Slowly having settled into a rhythm of making award-winning headphones, Sony is soon becoming like a certain Indian playback singer when it comes to predictable excellence. The WH series has been a giant killer ever since its introduction and while the last couple of generations were most under-the-hood improvements, this new 1000XM5 is a departure in design and form factor.
Sony WH-1000XM5 review
Silencing the environment, and the competition
A slimmer headband and larger, reprofiled earcups definitely look more premium than before and believe it or not, feel even more comfortable (if that was possible!). Controversially though, Sony has also prevented the earcups from being folded and this has caused minor inconvenience to loyalists and light travellers alike. The non-folding form factor has necessitated an enormous case, which is made of really high-quality materials and also folds (almost) flat when empty, but travelling with the WH-1000XM5 might add to your luggage count.
Quality-wise, Sony has made some interesting choices. So while the overall build has improved, the actual plastic grade on the earcups seems like a step-down. Although, the earpads and headband are both superbly cushioned and soft enough to be worn all day. They do tend to toast your ears after a while if the ambient temperature isn’t exactly the perfect 24℃. Conveniences like auto pause/resume when you take the headphones off are nice, and so is the Speak to Chat, which mutes the music for a few seconds when you start speaking to someone. Alternatively, you could just cup one of the earcups with your palm and enter Transparency mode immediately. Nothing new here, but still great to have.
As far as touch controls go, Sony’s approach of using just the right ear cup for all gestures could polarise, but at least the response is fantastic. Simple swipes and taps that always work without guesswork and the large earcups help in getting the touch points right every time too. Regardless of pairing it with iOS or Android, you’ll be better off using the partnering Headphone Connect app that lets you update the firmware, customise basic controls, EQ the sound along with ClearBass and toggle features like Adaptive Sound and DSEE, which is Sony’s way of injecting life into dead MP3s.
Sony has upped the performance of the ANC using four mics per earcup to monitor incoming ambient sound and not one, but two processors unscramble all the data to make sense of it all, and separate noise from music. Driver size is down to 30mm from 40mm, but the material is a lot more exotic now. Using a carbon fibre composite, the diaphragm is both light in weight and stiff in nature, two things absolutely critical in any speaker driver. The clamp force is superbly judged too and although the headband is narrower than before, there’s absolutely no reason to complain, even after long hours.
Listening to Crosswalk by Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, the WH-1000XM5 instantly springs to life with verve and enthusiasm. Perhaps a bit too much, which may or may not be a bad thing, depending on your musical preferences. The highs show a bit of emphasis that can be controlled via the app EQ but overall, it manages to pipe your ears with plenty of crisp detail and definition. Compared to the more expensive AirPods Max, they do give up a little refinement and depth but for half the asking price, the WH-1000XM5 are the value kings. Especially given its ANC performance, which served well on a long-haul US flight by completely blocking off the A380’s massive engine like it wasn’t there! It is an audible improvement over the previous generation and works well across a broader range of frequencies too, increasing its efficacy. The biggest improvement can be felt in the overall sonic balance, which is a lot more neutral now, compared to the bass-heavy nature of the M3, which I had on hand for comparison. This alone makes it a reason to upgrade from the M3 to the M5. If you’re a recent owner of the 1000XM4 though, the differences would be less audible.
What Sony could work on is the naturalness in transparency mode, which sounds a bit synthesized compared to the new AirPods Pro, which is priced similarly. Also, the Sony isn’t IP-rated so you better stay away from watersports. But, it does score big on battery points and easily lasts 30 hours with ANC on. Switch the darn things off and you could circumnavigate the globe without having to recharge them! One of my favourite features, even in the previous generations has been the 3.5mm option that lets you hook up to in-flight entertainment systems (or anything else) and even use ANC with it! Out of battery? By the time you take a tinkle break, you’ll have another 3 hours of juice waiting for you! Add great voice quality and wind rejection and you have a package that’s better than the last. Only if it’s just by a sliver.
Keeping comfort, connectivity and sound as its pillars of strength, Sony has made minor changes to the WH-1000XM series that may or may not make the M5 worth your money. If you already have the M3 or M4, you don’t have a major reason to upgrade as the sonic gains are minuscule. But if you’re a new ANC buyer looking for the best value, the WH-1000XM5 still retain their crown as the best in the business. But hey, Sennheiser has just launched its rebuttal, the Momentum 4 Wireless and this war should be waged on the Stuff test bench soon! Until then, Sony is still the king of everyday ANC.
Not a big upgrade over the previous gen, but still the best of the breed at this price!
|Type:||Closed back, dynamic|
|Driver:||30mm carbon fibre|
|Frequency Response:||20Hz - 20kHz|
|Formats supported:||SBC, AAC, LDAC|