When we talk about Noise-cancelling headphones, three brands come to mind—Sony, Sennheiser, and Bose. However, in terms of the best noise cancelation, one brand stands out, and that’s Sony. The brand has been putting out great headphones in every iteration since the WH-1000XM3s, which originally set the bar high for Sony’s WH-XM series. Sony delivered on the expectations with the WH-1000XM4s, which were crowned as the best noise-canceling hardware. But that raised a question, how do you improve something that’s already so good?
Turns out, there was scope for improvement, and that’s what Sony did with its latest headphones, the WH-1000XM5s. However, there are a few questionable design choices the company made to make room for other elements; Let’s have a brief look at those and the headphones in our comprehensive review of the Sony WH-1000XM5.
What’s in the box?
- Sony WH-1000XM5
- 3.5mm AUX cable
- User manual and Spatial Audio subscription paperwork
- USB-A to Type-C cable.
Upon opening the retail packaging, you get a carrying case that houses the headphones inside. Unzip it, and you’ll find the headphones well laid out. You can access the compartment in the middle by lifting the flap, which contains a USB Type-C cable and a 3.5mm AUX cable.
The build quality of the XM5s is quite reminiscent of the XM4s, if not a tad bit better and lighter. The build materials are still mostly plastic, but the overall feel of the plastic is different from its predecessors. The outer plastic of the matte black variant that we received has a soft rubbery texture and doesn’t handle fingerprints or dirt buildup well. We believe this is the case across all color variants, but it just shows up more predominantly on the black color.
I found the headband to be a bit tighter and better on the XM5s than my XM4s; it helps the headphones stay tighter on my ears and is less likely to fall due to jerks. The earcups are a tad bit wider on the XM5s, and thanks to that, a majority of the surface area of the earcups lies on the skin of your neck rather than the skin of your ears, giving you a more secure fit. I assume it also ever so slightly helps with the passive noise cancelation. The build quality is excellent overall for a premium headphone.
On the left side, there’s a noise canceling/ambient noise button, a power on/off button, an LED light, and an AUX port, whereas, on the left, there’s a Type-C port. There are four microphones, two on each side, for noise cancelation.
Design and Comfort
When it comes to design, there’s a lot to talk about. Starting from above, the cushioning on the headband is a tad bit less than on the XM4s, and the surface area of the same is also around 25% less. However, the soft leather-like material extends to the extension rods, giving the headphones a seamless design element and more comfort. Although the changes are vast, comfort isn’t an issue. In fact, these are probably the most comfortable headphones in the XM line-up so far.
One of the issues I had with XM4s is that when removing them from my head after long listening sessions, the steel in the extension mechanism would sometimes pull my hair, but that wasn’t the case with the WH-1000XM5s. The proximity sensor on the XM5s is now hidden and shouldn’t require cleaning from time to time.
Is the absence of a folding mechanism a deal-breaker?
While off your head, the XM5s can still swivel like their predecessors, but in the opposite direction with the earcups above. Personally, I found this to be a bit more comfortable as while moving your head, your chin area touches the cushions and not the body of the headphones. What’s debatable, though, is the exclusion of a folding mechanism in the headphone. The XM5s do not fold like XM4s, which demands a larger case than the XM4s’.
The headphone’s extension mechanism is similar to AirPods Max’s—two rods on either side that extend from within the headphone. I like this mechanism over the steps mechanism on the XM4. These are a bit smoother to extend, while their predecessors felt janky and inconvenient.
Now, the XM5 case still pretty much comes under the “portable” category, but it’s still a bit large nonetheless. However, the lack of foldable nature means that you will always have to carry the headphones in the case to avoid breaking them. It takes a bit more storage space too, but I think it’s a fine sacrifice considering the added comfort.
Out of the box, the XM5s aren’t going to please audiophiles with its bass-heavy sound signature—typical of Sony’s XM line. However, a few things have changed in the sound quality coming from the XM4s. As soon as I put them on, I noticed a significant bump in the mid, lower-mid, and lower treble frequencies—the way vocals and high-pitched instruments sounded.
The lower frequencies (Bass) have also been ever so slightly brought down, and the difference was pretty clear (Pun intended). This tuning, while still, not something sound enthusiasts might appreciate, makes the vocals much less muddy, and the headphone sounds much livelier. It’s a step in the right direction, just like how they improved the sound quality of the successor to the LinkBuds, the LinkBuds S that we reviewed earlier this month.
Either way, these are still your go-to headphones if you listen to a lot of electronic music and pop music. However, using an EQ works wonders if you need a balanced sound and brings the best out of the XM5s. We recommend the Poweramp equalizer as it works very well. There’s support for LDAC, as usual, and AAC codecs.
Active Noise Cancelation and Microphone
There isn’t much to say here. Every year, Sony ups the bar of its noise cancelation, and this year is no exception. Thanks to an extra Sony QN1 ANC chip on the other side, the ANC on the WH-1000XM5s is as good as it can get. The headphones block out a majority of the noise when not playing music, and when playing music, the ANC is significantly stronger than its predecessor, so it blocks out almost all the noise.
Now, I was not fond of how automatic ANC switching works on Sony headphones by detecting location and movement, but I decided to give it a try on the XM5. To my surprise, the feature worked flawlessly. For example, whenever I started walking, the ANC would turn on, and when I stopped and started talking, the headphones would let the ambient noise in so that I could hear what other people are saying. Pretty cool.
Speaking of ambient noise, thanks to the improvements in the microphone quality, the sound that the feature lets inside and your voice when you talk all feel natural and not extrapolated or synthesized. Good job, Sony!
What’s also improved in the XM5 is the microphone, thanks to a total of eight microphones, a significant increase from 5 microphones on the XM4. The calls were clear, and the headphones were able to block a majority of the noise. Here are a few audio samples comparing both.
The XM5’s battery is rated to last for 30 hours, and in our testing with ANC on, we found the claim to be true. Although it was a lot harder to determine the battery life on the XM5s because this thing would just refuse to die, we got a number in the end, and it’s a significant bump from its predecessor, the XM4, which lasts for around 18 hours with ANC on. Both the headphones take around 3 hours to fully charge.
Starting with the touch controls, I know a lot of people who hate Sony’s touch controls, but I’ve never had any problems with them. In fact, I use them all the time to skip tracks and adjust the volume, and they seem to work every time. The XM5s also supports hands-free Google Assistant, and as someone who uses Google Assistant a lot, I wish Sony adds the support for the same in the XM4.
Like most Sony audio products, the XM5s support Google’s Fast Pair. Besides, it also supports Sony’s Safe Listening feature in the Headphones app. Other than that, you get a 5-band equalizer, a feature that analyzes your ear shape, multi-point connectivity, and Spotify Tap.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the XM5s no longer come with voice cues built in. Instead, they do short tunes to let you know, for example, you’ve turned the headphones on. I wish they’d still let you know the remaining battery when you turn them on, but that’s gone too.
Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: Should you buy them?
If you’re out in the market for premium headphones with excellent noise-canceling, pick the WH-1000XM5s. The sound quality won’t cater to people who despise Bass, but you can always use an equalizer to tailor it. The overall build quality, noise canceling, improved mic quality, and features are already so good that I could only imagine how hard it’ll be for Sony engineers to come up with a successor to the XM5s that’s worth calling an upgrade.
That said, if you already own the XM4s, it’s not worth spending Rs 27,000 on the Sony WH-1000XM5 since all you’re losing out on is a few quality-of-life features, improved microphones, noise canceling, and slightly better sound quality.
Sony has created a very compelling package yet again and proved there’s a lot that can be improved. The WH-1000XM5s take the crown from the XM4s and are now the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy. They’re comfortable and come with dozens of great features, which for a price of Rs 26,999 may seem a bit expensive, but that’s only until you give them a listen.