Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones review: Still the ANC king of premium headphones
- Sony WH-1000XM5 has finally arrived in India at an introductory price of Rs 26,990, with an MRP of Rs 34,990.
- It competes against the Bose NCH 700, QC45, and Airpods Max.
- The XM5 is clearly among the best premium headphones that money can buy.
AdvertisementAfter a long wait, Sony has finally launched its flagship wireless over-the-ear WH-1000XM5 headphones in India. For those unaware, Sony's WH-1000XM series has been among the best over-ear headphones in the market since its inception and the brand's most premium offering. As expected, the headphones are priced at a premium and will be sold at an introductory price of Rs 26,990, with an MRP of Rs 34,990.
The headphones were released in mid-2022 and brought a significant design overhaul after four generations. It's now lighter and sleeker and is made of recycled and recyclable material. In addition to the looks, it also introduces enhancements in sound profile, mic performance, and noise cancellation.
Before I get going with the review, note that these headphones are best suited for commuters, office-goers, students and similar who want superior high-fidelity audio over Bluetooth. Whether a music producer or sound engineer, these or any wireless headphones aren't recommended; instead, it would be best to go for studio-grade wired audiophile headphones.
It gets a new hingeless design
The Sony WH-1000XM5 sports a different design and looks, and you can easily distinguish between them. The headband has become rounder, and the earcups now have a slightly new look. However, the most notable change is the missing hinge that allows the earcups on XM4 to fold and rotate. This time it's one piece similar to the AirPods Max, so the cups don't fold inwards; they just rotate to make it sit flat in the case.
The cans are made of recycled plastic and have a smooth finish that looks premium. Most of its parts are made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), which has a satin-like texture, unlike its predecessor. Although this feels lighter, the texture felt more premium on the predecessor.
The build quality is impressive, but some might like the XM4 design better. I asked a few friends and colleagues, and they had mixed reactions. So design choice is subjective, but practically the new design does the job well. It is also quite sturdy and seems like it can bear a few drops unless smashed with force.
Lastly, the XM5 also comes with a new carry case. It has a fabric finish and a sleeker profile that fits better and also seems like a sturdy material to protect it from damage and scratches. My only complaint with the platinum silver colour I have is that it has started catching dirt in about ten days of use. So, if you're going for this one, ensure you protect it from being touched by dirty hands or simply kept on a dusty surface.
Comfort, Control and Connectivity: How is it like to use?
Sony has constantly advertised comfort in these headphones since the first model, and the XM5s aren't any different. These headphones are made to be worn for long stretches, so there's a high focus on making these suitable for it.
In the last week, I've used them for over 15 hours, and it's fair to say that it feels one with the head, even with prolonged usage. These are adjustable, put the right amount of pressure, are stiff enough to stay on the head while running, and are lightweight. The padding on the XM5 is mushier than its predecessor, and so is the headband. I liked the new band design more than last year's design or even Airpods Max.
In terms of controls, it's straightforward and intuitive to use and gives good feedback. You get touch-enabled volume control, call/music control, ANC on/off, voice assistant and talk-through control. All of it works as intended. You get a touch-sensitive surface on the right ear cup and two physical buttons on the left.
Here are all the touch controls-
Double tap: Plays/pause audio and answer/end a call.
Swipe forward/backwards: Skips to the next/previous track.
Swipe forward and hold: Fast forwards the track.
Swipe backwards and hold: Backtracks the track.
AdvertisementSwipe up/down: Turns the volume up/down.
Swipe up and hold: Turn the volume continuously until you release the tap.
Swipe down and hold: Turns the volume down continuously until you release the tap.
Cover the ear cup with your palm: Turns down the audio volume to let you talk.
It's unacceptable to have unresponsive or slow touch controls; Sony has taken care of that in this one. However, it would be interesting to see whether it retains the same responsiveness in the long run.
In terms of connectivity, it gets connected to Bluetooth in a jiffy. You can also use a TRS cable and a USB-Type C port for charging. In addition, the WH-1000XM5 can connect to your Bluetooth-enabled devices via the LDAC, AAC, and SBC Bluetooth codecs. Unfortunately, Sony did not return aptX support, which was last seen on the XM3.
Lastly, you can use Sony's companion Headphones Connect App for iOS and Android to get the maximum out of these headphones. You can optimise ANC, register 360 Reality Audio, use a custom equaliser and update the firmware. Not sure about the rest, but the last part makes it necessary.
There are more options like find my headphones and ear analysis for 360-audio. While the former asks for access to your location, others need pictures of your ear to set it up for the best results. Sony is a reliable name and gives logical reasoning to collect this data, but if it tickles your anxiety, you will have to compromise on these features.
Impressive battery life and charging speeds
The headphones are hard to drain. I had to force use them to drain out the battery, and it delivered slightly over 30 hours of backup with ANC on. But here's what's more interesting - it can last over 52 hours without ANC, and that's practically a week's battery life even if you use it for seven hours daily. So if you use your cans for 5 hours a day with ANC, you'll be sorted for six days with a single charge or for a long flight.
Still, when it dies, just three minutes of charging can provide 3 hours' worth of ANC playback. Worst case, if you are stranded with no battery or charging option, you can use the 3.5mm cable for direct playback.
Audio performance, ANC and microphone
The WH-1000XM5 continue on the same sound signature known to Sony's WH headphones. However, it comes with more emphasis on bass, loud highs and lows and softer mids. While some might love the default preset, especially with high-energy music, the audiophiles might need to tune the equaliser to get the desired sound profile. For example, rock music lovers might need to adjust mids and highs to boost vocals and instruments like guitar and horns.
I personally like the bass-heavy, so I stuck to default settings where the bass is heavy but still very tight and precise. It's always advised to experiment with the equaliser settings to find the best as per your liking. If you are an audiophile, you might likely relate to the issue I noticed with the over-emphasis on highs. Take Kendrick Lamar's N95, for example - the track starts with clear vocals and snare, but as soon as the bass is introduced, the snare seems to subdue under bass and vocals. It gets more prominent as you move to multi-instrument genres like rock or metal, with more instruments in high frequency.
However, it's pretty impressive if you are into pop, Bollywood or EDM. There's a track called Beat Freak by Chris Lake and Riva Starr, which has a variety of basslines, and a mix of different sound effects - which handles it impressively well. But again, the lows and mids are a bit suppressed if you listen at high volume. So songs with softer tones, like Kal Ho Na Ho's title track or Hey Jude by The Beetles, are best suited out of the box. Also, anything from The Weekend sounds lovely on this without tweaking the equaliser. Lastly, what I love is the soundstage. Put the headphones on, close your eyes, and it's very close to listening to a concert.
The noise isolation has significantly improved, meaning that you are physically isolated from noises even when the headphones are switched off. So it's blocking the noise before cancelling it.
Coming to ANC, it's excellent. Having used the two competitors - Aipods Max, Bose QC45 and Bose NCH 700 - I doubt if there's hardly any alternative to XM5's noise cancellation. It can cancel distant noises and people talking next to you, and it's so good that you can cut off from your physical surroundings by closing your eyes. So it's fair to say it's the best ANC headphones out there.
The microphone doesn't seem to have noticeable improvement, but it doesn't mean it's terrible. It's still good enough for a premium set of cans. The call quality is excellent, whether via Zoom, Meet or a phone call. But if you are planning to record professional voice-overs, this might lack performance.
If you are looking for premium headphones for the office, commuting or even working from home, the Sony WH-1000XM5 is a no-brainer. The highlights are ANC performance, battery life, good microphone, connectivity and, of course, the audio quality. The only issue you might face is the lack of IP rating and its high price. However, that does not mean that it's not worth the price. The only expert recommendation is to either buy it for the introductory price or wait for the prices to go down during a sale to make it even more value for money.
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