Sony’s New WH-1000XM5 Headphones Look a Lot Like the AirPods Max

And they might be better than Apple’s cans for most people

  • The WH-1000XM5 is Sony's new top-end noise-canceling Bluetooth headphone. 
  • They look a lot like the AirPods Max. 
  • But they don't get all those sweet Apple-only features.
Sony's WH-1000XM5 headphones

Sony

The only reason not to buy Sony's new flagship noise-canceling headphones over Apple's offering is that you might not be able to pronounce the name—WH-1000XM5 is no AirPods Max, that's for sure. 

The new WH-1000XM5 supersedes the super popular and equally poorly-named WH-1000XM4, the go-to cans for anyone who really, really didn't want to have their music or podcasts interrupted by the exterior world. This Sony line regularly tops tests for over-the-ear noise-canceling headphones, but lately, there has been a rival—Apple's AirPods Max. Even so, the Sonys may continue to beat the big AirPods in almost every way—including the price. 

"I wore the AirPods Max on a long flight to Europe and did not find them comfortable for long hours of usage," said AirPods Max owner Blairh in a forum participated in by Lifewire. "The lack of control of the EQ (iOS presets are a joke) versus the Sony app is a game-changer too."

Quiet Please

Noise canceling headphones work by using microphones to monitor incoming noise, then generate the equal and opposite sound waves to literally cancel out the sound. The efficacy depends—among other things—on the accuracy of the sampling of outside noise, and Sony has put two processors and eight microphones on the job. This should make the series’ already excellent noise canceling even better. 

Woman wearing Sony's WH-1000XM5 headphones near a subway

Sony

Other features include various sound modes, for allowing voices and some sound into the mix, cutting wind noise, or listening only for announcements at airports and railway stations, and surpassing all other noise.

They enjoy the same 30-hour battery life as the previous version and can also tailor their sound to your frequently-visited locations. For example, in the office, they may cut everything, while on the walk to work you might like to cut out wind noise. And they can pair with two devices, enabling you to easily switch between them. 

Vs Max

Take one look at these new headphones, and you'll see just who Sony thinks the competition is. They look very much like a Sony take on Apple's AirPods Max, right down to the stalks that exit the headband and appear to pierce the headphone cups. And like Apple's headphones, the cups only twist, making them less portable but easier to wear.

"Honestly, every single pair of folding headphones I've ever owned has broken. If I were spending this much, I would want a sturdy design that doesn't have this problem," says Apple device fan Macative in a Macrumors forum thread

Apple AirPods Max in a blue protective case

Apple

The Sonys come in at $399, whereas the AirPods Max are $549, although you won’t pay this much if you shop around. The main differences are the features. The Sony’s have way more customizability, too, and work equally well with Android and iOS devices. 

Apple’s biggest advantage is the incredible integration with its own products. If you use them with an iPhone, you can enjoy spatial audio, the beautifully natural transparency mode which sounds better than any other that I’ve tested, automatic pairing with (and—supposedly—switching between) your Apple devices, plus Siri integration, with handy features like reading out incoming messages from selected contacts. 

For Apple users, it all comes down to those Apple-specific features.

The Sonys favor customization and compatibility. They work with everything, they come with a proper 3.5mm headphone cable in the box, whereas Apple makes you buy an extra cable that requires an extra digital-analog conversion. Early testing suggests Sony’s noise-canceling is slightly better, plus they’re lighter in weight and, for some, fold more comfortably.

Also, Sony’s case is a million times better than Apple’s ridiculous excuse. 

Lifewire’s own Jason Schneider compared the previous-gen WH-1000XM4 to the AirPods Max and preferred the Sonys, despite the superior build-quality of the Max. 

A Wash?

This is an odd category for headphones. They’re very expensive, and yet ultimate sound quality is not their main goal. These are highly functional accessories and have to satisfy several needs—excellent-enough sound, long battery life, great microphones for making calls, and incredible sound-canceling performance. 

Both of these headphones will do all of that. If you use an Android device, then clearly, Sony’s are the better choice. But for Apple users, it all comes down to those Apple-specific features, most of which are also available in Apple’s cheaper in-ear AirPods Pro. 

But if nothing else, the competition forces Sony to up its game. Those old WH-1000XM4s are as dorky as all get-out, plastic blobs with zero style. The new ones, with design cues cribbed from Apple, are way cooler. And that’s great news for Sony buyers.

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