I tested the AirPods Pro 2 USB-C vs. Sony WF-1000XM5 — and these are the best wireless earbuds

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs. AirPods Pro 2 USB-C listing image
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If you're shopping for the best noise-canceling earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM5 and new AirPods Pro 2 USB-C are two of the top options to consider. I regularly use each set of earbuds on my daily routine, and both pack adaptive noise-cancelation and top-tier audio performance into practical designs ideal for every kind of activity. 

I've been using the new Sony's flagship earbuds since I carried out my WF-1000XM5 review, and have found that the earbuds are nothing short of excellent. As a close rival to the Apple AirPods Pro 2, which debuted in September 2022, I wanted to see how they compared to Apple's updated AirPods Pro 2 USB-C with adaptive audio upgrades via iOS 17 — don't forget to check out our Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. AirPods Pro 2 USB-C face-off to discover the differences.     

Does Apple's suite of adaptive audio features and upgraded audio architecture in the new AirPods Pro 2 2023 version make a difference? Here's how they compare in terms of specs, design, performance, battery life and more.

Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C vs. Sony WF-1000XM5: Specs compared

Sony WF-1000XM5 vs. AirPods Pro 2 USB-C listing image

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Header Cell - Column 0 Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C Sony WF-1000XM5
Price$249 / £229 / AU$399$299 / £259 / AU$499
Wireless charging caseYesYes
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.3 (codec support: AAC)Bluetooth 5.3 (codec support: SBC, AAC, LDAC)
Battery life (rated)6 hours (earbuds), 30 hours total (charging case)8 hours (earbuds), 24 hours total (charging case)

Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C vs. Sony WF-1000XM5: Price and availability

Sony WF-1000XM5 accessories and packaging

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Apple kept the AirPods Pro 2 USB-C version at $249 / AU$399, which is the same price as the original AirPods Pro launched at in 2019. In the U.K. though, the new AirPods got a surprising price drop to £229 (from £249). Meanwhile, the WF-1000XM5 are on sale at $299 / £259 / AU$499, which is a $20 increase over their predecessor and considerably more expensive than the AirPods. 

Both models are on sale now, and at the price they are far from the best cheap wireless earbuds. It's important to appreciate though that you're spending big for top-tier performance, premium features, and big brand experience of two of the best wireless earbuds money can buy.

I recommend bookmarking our coverage or the best AirPods deals and best headphones deals pages to stay notified of the latest wireless earbuds sales. At least for now, the AirPods Pro 2 will be more affordable than the WF-1000XM5, which should be considered if you're on a budget.

Winner: Apple AirPods Pro 2 

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

The AirPods Pro 2 vs the AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C

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Sony made the WF-1000XM5 25% smaller than the previous-gen XM4 earbuds. They retain their traditional form, donning a simple rounded shape with a protruding eartip. There are four foam tips supplied including a new XS sizes to ensure smaller ears can find the best seal.

The design of the AirPods Pro 2 buds hasn't really changed much from the original AirPods Pro and the drop-stem design is synonymous with Apple. The new USB-C wireless charging case looks no different to the previous version except for the USB-C port, and comes with the same lanyard loop and built-in speaker that arrived in 2022. XS-sized ear tips are also included.

While the Sony earbuds are rated at IPX4 for durability, the AirPods Pro 2 USB-C have been upgraded to IP54 for dust and water resistance for both the earbuds and the wireless charging case. Both models are suitable for active lifestyles, but only the AirPods rank among the best running headphones

The WF-1000XM5 come in black and silver options, while the AirPods Pro are only ever available in white.

Winner: Tie

Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C vs. Sony WF-1000XM5: Controls

Sony WF-1000XM5 in sliver being removed from their charging case

(Image credit: Sony)

The XM5 and AirPods Pro 2 each have distinct touch controls for audio playback. The AirPods Pro 2 are controlled with taps on the buds and sliding your finger on the stem for volume changes. On the XM5 buds, tap commands can be assigned to individual buds and have the familiar single, double and triple taps or long press method. 

In terms of voice activation, the AirPods Pro 2 are summoned with a “Hey Siri," command. You can also have Siri send incoming updates via Announce Messages and Announce Notifications. Sony's earbuds are compatible with Google Assistant and Alexa, so you have a bit more flexibility for voice commands.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5

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

Apple AirPods Por 2 USB-C in hand over a pool

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As part of a iOS 17 software update, the AirPods Pro 2 got a suite of new audio features, including one of Sony earbud's best features called Speak-to-Chat. 

Apple's Conversational Awareness detects when you start a conversation and automatically lowers your playback volume. The WF-1000XM5 takes it one step further with Head Gesture controls, which lets users to accept incoming calls by shaking or nodding their head thanks to built-in motion sensors.

Both models have adaptive modes to dynamically control the level of active noise cancellation based on the sound in a user’s environment. Sony has 20 different ambient listening levels in its Headphones Connect app, while Apple's new Adaptive Audio mode dynamically blends Transparency and ANC. The Sony earbuds offer Sony 360 Reality Audio support, and the AirPods have Spatial Audio with head tracking.   

Winner: Tie

Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C vs. Sony WF-1000XM5: Sound quality

Sony WF-1000XM5 worn by Tom's Guide Audio Editor Lee Dunkley

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When it comes to performance, the Sony WF-1000XM5 are pretty much as good as it gets today for wireless audio over Bluetooth. Thanks to Sony's LDAC support with compatible playback devices, the deep level of detail and wide frequency range makes these earbuds one of the most engaging listening experiences I've heard. 

Although the AirPods Pro 2 USB-C sound remarkably good, they don't quite match the level of engagement that's on offer from the Sony XM5. It's just possible though that the AirPods Pro 2 USB-C could be the ones to beat in the future though when Apple's new lossless audio protocol arrives to work with the Apple Vision Pro headset, due out sometime in 2024. 

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5

Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C vs. Sony WF-1000XM5: ANC

Reviewer wearing AirPods Pro 2 for running and using touch controls

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When it comes to noise canceling both Apple and Sony are in the top three wireless noise canceling earbuds around right now. ANC isn't an area that Apple needed to focus on for the upgrade to the new AirPods Pro 2 USB-C, and in my tests they remain just as strong and effective as before. 

The WF-1000XM5 noise-canceling tech claims to reduce ambient noise by approximately 20% more than it did with the WF-1000XM4. That's difficult to measure, but the combination of Sony's more powerful V2 chipset and HD Noise Canceling processor certainly does seem to deliver remarkably effective results, and the XM5 maintains Sony's position as one of the best noise-canceling earbuds you can buy.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5

Apple AirPods Pro 2 USB-C vs. Sony WF-1000XM5: Battery life

While the battery life of earbuds will vary based on how you use your earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM5 average 8 hours of listening with ANC on and 12 hours with ANC off. The charging case can hold up to 24 hours of total charge.

Apple increased the battery life between the AirPods Pro 2 vs. AirPods Pro. Now, a full charge holds gets you 5.5 hours of listening with ANC, and 30 hours total with the charging case. 

Both charging cases offer wireless charging and quick charging features, but the AirPods Pro 2’s case supports more charging solutions, including MagSafe and compatibility with Apple Watch chargers.

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5

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

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Header Cell - Column 0 Apple AirPods Po 2 USB-CSony WF-1000XM5
Price and value (5)44
Design (15)1512
Controls (10)89
Sound quality (25)2224
Active noise cancellation (20)1819
Call quality (10)88
Connectivity (5)44
Battery life (10)69
Total score (100)8589

The Sony WF-1000XM5 and Apple AirPods Pro 2 are two of the best wireless earbuds you'll find now, but there can only be one winner. 

With Apple's latest USB-C generation and adaptive audio updates, the AirPods Pro 2 have become one of the most feature-rich listening experiences on the market. They're more affordable than the Sony, and offer similarly rich results in terms of sound quality and noise cancelation within Apple's iOS ecosystem. 

On the other hand, although they're considerably more expensive, the Sony WF-1000XM5 offer a major step up in sound quality thanks to their LDAC support. They are one of the best-sounding wireless earbud experiences I've heard, and the elite noise cancelation and outstanding features via the awesome Headphones Connect app make these the more impressive set of wireless earbuds overall.

While the AirPods Pro 2 USB-C may be the audiophile earbuds of the future when Apple introduces true lossless audio over wireless, until then the better balance of features and performance make the Sony WF-1000XM5 my first choice.  

Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5

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Lee Dunkley
Audio Editor

As a former editor of the U.K.'s Hi-Fi Choice magazine, Lee is passionate about all kinds of audio tech and has been providing sound advice to enable consumers to make informed buying decisions since he joined Which? magazine as a product tester in the 1990s. Lee covers all things audio for Tom's Guide, including headphones, wireless speakers and soundbars and loves to connect and share the mindfulness benefits that listening to music in the very best quality can bring.