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You’ve probably heard there’s a new pair of premium headphones out in town – the $399 Sony WH-1000XM5 is the latest generation of class-leading headphones with impressive noise cancellation, good sound, and (like very long) battery life.
And those inches come close to Apple’s $549 AirPods Max — a luxurious pair of over-ear cases with high-quality materials, excellent transparency mode, and deep Apple integration. It’s also often discounted to $479 on Amazon. So with these two big players in the audio space, there’s a good chance you’ll have to choose between the two.
So we put Apple’s AirPods Max and Sony’s WH-1000XM5 right in front of you to help you decide. Let’s turn ANC on and dive in.
AirPods Max vs Sony WH-1000XM5: Design
If you’re looking for a standout, high-quality materials (which fit the price better), and fun colorful stickers, AirPods Max fits the bill. Apple also chose a high-end design that matches the $549 price tag (reduced to $479). It’s made of aluminum and steel combined with a custom knitted “valance” for the headband. They come together for a whopping pair of headphones at 348g, but they’re also really comfortable. In my testing, you can quickly forget it’s even on your head, and the top headband design doesn’t put much pressure on the top of your skull. It is impressive.
The ear cups are made of stainless steel, but the cushions that attach to your ear are highly breathable and pop right out—with some force—for easy cleaning. No matter what size your ear is, the left and right ear cups are larger than those of other headphones, making them suitable for everyone. Apple has also selected the Digital Crown from the Apple Watch for easy operation, volume control, and an action button. Those who plan to practice this sport outdoors with gloves on will appreciate the tactical buttons, especially above Sony’s touch controls.
You feel AirPods Max is worth the price, as it is made of premium quality materials. Comparatively, the Sony WH-1000XM5 opts for a more minimalist style in just two colors with a primarily plastic build. Sony packs considerably lighter in weight at 250g and is equally comfortable for the most part. The XM5 uses comfortable cushioning behind the vegan leather ear cups and top strap. They’re very comfortable in everyday use, but they don’t immediately fade like AirPods Max.
Unlike the previous generation XM4s, but like the AirPods Max, the XM5s don’t collapse in on themselves for portability. Sony provides a full protective case for the WH-1000XM5, while Apple’s solution for AirPods Max only covers the earcup and does not provide high protection. You’ll also need to use it because it’s the only way to put your AirPods Max into a lower power mode. The Sony WH-1000XM5 features a physical power button, touch controls on the right earcup for power, and a dedicated ANC button. You’ll recharge it using USB-C, while AirPods Max charges using Lightning.
AirPods Max vs Sony WH-1000XM5: Sound Quality
Whether you choose AirPods Max or the Sony WH-1000XM5, you’re in for a true audio theater experience. Both headphones deliver a lively and rich mix that works across genres – from Lord’s “Rips” to Bruce Springsteen’s “Ghosts” with some “Sure” by Olivia Rodrigo. You’ll find a wide audio range that allows even the most crowded of tracks to get through clearly – notably, letting you pick individual instruments within a particular mix.
AirPods Max and WH-1000XM5 both have dual processors with dedicated motors to ensure a rich mix. Apple’s over-ear headphones also feature Adaptive EQ that listens to the mix as it plays in your ears to mix it in real time. You won’t find a full equalizer with many presets, but you can dive into the accessibility settings to make some tweaks.
Those who want to control the mix will be happy with the WH-1000XM5 and the “Sony Headphones” companion app for Android and iOS. You can find several presets and use a full digital EQ panel to customize the experience.
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AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Battery Life
If you are looking for the best possible battery life, then you should choose the WH-1000XM5 from Sony. They rated for 30 hours long with the ANC class, and we extended that to 32 and a half hours in our testing. And they charge using USB-C, which is a global standard. You also get three hours of playback after a three-minute charge.
AirPods Max comes in 20 hours with ANC disconnect. That’s pretty solid, and with the ANC turned on, you still have enough for a cross-country trip. However, fast charging is slightly slower on an hour-and-a-half run than a five-minute charge.
AirPods Max vs Sony WH-1000XM5: Noise canceling, transparency modes, and call quality
Active Noise Cancellation, or ANC, is very close to the connection between AirPods Max and Sony WH-1000XM5. Both headphones have eight microphones and dedicated processors to help cancel out external sound. Both can handle deep, loud noises such as objects or planes falling overhead and higher frequency volumes such as HVAC systems or people talking.
Both pairs of headphones are perfect for immersing yourself in the world and being able to focus. If you’re after the most natural audio transparency mode — aka the mode in which environmental sounds are pumped in — you’ll want to use AirPods Max. It looks more natural and really likes the real world, rather than a digital version that you can tell it’s been a little manipulated. The XM5 performs well in Ambient Mode, but it’s not the best experience like the AirPods Max.
Likewise, when it comes to quality, a portion of the total eight microphones are used to help pick up your voice. The Sony AirPods Max and WH-1000XM5 both do a decent job for voice calls or VoIP services. Despite this, in our testing, AirPods Max did a better job at smoothing out loud environmental sounds.
AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Ecosystems
This is pretty simple, but AirPods Max is best if you have an iPhone and other Apple devices. It’s really only for Apple products, and if you have an Android phone or a Windows laptop, we’d choose the WH-1000XM5 from Sony since it’s not platform dependent.
Pair your AirPods Max fast from scratch with your iPhone and use your iCloud account to sync between all your other devices. They include Apple Watch, iPad, Mac desktop, Mac laptop, and even Apple TV. You can quickly switch between connected devices, and you’ll find that supported functions like “Hey Siri” also work across them. With Siri hands-free, you can have the assistant read and respond to incoming messages, accept or decline calls, and make any request you might have in mind.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 supports Amazon Alexa, but it’s a pass-through experience with your connected device. You can also use Bluetooth multipoint technology to pair these headphones with a phone and a computer, but it’s not as seamless as AirPods Max with compatible devices.
Sony’s AirPods Max and WH-1000XM5 are excellent headphones that excel with rich sound, powerful listening patterns, good battery life, and ergonomic designs.
Sony’s options are great if you want to spend a little less — $399 — and focus more on audio and ANC rather than deep integration with other hardware or how the headphones sound.
AirPods Max offers a high-end design and ultimately a more comfortable design at a more expensive $549, but it also offers deep integration with Apple hardware, great transparency mode, and excellent sound quality.
Prices are accurate and items are in stock at time of posting.