We’ve pitched the two pairs head-to-head to look at how they compare and where they differ in terms of price, design, features and sound quality.
Pricing and availability
One of the biggest drawbacks to the AirPods Max is their luxury price. The headphones launched in December 2020 at $549 / £549 / €629.
The WH-1000XM5 will be available to pick up from the end of May for £380 / €420.
That makes the Sony pair both the newer and cheaper pair of the two, saving you a decent £169 / €209 over the AirPods Max.
The AirPods Max feature boast a unique and bold design consisting of rounded metal ear cups, a mesh-covered band and an Apple Watch-like Digital Crown offering physical playback controls.
The weight of the headphones is distributed evenly across the headband for hours of comfort despite their 385g weight, and there are stainless steel telescoping arms that slide smoothly on either side.
The memory foam earcups are comfortable and can pop off to be washed or replaced and the headphones come in a range of eye-catching colours, including space grey, silver, green, pink and sky blue.
The AirPods come with Apple’s Smart Case, an odd-looking case that offers no protection to the headband and doesn’t completely cover the cups. However, this is the only way to turn the headphones off.
The XM5, meanwhile, feature a more classic design in black and platinum silver finishes. The headphones feature an all-new noiseless design, which consists of a stepless slider and soft fit synthetic leather cover to provide a snug, comfortable fit without putting pressure on the head.
The headphones feature plastic recycled from automobile parts and come in plastic-free packaging and a recycled product box. Like the AirPods, the XM5 come with a carry case. Sony’s case can also be compacted down when not in use for easy storage.
Both the AirPods Max and the WH-1000XM5 take advantage of noise cancelling.
The AirPods Max are capable of cancelling out the low-end sounds of flat refurbishments and Zoom meetings, though there’s no in-depth control beyond adaptive ANC, which will automatically detect the level of noise cancellation required. The AirPods also include a Transparency Mode, making it possible to chat without taking them off.
We actually found the AirPods Max’ ANC marginally better than that on the WH-1000XM4 when we tested the headphones, though Sony claims to have made the noise cancelling on the XM5 even better than that on their predecessor so it remains to be seem whether the AirPods can stand up to the XM5 in this area.
In Sony’s case, the XM5 feature eight microphones and two processors – the HD Noise Cancelling QN1 and the Integrated Processor V1 – designed to work together to reduce noise in the high and mid-frequencies. The 30mm driver unit is even specially designed to enhance the noise cancelling effect.
The Auto NC Optimiser feature automatically optimises noise cancellation depending on your setting, while Adaptive Sound Control tailors ambient sound to fit your environment.
The XM5 have an automatic transparency mode in Speak-to-Chat, which pauses the tunes and lets outside sound in when your need to stop for a conversation.
Calls are designed to be clear too, with the XM5 using its Precise Voice Pickup technology using four beamforming mics, an AI-based noise reduction structure and a wide noise reduction structure to isolate your voice from your surroundings on the phone.
Pairing is another major feature on both headphones. Though both headphones can certainly be used with a range of operating systems, the Sonys are best suited to Android and Microsoft, while the AirPods are predictably Apple-oriented.
The XM5 support Google Fast Pair for quick connections with Android devices, as well as Microsoft’s Swift Pair for Windows 10 and 11. There’s also Quick Access for Spotify playback without taking out your phone and help from Google Assistant or Alexa.
The AirPods, meanwhile, boasts a quick, one-time iOS pairing process that will automatically sync the headphones with any device added to your iCloud account for seamless switching.
Battery life-wise, the AirPods Max offer 20 hours of playback and charge via Apple’s Lightning cable. The XM5, meanwhile, offer up to 30 hours of battery, and can be charged with 3 hours of music in 3 minutes with USB Power Delivery.
When it comes to sound, the AirPods Max sound excellent across a wide variety of genres. The custom 40mm driver works with dual H1 chips and Adaptive EQ to adjust the low and mid frequencies, while also considering the fit and seal of the headphones on your head.
There’s plenty of bass, vocals sound clean and higher frequencies never sound harsh.
We haven’t finished testing the XM5 just yet, meaning we can’t give our final verdict on the sound quality. However, Sony claims the headphones’ 30mm driver offers better high frequency sensitivity and a more natural sound than its predecessor.
Where Sony has packed LDAC high-resolution audio and DSEE Extreme upscaling into its XM5, don’t expect any high-res codecs from the AirPods, which are designed to be used primarily with streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify.
One major iOS-exclusive feature found on the AirPods Max is Apple Spatial Audio. The AirPods use head tracking to make 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos audio more immersive.
The XM5 feature their own immersive audio in Sony’s own 360 Reality Audio, which is built around the music streaming-centric MPEG-H 3D Audio codec, meaning it can support 64 individual channels.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 have a lot in common with the AirPods Max from their noise cancelling skills to their fast connectivity features and immersive audio. The AirPods are certainly the more eye-catching of the two, but the Sony’s have a longer battery life. The Sony pair also takes advantage of high-res audio from the addition of LDAC support.
Keep an eye on Trusted Reviews for our full review of the Sony WH-1000XM5 in the near future to hear our final verdict.