Geek Review: Sony WH-1000XM5 Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphones

For the last two years, Sony’s WH-1000XM4 has been touted as one of the must-buy headphones to pull you out of noisy spaces, with its amazing noise cancellation technology and superior sound. It’s hard to stay at the top for that long, but Sony has proven that it will remain king with the WH-1000XM5† With a fresh look and improved everything, the XM5 is the apex predator in the jungle of true wireless ANC headphones.

Sony WH-1000XM5 (1)

Change is common with each refreshed iteration of the product, and the biggest one here is the lack of a foldable design. Designed by Sony to be “noiseless,” the main body now has a slimmer and more seamless profile to combat wind noise – and it does look good while doing so – but what’s not so welcoming is the complete removal of its foldable feature. The XM series of headphones has always been known as solid compact traveling headphones, so this is a huge step back that might not sit well with Sony veterans. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Sony WH-1000XM5 (2)

Otherwise, the XM5 boasts an overall design similar to the Bose 700 line-up, with its carrying case featuring a magnetic door to a compartment that holds the charging and 3.5mm cables, which is a nice little touch. The airplane audio adapter won’t be included, however, and you’ll have to allocate more space in your bag to fit this much larger carrying case adorned with slick, modern-looking geometric-like edges.

Instead of metal bands, the XM5 uses ABS sliders to adjust the fit of the headphones and it feels solid, even if the protrusion at the bottom messes with the sleek profile Sony was going for slightly.

Despite being fragile and floaty to the touch, the hinges of the headphones are actually extremely sturdy with a good seal for the ANC. The combination of a comfortable clamping force and a section of the memory foam in the middle makes for a snug fit – an experience that’s further elevated with the new synthetic leather fitted on its headband and earpads, which is a touch softer than the rigidity of its predecessors. Coupled with the absence of headphone fatigue, the XM5 is indeed a delight to use for long periods of time. There’s just one slight gripe: unlike the rest of its predecessors, it doesn’t have an IPX waterproof rating.

Sony WH-1000XM5 (3)

Sony is known for its mastery of the ANC domain, having established itself as the leader in the race to be the best and with the XM5, the industry giant has once again pushed the best to be even better, through improved ANC technology that puts its competitors even further behind in the game.

Its predecessors have been mainly focused on canceling out noise in the lower frequencies and since that has been mastered, Sony is moving onto the higher frequencies for this iteration. The XM5 uses the same Integrated Processor V1 from the XM4 and now sports a total of eight microphones – up from four – as well as two QN1 chips, which are responsible for Sony’s ANC prowess. In comparison, the XM4 only had one.

Sony WH-1000XM5 (4)

The switch at the edge of the left ear cup allows users to toggle between ANC and ambient noise, but for those who want to quickly enable the latter feature, cupping the right side of the headphone will get the job done as well.

When put to the test, the XM5 managed to block out the sound of passing trucks and screeching trains on the lower and higher frequencies. Noise cancellation was also automatically optimized while on the go, which made the experience much more seamless with Sony’s Headphone app and Adaptive Sound control feature working with each other. Previous iterations had us run Sony’s NC Optimiser for the best-noise canceling experience before switching locations, so having it automated is a welcome quality of life improvement.

Cabin pressure, meanwhile, now proves to be less of an issue, with the XM5’s adaptive ANC eliminating the feeling of having your head squashed, especially when entering the underground sections on trains.

It’s Sony – there’s no one else in the game with ANC like them.

Sony WH-1000XM5 (5)

Audiowise, the WH-1000XM5 has upped the ante with greater clarity, a wider soundstage, and a greater and more detailed distinction between notes. The headphones are an amazing step up from both the XM4and XM3, which sound slightly thicker in the lows and bass in comparison.

To test out the extent of their capabilities, a plethora of bands and artists of varying genres were queued for playback. Firstly, Chopin’s “Prelude, Op. 28, no. 15” by Martha Argerich played out beautifully, with the individual piano keys, highs and mids sounding well-balanced and very impactful.

Next up was “laurel” by BETWEEN FRIENDS, a combination of the strings with the booming bass beats and crisp vocals of Brandon and Savannah Hudson. The plucking of the guitar was distinct and so was the initial bass line. The XM5 was able to deliver the full range of the instruments, programming and vocals with precision, devoid of any rough edges and muddy bass.

For EDM and Rave lovers, we queued up “Blow My Mind” by Plvs Vltra. The bass even at the higher volumes did not disappoint, with the headphones delivering the weight of the roaring beats alongside the small beeps (for lack of a better word), and the dynamic shifts of the highs and lows of the track.

Sony WH-1000XM5 (6)

Counterpart’s “Unwavering Vow” was last up and did the XM5 do it justice. The drive of the double pedals with the roar of the lead and rhythm guitars were powerfully conveyed during breakdowns and verses. Brendan Murphy’s screams and spoken vocals were crisp, and the listening experience felt akin to a live-playing session.

From Classical to Metalcore, the XM5 is more than capable of delivering amazing performances with its 30mm neodymium drivers that provide a well-spaced and clear soundstage. It comes with DSEE Extreme that upscales compressed files sampling and bit rate, and offers support for Hi-Resolution Audio and High-Resolution Audio Wireless because of Sony’s proprietary LDAC codec. Bass heads will need to get used to its flat sound, but will appreciate its clearer sound over time.

On the technical side of things, frequency response is from 4 Hz to 40,000 Hz when wired. The wireless frequency response of the XM5 is lower, clocking 20Hz – 20,000Hz for 44.1kHz sampling and 20Hz – 40,000Hz for LDAC 96kHz sampling at 990kbps.

With the return of multipoint connection, users will be able to switch between two audio sources without having to fiddle with the normal Bluetooth reconnection process, just like with the XM4. Android users may experience a loss in high-fidelity audio when they do this, however. A slight gripe would be the lack of the NFC pairing function, which is present in the XM4. Fortunately, the Bluetooth pairing is still hassle-free.

Performance wise, battery life has also been improved and the XM5 now boasts a 30-hour runtime with noise-canceling and Bluetooth enabled, and can last up to 40 hours with both turned off, which is two hours more than the XM4. Should it run out of juice, the headphones will be able to offer a five-hour battery life from just a ten-minute charge.

The returning Speak-to-Chat feature, meanwhile, proves efficient in picking up the speaker’s voice and automatically pausing the music once detected. For an added touch of flexibility, the timings between the pause and resumption of music can be adjusted according to personal preferences.

Lastly, the Sony app makes it easy to customize EQ levels and button commands with its slew of offerings. The Spotify Tap: Quick Access feature, for instance, can be activated by tapping the ANC button twice or thrice, which will then resume playback of previously-listened tracks immediately.

Despite not being as compact as its predecessors and losing the NFC pairing option, the Sony WH-1000XM5 redeems itself through its improved ANC capabilities. The set of cans are still very comfortable for commuting or office work, especially for those who wish to drown out the world and enjoy their music. Sony’s consistent drive to elevate the quality of its products and surpass its own standards is evident with the XM5, and it’s certainly worth the investment – ​​if you can afford the S$569 price tag, that is.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

The Sony WH-1000XM5 are the only pair of headphones consumers need to almost completely quieten the world comfortably without sacrificing audio quality. Though the changes to its compact design are a downgrade, Sony still undeniably remains the king on the proverbial ANC hill.

Overall

9/10

  • aesthetics – 9/10

  • Build Quality – 8/10

  • Performance – 10/10

  • Value – 9.5/10

  • Geek Satisfaction – 8.5/10


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