The Sony WH-1000XM5 might just be the best pair of noise-canceling headphones you can buy, with some of the best noise-canceling money can buy and (for most) some stunning sound quality. That doesn't mean the AirPods Max aren't also very good - but where Apple's option falls short in a few key ways, the Sonys manage to pretty much nail it. That, and you can still get the Sony WH-1000XM5 for around $50 off, making them $100 less than the AirPods Max in their current reduced form. Let me explain:
The AirPods Max are some of the best noise-canceling headphones, but they have some key issues - the first of which is the price. That $550 full price tag (which you'll pay if you go straight to Apple) is a lot to swallow, especially when you look at how much other headphones cost from other manufacturers. They've always been an expensive option, and now, as more competitors are released at lower prices, it makes that larger investment seem a little inflated.
Case in point - the Sony WH-1000XM5 are, even when full price, $150 cheaper than the AirPods Max - and that's when the Sonys are more than the previous model. No, you might not get the snazzy aluminum build or the weird mesh headband, but you will get some of the best overhead wireless headphones put on shop shelves.
The noise-canceling, one of the biggest selling points of either of these headphones, is superior in the Sony option. That would make sense - they are much newer and have had lots of time to improve on the already great noise canceling that Sony has used before. But it also goes to highlight that the higher price of the AirPods Max continues to make little sense.
Sound-wise, neither are going to be considered 'audiophile good', but to most ears, they're going to be fine. Lots of bass, nice clarity, and plenty of energy. If anything the AirPods lack a little dynamism while the Sonys tend toward a more compressed sound, with sound stages fairly limited with both. Either way, the extra price isn't going toward better sound quality.
It's the build that you're paying extra for, and it is nice. The aluminum cups are nice and cold to the touch, and the headband is comfy - but the AirPods Max are heavy. The Sony's on the other hand are perhaps a little plasticky, but their matte coating goes a long way in making them feel more premium. This plastic construction makes the very light, and in the long run, far more comfortable.
Weirdly, one of the most important things for me is keeping these headphones safe. The AirPods Max have a notoriously awful carry case - a suede-lined nappy thing, that leaves the headband exposed and the earcups bang together when removed. Not good - especially for a pair of headphones that cost more than $500. It leaves you to spend more money on one of the best AirPods Max cases - and that feels wrong considering how much Apple are asking for. The Sonys come with a lovely hard case, and fold neatly away inside. nice.
Sony's top-of-the-line noise-canceling headphones are the ones to beat, with some great noise-canceling and pleasing sound quality. This deal brings them down to their lowest price ever, with a big $50 saving over at Walmart. We've only seen this price once before, and it was for one day - so there might not be too much time to grab them before they go back up in price.
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As iMore's Senior Staff writer, Tammy uses her background in audio and Masters in screenwriting to pen engaging product reviews and informative buying guides. The resident audiophile (or audio weirdo), she's got an eye for detail and a love of top-quality sound. Apple is her bread and butter, with attention on HomeKit and Apple iPhone and Mac hardware. You won't find her far away from a keyboard even outside of working at iMore – in her spare time, she spends her free time writing feature-length and TV screenplays. Also known to enjoy driving digital cars around virtual circuits, to varying degrees of success. Just don't ask her about AirPods Max - you probably won't like her answer.