The Apple AirPods Max made waves in the consumer audio world, not because it’s necessarily groundbreaking, but rather due to its price. Consumers expect pricy products from Apple, but the company may have pushed the envelop too far with its $549 USD headphones. We’re pitting the Apple AirPods Max against the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 to see which top-notch headset is worth your while.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on April 6, 2021 to update ANC performance measurements.
Apple AirPods Max vs. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700: Fit and hardware
Both the Apple AirPods Max and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 feature over-ear designs. Bespectacled listeners can listen for hours at a time with either headset, but the AirPods Max ear pads are more plush and the Bose Headphones 700 are significantly lighter (254g compared to 384g). Neither headset compares to the Bose QuietComfort 35 II or Shure AONIC 50 when it comes to all-day comfort, though.
|Bluetooth Codecs||Wired connection||Battery life (ANC)||Controls||Software||Weight||Charge port|
|Apple AirPods Max||SBC, AAC||Yes (requires special cable, or adapter)||20 hours||Tactile, and automatic ear detection sensors||iOS||384g||Lightning|
|Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700||SBC, AAC||Yes||21 hours, 25 minutes||Touch||iOS and Android||254g||USB-C|
Apple and Bose’s flagship headphones share futuristic, minimal designs with metal components. Neither Apple nor Bose engineered foldable hinges with their respective headphones, making both cumbersome for travel. Bose’s included carrying case is much more protective than the Apple Smart Case, which is required to power off the AirPods Max.
Bose’s zippered case fully protects the headset, while the AirPods Max Smart Case leaves the mesh headband exposed and vulnerable to rogue pens or keys any time you carelessly plop the headphones into your backpack. You can always buy a third-party case for either headset, and Bose even offers a Headphones 700 Charging Case. But when you’re paying top-dollar for headsets like this, you shouldn’t have to shell out more money for a sturdy case.
Related: Best Bose headphones
Bose offers you more direct control
|Two taps||Play/pause. Answer/end call.|
|Hold||Decline incoming call|
|Swipe forward/backward||Skip/previous track|
|Swipe up/down||Increase/decrease volume|
|Buttons||Power, voice assistant, noise control|
|Customizable controls?||Yes, Bose Music app|
Bose’s headset gives you much more control over your music than Apple’s. You can use the touch panels on the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphone 700 to control playback, volume, and more. You can even create a gesture shortcuts, which the AirPods Max don’t allow. In a surprise move, Apple’s headset uses tactile controls exclusively. Rather than swiping on the large headphones, you must interact with the Digital Crown and Noise Control button.
|Action||Media controls||Call controls|
|Noise control button||Toggle ANC and Transparency mode||✘|
|Digital Crown: rotate||Adjust volume||✘|
|Digital Crown: one press||Play/pause||Answer/end call; answer incoming call and put current call on hold|
|Digital Crown: two presses||Skip track||Reject incoming call; answer incoming call and end current call|
|Digital Crown: three presses||Previous track||✘|
|Digital Crown: hold||✘||Reject second incoming call|
|Customizable controls?||Yes, ANC toggle only||No|
Both headsets support direct voice assistant access, but it’s limited. If you have the Apple AirPods Max, you can only Siri hands-free, while Bose is tied to Amazon Alexa hands-free voice services.
Do these smart headsets stay connected?
The Apple AirPods Max and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 both rely on Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and support just two Bluetooth codecs: SBC and AAC. In either instance, only iPhone owners benefit from consistent high-quality audio; Android still has trouble encoding the AAC codec depending on the hardware.
Connection stability is fine with either headset, but only the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 supports Bluetooth multipoint, so you can connect it to two sources at once. The multipoint performance, while a nice feature, isn’t perfect. The AirPods Max doesn’t support Bluetooth multipoint, and instead offers automatic source switching with compatible iOS devices. This is a seamless process that automatically detects media playback from the most recently active device.
Related: Headphone buying guide
Which pair of headphones is easier to setup?
It’s much easier to connect the AirPods Max to your iPhone than it is to connect the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 to an iPhone, though even that is a simple process. When you first power on the AirPods Max near your iPhone, a pop-up notification will ask permission to connect the headset. That’s all it takes. Connecting the Bose Headphones 700 to an iPhone or Android smartphone is a bit more involved, and requires navigating through the device’s Bluetooth menu.
The Apple AirPods Max has more software features, but only for iPhone owners
The Apple AirPods Max works best with Apple devices, specifically iOS and iPadOS devices. Even basic things like firmware updates are limited to Apple hardware. If you have an Android phone, you will need to borrow your friend’s iPhone just to keep this headset updated. iOS devices are also required for things like hands-free access to Siri, Adaptive EQ, and the ability to adjust the Noise Cancellation button. You can’t create a custom EQ profile though, even with an iPhone.
Apple released plenty of features for its AirPods headsets when it released iOS 14, among which was Spatial Audio. The AirPods Max supports Spatial Audio, which uses software to create a 3D effect. Apple encodes sound into objects that fly through the left and right channels at slightly different times, mimicking how we how we hear in the real world to create the impression of a direction. Apple pairs its software with sensors that facilitate dynamic head tracking, and places you right in the middle of the action. It’s great if you consume a lot of videos while wearing headphones.
Benefits of the Bose Music app and Bose AR
The Bose Music app is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, and operates uniformly on either system. You can use the Bose Music app to adjust noise cancelling intensity, remap the multifunction button, and create a custom EQ profile. If you don’t care to tinker, you can always fall back on Active EQ.
Bose’s headphone app also serves as a one-stop shop for all of your favorite music streaming services, which rids the need to swipe through designated radio and music apps. It’s a hub for your Bose smart speakers and soundbars too: you can control multi-room playback, group speakers together, or listen to different playlists in different rooms.
The Bose Music app is also an access point for Bose AR, the company’s augmented reality platform that combines its audio peripherals with AR apps. You can take advantage of Bose AR through apps like Navisens NaviGuide AR, which provides audio-enhanced directions.
How is the battery life?
The Apple AirPods Max last 20 hours on a single charge with ANC enabled, while the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 last 21 hours, 25 minutes. We test battery life by subjecting each headset to a constant 75dB(SPL) output until their respective batteries deplete. Both headsets support quick charging: when you connect the Lightning cable to the AirPods Max for five minutes, it yields 90 minutes of playback. Doing the same over USB-C with the Bose Headphones 700 for 15 minutes yields 210 minutes of playback.
The Apple AirPods Max has better noise cancelling than the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Bose might have introduced active noise cancelling (ANC) to the world, but the AirPods Max outperforms the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 in this metric.
The AirPods Max ANC technology nullifies background noise much more effectively than the Bose Headphones 700, rendering certain midrange frequencies up to four-times quieter. The AirPods Max also quiets low-frequency sounds more effectively than Bose’s headset. This frequency range is where you hear sounds like an airplane engine or the droning grind of the train during your commute.
Both headsets have good noise cancelling, but Apple undoubtedly takes the cake here. Apple’s stellar ANC performance is due to the fact that each headphone houses an H1 chip, Apple’s proprietary processor, which powers certain tasks like ANC. Apple’s headset also uses eight mics for its ANC, while only six of the eight mics in Bose’s headset are dedicated to ANC processing.
Bose vs Apple: Which headphones sound better?
By our objective measures, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 have a more accurate frequency response compared to the Apple AirPods Max. The Bose Headphones 700 avoid any major deviations from the ideal frequency response. If a neutral-leaning sound profile isn’t your thing, you can always create your own EQ in the Bose Music app.
General consumers will appreciate Apple’s frequency response, as it’s a little more of a familiar sound profile. Bass notes are amplified up to 6dB, making them sound a bit louder than midrange notes. Apple also amplifies treble notes, which makes it easier to perceive detail from string instruments and vocal harmonies.
Both companies de-emphasize upper-midrange notes, though the ranges vary, to avoid unwanted harmonic resonances that naturally occur within the human ear canal. This is smart, and something we often see from Sennheiser. You can’t go wrong with either headset’s sound quality, but if we’re really splitting hairs, Bose has the objectively more accurate frequency response.
Can you use a headphone jack with Apple and Bose’s headphones?
Both headsets support wired audio playback, which is good news if your library is full of FLAC files, or you subscribe to a service like Tidal HiFi or Amazon Music HD. Bose integrated a 2.5mm input on its headset, which means you’ll really need to hang onto the included cord for wired use. However, Apple’s headphones force you to use a $35 USD Lightning-to-3.5mm audio cable, as well as a $9 audio dongle if your smartphone doesn’t have a headphone jack.
Microphone quality depends on your source device
Apple and Bose each have their own advanced microphone arrays jammed into their particular headsets. The AirPods Max reserves three microphones for voice pickup, two of which are shared with ANC; and the Bose Headphones 700 has four microphones for voice pickup, two of which are also shared with ANC.
Either headset is great for personal use, and perfectly fine for conference calls, but voice quality depends on your source device. In typical Apple fashion, the AirPods Max transmits the best audio quality when paired with an Apple device, but even then, your mileage may vary—the mic will sound best on the newest Apple device you have.
Apple AirPods Max microphone demo (Macbook):
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone demo:
Apple AirPods Max vs Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700: Which should you buy?
Unless you have an iPhone and a very flexible budget, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is a better buy. Sure, Bose’s Bluetooth headset lacks fancy features like Spatial Audio, but it supports important, simple features like a custom EQ module and configurable controls.
Now, the AirPods Max are still very good noise cancelling headphones. Really, they’re nothing shy of excellent: noise cancelling performance is the best around, bar none, and the headphones sound great. But all of those features come at a cost, and one very few consumers can afford, or at least justify. Apple makes beautiful, reliable hardware and integrates all of its products into its ecosystem, but even the convenience of the AirPods Max may be hard for the most ardent Apple fan to swallow.
What should you get instead of the AirPods Max and Bose Headphones 700?
If you aren’t satisfied with either pair of noise cancelling headphones, you’re in luck: we’re in the middle of ANC audio’s heyday. The next obvious option is the Sony WH-1000XM4 headset, which features best-in-class ANC (aside from the AirPods Max), customizable sound, and a comfortable build. Microphone quality is very good, as is connection stability. Like the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the Sony WH-1000XM4 supports Bluetooth multipoint, but has its own hiccups.
You also have the Shure AONIC 50 to consider. The microphone is very good for conference calls, and sound quality is stellar. Noise cancelling is quite good, but doesn’t outperform Apple’s technology. Shure’s headphones are arguably the most comfortable of the bunch, save for the aptly named Bose QuietComfort 35 II.
Related: Best noise cancelling headphones
If you’ve decided Bose, Apple, and even Sony’s offerings are a bit too rich for your blood, don’t worry. There’s a surplus of economical noise cancelling headsets, like the Sennheiser PXC 550-II and AKG N60NC. Sennheiser’s noise cancelling headphones compete with the best of them, as do AKG’s, and you can often find them for around $200 USD if you wait for a deal to strike.