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Apple AirPods Max vs Sony WH-1000XM4: Best in Class ANC

Apple’s AirPods Max hit the market in late 2020. How does the luxury gadget compare to other headphones? For example, the Sony WH-1000XM4 over-ear headphones, which stand for excellent Active Noise Canceling (ANC), are suitable as a reference. Can the Apple headphones hold a candle to those from Sony?

At the end of 2020, Apple had another surprise ready: the AirPods Max. After the release of the iPhone 12, Apple presented its luxurious over-ear headphones in the fall. Many audio experts sit up and take notice was above all the price – because it is lavish. Sony had already released the WH-1000XM4 in summer 2020, which offers a comparable range of functions, but is significantly cheaper. So who will do the race?


Apple AirPods MaxSony WH-1000XM4
ModelAirPods MaxWH-1000XM4
ColorsSilver, Space Gray,
Sky blue, Pink, Blue
Black, Silver
Battery life20 Hours (BT+ANC)30 Hours (BT+ANC)
Weight384.8 g 254 g
Material Memory Foam, Stainless SteelFoam, Plastic


Apple AirPods MaxSony WH-1000XM4
Noise CancellingYesYes

The design of the AirPods Max is certainly not to everyone’s taste. For many users, the oval auricles are likely to be too massive. On the other hand, they stand out from the crowd without question and are clearly recognizable from a greater distance. The shape is reminiscent of classic headphones from the 1970s.

With this, Apple probably meets the taste of many users who are at an age when they can afford these headphones. It is also unusual that Apple does without a logo. Instead, there are five colors for many tastes: space gray, silver, green, sky blue, and pink. The materials are high quality but also contribute to the high weight.

In comparison, Sony’s WH-1000XM4 can almost be described as boring. The somewhat slimmer earcups are probably more popular with the general public than the Apple competition. For Sony, a function was obviously more important than style. The colors available are black and silver.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 are the successors of the WH-1000XM3 – and they are full of technical tricks that should give you a better listening experience. In addition to noise suppression (Active Noise Canceling – ANC), the device has AI-supported sound enhancement, touch control with smart setting options, and an effective, fast charging function.


Apple AirPods MaxSony WH-1000XM4
Music ControlsYesYes
Quick ChargeYesYes

The most important thing about headphones is, of course, the sound. According to Apple, the AirPods Max offers you “rich bass, precise mids, and crystal clear highs” thanks to the dynamic 40 mm driver. Even at maximum volume, the harmonic distortion should be less than one percent – and that within the entire audible spectrum. The first reviews of the headphones are largely in agreement: the sound quality and the ANC of the Apple headphones are very high, but overall not better than those of the Sony competition.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 also offers you 40 mm drivers and thus a rich sound. The ANC is described by many experts as very good – in this category; the two headphones are apparently on par. Only in terms of the quality of phone calls should Apple’s headphones do significantly better than Sony. When it comes to sound, there is no way around comparing the headphones with one another in a self-test because not all people perceive the same sound as good.


Apple AirPods MaxSony WH-1000XM4
Battery TypeLi-PoLi-Po
Battery Life21.6 hrs37.7 hrs
Charging PortLightningUSB-C

Sony’s WH-1000XM4 with active noise suppression should last around 30 hours at a time – excellent battery life for over-ear headphones with this function. Without noise canceling, the operating time increases to 38 hours straight before you have to recharge the battery.

The AirPods Max from Apple cannot keep up with that. According to the manufacturer, the battery lasts up to 20 hours straight – with active noise canceling and 3D audio. That means a 50 percent shorter battery life than the Sony headphones.


Apple AirPods MaxSony WH-1000XM4
Bluetooth5.0+H1 chipBluetooth 5.0
SensorAccelerometer, Gyroscope, ProximityProximity, Touch

The AirPods Max has a very selected target group: the gadget costs almost 725 USD when it launches in Germany. With this, Apple is attacking the top segment in the headphones segment.

On the other hand, with almost 480 USD, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is significantly cheaper. Accordingly, they always offer a better price-performance ratio – no matter how good the sound of the Apple headphones is.


If you’re already at home in the Apple ecosystem and have the change, the AirPods Max is certainly not the worst choice for over-ear headphones. You can be sure that you will get excellent sound quality – together with all the advantages of AirPods, such as the automatic connection to iPhone, Apple TV, and Co. Another disadvantage is the high price and the high weight.

If you are looking for the best over-ear headphones 2020 with the best value for money, you should definitely consider the Sony WH-1000XM4. First, you have to decide for yourself whether they actually sound better than the competition from Apple. In any case, they are lighter, offer a longer battery life – and do not tear such a big hole in your wallet.

Which headphones do you prefer? Do you think the Apple AirPods Max is worth the price? Or do you rather trust the many years of experience that has gone into the Sony WH-1000XM4?

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