Sony WH-1000XM5 Review

Sony WH-1000XM5 Review

For years now, the Sony XM series of wireless headphones has been one of the most recommended choices in terms of Bluetooth over-the-ear noise-canceling headphones, and for good reason. Over the past 4 generations, Sony has perfected the formula of a lightweight yet high-performance pair of travel headsets, which can offer industry-leading noise-cancellation and audio output to customers all over the world.

With the launch of the new WH-1000XM5 model, they plan to introduce a new generation of customers to a whole new generation of wireless headphones that truly sets the bar for the segment at large. Let us take a look at what makes them different from Gen 4, and how that difference translates into real-world performance and usability over hours of continuous use. For obvious reasons, we will start by talking about build quality and comfort.

Build Quality & Design

The overall design is carried forward relatively untouched from the previous-gen headsets, even though a few key changes in the headband functionality make a drastic difference in the overall look and feel. For one, you now have some of the softest, most comfortable earpieces made from vegan leather. Even the headband has been stuffed full of thick insulation to make the actual wearing experience as comfortable as possible. The reduced weight also adds to the experience of wearing them over long periods of time.

In order to do so, they have to shorten the width of the headband, which now features a rounded look. The secondary side pieces between the headband and the speakers have been integrated into the headband itself, which now has a slide-out design. This doesn’t impede your ability to twist the individual earpieces, front and back, for easy wearability around your neck. But does remove the feature that let you fold the older generation headsets for more compact packing. This may or may not be a deal-breaker for you, but at least you get a new collapsible case to make it a tiny bit easier to carry them around.

Connectivity and Control

Once you do put them on, controlling the headsets is a pretty intuitive experience, with a large touch control panel integrated into the back of each earpiece. You can easily play/pause, forward/reverse/skip, and control audio settings with touch gestures, or even vocal inputs, thanks to OK Google and Alexa integration.

All devices are connected via Bluetooth 5.2, so you should have no trouble easily pairing with your preferred audio system, or even your TV. The company has made a special effort to ensure compatibility doesn’t become an issue, by including support for Google’s Fast Pair feature, as well as Microsoft’s Swift Pair system. Thanks to Multipoint connection, you don’t have to worry about switching between devices, so you can easily enjoy content from a wide variety of platforms. For old-school analog connectivity, you still have a 3.5mm Headphone jack. Other than this, and the USB-C charging port, there aren’t any other openings into the headphone body, so you should have a relatively safe listening experience, even in slightly moisture-heavy conditions.

Even if you don’t like to actively control your listening experience, the headphones still have some passive systems in-built to improve the way you interact with the world around you while wearing them. For example, there is a special capacitive sensor, which instantly pauses and/or plays your music, as soon as you take them off of your head. You can also tap the earpiece with your hand to activate Quick Attention mode, which stops your music and stops blocking ambient sound, so you can easily notice what’s around you. For more hands-free action, the microphones can even be set to detect as soon as you start talking to someone, and stop your music, thanks to the Speak-to-Chat feature. Not to mention the actual smartphone app, which offers a whole another level of EQ customization and device control options that users can access at any time, with just a click of a button.

Hardware & Performance

All of this comfort and control is pointless if the audio experience isn’t on par with the users’ expectations, and when it comes to this particular series, user expectations are always exceptionally high. Thankfully, along with the rest of the upgrades and improvements, Sony has also revitalized the entire audio profile and playback experience. 

The foundation of this experience is a strong and lightweight, 30mm precision-engineered carbon fiber driver unit, which features a soft TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) edge to reduce vibration and enhance noise cancellation, especially in low-frequency ranges. The design is optimized to deliver an amazing soundstage, which is then tweaked by a combination of the company’s Integrated Processor V1 and HD Noise Canceling Processor QN1. These processors control 8 microphones for unprecedented noise cancellation and exceptional audio quality.

Each individual microphone is further optimized using the new Auto NC Optimizer, which adjusts noise-canceling performance based on wearing conditions and external environmental factors such as atmospheric pressure. This is in addition to 4, separate but equally important, beamforming microphones, which capture the user’s voice with as much clarity as the ambient sound. This way, the system can easily isolate your voice, the ambient noise, and the intended music output, to deliver precise control over the listening experience.

The music itself is optimized by the use of Edge-AI and DSEE Extreme, which upscales compressed digital music files in real-time. The system dynamically recognizes instrumentation, musical genres, and individual elements of each song, and restores them perfectly without any loss in compression. Thanks to the inclusion of LDAC, the system also supports High-Resolution Audio and High-Resolution Audio Wireless, for superior performance. All of these benefits are applied to music and videos streamed from all sorts of devices and platforms.

In fact, if you have the compatible BRAVIA XR TVs you can even get some exclusive features just for yourself. Like the 360 Spatial Sound Personalizer app, which captures and analyses your ear shape, to allow the headphones to create your own personal spatial sound field when using WLA-NS7 to connect to BRAVIA XR TV. This also enables Dolby Atmos playback, but only with compatible models.

As you can see, the new generation of XM headsets are truly set to usher in a new era of audio, and the fact that they can do all that, while still maintaining a stellar 30-hour battery life is nothing short of amazing. Even if find yourself stuck in a position where you have listened to over 30 hours of music without recharging, you can still get as much as 3 hours of playback in just 3 minutes of charging, thanks to quick charging support. This way, you will never be left low on charge, no matter where you go and how much you use them. This is the real reason why these headphones are so beloved amongst the people, and we can’t wait to see how they hold up for years to come.

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