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The Sony WH-100XM5 is a new revision of the popular headphones priced at $400, here’s how they compare to Apple’s AirPods Max.
Sony is a leading producer of some of the most popular music devices and headphones, as is Apple. When the AirPods Max launched in 2020, many comparisons were made between them and the cheaper $150 Sony XM4.
Now, Sony has updated its premium headphones with new specs for the same $400 price. The Sony WH-1000XM5 has a new design, two audio processors and some features based on updated algorithms.
AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Specs
Comparing the AirPods Max to the new WH-1000XM5 and the previous WH-1000XM4 gives a good idea of where these headphones stand. Sony has focused on software features and quality of life changes over this generation’s hardware upgrades.
|Features||AirPods Max||Sony XM5||Sony XM4|
|Mass||13.6 ounces||8.82 ounces||8.96 ounces|
|Processor||Apple H1||Sony QN1 and V1||Sony QN1|
|Noise cancellation||Yes||Yes, user configurable||Yes, user configurable|
|Transparency mode||Yes||Yes, user configurable||Yes, user configurable|
|Battery life||8 p.m. ANC on||30 hours ANC on||30 hours ANC on|
|Controls||Digital Crown, Button||Touch, gestures, buttons||Touch, gestures, buttons|
The spec sheet shows that very little has changed for the Sony headphones, but the new processor and driver make all the difference in the feature set. The exterior appearance has also changed, but the design remains geared towards a classic over-ear headphone style.
AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Design
Sony has evolved the design of its WH-1000XM series into something that looks more premium thanks to a unibody-style earbud. The headband is one continuous shape with no folds or hinges, and the headband and earpads are made with a soft, leather-like material.
Apple’s AirPods Max are a unique set of headphones made of heavy materials like aluminum and stainless steel. The ear cushions are fabric, but use a magnetic attachment system that allows for easy swapping out of third-party options.
Sony’s move away from a foldable design may be a big downside for fans of the headphone line. Many comparisons between the previous XM4 and AirPods Max have drawn attention to the lack of bendability on Apple’s headphones, which could therefore be poorly received.
Sony’s XM5 earbuds sit on a pivot to make them appear to “float”, and the size adjustment is similar to the AirPods Max with its slider-bar mechanism.
Apple uses a rubber-wrapped stainless steel headband with a small canopy at the top. This ensures the headband is strong and won’t break easily and the canopy keeps the weight of the helmet evenly distributed.
AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Processing and connectivity
Apple uses an H1 chip in each earbud for audio processing. They control everything from audio balancing to ANC and “Hi Siri.”
Sony has brought back the same QN1 processor it used in the WH-1000XM4, but it’s now paired with a proprietary V1 chip. The QN1 is responsible for noise cancellation processing while the V1 chip amplifies it, meaning ANC and Transparency modes are better than ever.
Audio quality will have to be compared once we get our hands on the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones, but they’ll surely feature Sony’s hallmark sound. Unlike the AirPods Max, the Sony headphones are capable of playing Hi-Res Audio wired or wirelessly.
Apple and Sony support “Spatial audio“where music or movies play audio in a 360-degree field. Sony calls it 360 Reality Audio, but it’s based on the same technologies. However, Apple uses head tracking to allow users to “move” in the 3D audio space.
AirPods Max connects to Apple iCloud and associates with a user’s Apple ID. This allows for quick switching between connected Apple devices like a iPhone, iPadand AppleTV. However, you will still need to manually sign in to non-Apple devices every time.
Sony is trying to replicate this kind of functionality using multiple Bluetooth connections. Two devices can be connected to the headset at the same time. So if you’re listening to music on your PC and a phone call comes in, they’ll automatically switch to the phone. Sony is also taking advantage of Android Fast Pair for Bluetooth devices.
The AirPods Max only have one connector option – Lightning. So if you want to use them wired you will need a special price of $35 Aux to Lightning Cable from Apple. The Sony WH-1000XM5 has Aux in and USB-C connectors.
AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: ANC modes
The ANC and Transparency modes of the Sony earphones have not changed, but they have been improved. The headphones will attempt to automatically set the active transparency mode based on ambient noise, and ANC levels are controlled via the Sony app.
For active noise cancellation, the AirPods Max and Sony XM5 attempt to block out ambient noise using multiple external microphones and an internal microphone. This will block out any constant mid to low level noise like machinery and muffle things like voices. Apple’s ANC mode is on or off, while Sony offers an intensity slider in its app.
Transparency mode is intended to let in environmental sound. On the AirPods Max, again, this is just a setting that tries to make it look like you’re not wearing headphones at all. There are still ANC-like features that keep out buzzing or loud noises, but speech, traffic and other environmental sounds get through.
Sony offers different levels of transparency depending on what it can detect or user input. Walk mode lets traffic noise in while standby mode will listen for announcements from intercoms and let them through.
AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Other features
Sony includes a large number of features such as touch and gesture control on the earbuds or voice detection. For example, if you are listening to music on the Sony XM5 headset and you start talking, the headset will pause the music and activate transparency mode for a conversation.
There’s also a feature to enable Spotify playback with just a few taps, which AirPods would never do. Sure, both headphones allow smart assistant commands like “Hey Siri”, but Sony is trying to give users more control outside of voice and buttons.
Both headphones feature beamforming microphones for improved call quality. The algorithms will attempt to focus the microphone on the speaker and suppress any external noise with varying effect.
While both earbuds offer long battery life, they also offer fast charging options to get short listening time after a few moments on the charger. For the Sony XM5, just three minutes of charging gives you three hours of listening time. However, AirPods Max only gives you 1.5 hours for every 5 minutes of charging.
AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: What to buy
Apple users with cash to spare will likely dive into the AirPods Max, however, Sony offers a compelling alternative. The fact that Sony’s headphones can play Hi-Res Audio will appeal to all audiophiles, especially with all the configuration options in the app.
Sony’s headphones work best in a cross-platform environment where someone might have an iPhone, a Windows computer, and a Sony TV. The multiple connection options and a wide variety of listening modes make them versatile headphones.
That being said, diehard Apple fans will stick with the AirPods Max for their ecosystem connectivity and Apple-specific features. It doesn’t hurt that there are also five color options.
Where to buy AirPods Max or Sony WH-1000XM5
Apple’s AirPods Max, meanwhile, is $549 but is discounted to $425 at press time when you shop this activation link and enter the promotional code APINSIDER when paying to Adorama. Detailed step-by-step activation instructions are available here.
You can also check the latest prices on Amazon, B&H Photo and other Apple retailers in our AirPods Price Guide.
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