Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Apple AirPods Pro 2: Which noise-cancelling earbuds are better?

The Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds are the biggest and most hotly-anticipated audio release of the year. Now they've landed, the big question is: how do they compare to the best true wireless earbuds on the market? Specifically, can they beat the noise-cancelling performance and super sound quality on offer from the latest AirPods Pro? In this guide, we'll be asking which is better, the Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Apple AirPods Pro 2?

The Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds have long been our favorites, but the latest WF-1000XM5 earbuds represent a significant upgrade on paper. They're smaller and lighter, but still have that top-quality sound that their predecessors offered. But although the XM4s are our top pick, there are several ways in which the AirPods Pro 2 outperformed them in our testing, especially in terms of ANC capabilities and sound quality. 

Now our fully star-rated Sony WF-1000XM5 review is in, we can pit the newest Sony buds against the AirPods Pro 2 to find out how they compare. Keen to discover which is best, the Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Apple AirPods Pro 2? Read on.

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Apple AirPods Pro 2: Price and release date

The Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds were officially announced on July 24 and will be available globally in August 2023. They cost $299 in the US, £259 in the UK and AU$499 in Australia. This price point isn't a surprise considering the XM4s before them cost $279.99 / £250 / AU$449.95 at launch.

The Apple AirPods 2 came out on September 23, 2022 and cost $249 / £249 / AU$399 at launch. You're unlikely to find them majorly discounted, but you can usually grab a deal that reduces them by $30 / £30 / AU$57 or so. 

Given that the prices of both pairs of earbuds are similar, it makes for an even more fair and useful like-for-like comparison. Will the Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds outperform Apple's earbuds purely because they're newer? Or are the Apple AirPods Pro 2 still the best bet if you're looking for true wireless buds that fit seamlessly with the Apple ecosystem?

The Sony WF-1000XM5 vs the Apple AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Sony and Apple)

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Apple AirPods Pro 2: Features

One of the key selling points of both the Sony WF-1000XM5 earbuds and Apple's AirPods Pro 2 is noise cancellation. 

Sony promises improved ANC in the XM5s thanks to a new driver unit, which helps the XM5 buds to deliver a whole range of improvements, including richer audio, clearer vocals and better levels of immersion – as well as an integrated processor and three mics per earbud compared to the two mics in the XM4s. 

So, did we find that ANC is better owing to that new extra mic and processor during our testing? "It's fine rather than eyebrow-raising," we wrote in our review. We found that noises were softened, but certain low-level frequencies did still get through, such as the hum of an AC unit in our office. 

After class-leading noise cancellation? Take a look at the Bose QCE II earbuds as well as our Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Bose QCE 2 guide.

Meanwhile, the ANC on offer from the AirPods Pro 2 is still good months after launch. During our testing we wrote: "Turn it on and the world fades away – it's among the best we've tried in any true wireless earbuds." Add to this the fact that one TechRadar team member finds the AirPods Pro 2's noise nixing so good he needs to retrain his brain and you'll see the winner of this particular race. 

One of our criticisms of the XM5s is that we experienced connectivity drop-outs when streaming music, which is far from ideal. This didn't happen with our control sets of earbuds, or when we tested the AirPods Pro 2.

Another notable feature of the Sony WF-1000XM5 is multi-point pairing, which is a nice-to-have feature and means you can move between two different devices seamlessly. Apple AirPods Pro 2 don't strictly have multi-point pairing, but if you're using lots of Apple devices you can move music between as many of them as you like seamlessly.

The Sony WF-1000XM5 vs the Apple AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Sony and Apple)

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Apple AirPods Pro 2: Sound

The Sony WF-1000XM5 buds deliver an impressive and balanced sound thanks to the new driver unit. In our review, we said that they delivered a "zealous, exciting listen". We particularly rated the "crisp bass weight and clout" and commented that if you're keen on bass but want earbuds rather than cans, the WF-1000XM5s should be on your list.

Sony packs in both Spatial Audio and high-res audio support with LDAC and DSEE Extreme upscaling digital music in real time. This means that Spotify tracks sound a lot better, but 360 Reality Audio takes your Tidal tracks to new heights.

We were also extremely impressed with the audio quality on offer from the Apple AirPods Pro 2. In our review, we rated them for their ability to separate different elements of a track, reproduce bass and represent crispness in vocals. All of that combined with Spatial Audio playback and noise cancellation to deliver a truly excellent listening experience.

Honestly, if you're an iPhone owner, you'll be marginally better served by Apple's top-tier AirPods. Everyone else might want to consider Sony's proposition – but again, it's close. 

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Apple AirPods Pro 2: Design

When it comes to design, Sony has made a few key upgrades in these newest buds over the XM4s. The Sony WF-1000XM5 have a glossy texture and are also 25% smaller and approximately 20% lighter (around 5.84g per bud) this time around – pretty significant considering we were already happy with the weight and fit of the XM4s.

The most notable design change is that the XM5 come with four sizes of ear tips, including what Sony says is an “ultra-small” SS model for smaller ears. These worked incredibly well during our testing and we said that they're among "the most stable and comfortable" we've had the pleasure of testing. 

The best AirPods look a little different to Sony's buds with stems that hang out of your ears. We know some people prefer this design, but it's all down to personal preference. We also found the AirPods Pro 2 incredibly comfortable to wear and, just like the XM5s, they come with extra small tips for those with teenier ears.

The Sony WF-1000XM5 vs the Apple AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Sony and Apple)

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Apple AirPods Pro 2: Battery

The Sony WF-1000XM5 buds offer eight hours of battery life for the earbuds and 24 hours total in the case. A 60-minute quick-charge gives three hours of playtime too.

This is decent compared to rivals, but does mean you'll only get a day's worth of listening while you're at work before it's time to put them in their charging case. 

The Apple AirPods 2 offer a little less. With ANC on you'll get six hours of use on one charge, but the case can hold more than the Sony case boasting 30 hours' charge.

If long battery life is a priority, you may have to make a compromise. For example, an over-ear design might suit you better (thanks to their typically better stamina) or perhaps a pair of true wireless buds that aren't as jam-packed with the latest noise-nixing (read: battery draining) technology. 

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs Apple AirPods Pro 2: Verdict 

Which is best then, the Sony WF-1000XM5 or the Apple AirPods Pro 2? Both are accomplished pairs of true wireless earbuds offering a comfortable fit (and extra small ear tip options), good battery life, excellent sound performance and solid ANC. What we're saying is you can't go wrong with either.

Sony says the ANC is better here than the previous XM4s, but it's not as noticeable as we were expecting – and the Apple AirPods Pro 2 still perform a little better if you're looking for maximum immersion. 

Beyond that, the buds you choose will largely be down to personal preference. If you already own a lot of Apple products, the Apple AirPods Pro 2 make sense. You'll really get the benefit of these headphones with the seamless switching.

The Sony WF-1000XM5 on the other hand work well across all devices and might be a better option for Android owners, as well as those who use Tidal. Link the streaming service in the Sony Headphones Connect app (after taking photos of your ears, all guided by the app) and you unlock Sony's proprietary 360 Reality Audio in conjunction with its top-tier DSEE upscaling. 

Becca Caddy

Becca is a contributor to TechRadar, a freelance journalist and author. She’s been writing about consumer tech and popular science for more than ten years, covering all kinds of topics, including why robots have eyes and whether we’ll experience the overview effect one day. She’s particularly interested in VR/AR, wearables, digital health, space tech and chatting to experts and academics about the future. She’s contributed to TechRadar, T3, Wired, New Scientist, The Guardian, Inverse and many more. Her first book, Screen Time, came out in January 2021 with Bonnier Books. She loves science-fiction, brutalist architecture, and spending too much time floating through space in virtual reality.