potential, and we hope a software update is sent to fix it.

As said before, the WH-1000XM4s are still a very relevant and remarkable pair of headphones in the market. And since they set the bar too high, the XM5 seems like an incremental upgrade. With that being said, the changes to sound quality and noise cancellation are easily noticeable and commendable. One thing besides the active noise cancellation that makes the XM series the talk of the town is its sound quality. Music from the XM5 has fantastic clarity, which feels a notch above the previous edition.

The details in the sound are immaculate, and it’s much easier to differentiate between the instruments. For the better part of the XM series, the headphones have favoured low ends for bass lovers. With the new 30mm drivers, the XM5 is able to provide spacious audio with more importance on the highs and mids. Though, it does not muddle the vocals in this process.

The ‘Headphones Connect’ app can mess around with the default sonic signature. If you are still not content with that, Wavelet is a third-party app that lets you customise the sound signature as per your needs. It has a bunch of other presets to choose from as well.

In our experience, listening to songs such as ‘I Ain’t Worried’ by OneRepublic was a great experience as the XM5 hits every note with great clarity and disparity. Moreover, the XM5 can extract new details from the songs, and we enjoyed this while listening to ‘Reggae and Calypso’ by Russ Millions, Buni, and YV. Be it fast-paced rap songs or slow-paced Bollywood dance numbers, the XM5 are adept at handling all circumstances. Watching movies and TV shows using the pair of headphones was also a delight. Dialogues are crisp; as mentioned before, wearing headphones for longer hours is a comfortable affair.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 supports the company’s LDAC Bluetooth codec, which allows you to stream high-resolution audio. Sadly, iPhones do not support this codec and stick to the AAC codec. Similarly, enabling the multipoint feature also disables LDAC as the headphones focus more on connection stability. The difference in codec is clear, with the details and clarity slightly degrading, though it still manages to retain the fun.

Just like the Sony WH-1000XM4, these also come with ear detection. The proximity sensor is hidden inside the left earcup, unlike last time. It works without fail, but the delay while pausing the playback and playing it is still discernible. Coming to the microphones, these are by far the best we’ve ever experienced on a pair of Bluetooth headphones. The XM5 uses ‘Precise Voice Pickup’ technology which uses four beamforming microphones paired with AI to drown wind and other white noises. The call quality was immaculate and stable even after keeping the smartphone in the other room.

Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: Charging times and battery life

When it comes to superior battery life in the premium segment of Bluetooth headphones, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 comes to mind. The Sony WH-1000XM5 is no slouch, but it does not beat its competition in this regard. The Japanese company rates the battery at 30 hours on a full charge with ANC on. We were able to extract the claimed hours from it, which is still commendable, but the competition provides 60 hours. Most users should be content with the battery life, especially if they are light users. During our usage, we kept the ANC on at all times, with the volume at about 50 per cent.

At times we used the multipoint feature as well, which tends to drain more juice. Considering these are headphones precisely designed for travelling, the charging speeds have to be impressive. Fortunately, it’s very good. Charging the XM5 from the dead to 90 per cent took 45 minutes. Additionally, if you are in a hurry to head out, charging the headphones for 3 minutes can give you playback for 3 hours, which is amazeballs.

Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: Verdict

At Rs 29,990, the headphones provide incremental upgrades to the sound and noise cancellation department over the previous generation. The Sony WH-1000XM5 is, without a doubt, the best headphones we’ve ever used. The design overhaul is quite noticeable with a more minimal and modern approach. While the previous design gave it more flexibility, this one cuts down on the weight and portability to some extent. The noise cancellation of the XM5 is miles ahead, and using it in places with a lot of chatter can be a peaceful exit.

The companion app needs a new design, something more minimal, though functionality wise it works tremendously well. The sound quality sees a drastic change, with the XM5 focusing more on vocals and trebles. Listening to our favourite songs on it was a great experience. The battery life is also relatively good; however, the competition offers double the battery life.

But there’s one thing still in our minds, and that is its predecessor. The WH-1000XM4 are still relevant in the market and can be grabbed for as low as Rs 19,000 during sales. So if you are someone who wants the best sound quality and noise cancellation, the XM5 should be the only headphones in your shopping cart, though if you want a marginally inferior but still very capable pair of headphones that also happens to fold for portability, the WH-1000XM4 can be easily considered — you’ll also end up saving a couple of bucks.

Sony WH-1000XM5

₹ 29,990
8.9

BUILD AND DESIGN

8.0/10

COMFORT

9.0/10

CONNECTIVITY

9.0/10

SOUND QUALITY

9.0/10

MICROPHONE QUALITY

9.0/10

BATTERY LIFE

9.0/10

VALUE FOR MONEY

9.0/10

What Is Good?

  • Minimal and lightweight design
  • Comfortable padding
  • Decent battery life
  • Amazing noise-cancellation
  • Clear and detailed sound

What Is Bad?

  • Inferior build quality
  • Less portable
  • Incremental upgrade over XM4

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Robin is a Senior Reviewer at MySmartPrice who fiddles with everything tech and gaming. In the past, he has worked in the video field with some of the known names in the industry including NDTV Gadgets 360, Dhananjay Tech, and more. Besides gawking at newly launched smartphones, you can find Robin spend his free time playing first-person shooter games or FIFA. Spoiler alert: he's a noob at both. He's also an avid football fan and will be friends with anyone who loves Real Madrid.