Compared: AirPods Max versus Sony WH-1000XM5

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in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited May 26
The Sony WH-100XM5 are a new revision of the popular headphones priced at $400, here's how they compare to Apple's AirPods Max as we go hands on.

AirPods Max versus Sony WH-1000MX5
AirPods Max versus Sony WH-1000MX5


Sony has been an industry-leading producer of some of the most popular music devices and headphones, as has Apple. When the AirPods Max launched in 2020 many comparisons were made between them and the nearly $200 cheaper Sony XM4.

Now, Sony has updated its premium headphones with new specs at a $400 price. The Sony WH-1000XM5 have a new design, dual audio processors, and some updated algorithm-based features.



AirPods Max versus Sony WH-1000XM5: Specifications

Comparing the AirPods Max to the new WH-1000XM5 and previous WH-1000XM4 provides a good idea of where these headphones stand. Sony focused on software features and quality of life changes over hardware upgrades this generation.
SpecificationsAirPods MaxSony XM5Sony XM4
Price$549$399$349
Weight13.6 ounces8.82 ounces8.96 ounces
FoldableNoNoYes
ProcessorApple H1Sony QN1 and V1Sony QN1
Primary MaterialAluminumPlasticPlastic
Noise CancellationYesYes, user configurableYes, user configurable
Transparency ModeYesYes, user configurableYes, user configurable
Charging portLightningUSB-CUSB-C
Battery Life20 hours ANC on30 hours ANC on30 hours ANC on
ControlsDigital Crown, ButtonTouch, gestures, buttonsTouch, gestures, buttons
The spec sheet shows very little has changed for the Sony headphones, yet the new processor and driver make all the difference in feature set. The external appearance has changed too, but the design remains geared toward a classic over-the-ear headphone style.

AirPods Max versus Sony WH-1000XM5: Design

Sony has evolved the design of its WH-1000XM series into something that looks more premium thanks to a unibody style earpiece. The headband is one continuous shape with no folds or hinges, and both the headband and pads are made with a soft leather-like material.

Neither AirPods Max or Sony WH-1000XM5 can fold for storage
Neither AirPods Max or Sony WH-1000XM5 can fold for storage


Apple's AirPods Max are a unique set of headphones made of heavy materials like aluminum and stainless steel. The ear pads are cloth, but use a magnetic attachment system that allows for third-party options to easily be swapped in.

Sony moving away from a foldable design may be a big drawback for fans of the headphone line. Many comparisons between the previous XM4s and AirPods Max drew attention to the lack of folding on Apple's headphones, so this could be poorly received.



Sony's XM5 ear cups sit on a swivel to make them feel as if they are "floating," and the size adjustment is similar to AirPods Max with its sliding bar mechanism.

Apple uses a stainless steel headband wrapped in rubber with a small canopy at the top. This ensures the headband is sturdy and won't be easily broken and the canopy keeps the weight of the headphones evenly distributed.

AirPods Max versus Sony WH-1000XM5: Processing & Connectivity

There are five colors available for AirPods Max
There are five colors available for AirPods Max


Apple uses an H1 chip in each ear cup for audio processing. They are controlling everything from audio balancing to ANC modes and "Hey Siri."

Sony brought back the same QN1 processor it used in the WH-1000XM4 but now it is coupled with a proprietary V1 chip. The QN1 is responsible for the noise canceling processing while the V1 chip amplifies it, meaning the ANC and transparency modes are better than ever.

Unlike AirPods Max, the Sony headphones are capable of playing back Hi-Resolution audio wired or wireless.

With a price tag $150 north of the XM5, AirPods Max should sound better and after hours of listening, that was our main takeaway. AirPods Max had a bit more bass while brining the music closer to you. Listening to music, we felt the AirPods Max soundstage was larger, but brought us closer to the center, creating a more immersive and intimate experience.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 is available in black or white for $399
The Sony WH-1000XM5 is available in black or white for $399


Both Apple and Sony support "Spatial Audio" where music or movies play audio in a 360-degree field. Sony calls this 360 Reality Audio, but it relies upon the same technologies. However, Apple uses head tracking to let users "move" through the 3D-audio space.

AirPods Max connects to Apple's iCloud and associates themselves with a user's Apple ID. This enables fast switching between connected Apple devices like an iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. Although, you'll still need to manually connect to non-Apple devices each time.



Sony tries to replicate this kind of functionality using multiple Bluetooth connections. Two devices can be connected to the headphones at the same time. So, if you're listening to music on your PC and a phone call comes in, they'll switch to the phone automatically. Sony also takes advantage of Android Fast Pair for Bluetooth devices.

AirPods Max have only one connector option -- Lightning. So if you want to use them wired, you'll need a special $35 Aux to Lightning cable from Apple. The Sony WH-1000XM5 have Aux in and USB-C connectors.

AirPods Max versus Sony WH-1000XM5: ANC modes

The AirPods Max have ANC and Transparency Modes
The AirPods Max have ANC and Transparency Modes


The ANC and transparency modes in the Sony headphones haven't changed, but they have been improved. The headphones will attempt to automatically set which transparency mode is active based on environmental noise, and ANC levels are controlled via Sony's app.

For Active Noise Cancellation, both AirPods Max and Sony XM5 attempt to block environmental noise using multiple external microphones and an internal microphone. This will block any constant mid to low level noise like machinery and muffle things like voices. Apple's ANC mode is on or off, while Sony offers a slider for intensity within its app.

Automatic ANC modes
Automatic ANC modes of XM5


Transparency mode is meant to let environmental sound in. On the AirPods Max, again, it is just one setting that attempts to make it feel like you're not wearing headphones at all. There is still some ANC-like features keeping droning or loud noises out, but speech, traffic, and other environmental sound gets in.

Sony offers different levels of transparency based on what it can detect or user input. Walking mode lets traffic noise in while waiting mode will listen for announcements from intercoms and let it through.

AirPods Max versus Sony WH-1000XM5: Other features

Sony WH-1000XM5 use beam-forming microphones for improved call quality
Sony WH-1000XM5 use beam-forming microphones for improved call quality


Sony includes a large number of features like tap and gesture control on the ear cups or voice detection. For example, if you're listening to music on the Sony XM5 headphones and begin speaking, the headphones will pause the music and enable transparency mode for a conversation.

USB-C charging port on XM5
USB-C port on XM5


There is also a feature to enable Spotify playback with just a few taps, something AirPods would never do. Of course, both headphones allow smart assistant controls like "Hey Siri," but Sony tries to give users more control outside of voice and buttons.

Both headphones feature beam-forming microphones for improved call quality. Algorithms will attempt to focus the microphone on the speaker and remove any external noise to varying effect.

While both headphones offer long battery life, they also offer fast charging options for getting a short span of listening after moments on the charger. For the Sony XM5 only three minutes of charging gives you three hours of listening. However, AirPods Max only gives you 1.5 hours for 5 minutes of charging.

AirPods Max versus Sony WH-1000XM5: What to buy

Apple users with money to spare will likely dive on the AirPods Max, however, Sony does offer a compelling alternative. The fact that Sony's headphones can play Hi-Resolution audio will win over any audiophile, especially with all of the app configuration options.

Sony XM5 headphones
Sony XM5 headphones


Sony's headphones work best in a multi-platform environment where someone might own an iPhone, Windows computer, and Sony TV. The multiple connection options and a wide variety of listening modes make them versatile headphones.

That being said, diehard Apple fans will stick with AirPods Max for their ecosystem connectivity and Apple-specific features. It doesn't hurt that there are five color options as well.

Where to buy AirPods Max or Sony WH-1000XM5

The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones are available to purchase on Amazon, as well as at B&H Photo and Adorama. The over-ear headphones retail for $399.

Apple's AirPods Max, meanwhile, retail for $549 but are discounted to $425 at press time when you shop through this activation link and enter promo code APINSIDER during checkout at Adorama. Detailed step-by-step activation instructions can be found here.

You can also check out the latest prices at Amazon, B&H Photo and other Apple resellers in our AirPods Price Guide.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 21
    thttht Posts: 4,640member
    I take it this is a try before you buy situation as you don't talk about wearability. How hot it gets. How much they press on the ears. Etc.

    I do wonder when Apple will pull the trigger on exchangeable headbands. It seems they designed the APM headband so that it can be unlatched from the ear cups with basically push of a button, once they add it, or perhaps people will be ok with the pin hole. It would be a nice feature as surely customers would want to express themselves with it. Then, they could make a headband with an induction charger so that it can charge on a stand.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 21
    The previous sony headphones could only pair with 1 device at a time, this was a problem if you use iPhone and mac at same time and swap from one to the other (ie during a phone call). Do the new  sony devices pair with more than 1 device ?
  • Reply 3 of 21
    aderutteraderutter Posts: 539member
    iloveapplegear said: Do the new  sony devices pair with more than 1 device ?

     “Two devices can be connected to the headphones at the same time.”

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 21
    mpantonempantone Posts: 1,934member
    tht said:
    I take it this is a try before you buy situation as you don't talk about wearability. How hot it gets. How much they press on the ears. Etc.
    Wearability depends heavily on the individual. I basically hate all headphones.

    I've probably owned 5-6 pairs over the past twenty years and the only ones I tolerated were my Bose QuietComfort QC25s during airplane flights. I still have some others: Grado SR-60, Razer Blackshark V2, and some AKG model.

    Note that I also hate VR HMDs, ski goggles, scuba masks, swim goggles, etc. They are all uncomfortable. I even got Lasik to shelve my eyeglasses; that was wonderful for a few years but alas my eyes regressed and now I have to wear glasses watching movies, TV, driving, etc.

    But since I acquired my AirPods Pro I happily note that all of my headphones are collecting dust.

    That said, some tech media reviewers actually judge wearability. Of course, these are individual preferences and also require the reviewer to have tested a lot of headphones.
    edited May 17 dewmewatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 21
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 1,434member
    I really like my AirPods Max. I wish they went a little louder, but as my first pair of premium headphones they make me happy. That said, I hope Apple can come up with some proprietary version of Sony’s Speak-To-Chat feature either via software update or on the next generation Max and Pro. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 21
    toddzrxtoddzrx Posts: 244member
    The previous sony headphones could only pair with 1 device at a time, this was a problem if you use iPhone and mac at same time and swap from one to the other (ie during a phone call). Do the new  sony devices pair with more than 1 device ?
    False. I have the XM4’s and I’ve paired them with my iPad and iPhone simultaneously. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 21
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,712member
    Best thing about the xm5s is the still very good XM4s will be even cheaper.  And the XM4s fold up compactly.

    I can’t understand what value proposition there is for Airpods Max.
    napoleon_phoneapartgatorguywilliamlondon
  • Reply 8 of 21
    dymmasdymmas Posts: 20member
    What is the Sony Signature Sound?

    Beautifully lush and warm, yet at the same time detailed. Or to some, muddy and veiled. Depends who you ask. For me, I love it on their Signature Series (high-end gear). The bluetooth offerings (ie the XM4) are good for what they are, but can get muddy (ie hard to separate the frequencies).
    edited May 17 Japhey
  • Reply 9 of 21
    mpantonempantone Posts: 1,934member
    entropys said:
    Best thing about the xm5s is the still very good XM4s will be even cheaper.  And the XM4s fold up compactly.

    I can’t understand what value proposition there is for Airpods Max.
    While I've never tried any of the Sony cans or the AirPods Max, I'm wondering the same thing. (I own Bose QC25s which have gone unused since I acquired my AirPods Pro).

    Just looking at the numbers, the AirPods Max are 5 ounces heavier than the XM5s. That is a LOT of extra weight on your head.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 10 of 21
    dymmas said:
    What is the Sony Signature Sound?

    Beautifully lush and warm, yet at the same time detailed. Or to some, muddy and veiled. Depends who you ask. For me, I love it on their Signature Series (high-end gear). The bluetooth offerings (ie the XM4) are good for what they are, but can get muddy (ie hard to separate the frequencies).

    I use Sony's Connect app to adjust the 5-band equalizer to make it a bit clearer. I know 5 bands isn't much, but it does help. The nice thing is that the equalizer settings are stored in the headphone itself so it goes where you go.
    edited May 18 JapheyMrBunsidewatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 21
    thedbathedba Posts: 685member
    mpantone said:
    entropys said:
    Best thing about the xm5s is the still very good XM4s will be even cheaper.  And the XM4s fold up compactly.

    I can’t understand what value proposition there is for Airpods Max.
    While I've never tried any of the Sony cans or the AirPods Max, I'm wondering the same thing. (I own Bose QC25s which have gone unused since I acquired my AirPods Pro).

    Just looking at the numbers, the AirPods Max are 5 ounces heavier than the XM5s. That is a LOT of extra weight on your head.
    This where I’d give the advantage to the AirPods Max because of that mesh. It’s simply more comfortable to me and doesn’t produce a pressure point on the top of my head. 
    I don’t have hair and every other headphone I’ve tried, I feel that pressure point. My head btw is shaped like Mark Ellis’ on youtube.
    FileMakerFellerwilliamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 21
    neutrino23neutrino23 Posts: 1,558member
    There are a number of options to fine tune the transparency and other features of the AirPods. Apple doesn’t list them as such. Instead they show up as options in Accessibility for some reason.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 21
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 20,367member
    I would not want to be caught dead wandering around with that... case...
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 21
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 3,707member
    …but only one gives you a bra purse to carry them!

    this was a nice overview but really it was largely wasted without a comparison of the sound quality. For all the other features, the sole purpose of headphones is to recreate sound. Any review that omits that is kind of pointless 
    williamlondon
  • Reply 15 of 21
    saareksaarek Posts: 1,419member
    The XM4’s are simply fantastic.

    I used a pair for about 6 months and despite the fact that I now use AirPods Max I still tell most people to buy them over the Apple ones because of a mixture of price (forget RRP, easy to buy at a lot less), sound quality that was almost as good and they actually come with a decent case.

    I’m sure that for most people these XM5’s will be the better buy.
    edited May 20
  • Reply 16 of 21
    kimberlykimberly Posts: 410member
    entropys said:
    Best thing about the xm5s is the still very good XM4s will be even cheaper.  And the XM4s fold up compactly.

    I can’t understand what value proposition there is for Airpods Max.
    I think that is a good point as reading AI forums generally, too many contributors treat Apple like a football team where the opposition teams are seen to be incapable of intelligent, winning plays.
    dewmeentropyswilliamlondon
  • Reply 17 of 21
    CometComet Posts: 1member
    I did extensive tests with AirPods Max vs the XM4. I only have iPads. Android on my phone and Windows on my PC. 
    I’m disappointed with the XM5s because they don’t support Spatial audio. No support for head tracking. It should at least support this on iOS since Android and Windows still don’t have built in support for it either.
    Having tested the XM4 vs the AirPods Max, side by side. Switching devices. Doing all sorts of tests in different conditions and environments. Using different EQ profiles on the Sony to make them sound even better. Same for the Airpods Max. Using wavelet on Android and Headphone Accommodations on iOS.  
    The AirPods Max still win in all departments. Only losing in the portability department. 
    As for the price, it’s not 2020 anymore. You can buy them for $400 easily these days. 
    AirPods Max has better transparency mode. Better noise cancelling mode. Better sound quality. And the killer feature. Spatial audio with head tracking that is available only on iOS. The competition seems to be stuck in the past in this area. 
    My point is, having loads of software features mean nothing if in practice the execution is poor vs the competition. 
    In practical terms:
    - Sony supports LDAC, but the Max still sound better even though they are stuck with AAC. (this comes from someone that has audiophile headphones, dacs and amps)
    - Sony supports fine tuning the noise canceling and transparency on their app but the AirPods Max noise cancelling is better and transparency mode is still superior with no need to tweak or change anything. 
    - You can EQ straight from the Sony app and have the EQ profiles move across different devices. But you can EQ the AirPods Max as well while having better sound quality. Wider soundstage. Better instrument separation. You just need to use 3rd party apps.

    As I pointed out I have DACs and AMPs. My current main portable DAC/AMP is the ifi-man xDSD Gryphon. Got a pair of mid range audiophile headphones. I mostly use the  Hifiman Sundara to enjoy music when in a quiet environment since the sound quality is better than any of these other headphones (as expected) but they are open back so not suited for noisy environments. 
    BUT, the AirPods Max are the wireless noise cancelling headphones that come closer to the sound quality I get in audiophile headphones. 
    TLDR. With the AirPods Max I can do on Android and Windows almost everything the Sony headphone can do while getting better sound quality, transparency and noise cancelling and when I switch to the iPad I get the bonus of the best spatial audio with headphone tracking implementation on the market. 
    The XM5 didn’t bring anything new to the table. They don’t surpass 2 years old AirPods Max in the most important areas. And in my opinion they are not the best Android headphones. The AirPods Max are. You just need to install some additional apps to enable Android features on the Max such as invoking google assistant with the push of a button.
    XM5 is an incremental update with nothing new. To the point that many of you are just happy to see that the XM4s are going to stay around and drop price.
    This means the XM5 isn’t offering anything special. Everyone complained about the AirPods Max high price, but two years after release they still put up a fight against the newest kids on the block. 
    Sorry but the competition needs to do better. It’s not normal when Apple builds superior ANC headphones then companies like Sony, Boss etc…
    It’s not normal that two years later Apple has the only high end mainstream headphones with spatial audio + head tracking. Samsung is trying to do the same thing but the Samsung Buds are not in the same level as the AirPods Max. What is the market waiting for?
    edited May 22 foregoneconclusionwatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 21
    cpsrocpsro Posts: 3,043member
    What's the evidence that battery life is improved at all by dialing down ANC (as opposed to turning it off completely)?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 21
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,552member
    The AirPods Max have been out for a couple of years now. Is there any data out there on the life expectancy of the built-in rechargeable batteries? This may seem inconsequential to some folks, but it’s a major inhibitor for me. 

    Passive headphones can last pretty much forever with the occasional replacement of ear cups or headbands, but pretty much every brand of headphone with an embedded rechargeable battery is  going to need a new battery at some point. The only question is how long before that day arrives?

    I also wonder if these smart headphones are going to run into firmware and software compatibility issues over time. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 21
    JP234JP234 Posts: 550member
    I bought the MX4 predecessor principally for the active noise cancelling. I've never not heard anything like it. Configurable to prioritize voice when ANC is turned ujp one notch, and you can hear a whisper over a blaring TV or a crowd of large noisy primates (at your local gastropub), while saving your hearing. You may need it later, trust me. And now that I've had the chance to test both the MX5 and the AirPods Max at ABT Electronics in Glenview, IL, I can state that even though the ANC is slightly improved in the MX5, I don't feel the need to upgrade from my MX4s. The AirPods Max aren't even in the same league in that category. I flew from Chicago to Florida this March, and enjoyed total silence from the engines, passengers and crew, while experiencing a recording of Keith Jarrett's 2016 Budapest concert as if I were in the concert hall.

    Now for sound, while I'm 71 YO, and can't hear all the overtones above 8-10 KHz, I'd put the Sony and the Apple on equal footing: superb, no question. The aforementioned recording was made by the engineers of ECM records, with state of the art tech. The magnificent Hamburg Steinway piano was captured and reproduced with excellent clarity and range. I'd love to listen to it using the two headphone sets side by side.

    Sony pros: folds flat and includes carrying case with 3.5mm & airplane audio plugs (the MX4 case is better than the 5). Analog input jack. USB-C, with fast charging. 30 hour battery life. Lightweight, comfortable earpieces. Very modern and stylish appearance. Multi channel Bluetooth can connect to two devices without switching. Not to mention they're substantially les expensive, and sales do happen from time to time on Sony products, unlike Apple products.

    Apple pros: marginally better bass clarity. More colors. Old School styling. Direct Apple support, easier to set up and use than with the Sony app.

    Overall, there's little reason to spend an extra $150 for the AirPods, unless you're even more of an Apple diehard than I am. And I'm hardcore. I also own a pair of Airpods Pro, thought they were the greatest, but I haven't even opened the case since buying the Sonys.
    edited May 26 dewmeroundaboutnow
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