As soon as you place the Sony WH-1000XM5 over your ears, you are transported to a quiet place, with external sounds dampened. You feel like you are in a cocoon, separated from the environment. The isolation is that good. When you start playing the music, the crystal clear quality makes it immediately apparent that these headsets have some next level noise cancellation. When you take the headsets off, there is a rush of sound to the ears that makes you appreciate just how noisy the real world is. There are significant changes in the design compared to the previous version, with the major difference being that the M5 is not collapsible like the M4. As can be expected from Sony audio products, the headphones are feature packed and if you have used Sony TWS earbuds or headsets before, then you should get a head start with the Sony Headphones Connect app. There is no plastic used in the packaging, with Sony using its ‘original blended’ material that incorporates recycled paper.
What’s in the box. (Image credit: News9/Aditya Madanapalle)
In the box, is the carrying case, with the headphones inside. There is a flap in the middle of the box that contains the short charging cable and the comfortably long aux wire. If your desktop computer does not have a headphone jack towards the front of the cabinet, then it can be difficult for the cable to reach. There is a coupon code for a trial of the 360 Reality Audio service. The user manual and reference guide can be accessed online.
Build and design
The right earcup has two buttons, one is the power button which doubles as a Bluetooth pairing button on a long press of five seconds. A blue indicator light shows the status of the device. The other button is slightly longer, and is used to toggle noise cancellation and ambient noise modes. Right at the bottom of the left earbud is the aux port. The right earcup has the USB-C port for charging in the same location. Placed all around the headphones are the external microphones. This time, there are eight of them, all of which are used for noise cancellation. The WH-1000XM4 had five microphones, with the information from four of these used for noise cancellation. The end result is that WH-1000XM5 is indeed able to deliver superior noise cancellation.
The earcups have a more aerodynamic design compared to the previous iteration of the series, to reduce disturbances from wind. (Image credit: News9/Aditya Madanapalle)
The build quality is great, with sturdy buttons and joints. The insides of the earcups are made of soft, synthetic leather and comfortable. The slider has a new stepless design, that allows you to make precise and tiny adjustments as you listen, without having to choose a particular setting and stick to it. While the headphones are light enough to be comfortable for never-ending Dungeons and Dragons sessions or a binge watch, there is a lateral pressure on the ears that introduces some discomfort. This may just be because of how new the headset is though, and it may loosen up with use. The earcups have a more aerodynamic design, that performs better in really windy conditions, ensuring that the noise cancellation does not get jittery because of the noise of the wind interacting with the headphones.
The design has been changed considerably from the Sony WH-1000XM4, with the earcups no longer swivelling inwards to reduce the space occupied by the headset. Sony has attempted to compensate for this with a redesigned case, that has creases on the side to make it collapsible. This allows you to squeeze in the case into tightly packed bags (the case has been designed for laptop bags), but the difference isn’t much, and the case is only collapsible when the headphones are not actually in the case.
The slider has a new stepless design. (Image credit: News9/Aditya Madanapalle)
The right earcup has a capacitive touch surface for controls using gestures. Up and down swipes control the volume, forward and backward swipes allow you to switch tracks. Covering the entire earcup with your hand does something really cool, it not only stops the active noise cancellation, it uses the microphones to let you hear what is happening in the environment better. This is an action just like putting a phone to your ear, and it kicks in instantly, and works well.
The collapsible case is designed to easily fit into laptop bags. (Image credit: News9/Aditya Madanapalle)
The headset is available in two colours, black and silver. We got the silver one, and this colour is a little worrying. This is just because of the possibility of the faux leather being difficult to clean, and getting stained by dust, sweat and oils. Even immaculately maintained ears and hair can be problematic for use with the silver colour. Note that the there is no ingress protection rating, which would mean that it has a rating of IPXX. This means that the headphones are not really suitable for working out or running, especially if you get really sweaty. If there is one place where the device falls short, then it is dust and water protection.
The faux leather on the earcups can easily get dirty. (Image credit: News9/Aditya Madanapalle)
These headphones are truly feature packed. The features have been developed with a lot of consideration for the various situations in which the headphones are being used. The Headphones Connect app provides a great deal of granular control over which features are active, and how you use the device. The app is essential for multi-device connectivity. The setup process is pretty lengthy, with a lot of options to set up, but that is the understandable cost of providing granular controls to the user.
Adaptive Sound Control automatically switches between Noise Cancellation, Ambient Sound and Off depending on what you are doing, such as sitting at home or travelling. The Ambient Sound feature has a volume slider, that lets you decide how much to amplify the sounds from the environment. The headphones can detect four activities, sitting, walking, running and commuting, and provides users with the ability to control what the Adaptive Sound Control does in each scenario. The app can be trained to learn your habits, such as travelling at the same times, for how the Adaptive Sound Control is used.
The app provides a number of granular options, and updates the firmware on the headset. (Image credit: News9/Aditya Madanapalle)
The most useful feature on the homescreen of the app is a realtime indicator for the sound pressure. There is a handy reference guide for safe levels recommended by the WHO. The Activity tab has a Safe Listening section that lets you monitor sound pressure levels across your listening history. This is an incredibly helpful feature for those who listen to music on low levels on audio equipment, and want to take care of their eardrums. It is not clear if the information is fed back to the Health app, but seems like it is not. If not, this would be a useful addition.
The other options available in the app include the Speak-to-Chat toggle, which automatically cuts off the playback when you are talking, an equaliser that changes the settings in the headset itself, a choice between prioritising quality or stability over the Bluetooth connection, and a toggle for the DSEE Extreme feature, which uses AI to upscale the audio quality. There is an option to disable the touch panel gestures entirely, controlling what the NC/AMB button does.
It can take a while to finish setting up the app. (Image credit: News9/Aditya Madanapalle)
Multi device connection is a bit of a complicated process. First you have to enable multi device connection in the Headphone Connect app. At this point, the headset will repair with the device that it has already paired with.
Setting up the connection with multiple devices can be problematic, with the connection dropping off from one of the devices. Switching between the two is not as easy as claimed, though it works most of the time. There is a simple toggle that lets you switch between one of two connected device, but if the connection to either one drops, you have to troubleshoot a bit and reconnect everything all over again. However, if you are listening to music on your laptop and get an incoming call, then the switch to a smartphone and back to the laptop after the call is done is seamless.
At times, the app can switch between devices on its own without any user input. We found that removing the headset caused the music to stop, and putting it on caused it to resume playback, but at this point, the connection frequently defaulted to the first device, that was the smartphone. Then it became a fight between the finger and the device, as the app repeatedly switched to the smartphone, even when the laptop was being tapped. At times, the headset can ‘wake up’ and switch to the intended device for the playback when left on its own, and you do not reach out to the smartphone to channel the sound through the right device.
The charging cable is pretty short. (Image credit: News9/Aditya Madanapalle)
The app offers deep integration with Spotify. When switching playback on the Spotify app between two connected devices, the headphones automatically switches to the device with the playback seamlessly. Switching from the smartphone to the laptop however, is more problematic in this scenario. The NC/AMB button can also be configured to fire up the Spotify app after a single or double tap. The feature works only on the smartphone though, and not the laptop. If you try it when the headset is connected to a laptop, then the app switches the connection to the phone, and starts Spotify playback on the phone. These eccentricities are easy to work with, and the integration is incredibly convenient and useful.
The app even analyses your ear shapes to deliver the perfect sound. This requires actually photographing your left and right ears. However, if you have gone through the process for a previous Sony audio product, there is no need to analyse the ear shape again. Only a handful of apps with 360 Reality Audio support can use this analysis though, so it can be skipped without impacting the performance too much.
The headphones have a consumer friendly sound signature, with a slightly pronounced bass. We are not complaining though; the headphones provide exceptional definition for the short, tight, deep notes of minimal techno. There is no rattling in the drivers during low frequency sweeps. The highs are also crystal clear. The mids are just a tad muted however, which just happens to be the region where the active noise cancellation suffers as well. The reproduction is great right from the lowest audible frequency, to the highest treble. In our dynamic range test, we could only go up to 60 db below full scale, which was below the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds, despite the clearly superior isolation offered by the WH-1000XM5. This may be because of the greater insertion depth offered by the earbuds as against the headset.
The buttons and charging ports on the earcups. (Image credit: News9/Aditya Madanapalle)
The USP of the headset, and where it really shines is the active noise cancellation. The isolation really helps in this aspect, but Sony also has a dedicated chip just to handle the active noise cancellation. The data from all the eight microphones are churned by this dedicated chip. The primary chip also does some of the work towards the noise cancellation, but handles all the other functions and features as well. The low frequencies like noises of fans or rumbling traffic is easily muffled. While the headset cannot be expected to really suppress high frequency sounds like car alarms or cat vocalisations, the headsets do a pretty good job of muffling them too. It is only in the mid-to-high frequency range where the active noise cancellation falls a bit short, such as construction sounds and the ambient noise at an office or a cafe, but even here, the noise cancellation is surprisingly good. Again, it must be stressed that the isolation here helps as much as the noise cancellation.
It is just pure pleasure to listen to sounds meant to increase concentration, such as brown noise or binaural beats. If you need a pair of headsets to drown out the ambient sounds so that you can focus on working or studying, the WH-1000MX5 is the perfect headset. You may just end up focusing more on the beautiful sound than the work though.
One of the four microphones arrayed around each earcup. The raised spot is a considered touch for the visually challenged to recognise the left earcup. (Image credit: News9/Aditya Madanapalle)
The WH-1000XM4 has 40 mm drivers while the WH-1000XM5 has 30 mm drivers. In theory, larger drivers should provide better sound quality, but the difference is much more noticeable in earbuds rather than headsets. Both the isolation and noise cancellation are much better in the WH-1000XM5, and the quality does not really take a hit because of the smaller drivers. The rigid dome design in the WH-1000XM5 also help with the sound quality. In short, the smaller driver size should not be a concern.
There are no issues with voice quality. Four of the eight microphones are beamforming, and meant for picking up the voice while muting the ambient sounds. The only real issue with the expected performance are the connectivity issues and drop-offs, which can throw a wrench in the experience when picking up calls. For example, if you are getting an incoming call, when the headset is being charged, you are better off just answering the call on the smartphone, rather than disconnecting the headset from the charging port, and expecting it to connect to the device and pick up the call in time.
The cables are tucked away in a compartment with a magnetic lid. (Image credit: News9/Aditya Madanapalle)
In terms of battery performance, we really did not have the time to comprehensively test the battery before the embargo on the product lifted. We could just make guesses based on how quickly the battery drained or charged up. The battery life seems to be longer than the 30 hours rated with active noise cancellation on, but this can be much longer with the feature turned off. Sony claims that the headset can get three hours worth of charge after three minutes of charging, which is in line with the previous model, the WH-1000XM4 which could get 10 hours of charge after 10 minutes of charging. The three hours claim is meant to cover the longest domestic flight that one can take. The headset does charge up remarkably quickly. The battery life does seem to be longer than the claims by Sony, which may just be because it is a brand new device, and the battery life will deteriorate with use. How quickly though, remains to be seen. Running out of charge is not at all a problem, as even a few minutes of charge will get you up and running again.
The device is priced at Rs 34,990, but will have an introductory price of Rs 26,990, which is just a bit above the WH-1000XM4. The headset are positively a steal at the Rs 26,990 price point. The device will be available in the Indian market from October 8. The considerations behind changing the form factor are obtuse, but the lack of a more compact design is not really that troubling.
The Sony WH-1000MX5 is just about the best wireless headset on the market right now purely in terms of active noise cancellation. (Image credit: News9/Aditya Madanapalle)
The feature set is excellent, even though the multi-device connectivity can be problematic. The isolation and the active noise cancellation is just about the best in class. The only real question here is are these better than the Bose QuietComfort 45, and the answer is yes, absolutely. The WH-1000XM5 is another exceptional product in a great series of active noise cancellation headsets by Sony.