Revered by many, Sony’s WH-1000X series has rarely disappointed with its class-leading Active Noise Cancellation and reliable sound. The winning formula by Sony continues with the latest and greatest noise cancelling headphones from the company – the Sony WH-1000XM5. These latest ANC over-ear headphones come with a major design overhaul but in its essence, it exhibits the DNA of the WH-1000X lineup we’ve come to love. However, the redesign and a sprinkling of ever-expanding features have bumped the price up from the previous iteration. Sporting a price tag of ₹34,990, the Sony WH-1000XM5 is now placed closer to the price range of two of its most fierce competitors – Bose NC 700 and Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless. While it was not just the lower price point that made the Sony WH-1000X lineup stand out, the price hike can be a cause for concern in the price-conscious Indian market. The question remains, does the Sony WH-1000XM5 completely justify its cost or does it fall short? Let’s find out in this review.
Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: Build and design
Sony hasn’t applied the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” strategy this time around with the Sony WH-1000XM5. In fact, the flagship headphones from Sony get a complete design overhaul this year. The headphone’s profile is slimmer, smoother, and curvier than its predecessor. We’re glad Sony decided to redesign these headphones since the Sony WH-1000XM4 had an almost identical design to its predecessor and honestly, design and hardware overhauls are what keep tech interesting and fresh.
The headphone has fewer visible joints and hinges and more discreet microphones. The whole look is more “stealthy”, for the lack of a better word. The design also allegedly improves the flow of air across the headphone frame to mitigate wind noise. However, this design departure has given the boot to the foldability of the headset. Much like the Bose NC 700, the Sony WH-1000XM5 simply lie flat but doesn’t fold away into a more portable unit, which can be a polarising design for some.
It deters users from just stowing away this headset in their bag since it feels much more vulnerable since it can’t be folded away into a ball. We encourage users to use the supplied hard carry case since it will keep your pricey investment safe. However, the case will definitely take up more real estate in your bag than the Sony WH-1000 Mark 4 would have taken in its folded state.
That aside, the headphones are primarily built out of plastic but it feels exquisite and premium to the touch. Also, Sony’s dedication to the environment impresses us – the WH-1000XM5 is made predominantly of recycled ABS, a material that was first used by the company in their LinkBuds. The eco-friendly aspect carries over in the packaging with no plastic whatsoever used in it. The branding is minimal throughout the headset – just a tiny Sony logo on each hinge. The headphones are available in Black and Silver (more like beige) colour variants and we loved how classy our Silver review unit looked.
The headband now has sliders instead of clicking extenders. This feels sturdier than earlier designs and the extending process is now more seamless. It extends quite a bit so even those with larger heads should get a good fit. The earcups can be swivelled to lie flat inside the case or on your chest when not in use. The headband is now slimmer and the ear cups have a slightly different shape – more ovoid than oval.
Onboard controls remain largely the same – there are two physical buttons on the left ear cup (power and ANC) and the surface of the right ear cup is touch sensitive. You can swipe up and down to change volume, double tap to pause and answer calls, swipe forwards or backwards to change tracks, and press and hold for Assistant. Quick Attention makes a comeback, so you can rest your palm on the right ear cup to instantly jump into Ambient Mode. The headphones house a USB-C charging port on the right cup and a 3.5 mm audio jack on the left cup for passive listening.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 are exceptionally well built with no creaks and rattles whatsoever when in use. However, if you’re looking for gym buddies or cans you can take out in the rain, the Sony WH-1000XM5 isn’t the one for you since there’s still no official IP rating.
Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: Comfort and fit
Although the headband is slightly slimmer and the ear cups seem a bit less plushy than previous iterations, surprisingly, we found that comfort didn’t take a hit at all. The WH-1000XM5 is slightly lighter than its predecessor, weighing in at 250 grams. We were effortlessly being able to sit with these cans on our heads for hours on end with little to no signs of discomfort. There was no painful hotspot created on top of our heads after a few hours of listening to music – a problem we surprisingly faced on the WH-1000XM4.
The streamlined ear cups were plush enough to comfortably engulf our ears. Previous iterations didn’t quite accommodate those with larger ears, but with the WH-1000XM5, the padding is wide and deep enough to accommodate most ear sizes. The soft vegan leatherette material can get slightly hot though, especially in Mumbai’s sweltering heat. However, if you sit in a room with AC or a speedy fan, then you shouldn’t face too much of an issue here. The memory foam in the headband and ear cups make for a comfortable fit and the clamping force is just perfect, they feel secure enough but without the feeling of crushing your ears.
Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: Active Noise Cancellation and other features
If you’re willing to part with ₹34,990 of your hard-earned money, you would expect a cutting-edge pair of headphones with almost every modern-day feature at your disposal. And the Sony WH-1000XM5 delivers just that for you. These headphones are chock full of premium features including ANC, an accompanying app, fast charging, and more.
Let’s start with Sony’s lauded Active Noise Cancellation technology. To help with delivering the best noise cancellation possible, the Sony WH-1000XM5 leverages the integrated V1 processor and upped the number of microphones from four to a whopping eight.
Sony impresses greatly on the noise-cancelling front and proves exactly why the company is exalted as the best in business for effective ANC. Last time around, with the Sony WH-1000XM4, the company focussed on improving low-end ANC and this time around, they’ve gone for an improvement in the higher frequencies. And the result speaks for itself. The Sony WH-1000XM5 confidently envelops you into a cocoon of silence despite the cacophony of the outside world.
The low rumbles of an AC or airplane are non-existent and mid-range and higher-frequency sounds are dulled out to a great extent. Sony explained that the new 30 mm driver design makes use of a high rigidity dome and dome to diminish some of the higher-pitched sounds. So, even if your music isn’t turned up too loud, chances are, you will hear almost no ambient noise with ANC turned on. These headphones are truly a masterclass for ANC and we’re excited to see how future generations mask out higher frequencies even further.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 can also recognise your environment and optimise noise cancellation as you move around with a feature called Adaptive Sound Control. It learns your daily routine and recognises where you are. The headphones can then switch between noise cancellation and ambient modes intelligently based on your location and preferences. In our tests, we found that this worked more seamlessly than it ever has before. Ambient Mode is pretty good; it has improved in how natural it sounds compared to its predecessor, but Apple’s AirPods Max is still the king of Ambient Sound.
Another one of Sony’s best features is the excellent Headphones Connect app. You can tweak Adaptive Sound Control settings within the app (change the level of Transparency and more). The app also features a custom equaliser, a couple of preset EQs, Sony’s 360 Reality Audio, and toggles for multipoint connection and DSEE. Sony’s 360 Reality Audio only supports one service in India though, which is disappointing.
One thing missing is customisable controls, but to be fair, the controls are supremely intuitive and there’s absolutely no need to customise them. You can, however, change the function of the NC button on the headphones to include Spotify Tap which fires up Spotify using two or three taps.
Speak to Chat returns as well but it’s not a feature we enjoy using since it goes off at the worst times – when someone else in the room is talking loud or when we’re singing along with the song playing. Quick Attention, which we mentioned above, is one of our favourite features and works flawlessly. There’s also Wear Detection where simply taking your headphones off pauses the music and putting it back on resumes it – a feature we absolutely love.
Sony’s DSEE Extreme engine makes a comeback as well which allegedly upscales compressed music to near hi-res quality and the headphones are also compatible with LDAC codec alongside the more traditional SBC and AAC codecs. There’s no aptX or aptX HD but LDAC does allow streaming of high-quality audio on many compatible Android devices at higher bitrates than conventional Bluetooth.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 also brings back the beloved multipoint connectivity feature, i.e. the ability to connect two devices simultaneously. This feature is an absolute godsend and works seamlessly. We love being able to have the headphones connected to both our mobile phone and laptop and the ability to switch effortlessly between them. However, you still can’t use this feature with LDAC active, which is a bummer.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 support your device’s native assistant but they also come with Alexa built-in, which is great. There’s both OK Google and Alexa wake-word detection as well, which is a rarity. So, you can perform handsfree actions from playing music, answering calls to reading notifications, and much more.
Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: Sound quality, microphone, and connectivity
Sony chose to go with a smaller 30 mm driver this time around compared to the 40 mm one that sat inside the Sony WH-1000XM4. This initially made us a bit sceptical about the new headphones’ ability to convey dynamic sound with a sense of space, but with some technological wizardry, the XM5s sound just as good as their predecessor, in fact, they sound a bit more spacious than the Mark 4s. With LDAC codec and DSEE Extreme toggled on with Sony’s default EQ setting, the sound was dynamic, open and detailed.
While FLAC files sound stellar with these headphones, DSEE Extreme can even eke out extra detail when you’re streaming music over Bluetooth on Spotify or YouTube Music. Those who follow Sony must know that the company does tend to boost the bass a bit when compared to other frequencies, and you get a similar warm, bass-boosted sonic profile out of the Mark 5s.
In tracks such as Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars, the bass kick is rich and punchy but it can slightly impact the clarity of the mids. But much of this is negated with LDAC and DSEE turned on. If you’re a casual music listener, you won’t be able to tell but if you’re an audiophile, we’d suggest diving into the custom EQ in the app and tweaking down the bass response by a bit.
Mids, by themselves, are delivered with unerring precision and the headphones have impeccable timing as well. In Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy, you can hear the drive and weight of the drums with ease but the Mark 5 also keeps the vocals clear with little sibilance. In crowded tracks such as Selkies by BTBAM, the instruments are clear and distinguishable. There’s a slight peak in the highs that allows more clarity to come through but this doesn’t sound tinny, thankfully. The headphones reproduce sound with lavish detail, something that’s only hindered a tiny bit by the slightly boosted bass and low mids.
Overall, the Sony WH-1000XM5 are sonically advanced headphones with rounded and punchy bass response, exquisite mids, and sparkly highs. The cans don’t distort at high volumes too, something we had an issue with on the Mark 4s. We constantly tried pushing the volume levels but didn’t hear an ounce of distortion, which is seriously impressive. In the wired mode, the headphones sound just as good if you keep them turned on, but if you turn them off, the sound quality takes a slight hit, especially in the low bass and highs.
Moving on to the microphone performance, the Sony WH-1000XM5 sports eight microphones and an AI noise rejection algorithm. The call quality on the headphones is just exemplary. Wind noise is almost non-existent and both ends of the conversation are clear and discernible. The Mark 5’s microphone is a great improvement over the Mark 4, which already had a good and reliable microphone. As for connectivity, you get Bluetooth v5.2 and there were no instances of lag or stutter during our testing period.
Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: Battery life
The battery life of the Sony WH-1000XM5 remains largely unchanged from its predecessor. However, we’re not complaining since the more streamlined design could have meant that the battery life took a hit, which it didn’t. The headphones are rated at 30 hours of wireless playback time with ANC turned on and 40 hours with Noise Cancellation turned off. This is excellent battery life performance in our books, and the headphones even matched up to their rating in our tests. It lasted a little over 30 hours with NC turned on and AAC codec active. If you do keep LDAC on, you may see the numbers drop a bit.
If the cans run out of juice, the Sony WH-1000XM5 comes with fast charging capabilities where just 3 minutes of charge can get you a whopping 3 hours of wireless playback. However, you must use a USB PD charger for this. While we didn’t get to test this feature thoroughly, we will do so in the future, and update this review.
Sony WH-1000XM5 Review: Verdict
Sony has done it yet again! Expectations are always soaring when it comes to Sony’s flagship WH-1000X series of headphones and the Sony WH-1000XM5 more than just meets it. The Sony WH-1000XM5 are, without a doubt, best-in-class noise-cancelling headphones. These headphones are a statement to rivals from Bose, Sennheiser, and Jabra to sit up and take notice. While the Bose NC 700 are extremely capable ANC headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM5 takes it a notch higher with excellent low-end noise cancelling and improved higher frequency sound mitigation.
Add to that an overhauled design, great sound quality, a plethora of features, and a comfortable fit, and you’ve got the winning formula for an exquisite pair of noise-cancelling headphones in 2022 right here. Even with the price hike, those willing to spend will get their money’s worth with the Sony WH-1000XM5. Our only serious gripe is the lack of IP rating, which means we cannot recommend these cans to gym-goers or to those who live in particularly rainy areas.