Sony WH-1000XM5 vs AirPods Max

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs AirPods Max: Which is better?

The Sony WH-1000XM5 and the AirPods Max are top-tier noise cancelling headphones that delivers superb sound performance. Both headphones also support personalized spatial audio with dynamic head tracking (the Sony WH-1000XM5s added this feature in the latest firmware update) together with Dolby Atmos sound support. Both headphones deliver exceptionally clean sound performance with crystal clear highs, detailed midranges and very deep bass performance that punches deep and tight. Having said that, the Sony WH-1000XM5 does beat the AirPods Max when it comes to overall noise cancellation and we felt that it could cancel higher frequency ranges better with more effectiveness.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 is equipped with a longer battery life of up to 30 hours with ANC on, while the AirPods Max offers up to 20 hours. The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones support LDAC for high-resolution audio streaming and feature a wider frequency response of 4Hz to 40kHz compared to the AirPods Max. On the other hand, the AirPods Max features Apple’s computational audio technology and spatial audio with dynamic head tracking, providing a unique audio experience tailored for Apple users.

Comparing the Specs

SpecificationSony WH-1000XM5AirPods Max
Weight8.82 oz (approx. 250 g)​​​​13.6 ounces (384.8 grams)​​
Driver Unit30mm​​Apple-designed dynamic driver​​
Battery LifeUp to 30 hrs (NC ON), 40 hrs (NC OFF)​​Up to 20 hours with ANC or Transparency mode​​
Charging TimeApprox. 3.5 hrs​​​​Approx. 3.5 hours​​
Noise CancellationYes, with Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing, Personal NC Optimizer, Ambient Sound Mode​​Yes, with multiple microphones for ANC​​
Bluetooth Version5.2​​5.0​​
Spatial AudioYes (with dynamic head tracking)Yes (with dynamic head tracking)
MicrophonesYesNine microphones total, with eight for ANC and three for voice pickup​​
ControlsTouch Sensor, Custom Button​​Digital Crown, Noise control button​​
Audio Codec SupportSBC, AAC, LDAC​​SBC, AAC​​
Frequency Response4 Hz–40 kHz (LDAC)20 Hz to 20 kHZ
ConnectivityBluetooth, Stereo Mini Jack​​Bluetooth​​
In the BoxCarrying Case, Connection Cable, USB Cable​​​​AirPods Max, Smart Case, Lightning to USB-C Cable​​

Both headphones offer high-quality noise cancellation and wireless connectivity, but the Sony WH-1000XM5 includes support for LDAC codec and the AirPods Max features unique control scheme via the Digital Crown. The LDAC codec support is a major advantage as we found that the sound quality drastically improves with LDAC enabled music on the Sony headphones.

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs AirPods Max
Both the Sony WH-1000XM5s and the AirPods Max support spatial audio with Atmos support, however the WH-1000XM5s support LDAC streaming

Sound Performance

In terms of sound performance, both headphones excel in providing immersive spatial audio experiences. The Sony WH-1000XM5 delivers a balanced sound profile with deep bass, clear mids, and detailed highs. We played a couple of EDM soundtracks through the WH-1000XM5 headphones and they sound absolutely incredible with really nice punchy beats and smooth midrange performance. Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” sounded really punchy and tight with deep bass and sub-bass performance (the soundtrack feels especially deep if you use LDAC formats). The bass that you get from the WH-1000XM5 headphones is definitely much deeper than the AirPods Max headphones, and it delivers a deep low-end punch that you can actually feel. You can also further customize the sound performance via the Sony Headphone Connect app to fine-tune the audio to your preferences.

Compared with the AirPods Max, we felt that the AirPods Max delivered a rich, detailed sound with a focus on clarity and precision. It’s definitely not as bass-heavy as the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones and is more analytical in its sound signature, which may appeal to a wider audience (the sound feels more balanced rather than skewed towards lower-end sub-bass). The custom-built 40mm dynamic drivers deliver a wide soundstage and accurate imaging which enhanced by Apple’s proprietary audio processing algorithms. The spatial audio feature further enhances the listening experience by simulating surround sound for an immersive feel with dynamic head tracking, which is a really nice feature to have if you listen to Atmos music or watch movies using this headphone.

The bottom line is if you prefer a more bass-heavy sound signature, we definitely recommend the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones over the AirPods Max headphones. The Sony headphones have a much deeper bass response and can hit lower sub-bass notes with more precision and depth; the bass feels really deep with a good level of depth and punch. This makes the Sony headphones particularly good for EDM, rock and hip-hop music genres where you can enjoy the beats of the music and get punchy cinematic sound effects while watching movies (which support Atmos). The biggest advantage that the WH-1000XM5s offer over the AirPods Max is LDAC codec support – we found that with LDAC the audio quality increases dramatically and you can deep bass beats that sound absolutely phenomenal.

Suffice to say, the AirPods Max headphones sound more analytical with a focus on the highs and midranges. They have an “airy” sound signature with crisp vocals and nice timbre ranges – they sound really well-balanced for instrumental or live performances where the sound remains uncolored (unlike the Sony WH-1000XM5s) and they deliver crystal clear sound quality that sounds exactly like the artist intended it to be heard. While the bass on the AirPods Max is not as heavy as the Sony WH-1000XM5s, it still delivers a good low-end punch with good depth if you adjust the EQ settings.

AirPods Max Review
The Apple AirPods Max feature a really sleek design with polished aluminium earcups

Design and Specs

When it comes to design, the Sony WH-1000XM5 features a sleek design with soft ear cushions and a lightweight build for comfort during extended use (it weighs only a mere 250 grams which is much lighter than the AirPods Max’s 384 grams). The WH-1000XM5s also come with touch controls on the earcups which allow for easy navigation of playback and calls.

In contrast, the AirPods Max showcases a distinctive design with a stainless steel frame, breathable knit mesh canopy, and memory foam ear cushions for a luxurious feel. The Digital Crown on the earcup offers precise control over volume, playback, and Siri commands, which adds a touch of elegance to the design and elevates the entire appearance of the AirPods Max headphones. Additionally, the AirPods Max’s telescoping arms and foldable design make them easy to store and transport.

Overall, we would say that the Airpods Max look much sleeker and feel more comfortable than the WH-1000XM5s. While the Sony headphones are pretty lightweight and much lighter than the AirPods Max headphones, they feel kind of “plastic” as compared to the AirPods Max – the AirPods Max certainly come across as a more luxurious headphone with generous ear padding and the ear cushions feel thicker. With that said, you might need to consider the trade off between having a more luxurious headphone like the AirPods Max which weighs roughly 50% heavier than the Sony WH-1000XM5s.

Sony WH-1000XM5 Review
The Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones are much more lightweight compared to the AirPods Max

Noise Cancelling Comparison

The Sony WH-1000XM5 uses Sony’s renowned Adaptive Sound Control which adjusts the level of noise cancellation based on your surroundings and activities. This feature is particularly handy in different environments, such as on a plane or in a busy office as it adapts to the noise levels around you and effectively cancels out background noises and even conversational speech. Compared with the AirPods Max, the WH-1000XM5’s ANC is highly effective at blocking out ambient noise and people talking around you – which provides a quiet listening experience even in noisy environments.

Having said that, we did find that the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones are not as effective at cancelling out low to moderate noise levels because the ANC automatically adjusts down at lower noise levels. Because of this, the active noise cancellation may not cancel out background noise that would have been cancelled if the ANC was set at full level. One limitation with the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones is that you have no control over the level of ANC – the ANC automatically adjusts depending on your surroundings and sometimes it may underestimate the noise levels around you, reducing its effectiveness.

The AirPods Max also delivers pretty good adaptive active noise cancellation that suppresses outside noises, allowing you to focus on your music or calls without distraction. We like the AirPods Max’s Transparency mode which helps you to stay aware of your surroundings and unlike the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones, we found that the AirPods Max transparency mode actually takes in and increases the volume of surrounding sounds so that you can hear your surroundings much more clearly. This can be a good thing depending on how much ambient sounds you want to hear.

Compared to the AirPods Max, the Sony WH-1000XM5 deliver much more effective active noise cancelling and they have the ability to block out ambient background noise and conversational speech more effectively. While you can still hear some background sounds with the AirPods Max (they don’t cancel higher frequency sounds as well as the Sony WH-1000XM5s), the Sony WH-1000XM5s are definitely much more effective at blocking out louder noises and sounds including higher frequency noises such as conversational speech.

Comfort Comparison

Both the Sony WH-1000XM5 and the AirPods Max are very comfortable headphones but we found the Sony WH-1000XM5s to be slightly more comfortable due to their lightweight (250 grams) design. This allows you to listen to music for hours on end without feeling any fatigue on your head or your ears – they also don’t exert too much clamping force (they are very similar to the Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones in this regard).

While the AirPods Max headphones look more aesthetic and sleek with its polished aluminium headphone and earcups, the Sony WH-1000XM5s are around 50% lighter (only 250g compared with the AirPods Max 384.8g) and we found that the Sonys are easier to wear for longer periods of time. Both headphones come with luxurious and comfortable ear padding and we particularly liked the AirPods Max come with breathable ear cushions. With that said, we did find that the AirPods Max can feel heavy on the ears due to the aluminium ear cups.

The Verdict?

If we had to choose between the AirPods Max and the Sony WH-1000XM5s, we would go for the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones. This is because the WH-1000XM5s provide much better active noise cancellation overall than the AirPods Max, and are more effective at blocking high-frequency noises and conversational speechs for a quieter listening experience. We also preferred the WH-1000XM5’s sound signature which feels more bass-heavy and it sounds great for EDM, rock and hip-hop music genres (especially with the deep low-end punch).

One major advantage that the Sony WH-1000XM5s have over the AirPods Max is that it supports LDAC Bluetooth audio. With LDAC, this drastically improves the quality of the soundtrack and you can hear details with great precision and clarity with the Sony headphones that you wouldn’t be able to pick out with the AirPods Max. The spatial audio sounded really crisp and clean, and we thoroughly enjoyed the vocal performances and deep bass beats that you get with the WH-1000XM5 headphones. The WH-1000XM5s are also more lightweight and comfortable to wear than the AirPods Max, and are a more practical option to have if you need to travel with a pair of headphones.

That being said, the AirPods Max have a really aesthetic looking design and support Digital Crown technology. They have a more analytical and well-balanced sound signature which makes them great for almost any music genre – vocals sound crisp and very clean, and you also have the option of adjusting the EQ settings on the AirPods Max to get a sound signature that suits your listening preferences. The battery life on the AirPods Max is roughly similar to that of the Sony headphones. They are around 50% heavier as compared to the Sony WH-1000XM5s and we did feel that it causes some discomfort after wearing the headphones for hours on end due to its heavier design, which is a practical consideration and a trade-off between the AirPods Max’s sleek aesthetics.