Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones review: Arguably the best under Rs. 30,000
The WH-1000X series of headphones from Sony have been incredibly popular over the years. I have had the good fortune of experiencing the Sony WH-1000XM4 for a considerable amount of time. It's been over two years since I reviewed it, and its successor has now arrived. Unlike smartphones, the XM4 is still available in India, and more importantly, still relevant courtesy of its excellent sound quality and category-defining active noise cancellation (ANC). No wonder Sony did not bother releasing its successor in a hurry. While the new product will have to deal with the pressure of bettering its illustrious predecessor, we are all excited to see what the Sony WH-1000XM5 brings to the table. So without wasting any more time, let's just jump into the action and get to know Sony's new wireless headphone as well as we can.
Looks a little different from its predecessors but equally comfortable
The Sony WH-1000XM5 design is noticeably different from the XM3 and XM4, but still feels like a part of the series. It is made of high-quality plastic with a smooth matte finish, and is available in black and off-white shades; the company prefers to call the latter Silver. The plastic body helps in keeping the weight down to about 250 grams, but the build quality is quite solid. Thanks to the smart weight distribution, it feels even lighter when you put it on. The ear-cups are nicely cushioned and the headband has ample padding with a smooth height adjustment mechanism. Wear detection sensors are present to pause the audio when you take the headphones off, and resume when you wear them again. A smart-looking carry pouch is bundled to store the headphones. While the earcups can be turned and flattened, they cannot be folded, and hence take up more space in the bag. The back of the right ear cup accepts a few touch gestures. A USB-C port for charging, a couple of physical buttons and a 3.5mm headphone jack can be found on the earcups. The power button also serves as a Bluetooth pairing button, and the other button can be used to toggle through noise cancellation modes. In case the headphone runs out of charge, you can use it as a wired headphone using the bundled (or any) aux cable. The Sony WH-1000XM5 feels comfortable on the ears. The earcups aren't big enough to go entirely over your ears, but the padding is perfect. The earcups exert just the right amount of pressure to stay firmly in place and not cause any discomfort. I felt no ear fatigue even after wearing them for a few hours at a stretch. The earcups provide more than decent passive noise isolation even when ANC is not turned on.
ANC, LDAC support, touch controls; there's everything except ingress protection
While the WH-1000XM4 had a single processor to manage the audio and ANC, you get a dedicated processor to handle each of them here. The V1 and QN1 processors take care of business without a stutter. Like with most Sony audio products, the Sony Headphones app lets you configure the product further. You also get a multi-band equalizer in the app to alter the sound profile; highly unlikely you would need it though. These Bluetooth 5.2 headphones support SBC, AAC, and LDAC codecs, and can be paired with two devices simultaneously. However, if you use multi-point connectivity, you cannot use the superior LDAC codec and have to settle for AAC, which is relatively inferior. The wireless range is good with the headphones retaining a strong connection at 10 meters with a clear line of sight. The earcups are fitted with a 30mm driver each, which is smaller than the 40mm drivers used in the XM4. Thankfully, that does not negatively impact the audio output at all. You also get eight microphones on this headphone for calling and ANC. While the feature list is extensive, there's one thing missing. You do not get any ingress protection on the XM5, hence I wouldn't recommend wearing them during a heavy workout or in rain. The touch controls on this headphone are smartly implemented. Double tapping at the back of the right earcup lets you play/pause a track or answer/end calls. Sliding a finger from bottom to top increases the volume and sliding it in the opposite direction lowers it. Similarly, sliding it horizontally lets you jump to the next or previous track. If you need to talk to someone while ANC and music are on, simply place your palm on the right earcup to drop the volume and let ambient sounds through. The moment you take your palm off, things go back to the way they were.
Not neutral but thoroughly enjoyably sound, great active noise cancellation
The sound quality on the Sony WH-1000XM5 is excellent and enjoyable across various genres of music. As with its predecessor, the sound signature isn't perfectly neutral, nor does it pretend to cater to the purists. The lows are boosted a bit to provide that extra warmth in the audio that many like without overshadowing the midrange frequencies. Despite the boost, the bass is tight and punchy. The mids reproduction is quite crisp with excellent vocal clarity and good instrument separation. The highs have ample sparkle but are tempered to perfection, and do not sound sibilant. The detail in the audio is excellent, the imaging is on the money and the soundstage is quite broad, providing the audio with a nice airy feel. The WH-1000XM5 is equally enjoyable for watching movies, with great dialogue clarity and a good amount of thump in action sequences. There was no perceptible lag between audio and video either. While the sound quality is impressive, something else that's equally striking is the ANC. If you have used Sony flagship earphones/headphones over the past couple of years, this won't surprise you. It would be safe to say that the company has consistently provided the best ANC performance in this segment, and the legacy lives on with the XM5. The XM4 had the best ANC among headphones in this price bracket, and the XM5 raises the bar further, courtesy of a dedicated processor and additional microphones. In addition to cutting out low-frequency ambient noise like the hum of an AC, it can now reduce certain midrange frequency sounds too, like voices. Auto NC Optimiser can further fine-tune the noise reduction based on your surroundings. Thus you can enjoy your music peacefully even in a place that's crowded and buzzing. When you need to be aware of your surroundings, switch on transparency mode to let ambient sounds through so that you do not miss any important announcements.
Surprisingly good call quality, impressive battery backup, quick charge support
The call quality on most on or over-the-ear headphones is average at best, but that on the Sony WH-1000XM5 is surprisingly good. It shouldn't have been a surprise given the number of microphones on this device. Your voice is transmitted with good clarity to the person on the line, and the array of microphones significantly cut down on the background noise. Also, the wind noise was almost inaudible to the other person even when I was outdoors, which is great. Another impressive aspect of the XM5 is its battery backup. Sony claims battery life figures of 30 hours with ANC on, which is similar to the XM4. On the surface, it may seem like there's no improvement in this department, but matching those figures with the extra processor, additional mics, and without any significant increase in weight is commendable. During my test run, I managed to get close to 28 hours with LDAC codec and ANC turned on all the time. At approximately three hours of daily listening and not much calling, the XM5 went on for a shade over nine days. With ANC off, it may last for two weeks at that rate, but why bother! This headphone supports fast charging too. When empty, a mere three minutes charge gives you close to three hours of play time, which is a blessing when in a hurry. A full charge takes over three hours, something you need to do once a week or two, or just do it overnight maybe.
Arguably the best all-round wireless headphones under Rs. 30,000
The official price of the Sony WH-1000XM5 is Rs. 34,990, but it can be purchased for Rs. 29,990 with a one-year warranty. As I mentioned at the start, its predecessor, the WH-1000XM4 is still one of the best around and surpassing it was never going to be easy. The XM5 does bring forth improvements big and small in almost every department, but more importantly, it isn't inferior on any front. Be it comfort, sound quality, active noise cancellation, battery life, or even call quality, the WH-1000XM5 ticks a lot of boxes. The audio output isn't perfectly neutral, but is detailed and more importantly, thoroughly enjoyable. So who should buy this product? If you have a budget close to Rs. 30,000, the XM5 will please most people. Only if you belong to one of the following three, you can avoid it - if you are looking for perfectly neutral sound, if you are a basshead (as you can get a lot of bass-heavy wireless headphones for a lot less), or if you own the Sony WH-1000XM4, which needs no upgrade yet. The rest can go ahead and invest in the Sony WH-1000XM5.