Sony released an updated version of its popular noise-cancelling over-ear headphones this week, so we’ve picked out a pair to compare them to the AirPods Max to see which headphones are better and whether they’re worth buying. Sony’s $400 WH-1000XM5 over Apple’s $549 AirPods Max.
First of all, the AirPods Max wins when it comes to naming. WH-1000XM4 was a pittance, and WH-1000XM5 is no better. Sony isn’t good at naming its TVs, headphones and other devices, so Apple takes the lead there.
Compared to the aforementioned WH-1000XM4, the WH-1000XM5 headphones have an updated design, but the AirPods Max still have the classier, premium look. The WH-1000XM5 has a plastic body, and the headphones aren’t as premium as the AirPods Max, which probably explains some of the price difference. The AirPods Max are made of aluminum and come in a range of colors, while the WH-1000XM5 headphones come in a cream “silver” and black color.
The headphones don’t fold up like the previous version and are slightly less portable, but Sony offers them with a much better case option than the AirPods Max “bra” case. In terms of weight, the WH-1000XM5 headphones are light on the head and comfortable to wear, even for long 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 isn’t as convenient as Apple’s quick pairing method with AirPods Max. AirPods Max also supports automatic device switching, spatial audio, and other features.
Both the WH-1000XM5 and the AirPods Max have active noise cancellation (ANC), and Sony has beefed up the ANC in this version. There are two QN1 chips (compared to a single QN1 chip in the WH-1000XM4), and that makes a difference. In our tests, the AirPods Max and the WH-1000XM5 both did a good job of blocking out ambient noise, but the WH-1000XM5 did 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.
When it comes to sound quality, the WH-1000XM5 headphones have smaller drivers than the WH-1000XM4 and a different sound profile that makes them more similar to the AirPods Max. Both headphones offer depth, clarity and low low-frequency interference, and the sound is significantly improved over the WH-1000XM4. It’s improved enough that it’s hard to say whether the AirPods Max or WH-1000XM5 headphones sound better, so in this category it’s a tie.
The WH-1000XM5 headphones offer up to 30 hours of battery life, 10 hours longer than the AirPods Max, and that’s worth considering. The AirPods Max are supposed to last 20 hours, but usually not with ANC on. Sony’s headphones have a real power button, which is handy for not wasting battery, and 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 set of unique features that the headphones offer users of Apple devices, Sony’s WH-1000XM5 headphones are worth considering. a more affordable alternative.
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