AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: The Definitive Comparison
An unexpectedly close race between the two best wireless noise cancelling headphones on the market today
I returned my first pair of Apple’s AirPods Max because of comfort issues shortly after publishing my review. I ended up buying a second pair within a few months, though, because I missed their sheer sonic prowess.
After a bit of stretching to ease their clamping force, the AirPods and I got along much better. The combination of headband design and spacious ear cups does a good job of distributing their (significant) weight in a way that allowed me to wear them for extended periods of time. They’re no Bose, but I no longer need to take breaks every half hour or so to avoid discomfort.
More recently, Sony released the latest in their long-running line of flagship ANC headphones, the WH-1000XM5. I ended up buying a pair and, over the past little while, I’ve been meticulously comparing them against my AirPods Max to see which headphones I prefer.
These are my findings.
There are a few ways to evaluate build quality for headphones; you could simply judge these pairs based on their material choices, in which case you’d quickly conclude that the AirPods Max are the superior pair.
Alternatively, you could consider whether something being made of premium materials actually makes it better for its intended use.
The Sonys are made of cheaper, lighter materials that lack the sense of luxury you get when handling the AirPods Max. The plastic surface also collects fingerprints like they’re going out of style, so buy the light colour if this kind of thing bothers you. But, as a result of these material choices, the WH-1000XM5 are more compact, more flexible, and significantly lighter than the AirPods Max. I cannot overstate how much less heavy the Sonys feel both on the head and in the hand.
For a pair of headphones that’s designed to be a constant companion, the lighter weight of the Sonys makes a big difference and offsets a lot of the appeal of the AirPods’ sturdier construction.