I Tried the AirPods Max Against Sony WH-1000XM5: Here’s Why I Think Sony Is the (Slightly) Better Choice

Comparing the Sony WH-1000XM5 and the AirPods Max (From: Kazi)
Comparing the Sony WH-1000XM5 and the AirPods Max (From: Kazi)

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The Sony WH-1000XM5 mop the floor with the AirPods Max in terms of practicality and user-friendliness.

In the high-stakes world of premium headphones, every detail counts.

Both the AirPods Max and Sony WH-1000XM5 are top-notch, offering great sound quality and high-end features. But when I looked closely, the Sony WH-1000XM5 just seem to do a few things better. They have these impossible-to-ignore tiny details that add up to make a big difference.

Read on as I explore four key areas where Sony’s WH-1000XM5 outperform the AirPods Max, offering insights that might sway your decision in Sony’s favor.

Design and Comfort

The AirPods Max are more unique in terms of style but the Sony WH-1000XM5 are more practical. (From: Kazi)
The AirPods Max are more unique in terms of style but the Sony WH-1000XM5 are more practical. (From: Kazi)

When evaluating the design and comfort of the AirPods Max and Sony WH-1000XM5, the latter emerge as the more practical choice for extended wear.

First off, the AirPods Max, weighing 384.8 grams, are notably heavier than the Sony WH-1000XM5, which come in at a more manageable 250 grams.

While the AirPods Max are undeniably stylish with their unique aluminum ear cups and mesh headband, the weight becomes noticeable during long listening sessions. I often found myself needing to take breaks, mainly due to the tight clamping force coupled with the weight.

In contrast, the Sony WH-1000XM5 opt for a less flashy, plastic design that prioritizes comfort. These make the headphones lighter and, with a less aggressive clamping force, more comfortable for prolonged use.

Wearing the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones (From: Kazi)
Wearing the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones (From: Kazi)

While the aesthetic appeal of the AirPods Max is clear, in practical terms, Sony’s approach to design and comfort offers a more user-friendly experience for everyday listening.

However, it’s important to note a drawback I observed with the WH-1000XM5 – heat buildup. During warmer months, the WH-1000XM5 tend to accumulate heat around the ear cups, which can lead to discomfort. This is an area where the mesh design of the AirPods Max offers a slight advantage, providing better breathability.

Sound Quality and Audio Features

A close look at the 40mm Apple customized driver placed under a protective cover on AirPods Max (From: Kazi)
A close look at the 40mm Apple customized driver placed under a protective cover on AirPods Max (From: Kazi)

Both headphones deliver distinct characteristics that cater to different preferences.

With the AirPods Max, I found the bass to be robust and warm and the mids to be clear and well-defined. But, I noticed a peak in the treble around 9kHz. While this brings out certain high-frequency details, I found that it can become quite fatiguing over time.

The Sony WH-1000XM5, however, deliver a more balanced sound across the spectrum, despite having a slightly v-shaped sound signature. The bass is deep and controlled without overpowering the mids and highs. The treble is smoother and doesn’t exhibit the same fatigue-inducing peak as the AirPods Max.

This makes the WH-1000XM5 more comfortable for extended listening, particularly in genres where treble detail is prominent.

The WH-1000XM5 also excel in the handling of microdynamics, capturing the subtle nuances in music that add depth and realism. On the other hand, AirPods Max wins on macrodynamic punch.

Sony Headphones app offer a range of DSP effects and rudimentary EQ options.
Sony Headphones app offer a range of DSP effects and rudimentary EQ options.

Yet, while both headphones also offer spatial audio features, Sony’s model provide broader EQ customization through their app, allowing for a more tailored sound profile.

Noise Cancellation and Connectivity

The Sony WH-1000XM5 and AirPods Max have their own specialties when it comes to ANC. (From: Kazi)
The Sony WH-1000XM5 and AirPods Max have their own specialties when it comes to ANC. (From: Kazi)

In terms of noise cancellation, both models excel, but with different strengths.

The AirPods Max effectively filter low-frequency noises but can slightly accentuate treble frequencies when active noise cancellation (ANC) is engaged. The Sony WH-1000XM5, conversely, are better at reducing high-frequency sounds, although it can create a slight vacuum-like sensation.

This difference in noise cancellation performance could be a deciding factor based on individual sensitivity to certain frequencies.

When it comes to connectivity, the AirPods Max pair seamlessly within the Apple ecosystem, which I found incredibly convenient as an iPhone user. However, their functionality is limited when paired with non-Apple devices.

The NW-A55 Walkman connects to the WH-1000XM5 via LDAC. (From: Kazi)
The NW-A55 Walkman connects to the WH-1000XM5 via LDAC. (From: Kazi)

The Sony WH-1000XM5 are more flexible in this regard, supporting a broader range of codecs, including LDAC. This allows for high-quality audio streaming on multiple platforms.

Practicality and User Experience

Close look at the Sony WH-1000XM5's built-in controls (From: Kazi)
Close look at the Sony WH-1000XM5’s built-in controls (From: Kazi)

The Sony WH-1000XM5 stand out for their user-centric features.

One key factor is the battery life. The AirPods Max offer around 20 hours of playtime, which, while respectable, falls short of the Sony WH-1000XM5’s impressive 30 hours. This difference is crucial for heavy users like me, who prefer not having to charge their headphones too frequently.

Another aspect is the charging convenience. The AirPods Max require a proprietary Lightning connector, a slight inconvenience, especially if you’re not heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem. In contrast, the Sony WH-1000XM5 use a more universal USB-C port, which aligns better with my array of devices.

The fact that the AirPods Max’ Smart case is necessary for activating their low-power mode is also a point of contention for me. In contrast, the WH-1000XM5 automatically enter a low-power state when not in use.

The AirPods Max and Sony WH-1000XM5 in their respective cases. (From: Kazi)
The AirPods Max and Sony WH-1000XM5 in their respective cases. (From: Kazi)

Speaking about the case, the AirPods Max’ Smart case attracts dirt easily and offers limited protection, which is not what I expect from a case designed for premium headphones. Sony’s carrying case, while not as stylish, is more functional for daily use.

It’s these small, user-centric design choices that add up to a more convenient and enjoyable user experience with the Sony WH-1000XM5.

For an in-depth discussion, check out my individual AirPods Max review and Sony WH-1000XM5 review.

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