Improvising what’s already perfect is a big challenge. And in improving perfection, some companies often end up disappointing consumers. However, with the new iteration of the industry-leading WH series (wireless headphones with noise cancellation), Sony hasn’t.
Design: There are a few design changes that might disappoint those looking to upgrade from the XM4 because Sony has overhauled the design by ditching the foldable form factor. The headphones don’t fold into half anymore. Only the earcups rotate 90 degrees - to be stored in the carrying case.
With the XM5, Sony has opted for a single stem design for the headband, which is attached to a wide earcup on both sides. Like the AirPods Max, the XM5 has a telescopic head-rod, allowing users to adjust the headband as per their comfort. This results in a comfortable fit, which stays put for longer durations. The earcups are made from vegan leather and have a soft finish.
The fit and finish of the XM5, combined with its lightweight (250 grams), makes the headphone perfect to wear for longer durations without any head or ear fatigue. The headphone is placed in a fabric case with a compact compartment for storing cables.
Controls: For those new to the Sony Universe, these XM wireless headphones come loaded with various controls, both physical buttons and touch.
The left ear cup has the power button also doubling for Bluetooth pairing, along with NC (noise cancellation)/AMB button for quickly switching between ambient sound mode and noise cancellation. The right earcup houses the Type-C port for charging along with touch controls. Swiping up and down on the wide earcup is a convenient way to control the volume without pickup with the phone, and swiping right and left takes you to the next or previous track. Gently keeping the hand over the right earcup switches to attention mode, and removing the hand resumes active noise cancellation (ANC).
Inside Magic: With the new XM5, Sony comes very close to Apple’s AirPods Max in terms of ANC and sound quality. And when looked at as a complete package, it outshines the AirPod Max.
The ANC on this headphone is top-notch and ahead of the previous model. It’s like stepping into a noise-free zone. The headphone knocks out the environment noise, such as the wind, even when it isn’t playing any media. All I could hear, that too faintly, was when someone was talking. And when listening to music, even the human voices fade away.
For this world-class ANC, Sony has moved from four microphones in total on the XM4 to four in each earcup, and are controlled with dual processors - integrated Processor V1 and HD Noise Cancelling Processor QN1. The microphones pick the incoming sound and keep out high and mid-frequency sounds, resulting in world-class Noise Cancellation. ANC on the XM5 is a delight to use on a noisy flight or even during train travel.
Stay Alert: It’s good to have active noise cancellation that blocks the outside noise. But at times, being able to hear what is going on next to you is equally important. Especially when on the road or using public transport. This is one feature Sony has made effortless to access. Simply cupping the right earbud lets in the ambient sound, and the headphone is back in ANC mode as soon as the hand is released. If you wish to switch off ANC for a longer duration, the dedicated button on the left cup comes in handy. Using the app, one can select the level of ambient sound (20 levels). Another option is to turn on ‘speak to chat’. When speaking for a few seconds, the headphone automatically detects the action and pauses or mutes the music being played.
Stunning Sound: While mastering ANC, Sony hasn’t compromised on sound. The XM5 has a new 30mm precision-engineered driver unit featuring a soft TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane) edge that enhances noise cancellation, especially in low-frequency ranges. The carbon fibre composite material is lightweight, and the high rigidity dome improves sound clarity in the high-frequency range.
I tested the XM5 with multiple genres of music, and the headphone didn’t disappoint. Plus, the equaliser settings accessible within the Sony Connect app elevates the music experience.
I tested the headphones with a wide range of songs - from Afreen Afreen to Lamborgini Song, Believer Song by Imagine Dragons to Clint Eastwood Gorillaz, instrumental music and more. The sound output was well-balanced. Every musical instrument could be heard distinctly. The vocals were pronounced with well-balanced treble and thumping bass by default.
But the taste and liking for music are personal. For this, Sony has added an equaliser setting within the app. There are a few preset equalizers, and the option to create custom profiles allows tuning mids, highs and lows.
Battery: Sony has sealed the deal with the 30-hour battery backup, which lasted me a week with about four hours of music playback and daily calls. And a quick 15-minute charge that juiced the battery to last an hour and a half.
Verdict: With the new XM5, Sony has again come up with a winner. For Rs 34,990, it offers superb sound. And comes close to the noise cancellation on Apple AirPods Max (Rs 59,990).
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