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Sony WH-1000XM5 review: The best just got better

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For about four years now, Sony’s WH-1000XM series’ holds the tag of “one of the best noise-cancelling headphones.” Now, the WH-100XM5 continues Sony’s lineup of “best noise-cancelling headphones” and even improves on it, says the company. It does come with the same complicated name but departs from the design language these headphones have had since their inception.

Having said that, how good are these - with noise cancellation and sound; are they comfortable to wear for a 3-hour long flight? And does the WH-100XM5 continue the legacy of its predecessors? And more importantly, is it worth Rs 34,990? We listened to them for over a ‘long’ time, to be exact more than 100 hours, and here is what we think about the XM5s (That is how we are going to refer to it throughout the review).

Design, build, and comfort
Sony has made significant design changes to the XM5s, which the company has dubbed a "noiseless design." The aim was to create a slimmer, more seamless pair of headphones, ultimately to reduce wind noise.

The redesign has resulted in smoother, sweeping lines and fewer aggressive edges. Furthermore, the XM5's ear cups have been redesigned to eliminate many of the joints and hinges that allowed the XM4's earcups to be folded away. As a result, the XM5 headphones fold flat, similar to the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, but do not fold any smaller.

This could be inconvenient for those who prefer to fold their headphones and store them in a backpack compactly, that is most of us. Consequently, the Sonys feel more fragile, and the supplied carry case, which has also been reworked, takes up valuable space inside your bag. We miss you, XM4.

Although the previous model feels somewhat more high-end, the plastics used in the Sony XM5 headphones are pleasing to the touch. Most of the materials used are Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), created by recycling and refining car parts and blending them with mica to achieve the desired texture.

To adjust the fit, the headband now employs ABS sliders instead of metal bands, which work well. The band is fully covered in a new synthetic leather that covers the memory foam earpads. The material is soft and smooth, and the Sonys' comfort levels are comparable to the best headphones available. They provide just the right amount of clamping force, ensuring they feel secure without causing discomfort to the ears.

A memory foam section in the centre of the headband feels comfortable while wearing the headphones. The earcups on the XM5 are longer and have a more oval shape, making them a better fit for larger ears than the XM4. Inside, too you will find the memory foam padding, which adds up to the comfort.

As usual, the on/off button and ANC control are located on the left earcup, which we find inconvenient due to their nearness. It can be challenging to find the correct button while walking down the street. Then, you will find the pause/ resume controls within the earcup itself, which works perfectly.

Connection, setup, and features

Pairing the XM5s with your phone, laptop, or any other device is quite simple. You can connect them over Bluetooth or simply plug in the 3.5mm cable, given your phone has an audio jack.

If you want to get the best out of your XM5s, you can try the Sony Headphone Connect app, available on Android and iOS. After the tedious setup process, which asks for a lot of details, you are welcomed to a lot of customisation options. You can customise the ANC, equalise your way through it, enable multipoint connectivity, and much more. One complaint we had with the XM5s and Headphone Connect is the long time it takes for the firmware update.

Features include built-in Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa, support for Fast Pair and Swift Pair tech, multipoint connection, Spotify Tap support, automatic pause/play when removing/putting on the headphones, Ambient mode activation by covering the right cup, and Speak-to-Chat mode for short conversations. And you also get the Clear Bass and DSEE Extreme, in case you want to turn up the oomph.

Sound quality and ANC

At 30 mm each, the drivers inside the Xm5s are smaller than those fitted to the older XM4s. However, it is not the size always but how effective they are that counts. The mica-reinforced full-range dynamic drivers make the best of whatever music plays on them.

The soundstage produced by the XM5 headphones is truly remarkable - expansive and well-defined. This means that each strand of a recording is easily identifiable and can be easily isolated.

The bass produced by the XM5s is deep, textured, and straight-edged, ensuring that there is no possibility of a recording getting bogged down by its low-frequency presence. The midrange reveals generous levels of detail, leaving enough space for a vocalist to express themselves fully. At the top of the frequency range, the XM5s deliver well-supervised bite and shine with well-judged rapidity. Details are also impressive, with these headphones paying fanatical attention to the transient information that appears only fleetingly in recordings of all types.

Most importantly, the XM5s strike the perfect balance. They are an absolute pleasure to listen to. No matter what kind of music you play, with XM5s, you are bound to enjoy it.

Sony has made some significant improvements in the active noise cancellation for XM5s. There are now eight ANC microphones, an increase from the four microphones present in the previous model. In addition, the number of processors and microphones dedicated to noise-cancelling duties has doubled. A separate V1 chip now aids the QN1 chip found in the M4. Furthermore, an automatic noise cancelling optimizer ensures peak performance, factoring in wear and environment.

But what does all of this mean when you put the headphones on? Sony says that the entire setup is much better at blocking higher frequencies than its predecessor, specifically those associated with human voices. Indeed, the XMM5 is more effective at silencing nearby chatter and TV noise. It easily cut outs the horns blaring and most speech, while you may still hear your mom shouting at you. Nevertheless, the noise cancellation on the XM5s is a clear and significant upgrade over its predecessor.

Battery life and charging

Among the changes, the battery life remains constant. These should last for approximately 30 hours with ANC turned on and an additional 10 hours if noise cancellation is disabled. During our experience of using the XM5s for a couple of weeks, I only had to charge them once a week.

Although, the quick charge feature has been amped up. Instead of 10 minutes for five hours of use on the M4, you can get three hours of listening in mere three minutes. And the full charge should take you around 3 hours.


The Sony WH-1000XM5 should be your top choice if you're in the market for premium ANC headphones, and the price is not a concern. They offer exceptional sound quality, unparalleled noise cancellation, a modern yet stylish design, and have a large backpack. However, if you are someone who has an XM4, then you should wait for the next one. Nonetheless, the WH-100XM5 is one of the best headphones for most of us.

  • Modern design
  • Comfortable fit
  • Impressive sound
  • Does not fold
  • A bit pricey
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