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Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones review: Still brilliant

The XM4s were way ahead of their time. The XM5s keep the ball rolling.

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Sony WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones review: Still brilliant
Sony WH-1000XM5 price in India is set at Rs 34,990. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The WH-1000XM5s have a lot to prove. They are succeeding the fabulous WH-1000XM4s that, even though they came out in 2020, are still terrific value. But even more importantly, this is the first time in years that Sony is giving the WH-1000X series a thorough refresh. The XM5s have a brand-new design and more processing power under the hood. The pricing, too, is a bit higher than before.

DESIGN & COMFORT

Sony is following the WF-1000XM4 (review) rulebook with the WH-1000XM5 which is to say that the idea is to cut down on flab, any lose ends, so as to give you tighter, seemingly more compact dimensions. The end result though not as drastic, is still appreciated. Everything is more streamlined, sleek, and even minimal some would say.  

The headband meets the earcups at the centre rather than cupping them from the sides. So, there is now a distinct stem in these headphones. You can’t not point out the Bose slash Apple influence, here, and while there’s nothing wrong with this kind of inspiration, it does take away some of the uniqueness that Sony’s headphones have always pushed for. Not that it doesn’t work or anything, but some of the design choices may be polarising, especially to loyalists.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review
They fold one-way and lay completely flat. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

This includes how these headphones choose to fold as well. Rather than folding inwards –so they would save more space— they fold one-way and lay completely flat à la Bose and Apple. It naturally leads to a bigger case as well. It is collapsible when you’re using the headphones, but it’s still big enough to take up quite a bit of space inside your backpack, for instance.

Also Read | Sony on why the WH-1000XM5 wireless headphones have a new design, more microphones and not-so-elitist price | Exclusive

The headphones, themselves, aren’t as striking as the previous model. Those came with a hint of metal and more aggressive lines. The new ones are all plastic and relatively more concealed. That’s not a dealbreaker so to say, but they sure do lack some of the premium aesthetic of the XM4s which given their pricing, could go either way for buyers.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review
The case is collapsible. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

What no one can take away from them is the sheer comfort. Sony is pulling no punches there. The XM5s are light and very comfortable to wear even for uninterrupted movie marathons or long, taxing Zoom calls. There is no water or sweat resistance though.

PERFORMANCE & FEATURES

The driver size has gone down from 40mm to 30mm in this generation. Now, before you jump to any conclusions, know that driver size isn’t everything. As for audio, let’s put it this way— the XM5s are easily the most refined pair of headphones that Sony has ever launched under the WH-1000X series.

Next to the XM4s, they sound much cleaner, fuller, and more natural. The detail and stereo separation are on another level. They do lack some of the outright bass –energetic tonality—of their predecessor, though. So, if you happen to love chest-thumping bass, you’ll be better off sticking with the XM4s (that will remain to be on sale, Sony has confirmed to financialexpress.com).  

Sony WH-1000XM5 review
They have 8 mics. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The XM5s support Hi-Res audio over the LDAC codec, like the XM4s. While not quite CD quality, LDAC can carry up to 3x more data (up to 990 kilobits per second) compared to typical Bluetooth audio. This works with Android. The XM5s support AAC on iPhone. There is support for multipoint, too, so you can connect these headphones to two devices at once but Sony only lets you use one – LDAC/ multipoint— feature at a time.

Their DSEE Extreme feature can upscale compressed audio in real-time to something that is close to Hi-Res in quality using AI. They also support Sony’s 360 Reality Audio with supported content.

The XM5s support fast pairing with Android and Windows devices. Support for Google Assistant and Alexa is available. You control them much the same way as the XM4s by tapping and swiping on the right ear cup.

Also Read | Indians very quick in picking up on new technology: Sony | Exclusive

Sony is doubling down on processing power in this generation. You get the QN1 chip from the XM4s and V1 from the WF-1000XM4s. QN1 is dedicated to managing the active noise cancellation on the whole and V1 aids in active cancellation of higher frequencies –specifically— while consuming less power and maintaining a stable, low-latency connection. The end result is that the noise cancelling has improved, and even though, the difference isn’t night and day (the XM4s were already outstanding in this regard), it only helps Sony in extending the lead further. The ambient mode is as impressive.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review
They have two chips, QN1 and V1. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The number of microphones has gone up from 4 to 8 in this generation and voice calls, as a result, sound significantly better. For a pair of over-the-ear headphones, it can’t get any better than this at the time of writing.

Despite putting in a slew of hardware upgrades— and a new design – it’s nice to see Sony not compromising on battery life. The XM5s are rated for a solid 30-hours with noise cancelling on, just like the XM4s.

SONY WH-1000XM5 | SHOULD YOU BUY?

The WH-1000XM5s may look different on the outside, but deep inside, they are a very familiar pair of headphones. They do sound a bit better, cancel out noise a little more efficiently, and simply knock it out of the park when it comes to voice calls. But that was mostly expected. The challenge was, to do something unexpected.

With Sony –already— commanding a lead in audio prowess, a more premium design with some level of ingress protection would have been a nice thing to have, for instance.

Sony WH-1000XM5 review
The driver size has gone down from 40mm to 30mm. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The XM4s were way ahead of their time, and they still are, which is why you should hold on to them for some more time if you have them. First-time buyers are also advised to check out the XM4s in person before taking the plunge. They cost less and sound excellent.    

The XM5s are great, no two ways about that. They are the best pair of wireless headphones that Sony makes today. They cost a bit more – Rs 34,990 (Rs 26,990 introductory)— but they’re totally worth it. But they are definitely not the no-brainer deal the XM4s are, even to this day.   

ProsCons
Clean, natural soundPolarising design
Excellent ANC and ambient mode
Multipoint
Great battery life

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