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  • Cheryl Tan

Headphones Comparison: Sony WH-1000XM5, WH-1000XM4, Apple AirPods Max, Bose QC45 & B&W PX7 S2

As promised, our video comparison of the Sony WH-1000XM5, WH-1000XM4, Apple AirPods Max, Bose QC45 and Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 is here. Let’s just get right into it.

So let’s start off with design and comfort. It has to be said: in the hand, the AirPods Max are the most premium and luxurious. There’s just no beating the aluminium and this mesh headband Apple used. But because of that, it’s also the heaviest at around 384 grams or slightly under 14 ounces.

The rest of the headphones all mostly comprise of plastic, so it’s no surprise that they’re much lighter. Starting from the lightest, you get the Bose QC45 at 240 grams, the Sony WH-1000XM5 at 250 grams, the WH-1000XM4 at 254 grams, and finally the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 at 307 grams.

That’s pretty much the ranking I would give in terms of comfort as well. The Bose QC45 is undoubtedly the winner when it comes to comfort as it’s so light, and the clamping force is just right. It’s easy to wear these for hours on end and come out of it with ears that feel perfectly fine, if a touch hot. Between the XM5 and XM4, comfort is pretty much the same, but personally, I prefer the XM4 solely because it can collapse in on itself while the XM5 can’t, meaning it can fold up smaller in your bag. The XM4 and QC45 are the only headphones on this list that can do that, so if that’s a consideration, well.

The Bowers & Wilkins are the second heaviest on the list, but that’s due in part to the fact that the brand has used slightly more premium materials, with a nice fabric covering on the outside of the earcups and the top of the headband. The PX7 S2 is definitely also a premium-feeling headphone, second only to the AirPods Max. The clamping force has also been significantly reduced from the original PX7, so comfort here is much better this time around.

Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2

So the winner here? The Bose QC45 takes the cake when it comes to comfort, but the AirPods Max is still the most premium-looking pair of headphones around, while the PX7 S2 comes in a close second, because of the fabric accent inclusions so it doesn’t look as plasticky as the rest.

Battery life is quite standard across these headphones, with the Sony WH-1000XM5 coming in first place with 30 hours as well as a very nice fast charge option that gives you three hours of battery life within three minutes of charge. The Sony WH-1000XM4 also has 30 hours of battery life, although the fast charge option is slower, at five hours of battery life with 10 minutes of charge.

The PX7 S2 is in the middle of the pack, with 30-hour total battery life, but a slower fast charge at seven hours of battery life after 15 minutes of charge. Then comes the Bose QC45, with 24-hour total battery life and three hours of playtime after 15 minutes of charge. The AirPods Max comes in last with 20-hour battery life and around 1.5 hours of playtime after 15 minutes of charge.

That being said, even the last place AirPods Max has enough to ensure that they’ll be able to withstand even the longest flight in the world, which clocks in at around 19 hours.

As for connectivity, the winner has to be the Sony WH-1000XM5. They run on Bluetooth 5.2, which is the latest standard, and they support SBC, AAC and LDAC for high-res music streaming. Moving down from there, it’s the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 in second place, coming with only Bluetooth 5.0 but a plethora of codec options in SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD and aptX adaptive. Most of the time, it’ll just default to Adaptive though.

Bose QC45

The WH-1000XM4 runs on Bluetooth 5.0, but only comes with SBC, AAC and LDAC. From there on, the QC45 and AirPods Max are pretty much tied for last, with the QC45 running on Bluetooth 5.1 while the AirPods Max runs on Bluetooth 5.0. Both only support SBC and AAC, so no high-res streaming on those.

As for multipoint connectivity, all these headphones support connecting to two devices so you can switch between a laptop and phone easily. The AirPods Max isn’t true multipoint though, so if you really require multipoint and you don’t use an iPhone or Mac computer, you’ll probably want to look at the other options.

Let’s move on to ANC. Let’s put it out there first, the ANC on these headphones are all very good, and you’ll hear that in the ANC test later. There’s very little difference here when we’re piping in generic cafe noise.

But just a reminder, ANC headphones typically don’t work so well with high-pitched sounds, so take this test with a pinch of salt, because ANC really depends on how well the headphones fit on your head, not the dummy head. That being said, I did feel that when I was testing them with my own ears, the XM5 and the AirPods Max had the best ANC, so these would be my winners. If you have an iPhone, get the AirPods Max. If you don’t, the XM5 is for you. Moving on from there, the XM4 is just about as good as the XM5, although I did feel that it’s not quite as good as the XM5 when it comes to higher-pitched noises.

Then comes the Bose QC45, still a very good option for ANC headphones, but it just doesn’t triumph over the others. The PX7 S2 is in last place for me, but not because the ANC isn’t good. It would actually be up there with the XM5 for me, but it’s because of how these headphones seal. The clamping force has been reduced, as I mentioned previously, and because of that, these don’t offer as good a seal when it comes to ANC, meaning the optimal position to get the best ANC with these for me, was when I was looking downwards. Not great. But I highly recommend going to a shop and trying all of these out, because the ANC will really, really depend on how they fit for you. Hopefully, the ANC test I did previously helps to give a little bit of an idea of how they perform.

Finally, we come to sound quality, and again, just like ANC, this is entirely subjective. What I like might not be what you like, and that’s perfectly fine.

Sony WH-1000XM5

Something to note is that for us, when we were recording this at least, we noticed the Sonys actually sound louder than the other headphones, even though the volume was set to the same 50%.

For bassy headphones, it’s hard to recommend anything other than the Sonys. They come tuned in a bassier signature that’s definitely more mass market and more consumer-friendly, but it does come at the cost of drowning out a bit of the midrange. These are EQ-able in the Sony Headphones app, so you can tinker around to find an optimal setting.

For clarity though, I’d say my preference is still the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 and the Apple AirPods Max. The PX7 S2 has a beautiful warmth in the mids and excellent separation and detail. The soundstage on these is fantastic as well. As for the AirPods Max, I’d say it’s a relatively balanced sound with just a bit of emphasis on the low end. Vocals are clear and distinct and there’s just very little to fault with these. They sound good.

If you like treble and you’re not as sensitive to peaks in this range, the Bose QC45 is a very good option. You will notice a bit of a tighter bass, but there’s a noticeable difference in terms of the energy and brightness in the highs. I actually like the treble emphasis on the QC45, although I do feel it can be taken down a notch for most people and that’s easily done via EQ in the app.

I’m not gonna name a winner, because like I said, subjective, but my favourite for this section would probably be the PX7 S2 for the mids and the wide soundstage.

Okay, last but not least, price. Let’s go from the bottom up. Because they’re the oldest on the list, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is now very frequently discounted and if you’re lucky, you could find them at around US$300. There was a sale last year that dropped them to US$250, and at that price, it’s a fantastic buy.

Apple AirPods Max

Next, we have the Bose QC45 at US$329, then the Sony WH-1000XM5 and Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 at US$399. The Apple AirPods Max is still the most expensive, at US$549.

So, my quick conclusion would be that if you have an iPhone, you’ll probably want to go with the AirPods Max. The ANC is great, the sound quality is there and the ease of use with the Apple ecosystem is really the biggest selling point.

If you’re using an Android phone though, you’ll want to look at the WH-1000XM5 for the best ANC, the PX7 S2 for the best sound quality, the QC45 for the best comfort and the WH-1000XM4 for the best value.

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