Wireless headphones shootout: Apple AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM4

Apple AirPods Max vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Which of these two wireless over-ear headphones is better? Both feature active noise canceling and offer a range of features, but only one has superior design, higher quality audio, and impressive build-quality: Apple’s AirPods Max.

Apple AirPods Max (left), Sony WH-1000XM4 (right)
Apple AirPods Max (left), Sony WH-1000XM4 (right)

David Phelan for The Independent:

Noise-cancelling. This is key to both pairs of headphones, and is sublimely good in both… Poor noise-cancelling can make you feel like you’re sealed off from the world, which isn’t pleasant. Both Apple and Sony make the silence they create feel lively and comfortable.

AirPods Max sound magnificent. There’s plenty of bass when needed but it never overpowers the rest of the track. There’s a pleasingly neutral tone which gives a clean, clear character to the music, across a soundstage that feels wide and uncluttered. In most cases, the music is distortion-free even at high volumes. These are among the best-sounding headphones I’ve tried.

In design terms, [Sony WH-1000XM4] are much more conventional than Apple’s headphones, with a chunkier headband, a deeper profile ear cup and offering only two choices of colour: black and silver… Overall, there’s little difference between Apple’s and Sony’s noise-cancelling. Along with Bose and its headphones 700, these headphones and the AirPods Max are streets ahead of rivals for noise-cancelling quality.

The shiny elegance of AirPods Max will turn many people’s heads… In terms of features, Apple’s headphones edge it because of spatial audio and adaptive EQ, and for the ultimate simplicity of set-up.

Apple Airpods Max win in most ways: they offer the ultimate sound quality in headphones in the under-£1,000 category, and arguably match the audio of much pricier hi-fi headphones. The design and feature list also put AirPods Max ahead.

MacDailyNews Take: Another resounding win for Apple! And, yes, better costs more.

21 Comments

  1. Hmmm, I interpreted the writer was speaking about the Sony product.

    “In design terms, [Sony WH-1000XM4] are much more conventional than Apple’s headphones, with a chunkier headband, a deeper profile ear cup and offering only two choices of colour: black and silver… “

  2. I’m a huge fanboy, but is it really fair to compare Apple’s $549 AirPods Max to Sony’s $279 headphones? I would certainly hope that at around twice the price APM would be better!

    1. As you know thats not how it works. You pay twice as much for 1 – 5% improvement. There are $49 headphones that are 80 – 90% as “good” as either the Sony or Apple products. You can pay another $1000 for “audiophile” headphones that 95% of hear any difference from neither the Apple nor Sony products. Pay more and more for less and less improvement.

  3. Good link–thx. I never understand the need to post a review when one of the reviewed items (Apple’s sku in this case) wasn’t thoroughly tested. I guess Techradar wants to be on the radar before others, regardless.

    The Apple case is a strange solution. It harkens to some of Ive’s designs that had a “be-on-a-pedestal” focus, vs true/deep functionality. So much for putting them in a travel bag with protection confidence (huge deficiency).

    The price difference is huge. Spending $200-300 more for the smart Apple chip and the ecosystem is quite a hike.

    Outside of the case, the Apple sku is far more visually appealing and original, imo.

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