- Sony’s WH-1000XM series has always set the benchmark of how premium ANC headphones should be. The WH-1000XM4 has been one of the most popular travel headphones around the world.
- The Sony WH-1000XM5 builds on the work while having a radical redesign.
- In addition to class-leading ANC and superior call quality, the Sony WH-1000XM5 gets most other things right.
The Sony WH-1000XM series is widely recognized as the best line of Bluetooth ANC headphones on the market today. Despite Sony’s typically terrible naming, people know what the 1000XM stands for and what to expect from it. Alongside Bose, Sennheiser, and even Apple, Sony has been competing for years for frequent travelers and people who work from home or in cafes and can not live without active noise cancelation.
Sony has always been top-notch when it comes to its flagship ANC headphones. They added USB Type-C and improved comfort with the XM3 and then followed it up with the XM4 with even better ANC and multi-device support. The Sony WH -1000XM4 was a clear recommendation with its excellent sound and comprehensive features.
Now that more and more people are moving to hybrid work models, ANC with Bluetooth headphones is more important than ever. Sony recognized this and took ANC even further with the new Sony WH-1000XM5. The XM5s are advertised as “industry-leading ANC,” and rightly so. But what about the rest? We’ll find out in our Sony WH-1000XM5 review.
Sony WH-1000XM5: Design & Comfort
The XM5s are a marked departure from Sony’s typical design language for the WH-1000XM series. They have this new shape that looks quite minimalist, sharp, and clean. Compared to the XM4s, they have a slimmer, rounded headband. The earcups are also more minimalist and very comfortable. They lean more towards the design of the Bose 700s and AirPods Max, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
You first notice how light they are when you pick them up. Weighing in at 250 grams, the XM5s are lightweight and incredibly comfortable to wear on your head. The discreet faux leather memory foam earcups conform to the shape of your head and fit snugly around the ears. The headband is also sufficiently padded to distribute the weight of the headphones evenly. The contact pressure is also near perfect, neither too tight nor too loose, even when walking or jogging.
For someone who wears glasses and has had problems with headphones pressing heavily on the frame, the XM5s were super comfortable. I regularly wore the XM5s for hours with ease. The headband adjusts with a sliding mechanism that doesn’t lock in place, so it can be adjusted to the exact position you want. The earcups swivel to fit your ears but don’t rotate 180 degrees. This means the earcups must face up when you wear the headphones around your neck.
As for foldability, unlike their predecessors, the XM5s don’t fold completely, requiring a larger storage case. The hard-shell fabric case is nicely designed and looks and feels very premium. However, since they’re larger, they take up more space in the case. This is a poor choice for a pair of headphones meant for travel and on-the-go use.
Credit Sony for sticking with physical buttons for key functions like powering on and switching between ambient noise and noise cancelation modes. Overall, I’m very happy with the design in terms of fit and comfort. In fact, the XM5s are probably the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever used. I only wish they were foldable, like the XM4.
Sony WH-1000XM5: Features & Controls
Despite the many bells and whistles, Sony does everything right with the WH-1000XM5. Despite some weaknesses, the WH-1000XM5 is an ambitious set of headphones. For example, these headphones target some features that have been proven on other headphones, such as Find My Device and Fast Pairing on Android.
The ear sensor pauses the music when you take the headphones off your head. They automatically turn off to conserve battery power if they’re off for a while. Unlike the XM4, the sensor isn’t visible on the XM5. There’s also the option to let ambient noise passthrough by cupping your hand over the right ear cup. What I like best is that I can leave it on while I work. That way, I can just work and listen. I get interrupted a lot, so I can put the headphones on while someone puts something on my desk instead of taking them off and putting them back on a hundred times when I get interrupted. These are all small and simple things, but they improve the experience tremendously.
As we mentioned earlier, Sony has done well to keep physical buttons for core functions. There are touch controls for other things like media controls, activating smart assistants, and others. They also work well and are reliable. Even though active noise cancelation is the headlining feature (we’ll get to that in a moment), the WH-1000XM5 have some really cool smart features that further enhance the listening experience.
Let’s start with location awareness. The headphones can learn your daily routine, and the Ambient Sound Control settings can be adjusted based on your location by pairing them with your smartphone. When the headphones detect that you’re at home, it can reduce noise cancelation compared to when you’re in the office. If you’re out for a walk, it may play more outside audio to keep you safe when crossing the street. All of these features can be adjusted via the settings, of course, and work well in most cases.
Another cool smart feature is Speak-to-Chat. As the name suggests, if you start a conversation while listening to the headphones, you can have a conversation without having to take them off. You can also specify how long you want the ambient mode to be active before it switches back to ANC. This is handy but can get annoying if you’re in the habit of singing along while listening to your favorite music. Fortunately, it can be deactivated in the settings.
Multi-device support, first introduced on the XM4, is also available on the XM5. You can connect to two devices at the same time and switch between them depending on what’s happening on each, for example, to prioritize a notification. Finally, there’s better support for voice assistants. Alexa and Google Assistant can be activated hands-free by their respective trigger commands. They work as advertised, but I’m not really a fan of using voice assistants through headphones. That might just be me.
Sony WH-1000XM5: Sony Headphones Connect App
The Sony Headphones Connect app (available for iOS and Android) offers a number of features that can enhance your listening experience. These include an equalizer, noise cancelation settings, battery life indicator, and more. The equalizer lets you adjust the sound of your headphones to your preferences. Simply drag the sliders up or down to increase or decrease the level of bass, midrange, or treble.
The app lets you adjust the level of ambient sounds you want to hear. You can either choose to have no sound leakage at all or only allow a small amount of outside noise so you can still be aware of your surroundings. There are many options for adjusting noise cancelation, location-based settings that automatically adjust to your usage and environment, and an Ear Analyzer to optimize the effects of Sony’s proprietary 360 Reality Audio sound format (similar to Apple’s Spatial Audio). However, Sony’s 360 Reality Audio only works with a handful of relatively unknown apps and not popular apps like Apple Music, YouTube Music, or Spotify. So I haven’t really found much use for it.
“Safe Listening” is a nice feature that I never realized I’d appreciate until it was presented to me. The headphones constantly log your decibel and sound pressure levels and notify you when you’re approaching the weekly noise limit recommended by WHO. The app not only records how much time you’ve spent with the headphones but also awards badges for using the various features over time.
Sony WH-1000XM5: Active Noise Cancelation
Sony’s XM series has been an absolute boss of ANC on Bluetooth headphones. The WH-1000XM4 was an easy recommendation for the same reason. Amazingly, Sony has managed to outdo itself with the 1000XM5. Wondering how? Sony has increased the number of microphones on the XM5 from four to eight. That may sound like a gimmick, but the results speak for themselves.
Many ANC headphones create a pressure sensation or that slight thump when ANC is on, and no music is playing. This is not the case with the XM5. The ANC on the XM5 blocks noise at all frequencies, from traffic and construction to conversations and wind noise. Sony uses the V1 integrated processor first used on the WF-1000XM4 earbuds to achieve this. The XM5 even has two noise-canceling processors.
No matter where you are, you can simply put the XM5 on, block out all outside noise and distractions, and focus entirely on your music. And that’s really something special that I enjoy using every day.
Sony WH-1000XM5: Audio and Call Quality
And how does the Sony WH-1000XM5s sound? Fantastic, I’d say. Their rich and lively sound profile emphasizes both high and low frequencies, resulting in a truly beautiful sound that is a pleasure to listen to. Even the subtlest nuances are easy to hear, thanks to the rich detail in the highs.
The lower frequencies sound tight and punchy without being overpowering or muddy. The mids also remain clear and present. The presence of all these frequencies provides a clear separation of instruments in movies, games, and all genres of music. It supports the LDAC codec in addition to the conventional SBC and AAC codecs. Sony’s DSEE Extreme engine promises to upscale compressed music to near hi-res quality. There is no aptX or aptX HD, but LDAC transmits high-quality audio data with higher bit rates than Bluetooth on many Android devices.
For bass lovers, there is nothing better than XM5. Purists might disagree, of course, as the XM5 boosts bass a bit too much, but that’s what you’d expect from ANC headphones anyway.
One of the biggest advantages of headphones over earphones is that the speakers (or drivers) are not as close to the ears, allowing for a much wider soundstage. The XM5s offer an impressive soundstage, which ANC further enhances.
The additional microphones on the XM5s not only help with noise cancelation but also with call quality. The array of eight microphones and noise cancelation algorithm greatly improve the call quality of the Sony WH -1000XM5. According to Sony, the beamforming microphones near the user’s mouth for calls have been increased from two on the XM4s to four on the XM5s. In our tests, the voice sounds reasonably clear but lacks fullness, but still better than any Bluetooth headphones we have used.
Sony WH-1000XM5: Battery life
Some rumors said the XM5s would come with a battery life of 40 hours. That didn’t turn out to be true, but the 30 hours of battery life is still very good. This is true when ANC is on and the headphones are connected to the phone via Bluetooth. It could probably last up to 40 hours when ANC is off, but we hardly used it without ANC.
The standby time of 20 days is also impressive. Even more impressive is the new fast charging feature. It still takes 3 hours to charge the Sony WH-1000XM5 from 0 to 100%. But a 3-minute charge can bring up to 3 hours of listening time. This is especially useful when, for example, the headphone batteries run out just as you’re about to leave.
Who is the Sony WH-1000XM5 for?
Whether you’re a commuter, office worker, city dweller, or student, the Sony WH -1000XM5 is made for you. This product is a good choice if you spend a lot of time talking on the phone or want high-bit-rate Bluetooth audio.
Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: Verdict
It’s not easy for a manufacturer to improve its best premium headphones ANC every time. The Sony WH-1000XM4 set new standards for ANC headphones, and the Sony WH-1000XM5 manages to surpass them in most scenarios. Sony has managed to do a comprehensive redesign, which is commendable. The XM5s are the best in class headphone ANC, offer excellent sound performance, much-improved call quality, are extremely comfortable, have pretty good battery life (with support for fast charging), very handy smart features, and highly customizable app support – all at a competitive price of 26,990 rupees (introductory price, but we suspect this will be the final price) in India and $400 in the US.
We wish the headphones had an IP rating and that the case was a bit smaller and that the headphones folded like the previous models. All in all, you can not go wrong with the Sony WH-1000XM5 at its list price (or lower) unless you value foldability. In that case, the Sony WH -1000XM4 is the better choice at a reduced price of ~Rs 21,000 in India and ~$330 in the US.
- Best-in-class ANC
- Comfortable fit
- Superior call quality
- Multi-device support
- Highly customizable app
- Smart features
- No IP rating
- Not foldable and hence less portable
- Slightly pricey
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The Sony WH-1000XM5 are the best ANC headphones you can buy, thanks to their superior sound quality, comfortable design, and excellent noise-canceling performance. Read our Sony WH-1000XM5 review to find out more.