I’ve been on the lookout for the best travel headphones because I like working on the go. As a result, I’ve used the Sennheiser Momentum 4, Sony WH-1000XM5, and Bose QuietComfort 45—the three major consumer-centric noise-canceling headphones—over the past year.
I’ve traveled with each one of them, used them for work calls, late-night music jams, and more. Each one has its pros and cons, but the Sony headphones undoubtedly have the best Active Noise Cancelation (ANC) in the segment. However, I still prefer the Bose QC45 for travel for one simple reason where the XM5 fails. Here’s what you need to know before buying your next ANC headphones.
Sony WH-1000XM5 review: The likes
Sony WH series headphones have made a name for themselves for ANC, and the XM5 is no different. The XM4 was already great at keeping low-frequency sounds like the buzzing airplane engine at bay, and the XM5 only improves on that. Sony has made it better by canceling high-pitched sounds better than the XM4, Bose QC45, or the Sennheiser headphones. Walking through or traveling in public with traffic ambient noise and the regular buzz was all minimized to an extent where I could only hear my music.
There are more details in the bass by differentiating between more notes easily on the XM5 when compared to the predecessor. As expected, the bass is more pronounced than the Bose (bassy but not as detailed) and Sennheiser (more balanced sound signature) headphones in question.
I like listening to string instruments—my favorite band being Strings—and it was a pleasure listening to my favorite songs. The beats in “Duur” were as good as they can get on consumer headphones, with a good transition to the heavy voice vocals of Faisal Kapadia. The XM5 does a great job of instrument separation, so you can hear the drums, guitar, and vocals separately without any of them getting muffled. You’ll also enjoy listening to podcasts on these.
The Sony XM5 headphones feature the best mic quality among the three headphones. They feature Sony’s Precise Voice Pickup technology, which means you get four beamforming mics with AI-powered noise reduction even in a windy environment. These are my go-to headphones for calls.
Another great feature that I’ve grown to like is Speak-to-Chat. It lets you start a chat with someone without taking off your headphones. The feature pauses the music (instead of dimming it like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro 2) when you’re conversing with someone. If you don’t like the music pausing, you can instead use the Quick Attention feature to lower the volume of the music and listen to your surroundings by keeping your palm on the right ear cup.
The Sony XM5 also lets you go to your favorite Spotify playlist without needing to touch your phone. The feature is called Spotify Tap, which can be found in the Headphones Connect app under the Services tab. It allows you to trigger Spotify with either two or three presses of the noise cancelation button. Furthermore, you can connect two devices simultaneously, and the music pauses when you take off the headphones—both making the user experience better.
The Sony XM5 offers up to 30 hours of battery life with ANC on and up to 40 hours with ANC off. There was no instance where I was left out of charge. Even if you find yourself in such a situation, these headphones offer three hours of playback from just three minutes of charge.
Sony WH1000XM5 review: The dislikes
I’m not a fan of the design of the XM5. First, they don’t fold, which has been a design choice from Sony on all of their recent headphones, including the new Sony WH-CH720N. I like the design language of the Bose QC45 because the earcups fold into a smaller footprint, which is easier to carry than the likes of Sony XM5 and Sennheiser Momentum 4 headphones.
Second, the clamp force is on the tighter side even after prolonged usage. As a result, you are likely to start sweating in room temperature if you wear these for over 30 minutes continuously. In comparison, the Bose QC45 is more comfortable for long periods of use. I started feeling uncomfortable after about an hour of wearing the XM5 in flight, but no such thing happened with the Bose QC45.
I also prefer button controls on my audio gear. It’s a personal choice where I find physical buttons to be more intuitive than the gesture system, which is supported by the XM5. It works for the most part, but when I’m lying down, I swipe up (according to me), but it sometimes registers the gesture as a swipe back. It doesn’t happen a lot, but there is no chance of it happening on a pair of headphones with buttons for control, like the Bose QC45.
Buy the Sony WH1000-XM5 if…
- You want the best ANC headphones with great audio qualiity.
- You want a feature-packed pair of Bluetooth headphones.
- You want good battery life on a single charge.
- Mic quality is important to you.
Don’t buy the Sony WH1000-XM5 if…
- You want a smaller form factor for travel. The Bose Quietcomfort 45 is better in this regard.
- You want a pair of headphones that you’ll use for hours at a stretch. In my experience, Bose QC45 is more comfortable.
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