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Sony this week came out with an updated version of its popular over-ear noise canceling headphones, so we picked up a pair to compare them to the AirPods Max to see which headphones are better and whether it's worth buying the $400 WH-1000XM5 from Sony over Apple's $549 AirPods Max.


First of all, the AirPods Max win out when it comes to naming. WH-1000XM4 was a mouthful, and WH-1000XM5 is no better. Sony is not great at naming its TVs, headphones, and other devices, so Apple gets the edge there.

Compared to the aforementioned WH-1000XM4, the WH-1000XM5 headphones have an updated design, but the AirPods Max still have the classier, higher-end look. The WH-1000XM5 features a plastic body and the headphones are not as premium as the AirPods Max, which is likely what accounts for some of the price difference. The AirPods Max are aluminum and come in a range of colors, while the WH-1000XM5 headphones come in a "silver" cream color and black.

sony-headphones-1.jpg

The headphones do not fold down like the prior version and are slightly less portable, but Sony does offer them with a much better case option than the AirPods Max "bra" case. In terms of weight, the WH-1000XM5 headphones feel light on the head and are comfortable to wear, even for longer 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 is not quite as convenient as Apple's quick pairing method with the AirPods Max. AirPods Max also support automatic device switching, spatial audio, and other features.

sony-headphones-2.jpg

Both the WH-1000XM5 and the AirPods Max have Active Noise Cancelation (ANC), and Sony has stepped up the ANC in this version. There are dual QN1 chips (compared to a single QN1 chip in the WH-1000XM4), and it makes a difference. In our testing, the AirPods Max and the WH-1000XM5 both performed well at blocking out ambient noise, but the WH-1000XM5 did just 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.

sony-headphones-3.jpg

As for sound quality, the WH-1000XM5 headphones have smaller drivers than the WH-1000XM4 and a different sound profile that brings them more in line with the AirPods Max. Both sets of headphones offer depth, clarity, and low muddling at lower frequencies, and the sound is definitely improved over the WH-1000XM4. It's improved enough that it's difficult to say whether the AirPods Max or WH-1000XM5 headphones offer better sound, so in this category, it's a tie.

The WH-1000XM5 headphones offer up to 30 hours of battery life, which is 10 more hours than the AirPods Max, and that's worth considering. The AirPods Max are supposed to last for 20 hours, but generally do not with ANC turned on. Sony's headphones have an actual power button, which is handy for not wasting battery, plus the headphones come with more customization options for ANC, gestures, and sound.

sony-headphones-4.jpg

All in all, unless you like the design of the AirPods Max and the unique feature set that the headphones offer for Apple device users, the WH-1000XM5 headphones from Sony are worth considering as a more affordable alternative.

Article Link: Sony's New WH-1000XM5 Headphones vs. Apple's AirPods Max
 
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bookofxero

macrumors 6502
Dec 31, 2017
264
427
Naming does not matter too much. I am disappointed Sony continues to cheap out in materials - my Mark 2s are so solid compared to my Mark 4s. All else being equal, the power button is actually a fairly big deal and if I were looking for a new pair right now, the Mark 5s would edge out the APMs just on that alone.

ETA: was not a fan of the digital crown control on the APMs for the short time I tried them, either. YMMV.
 

Sheepish-Lord

macrumors 6502a
Oct 13, 2021
919
1,441
XM5 are far superior in sound to the 4 unless you like bassy mud. I was able to get the APM for $450+tax free so at that price point I stuck with the Apple ecosystem but at the APM regular price the XM5 are the ones to get for now.
 

bookofxero

macrumors 6502
Dec 31, 2017
264
427
To each their own. $400+ for headphones is too bananas for me!
I can definitely relate to that. I am thinking of spending the money to replace the Sonos 5 that was stolen when my place was broken into a couple of years back instead.
 
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MacFan23

macrumors 6502
Feb 17, 2010
441
505
The number one problem is the AirPods Max are too heavy. Apple should make an ultra light headset, because Apple is good at lightweight designs. Headsets are like glasses: weight is the most important factor.
I always enjoy ready this comment because it makes me feel like I have a really strong head/neck. I wear them all day, everyday and barely feel them.

I think the number one issue is price, it just keeps what is a very good Apple accessory out of range of a huge chunk of Apple users.
 

PortableHomepod

macrumors newbie
Apr 6, 2021
18
20
The ANC is not as good in the Max, it has less hardware for it. This is the first ANC that even tries to address the higher frequencies such as talk and high pitched sounds. Mic quality seems slightly better than max, vastly better than xm4 & 3. Sound is slightly better, much better than xm4. More natural sounding, less matted sound. The fit around the ears are better. They weigh less. They look cooler. They are a generation ahead of apple
 

bankshot

macrumors 65816
Jan 23, 2003
1,309
155
Southern California
Foldability of the XM4 seems to be a very popular feature, and it's certainly one that I appreciate a lot. Even if the XM5 sounds better, it would have to be a huge difference in quality for me to give up the ability to fold my XM4 for easy travel. And I'm very pleased with the sound of the XM4, so I can't imagine the XM5 being that much better. Removal of folding seems so puzzling - what does this achieve other than mindlessly copying Apple?

It doesn't sound like this addresses anything else I'd want to see in an improved model, either. I love my XM4 - particularly sound quality, battery life, and 2 simultaneous connections - but there's always room for improvement:
  • The touch controls are awful. I hate them with a passion. It's way too easy to get the angle of swipe slightly off when trying to adjust the volume, and suddenly I've unintentionally skipped forward or backward a track. Terrible interface. So of course they kept that!
  • 2 device connections is awesome and seamless, but switching the secondary device (because I have about 4 that I might use - iPhone, iMac, MBA, tv) is cumbersome. This doesn't even require a hardware update, just an iOS app update and maybe a headphone firmware update.
  • When the secondary device is out of range and drops connection, don't rudely interrupt what's playing on the primary device to tell me! I don't care, I'm using the other device! This is extremely irritating because it drops the volume and plays the disconnection message when I'm trying to listen to something on the primary device. Terrible user experience, and again very easy to fix in firmware.
If my XM4 were to break, I think I'd be more likely to buy another as replacement rather than upgrade to the XM5. Doesn't seem worth the extra expense.
 

haincha

macrumors member
Mar 16, 2012
60
92
The AirPods Max are my favorite pair of headphones I've owned. ANC is good, sound is great, and it really shines when you pair it to your TV and can still get all the good sounds without disturbing other folks around you. I've recommended them to friends, but if you want something else, that's cool too! For someone so intertwined into  products, they just make the most sense. They're 1000x better than the in ear models, in my opinion.
 

Infinite Vortex

macrumors 6502a
Mar 6, 2015
521
1,057
Both have their pluses and minuses but at the end of the day I'm going to stick with the XM4s. The combination of having better muti-device support, along with its foldabilty and weight, not to mention its current discounts, make it still the winner for me.

In a lot of cases when I want small and light I still use Apple's in-ear (cabled!) headphones.

I travel enough that that the form factor is important enough to be a deciding factor once it sounds "good enough" with the right ANC for a plane.
 
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JCCL

macrumors 65816
Apr 3, 2010
1,359
2,226
Foldability of the XM4 seems to be a very popular feature, and it's certainly one that I appreciate a lot. Even if the XM5 sounds better, it would have to be a huge difference in quality for me to give up the ability to fold my XM4 for easy travel. And I'm very pleased with the sound of the XM4, so I can't imagine the XM5 being that much better. Removal of folding seems so puzzling - what does this achieve other than mindlessly copying Apple?

It doesn't sound like this addresses anything else I'd want to see in an improved model, either. I love my XM4 - particularly sound quality, battery life, and 2 simultaneous connections - but there's always room for improvement:
  • The touch controls are awful. I hate them with a passion. It's way too easy to get the angle of swipe slightly off when trying to adjust the volume, and suddenly I've unintentionally skipped forward or backward a track. Terrible interface. So of course they kept that!
  • 2 device connections is awesome and seamless, but switching the secondary device (because I have about 4 that I might use - iPhone, iMac, MBA, tv) is cumbersome. This doesn't even require a hardware update, just an iOS app update and maybe a headphone firmware update.
  • When the secondary device is out of range and drops connection, don't rudely interrupt what's playing on the primary device to tell me! I don't care, I'm using the other device! This is extremely irritating because it drops the volume and plays the disconnection message when I'm trying to listen to something on the primary device. Terrible user experience, and again very easy to fix in firmware.
If my XM4 were to break, I think I'd be more likely to buy another as replacement rather than upgrade to the XM5. Doesn't seem worth the extra expense.
Just like I feel about my XM4s. I’m in no rush to update them at all.

And for those about the muddy bass, definitely surprised they kept that as a default setting, but with the EQ they can sound MUCH MUCH better
 

Admiral Fart

macrumors newbie
May 11, 2021
12
42
Sony wins this one. I couldn't care less about the name, and lightweight plastic is better than heavy aluminum for headphones. I'm not wearing headphones as a fashion statement, and Apple needs to learn that plastic is fine for some products, especially those that are going to be on your head for long periods of time. Throw in better battery life, a carrying case that isn't cartoonishly stupid, and a better price, and Sony is the clear winner for me.
 
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anthogag

macrumors 65816
Jan 15, 2015
1,163
1,647
Canada
There is one problem with Sony XM5. From a distance it looks like you're wearing a couple of bars of soap over the ears. People may stare or refuse you service.

AirPods Max can play bass heavy music like a pro. It is the realtime equalizer doing its thing if you don't think you're getting enough bass; you're hearing what the sound engineers want you to hear.
 
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