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Apple AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Which Premium Headphones Deserve a Look

We're comparing Apple's $549 AirPods Max and Sony's $399 WH-1000XM5 headphones across all core features.
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Apple AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Which Premium Headphones Deserve a Look

Apple AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Which Premium Headphones Deserve a Look

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You might have heard there's a new pair of premium headphones in town -- Sony's $399 WH-1000XM5 are the latest generation of what have been class-leading headphones with impressive noise cancellation, good sound, and long (like really long) battery life. 

And that inches closer to Apple's $549 AirPods Max -- a luxurious pair of over-ear cans with high-end materials, an excellent transparency mode, and deep integration with Apple. They're also frequently discounted to $479 on Amazon. So with these two big players in the audio space, there's a good chance you might be deciding between the two. 

So we're putting Apple's AirPods Max and Sony's WH-1000XM5 head-to-head to help you decide. Let's turn ANC on and dive right in.

AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Design

Apple Airpods Max Lead

If you’re after a statement piece, high-end materials (that better fit the price), and fun pops of colors, AirPods Max fit the bill. Apple also opted for a high-end build that matches the $549 price tag (discounted to $479). They're constructed with aluminum and steel along with a custom “Canopy” knit for the headband. It comes together for a hefty pair of headphones at 348-grams, but they’re also really comfortable. In my testing, you can quickly forget they’re even on your head, and the top headband design doesn’t put much pressure on the top of your skull. It’s pretty impressive.

The ear cups are solid stainless steel, but the cushions that connect with your ear are super breathable and pop right off -- with some force -- for easy cleaning. Regardless of your ear size, the left and right ear cups are larger than on other headphones, making them universally fitting. Apple also opted for a Digital Crown from the Apple Watch for easy playback, volume control, and an action button. Those who plan to rock these outdoors with gloves will appreciate the tactical buttons, especially over Sony’s touch controls.

AirPods Max feel well worth the price, are crafted from premium materials, and stand out. Comparatively, Sony’s WH-1000XM5 opts for a more minimalist approach in just two colors with a primarily plastic build. Sony’s cans are considerably lighter at 250 grams and equally as comfortable for the most part. The XM5 uses a comfortable cushioning behind vegan leather for the ear cups and the top band. It’s pretty comfortable in everyday use, but they don’t instantly fade away like the AirPods Max.

1-sony wh1000xm5 review

Unlike the previous generation XM4s, but like AirPods Max, the XM5s do not collapse into themselves for portability. Sony does provide a complete protective case for the WH-1000XM5, while Apple’s solution for the AirPods Max only covers the ear cup and isn’t very protective. You’ll also need to use it as it's the only way to put AirPods Max into a lower-power mode. Sony’s WH-1000XM5 feature a physical power button, touch controls on the right ear cup for playback, and a dedicated button for ANC. You’ll recharge these with USB-C, while AirPods Max charges with Lightning.

AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Sound Quality

Apple Airpods Max Lead

Whether you opt for AirPods Max or Sony's WH-1000XM5, you're in for a real treat with the soundstage. Both headphones deliver a vibrant, rich mix that works across genres -- from Lorde's "Ribs" to Bruce Springsteen's "Ghosts" with some of Olivia Rodrigo's "Sour" in between. You'll find a wide soundstage that lets even the most packed tracks come through clear -- notably, letting you pick out individual instruments within a given mix.

Both AirPods Max and WH-1000XM5 have dual processors with custom drivers to ensure a rich mix. Apple's over-ear headphones also feature Adaptive EQ which listens to the mix as it's playing in your ears to mix it in real time. You won't find a full equalizer with several presets, but you can dive into Accessibility settings for a few adjustments.

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 many presets and use an entire digital EQ board to customize the experience.

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AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Battery Life

sony wh-1000xm5 lead

If you’re after the best possible battery life, you should go for Sony’s WH-1000XM5. They’re rated for a crazy long 30 hours with ANC disengaged, and we stretched that to 32 and a half hours in our testing. And they charge with USB-C, a universal standard. You can also get three hours of playback from a three-minute charge.

AirPods Max come in at 20 hours with ANC disengaged. That’s pretty solid, and with ANC on, you still have enough for a cross-country flight. However, fast charging is a bit slower at an hour and a half of playback from a five-minute charge.

AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Noise Cancellation, Transparency Modes and Call Quality

2-sony wh1000xm5 review

Active Noise Cancellation or ANC is too close to call between AirPods Max and Sony’s WH-1000XM5. Both headphones have eight microphones and two processors dedicated to helping with canceling external sound. They both can handle deep, loud noises like things dropping or planes overhead and higher frequency volumes like HVAC systems or people talking.

Either pair of headphones is perfect for drowning out the world and being able to concentrate. If you’re after the most natural sounding transparency mode -- aka one when environmental sounds are pumped in -- you’ll want to go with AirPods Max. They sound the most natural and really like the real world, rather than a digitized version that you can tell has been processed a bit. The XM5s perform well in "Ambient Mode," but it’s not a top-of-the-line experience like AirPods Max.

Similarly, when it comes to quality, a portion of the total eight microphones are used to help pick up your voice. Both AirPods Max and Sony's WH-1000XM5 do an admirable job that is fine for voice calls or VoIP services. In our testing, though, AirPods Max did a better job of quieting down noisy environmental sounds.

AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Ecosystems

This one is pretty simple, but AirPods Max are best if you have an iPhone and other Apple devices. They’re really for Apple products only, and if you have an Android phone or a Windows laptop, we’d opt for Sony’s WH-1000XM5 since they are platform agnostic.

AirPods Max fast pair from the get-go with your iPhone and use your iCloud account to sync between all your other devices. Apple Watch, iPad, Mac desktop, Mac laptop, and even Apple TV included. You can quickly switch between the connected devices, and you’ll find that supported functions like “Hey Siri” work just as well across them. With hands-free Siri, you can have the assistant read and respond to incoming messages, accept or decline calls and make any request that might be on your mind.

Sony’s WH-1000XM5 support Amazon Alexa, but it’s a pass-through experience with your connected device. You can also use multi-point Bluetooth to pair these headphones with a phone and computer, but it isn’t as seamless as AirPods Max with compatible devices.

Bottom Line

Both AirPods Max and Sony’s WH-1000XM5 are excellent headphones that excel with rich sound, robust listening modes, good battery life, and comfortable designs. 

Sony’s options are great if you want to spend a little less -- $399 -- and are more focused on audio and ANC rather than deep integration with other devices or how the headphones look. 

AirPods Max offer a higher-end design and ultimately a more comfortable build at a more expensive $549 price tag, but also provide deep integration with Apple devices, a terrific transparency mode, and excellent sound quality. 

Prices are accurate and items in stock at time of publishing.