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AirPods Max vs Sony WH-1000XM4 (2021): Are Apple’s Headphones Worth It?

After years of rumors and speculation, Apple has finally unveiled its first over-ear noise-canceling headphones: the AirPods Max. They sport a distinct design that makes them stand out when placed next to the top-rated Sony and Bose noise-canceling headphones, but they also carry a much higher price tag. Are they worth it? To cut to the chase, the Sony WH-1000XM4s are still the better purchase for us. Read on our comparison of the Apple AirPods Max and WH-1000XM4 to find out why.

AirPods Max vs Sony WH-1000XM4 Comparison Chart

ModelAirPods MaxSony WH-1000XM4
 Apple AirPods Max - SilverSony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Industry Leading Noise Canceling Overhead Headphones with Mic for...
PriceCheck PriceCheck Price
DesignOver-earOver-ear
ANCYesYes
Battery LifeUp to 20 hours with ANC onUp to 30 hours with ANC on
Quick Charging5 minutes for 1.5 hours of runtime10 minutes for 5 hours of runtime
Transparency ModeYesYes
Customizable EQNoYes
Headphones Touch ControlsNoYes
Microphones95
ColorsSpace Gray, Silver, Black, Sky Blue, Green, PinkSilver, Black
Weight 386 g251 g
Ear Cushion MaterialMesh textileLeather
Detachable Ear CushionsYesNo

Design & Comfort

The AirPods Max’s overall design gives it a more premium look and feel

The AirPods Max (left) have aluminum ear cups while the Sony WH-1000XM4’s (right) are made of matte plastic material

Like most new Apple products, the AirPods Max headphones have a distinct design you will easily recognize when worn. Their metallic aluminum ear cups and mesh headband feel premium to the touch, and they come in unique colors, such as sky blue, space gray, pink, and green. That is not to say that the Sony WH-1000XM4s feel cheap, as the matte coating gives them a premium feel as well. They are made of lightweight material and at 251 grams, they weigh a lot less than the AirPods Max that weigh 386 grams.

The AirPods Max’s earcups are also slightly more comfortable than the Sony WH-1000XM4s. They are more spacious and the mesh textile and memory foam ear cushions feel more comfortable than the Sony’s leather ear cushion that can feel warm when used for a longer period. In addition, the AirPods Max’s ear cushions are magnetic and can be detached from the ear cup easily. This is helpful in case you want to replace them or simply want a different-colored ear cushion. As for the WH-1000XM4, Sony doesn’t offer original ear cushion replacement for their headphones.

The AirPods Max’s Smart Case (left) leaves the knit headband exposed

While the AirPods Max may have a more premium feel, they’re not the most practical pair of headphones to carry around when travelling. The Apple Smart Case doesn’t completely protect the AirPods Max as the headband is left exposed and functions as the handle. If you have a sharp object in your bag, the delicate mesh knit headband and aluminum earcups can get damaged easily.

If you travel with your headphones often, the Sony WH-1000XM4s are the better option. They can be folded flat and inward and come with a portable case that doesn’t leave the headphones exposed.

Noise Cancellation & Sound

The AirPods Max and Sony WH-1000XM4 deliver excellent audio and noise-cancellation, but the Max are equipped with more microphones

airpods-max-vs-sony-wh-1000xm4
The noise-canceling of these premium headphones is top-notch

In a nutshell, the AirPods Max and Sony WH-1000XM4 sound great and their noise cancelation is among the best out there. Both headphones sound crisp and clear, even at maximum volume. They can also cancel out ambient sound well and both headphones feature a transparency mode that lets you hear your surroundings when necessary.

Where the AirPods Max edges out the Sony WH-1000XM4 is in their microphones. They are equipped with nine microphones, including ones that are designed specifically to cancel out wind noise. If you often use your headphones for making calls or recording audio, the AirPods Max will perform better in this department. With that said, this feature is something that a mobile phone can already do for you.

Battery and Additional Features

The Sony WH-1000XM4s have a longer battery life

airpods max vs sony wh-1000xm4 featured
The AirPods Max in green and the Sony WH-1000XM4 in silver

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 wireless noise-canceling headphones have the edge in terms of battery life. They boast up to 30 hours of playtime with ANC on and a 10-minute charge will give you up to 5 hours of extra juice. Meanwhile, the AirPods Max only have a battery life of up to 20 hours with ANC on and a 5-minute quick charge will give you 1 more hour of playtime. One more thing to note is the AirPods Max don’t have an on and off switch. They will go into battery-saving mode only when you place them in their smart case.

Another difference between the AirPods Max and the Sony WH-1000XM4 is their playback and volume controls. The new Apple headphones house a Digital Crown, similar to what you see on the Apple Watch smartwatches, except bigger. Their earcups don’t feature capacitive touch controls, unlike the Sony WH-1000XM4’s.

Verdict

The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones are better in many ways

Granted, Apple’s AirPods Max have a more powerful computational audio, more microphones, and an overall more premium feel. However, these don’t justify the higher price tag if you compare them to the top-rated Sony WH-1000XM4. The WH-1000XM4s deliver excellent noise cancellation and audio quality, have longer battery life, and are more portable and lightweight than the AirPods Max. Their customizable touch controls are an added bonus, too.

Let’s not even get started with Apple’s Smart Case. From a practical standpoint, the AirPods Max’s Smart Case doesn’t protect the headphones enough. The delicate knit canopy of the AirPods Max’s headband needs better protection than the Smart Case can offer.

FAQs

๐Ÿ“Œ Which headphones are better, the AirPods Max or the Sony WH-1000XM4?

The WH-1000XM4 offer better value for money overall, but the AirPods Max have more microphones and feel more premium than the Sony headphones.

๐Ÿ“Œ How long is the battery life of the AirPods Max?

The AirPods Max have a battery life of up to 20 hours with ANC on.

๐Ÿ“Œ How long is the battery life of the Sony WH-1000XM4?

The Sony WH-1000XM4 have a battery life of up to 30 hours with ANC on.

๐Ÿ“Œ Do the AirPods Max turn off automatically?

They will only turn off after two hours of being idle if you don’t place them in their Smart Case. To save on battery, make sure to store the min the Smart Case when not in use.

Last update on 2021-07-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Rhodaline Escala-Phelps

Managing Editor and Team Leader at Compare Before Buying. Writer and researcher passionate about people, product comparisons, culture, and current events.