Sony this week came out with an updated version of its popular over-ear noise canceling headphones, so we picked up a pair to compare them to the AirPods Max to see which headphones are better and whether it’s worth buying the $400 WH-1000XM5 from Sony over Apple’s $549 AirPods Max.
First of all, the AirPods Max win out when it comes to naming. WH-1000XM4 was a mouthful, and WH-1000XM5 is no better. Sony is not great at naming its TVs, headphones, and other devices, so Apple gets the edge there.
Compared to the aforementioned WH-1000XM4, the WH-1000XM5 headphones have an updated design, but the AirPods Max still have the classier, higher-end look. The WH-1000XM5 features a plastic body and the headphones are not as premium as the AirPods Max, which is likely what accounts for some of the price difference. The AirPods Max are aluminum and come in a range of colors, while the WH-1000XM5 headphones come in a “silver” cream color and black.
The headphones do not fold down like the prior version and are slightly less portable, but Sony does offer them with a much better case option than the AirPods Max “bra” case. In terms of weight, the WH-1000XM5 headphones feel light on the head and are comfortable to wear, even for longer periods of time.
There are swipe and touch gestures that control playback functionality, similar to the WH-1000XM4, but connecting the WH-1000XM5 to an Apple device is not quite as convenient as Apple’s quick pairing method with the AirPods Max. AirPods Max also support automatic device switching, spatial audio, and other features.
Both the WH-1000XM5 and the AirPods Max have Active Noise Cancelation (ANC), and Sony has stepped up the ANC in this version. There are dual QN1 chips (compared to a single QN1 chip in the WH-1000XM4), and it makes a difference. In our testing, the AirPods Max and the WH-1000XM5 both performed well at blocking out ambient noise, but the WH-1000XM5 did just a bit better. The WH-1000XM5 and the AirPods Max also offer a transparency feature to let you hear what’s going on around you, but transparency works best on the AirPods Max.
As for sound quality, the WH-1000XM5 headphones have smaller drivers than the WH-1000XM4 and a different sound profile that brings them more in line with the AirPods Max. Both sets of headphones offer depth, clarity, and low muddling at lower frequencies, and the sound is definitely improved over the WH-1000XM4. It’s improved enough that it’s difficult to say whether the AirPods Max or WH-1000XM5 headphones offer better sound, so in this category, it’s a tie.
The WH-1000XM5 headphones offer up to 30 hours of battery life, which is 10 more hours than the AirPods Max, and that’s worth considering. The AirPods Max are supposed to to last for 20 hours, but generally do not with ANC turned on. Sony’s headphones have an actual power button, which is handy for not wasting battery, plus the headphones come with more customization options for ANC, gestures, and sound.
All in all, unless you like the design of the AirPods Max and the unique feature set that the headphones offer for Apple device users, the WH-1000XM5 headphones from Sony are worth considering as a more affordable alternative.