Sony released a new version of its renowned over-ear noise canceling headphones this week.
So here is a pair to compare them against Apple’s $549 AirPods Max to discover whether headphones are better and if it’s worth it to buy Sony’s $400 WH-1000XM5 over Apple’s $549 AirPods Max.
To begin with, the AirPods Max have the better name. The WH-1000XM4 was a mouthful, and the WH-1000XM5 is no different. Sony isn’t very good at naming its TVs, headphones, and other items, so Apple has an advantage there.
The WH-1000XM5 headphones have a new design compared to the aforementioned WH-1000XM4, but the AirPods Max retain their classier, higher-end appearance. The WH-1000XM5 has a plastic casing and the headphones are not as high-quality as the AirPods Max, which accounts for some of the price difference. The AirPods Max are made of metal and come in a variety of colors, whereas the WH-1000XM5 headphones are available in “silver” cream and black.
The headphones do not fold down like the previous version and are therefore significantly less portable, however Sony offers a considerably superior case alternative to the AirPods Max “bra” cover. The WH-1000XM5 headphones are lightweight and pleasant to use, even for long periods of time.
Similar to the WH-1000XM4, there are swipe and touch motions that control playback functions, however connecting the WH-1000XM5 to an Apple device is not as simple as Apple’s rapid pairing process with the AirPods Max. Automatic device switching, spatial audio, and other capabilities are also supported by AirPods Max.
The WH-1000XM5 and the AirPods Max both include Active Noise Cancelation (ANC), and Sony has improved it in this iteration. It matters that there are twin QN1 chips (as opposed to a single QN1 chip in the WH-1000XM4). The AirPods Max and the WH-1000XM5 both fared well at filtering out ambient noise in our tests, although the WH-1000XM5 performed somewhat better. The WH-1000XM5 and AirPods Max both include transparency features that let you to hear what’s going on around you, but transparency works best with the AirPods Max.
In terms of sound quality, the WH-1000XM5 headphones have smaller drivers than the WH-1000XM4 and a new sound profile that puts them closer to the AirPods Max. Both pairs of headphones provide depth, clarity, and little muddling at lower frequencies, and the sound quality is noticeably better than the WH-1000XM4. It’s improved to the point that it’s impossible to determine whether the AirPods Max or WH-1000XM5 headphones provide superior sound, so it’s a tie in this area.
The WH-1000XM5 headphones have a battery life of up to 30 hours, which is 10 hours more than the AirPods Max and is worth considering. The AirPods Max are meant to last 20 hours, however they rarely do with ANC on. Sony’s headphones include a real power button, which is useful for avoiding wasting battery life, as well as more customization choices for ANC, gestures, and sound.