Sony’s 1000X line-up has been around since 2016, when the MDR-1000X wireless headphones were revealed. There have been four successors to the MDR-1000X since then, with the latest having been launched in mid-2022, nearly two years after the launch of the Sony WH-1000XM4. The Sony WH-1000XM5 is the latest in the now-iconic and well-reputed line of flagship wireless headphones, and promises improvements across the board, including design, audio quality, and active noise cancellation performance.
Priced at Rs. 34,990, the Sony WH-1000XM5 features a significantly refreshed design and a promise of better performance. However, with the trends leaning towards the more convenient form factor of true wireless earphones, do full-size over-ear headphones such as this still have a place in the premium segment? Find out in our review.
Sony WH-1000XM5 design and features
Sony had used a fairly similar design on the 1000X series from generations one through four, but the WH-1000XM5 sees a significant redesign. The changes are visible across the headset with the ear cups, hinges, headband, and foam padding, all looking completely different. The result is a headset that is arguably more ‘modern’ looking, but the familiarity of the old styling will certainly be missed by some.
The overall shape and size makes the Sony WH-1000XM5 light at 252g, and perhaps also slightly more comfortable. The soft padding of the ear cups and on the underside of the headband feel great, and make for a snug and noise-isolating fit. Wearing spectacles did somewhat interfere with the noise isolating seal, which in turn affected the quality of the active noise cancellation, but the drop in performance was small enough to ignore when music was playing.
The headband adjustment is different on the Sony WH-1000XM5, with the adjustment system now moving freely rather than along set grooves on a track. A significant drawback of the new design is that the headphones do not fold completely inwards, unlike the WH-1000XM4. Although the included carry case can hold the headphones conveniently as they are, it’s not as compact as the previous model for travel.
Like before, the controls on the Sony WH-1000XM5 are a combination of physical buttons and gestures on the touch-sensitive outer side of the right ear cup. The gesture set is fixed and involves taps, swipes, or touch-and-hold. You can also set up double-press and triple-press controls for the NC/AMB button using the app.
Usefully, there is a wear-detection sensor which plays or pauses music when the headphones are put on or taken off, respectively. You can also place your palm on the right ear cup to quickly activate the hear-through mode, which reduces the volume and turns on the ambient sound setting to be able to hear your surroundings.
There are only two buttons on the left side, which control power and the noise cancellation or ambient sound features, while playback and volume controls are operated using gestures. The left ear cup has the 3.5mm socket for wired connectivity, while the right ear cup has the USB Type-C port for charging.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 has a ‘Speak To Chat’ feature, which pauses playback and activates Ambient Sound mode when the headset hears you speaking. There is native support for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice assistants, along with the ability to invoke both of these hands-free with just the wake commands. Other features include support for Google Fast Pair, multi-point connectivity for up to two devices simultaneously, and support for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio sound format.
Sony WH-1000XM5 app and specifications
The Sony Headphones Connect app has been a part of the experience with most of Sony’s headphones and earphones, and naturally works with the WH-1000XM5 as well. The app offers access to controls and settings based on the feature set of the WH-1000XM5, neatly sorted into four major sections.
This includes Adaptive Sound Control for ANC customisation based on location and surroundings, displays for the exact battery level and operational codec, equaliser settings, Bluetooth connection quality, DSEE Extreme mode, customisation of some of the controls, and other features such as multi-point connectivity, voice assistant selection and setup, and Spotify Tap setup.
I generally found the natural sonic signature of the WH-1000XM5 to be ideal and didn’t feel the need to tweak the equaliser settings at all, but many will appreciate the option to do so. The Bluetooth connection quality setting also seemed redundant given the significant improvements in stability with the LDAC Bluetooth codec. It’s worth pointing out that multi-point connectivity will disable the LDAC Bluetooth codec, and can only be used with the AAC codec.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 uses Bluetooth 5.2 for primary connectivity, although you have the option to connect the stereo cable and use it as a wired headset. The SBC, AAC, and LDAC Bluetooth codecs are supported, and the headphones have 30mm dynamic drivers with a frequency response range of 20-40,000Hz when using Bluetooth connectivity with the LDAC codec. It also has a rated sensitivity of 102dB.
There are a total of eight microphones on the headphones for ANC, of which, four are operational for voice communications. The Sony WH-1000XM5 uses the V1 integrated processor with the QN1 noise cancelling processor which specifically enables the ANC functionality. The sales package includes a new collapsible carry case for the headphones, a USB Type-A to Type-C cable for charging, and a stereo cable for 3.5mm wired connectivity.
Sony WH-1000XM5 performance and battery life
Given just how good (and immensely relevant) the Sony WH-1000XM4 still is, I was left wondering just how much better the Sony WH-1000XM5 can really get. Interestingly enough, Sony has managed to make small but meaningful improvements to the sound quality and active noise cancellation on the headphones. However, the general approach remains the same, and the upgrades feel more incremental and less generational.
As before, what makes the Sony WH-1000XM5 sound so good is the sonic signature which is both detailed and out-and-out fun at the same time. The full-sized ear cups and large drivers benefit the sound significantly on the WH-1000XM5, offering up a spacious, flexible, and detail-oriented approach that feels wholesome and incredibly satisfying to listen to.
The sonic signature is somewhat V-shaped with the bass and treble striking audibly harder than the mid range, but the spacious nature of the sound meant that the mids didn’t feel dull or drowned-out at all. Listening to When I Get There by Big Wild, the introduction felt beautifully rich and powerful, before transitioning into the tight, punchy, and aggressive bass of the down-tempo beat. All through the various phases of this varied track, the Sony WH-1000XM5 seemed to be at ease and incredibly quick to react to changes.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 sounded at ease with pretty much every musical genre I listened to; regardless of fast-paced or slow and easy, the headphones seemed to adapt almost intuitively to the track. Listening to Living On Video (Claptone Remix), the headphones bumped up the energy levels while keeping up with the pace of the track quite easily, while the slower, pop-infused Bom Bidi Bom by Nick Jonas and Nicki Minaj sensibly put the focus on the sensual beat and the rhythmic vocals.
Expectedly, the Sony WH-1000XM5 performs best when operating with the LDAC Bluetooth codec and with good quality audio tracks. However, things were fine even when I used it with an iPhone with the AAC codec in operation, with only a slight drop in the detail and spaciousness of the sound. The flexibility and adaptive nature of the sound remained, as did the enjoyable and well-tuned sonic signature.
Active noise cancellation on the Sony WH-1000XM5 is ever-so-slightly better than on the WH-1000XM4 both indoors and outdoors, and I found the inside microphones to work a bit better than before. It usually took a few seconds for the ANC to properly adjust to the environment, and noise cancellation performance gradually improved as the inside microphones adjusted to what I could hear. This helped when I was wearing my glasses, as the ANC could even adapt to the slight gap in the noise isolating seal.
On its own and with no music playing, the level of noise reduction was impressive indoors, with the WH-1000XM5 appropriately dimming sound from my ceiling fan and even much of the traffic hum from an open window. Outdoors, the headset was fairly effective against wind noise. With music playing at even moderate volumes, I could barely hear any ambient sounds.
Call quality and connection stability were decent on the Sony WH-1000XM5, with the headphones working without any trouble at distances of up to 4m between the smartphone and headphones. The LDAC Bluetooth codec stream was stable even at the 990kbps bitrate at reasonable distances. Battery life on the Sony WH-1000XM5 is very good, running for around 28 hours on a single charge with ANC on and at a moderate volume.
Sony has long been a leading brand for high-end wireless headphones, and the WH-1000XM5 firmly helps to keep that title. With small improvements to the sound quality and ANC performance, along with reliably good battery life and connectivity, the Sony WH-1000XM5 is among the best wireless headphones you can buy right now, if the over-ear form factor appeals to you and you’re okay with the price.
Competition in this segment isn’t a lot, but there are some decent options to consider, including the Yamaha YH-L700A and Bose QuietComfort 45 headphones. If you’re an iPhone user, you might even want to look at the (much more expensive) Apple AirPods Max. However, regardless of your source device, the Sony WH-1000XM5 is a capable and reliable pair of active noise cancelling headphones, and is worth considering.