Sony WH-1000XM5 vs Apple AirPods Max: How do they compare?

Sony revealed everything about WH-1000XM5 headphones, but how do they compare to Apple’s own super in-ear, AirPods Max?

We ranked the pair head-on to look at how they compare and where they differ in terms of price, design, features and sound quality.

Pricing and availability

One of the biggest drawbacks of AirPods Max is its premium price. The headphones were launched in December 2020 and are priced at $549 / £549 / €629.

The WH-1000XM5 will be available for pickup from the end of May for £380 / €420.

This makes the Sony pair both newer and cheaper, saving you £169/€209 on AirPods Max.


AirPods Max feature a unique, bold design that consists of rounded metal ear cups, a covered mesh strap, and an Apple Watch-like Digital Crown that provides real-time playback controls.

The headphones’ weight is evenly distributed across the headband for hours of comfort despite their 385g weight, and there are telescopic stainless steel temples that glide smoothly on either side.

The memory foam ear cups are comfortable and can pop up to be washed or replaced, and the headphones come in a range of attractive colors, including grey, silver, green, pink and sky blue.

AirPods come with Apple’s Smart Case, a weird-looking case that offers no headband protection and doesn’t completely cover cups. However, this is the only way to turn off the headphones.

Meanwhile, the XM5 features a more classic design in black and platinum silver. The headphones feature an all-new noise-free design, which consists of a stepless slider and a soft synthetic leather cover to provide a comfortable fit without putting pressure on the head.

The headphones feature recycled plastic from auto parts and come in plastic-free packaging and a recycled product canister. Like the AirPods, the XM5 comes with a carrying case. The Sony case can also be compressed when not in use for easy storage.


AirPods Max and WH-1000XM5 both benefit from noise cancellation.

AirPods Max can cancel out low noises for flat refreshes and Zoom meetings, though there’s no in-depth control beyond adaptive ANC, which will automatically detect the desired noise cancellation level. AirPods also include a transparency mode, which makes it possible to chat without taking it off.

We actually found the AirPods Max’ ANC to be marginally better than that on the WH-1000XM4 when we tested the headphones, though Sony claims to have made noise canceling on the XM5 even better than its predecessor, so it remains to be seen if it can AirPods stand up to the XM5 in this area.

In Sony’s case, the XM5 features eight microphones and two processors — the HD Noise Cancelling QN1 and the integrated V1 processor — that are designed to work together to reduce noise in the high and mid frequencies. The 30mm driver unit is specially designed to enhance the noise canceling effect.

Auto NC Optimiser automatically improves noise cancellation depending on your setup, while Adaptive Sound Control customizes ambient sound to suit your environment.

The XM5 has an automatic transparency mode in Speak-to-Chat, which pauses tunes and lets outside audio in when you need to pause to have a conversation.

Calls are designed to be clear, too, as the XM5 uses its own Precise Voice Pickup technology with four beamforming microphones, an AI-based noise-reducing chassis, and a spacious noise-reduction chassis to isolate your voice from your surroundings on the phone.

Pairing is another major feature of both headphones. While both headphones can certainly be used with a range of operating systems, Sonys are best suited for Android and Microsoft, while AirPods are expected to be more geared toward Apple.

The XM5 supports Google Fast Pair for quick connections with Android devices, as well as Microsoft’s Swift Pair for Windows 10 and 11. There’s also quick access to play Spotify without taking out your phone and help from Google Assistant or Alexa.

Meanwhile, AirPods boast a quick one-time iOS pairing process that will automatically sync your headphones to any device added to your iCloud account for seamless switching.

In terms of battery life, AirPods Max offers 20 hours of playback and charging via Apple’s Lightning cable. Meanwhile, the XM5 offers up to 30 hours of battery life, and can be charged with 3 hours of music in 3 minutes using USB Power Delivery.


When it comes to audio, AirPods Max sound excellent across a variety of genres. A custom 40mm driver works with dual H1 chipsets and an Adaptive EQ EQ to adjust the low and mid frequencies, while also keeping in mind the fit and seal of the headphones on your head.

There’s plenty of bass, clean vocals, and the higher frequencies never sound harsh.

We haven’t finished testing the XM5 yet, which means we can’t make our final judgment on the sound quality. However, Sony claims that the 30mm headphone driver offers better sensitivity to high frequencies and a more natural sound than its predecessor.

Where Sony has packed high-resolution LDAC audio and a DSEE Extreme upgrade into the XM5, don’t expect any high-resolution codecs from the AirPods, which are designed to be used primarily with streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify.

One of the main iOS-exclusive features on AirPods Max is Apple Spatial Audio. AirPods use head tracking to make Dolby Atmos 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos sound more immersive.

The XM5 features its own immersive audio in Sony’s proprietary 360 Reality Audio, which is built around a music-stream-focused MPEG-H 3D audio codec, meaning it can support 64 individual channels.

to rule

The Sony WH-1000XM5 shares a lot in common with AirPods Max, from its noise-canceling skills to its speed dialing features and immersive audio. The AirPods are certainly the more attractive of the two, but Sony’s battery life is longer. Sony’s pair of High-Resolution Audio also benefit from the addition of LDAC support.

stay tuned Trusted Reviews For our full review of the Sony WH-1000XM5 in the near future to hear our final verdict.

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