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Best AirPods Max alternatives
Apple fans across the world are frantically taking out bank loans, selling their cars, and asking for promotions so they can buy the new AirPods Max. Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the active noise cancelling (ANC) AirPods Max headset is pretty expensive at $549 USD. The AirPods Max has its benefits like unrivaled active noise cancelling, simple iPhone compatibility, and enjoyable sound quality. But the headset also has its drawbacks: a hefty price, the lack of a manual power switch, and a nearly useless carrying case. But hey, there are plenty of AirPods Max alternatives out there!
Editor’s note: this list of the best AirPods Max alternatives was updated on December 29, 2022 to include the Sony WH-1000XM5, Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation), Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless, as well as make changes to formatting.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 is the best AirPods Max alternative
The Sony WH-1000XM5 and AirPods Max are neck-and-neck when it comes to the best active noise cancelling headphones on the market. The WH-1000XM5 has excellent ANC and plenty of features that you can access from an iPhone or Android device. In order to get the most out of Apple’s flagship headphones, you need an iPhone (iOS or iPadOS device).
The AirPods Max only supports the AAC and SBC codecs while the Sony WH-1000XM5 supports LDAC too. It’s unfortunate that neither headset supports aptX but both allow for wired listening; though, with the AirPods Max, you need to buy a special Lightning-to-3.5mm cable. Sony, on the other hand, keeps it simple with a 3.5mm headphone jack. If you’re a productivity fiend who needs Bluetooth multipoint functionality, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is your best bet (multipoint only works when streaming over AAC though). You can enjoy automatic device switching with the AirPods Max, but this requires you to own multiple Apple devices.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 reproduces accurate audio, so your music will sound the way the artists and producers wanted it to sound. The WH-1000XM5 lasts about 20 hours on a single charge and, unlike the AirPods Max which charges via an inconvenient lightning USB to USB-C cable, the Sony WH-1000XM4 charges via USB-C. You can also quick charge the Sony headset in a pinch.
Sony’s newest flagship headphones also feature a brand new look, with a super comfortable, lightweight build—if the weight of the AirPods Max is a turnoff for you, this won’t be. The new design also brings an excellent new microphone array, for greatly improved call quality.
You can make plenty of adjustments to the ambient sound intensity, sound profile, and more through the Sony Headphones Connect app. The Headphones Connect app also lets you enable noise cancelling optimization based on your environment. You’ll also want to use the app to set up Sony 360 Reality Audio, which is compatible with some music streaming services like Tidal and Deezer.
The WH-1000XM5 features a very nice microphone for a pair of wireless headphones. Take a listen for yourself:
Sony WH-1oooXM5 microphone sample (Ideal conditions):
Sony WH-1oooXM5 microphone sample (Office conditions):
Sony WH-1oooXM5 microphone sample (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is durable
While it’s not quite as comfortable as the Bose QuietComfort 45, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 is a delight to use thanks for its lightweight build and comfortable fit. One standout feature the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 has over the competition is water resistance. The Bose Headphones 700 has an IPX4 rating, meaning it can withstand light splashes.
The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 has a few buttons for power, ANC adjustment, and Bluetooth pairing, but all media playback controls are facilitated through touchpad gesture controls on the ear cups. If you download the Bose Music app you can select between 11 sound settings, switch source devices, equalize your music, and select your smart assistant of choice.
Thanks to the isolating ear pads, these cans have solid ANC performance and sound quality. The noise cancelling attenuates low and midrange frequencies pretty well (especially with firmware 1.8.2), but it can’t touch the AirPods Max. You can enjoy a neutral-leaning frequency response and adjust the sound profile a bit within the Bose Music. These headphones only support the SBC and AAC codecs, which is unfortunate, but the left ear cup houses a 2.5mm headphone jack for lossless playback.
Rotable ear pads
The NC700 microphone sounds pretty good:
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone sample (Ideal conditions):
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone sample (Office conditions):
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone sample (Street conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless gets style points
If you’re looking for auto-pause and auto-resume, aptX, aptX LL, and AAC support, and much more, the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless just might be for you. This wireless noise cancelling headset has drops the metal build of its predecessor for a plastic construction that still feels nice. The fabric covered headband and plush memory foam ear pads are very comfortable, which makes it easy to wear this for longer than the Momentum 3.
The default frequency response sticks very close to our in-house target curve, so you shouldn’t need to change much to get it sounding nice, but you can always equalize the MOMENTUM 4 using the Sennheiser Smart Control app. You can also use the app to adjust ANC levels and enable a transparency mode. The active noise cancelling is effective at quieting midrange frequencies, and the headphones’ passive isolation quiets high frequencies. Unfortunately, the headphones don’t do a very good job of attenuating low frequencies which are the most important frequencies if you’re trying to cancel out the rumble of an airplane or bus.
The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless charges via USB-C and lasts over 56 hours with ANC on—more than double the AirPods Max. It also supports quick charging. If you run out of battery, you can plug in the 3.5mm cable but it lacks a mic and remote. The headphones have button controls that can be used to access your smart assistant and control playback, and the headphones power off just by folding them in at the hinges.
The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless sounds pretty good. Take a listen:
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless microphone sample (Ideal conditions):
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless microphone sample (Office conditions):
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless microphone sample (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
If you want a comfortable, premium pair of ANC headphones, get the Shure AONIC 50
Before the Apple AirPods Max came into existence, the Shure AONIC 50 was one of the best noise cancelling headsets around. This isn’t to say that its ANC is outdated by any means—it is still quite good. The AONIC 50 effectively cancels out noise all across the frequency spectrum, and even without ANC enabled its isolation is great.
The Shure AONIC 50 is very comfortable thanks to the lightweight plastic build and faux-leather ear pads and headband. These ear pads are comfortable for people who wear glasses, which is a bit of a rare find with large headphones. You control the AONIC 50 from buttons on the right ear cup, and the multifunction button lets you access your preferred smart assistant.
The Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling performance is stellar, particularly when it comes to combating low-frequency sounds. This was measured with firmware 0.4.9. You can connect the Shure AONIC 50 using an array of Bluetooth codecs, including SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX Low Latency, aptX HD, and LDAC. Regardless of what kind of smartphone you have, you’ll have access to high-quality Bluetooth audio. Of course, you can always plug in the 2.5mm-to-3.5mm cable for wired listening or if it runs out of battery. That’s not likely to happen too quickly though because the Shure AONIC 50 lasts 19 hours, 46 minutes on a single charge.
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is the best true wireless AirPods Max alternative
If you want to stick within the Apple sphere, but don’t feel like shelling out $549 USD, well, we don’t blame you. The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is a great true wireless alternative to the AirPods Max. This is among our favorite sets of noise cancelling true wireless earbuds, and the second generation brings a handful of notable improvements.
The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) has pretty much all the comforts the AirPods Max have, but it features the newer H2 chip for easy connection to Apple devices, battery optimization, and some fun features like Spatial Audio, which mimics surround sound. If you don’t have a myriad of Apple products, you’ll be missing out on a lot of these features because many of them are only available for iOS and macOS.
The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) frequency response is tailored to the average consumer with a bit of bass and treble emphasis, and just like its predecessor there’s no way to manually EQ the device. The earbuds feature greatly improved ANC, though—arguably the best you can find in a pair of true wireless earbuds at time of writing.
The earbuds and charging case have an IPX4 rating, so they’re a good option for workout earbuds. Apple integrated a pretty decent microphone system and you can use this for casual calls, and professional ones in a pinch. The AirPods Pro case charges via Lightning cable and the earbuds last about 5 hours, 43 minutes with ANC enabled. The case also features a new U1 chip, which adds location tracking support for it through the Apple Find My app, and little speaker which can emit a noise to help you find it when you can’t remember where you set it down.
The second gen AirPods Pro features some pretty nice mic audio.
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone sample (Ideal conditions):
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone sample (Office conditions):
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone sample (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Should you get the Bose QuietComfort 35 II or the Bose QuietComfort 45?
It depends on what your priorities are and what you consider to be the deciding factors when it comes to the Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs. the Bose QuietComfort 45. The Bose QuietComfort 35 II isn’t the newest kid on the block, but if you ignore the microUSB charging, it sounds consumer-friendly, and the ANC is still competitive. The fit is, indeed, comfortable. You’re stuck with just the AAC and SBC codecs, though.
The Bose QuietComfort 45 retains the QC 35 II form factor with upgraded ANC and USB-C charging. In our tests, the frequency response hypes the treble quite a bit by default, but Bose released a firmware update in 2022 via its Bose Music app that lets you adjust its playback settings via EQ. That closes a major gap between these two models.
Both of these are still great headphones, though. It’ll likely come down to price in many cases, with the Bose QuietComfort 35 II being cheaper due to its age, but look out for sales on the Bose QuietComfort 45, too. One final note is that just by virtue of timing, Bose will likely discontinue the QuietComfort 35 II first eventually. So, if long-term manufacturer support and warranty matter to you, that’s an important consideration.
The best Apple AirPods Max alternatives: Notable mentions
- Master & Dynamic MW65: Look, you’ve already considered one of the most expensive headsets out there, why not consider another one? The MW65 has good ANC and an enjoyable frequency response. Android owners can take advantage of included aptX Bluetooth codec to combat latency and get better quality sound. Hunt around, they go on sale often.
- Monoprice BT-600ANC: Here’s a neat trick, for around $100 Monoprice put some of the best ANC out there into this headset. There’s no app support and you only get one frequency response, but this is a good budget option.
- Sennheiser PXC 550-II: This set of noise cancelling headphones is a few years old, but it holds up against the competition. You get a slew of Bluetooth codecs from AAC to aptX Adaptive, a travel-friendly build, and solid microphone system all for under $200 USD (usually).
- Sony WH-1000XM3: The previous generation of Sony flagship wireless headphones has slightly less effective ANC than the XM4, but you get aptX and save a few more bucks.
- Yamaha YH-L700A: This upscale headset offers surround sound modes for video and audio. It also uses aptX Adaptive to ensure low latency. It also has ANC on tap as well and features head tracking, and a fit optimizer that adjusts sound to suit your fit. Does some of this sound familiar? Yes, it definitely has some things in common with the AirPods Max.
Hold up! Something’s different:
Some of this article’s picks or notable mentions have frequency response and isolation charts that were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this review (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and ANC performance plots. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white).
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
What you should know about the best AirPods Max alternatives
Before you buy any of the best AirPods Max alternatives from your favorite headphone vendor, there are a few things you should know about the best AirPods Max alternatives, such as how to maximize your active noise cancelling performance, what exactly you’re sacrificing in terms of Apple compatibility, and how Bluetooth codecs work.
How does active noise cancelling (ANC) work?
You can read our in-depth article that breaks down the technicalities of active noise cancelling technology, but the short of it is this: active noise cancelling headphones use destructive interference to combat ambient noise. Headphones rely on outward-facing microphones to record environmental noise and then create an inverse sound wave (anti-phase) to cancel it out. When done well, all you should hear is your music and little to no external noise. Sometimes headphones also have inward-facing microphones to cancel out naturally occurring inner-ear resonances too.
In order to optimize ANC performance, you need the best passive isolation you can get. With headphones a good fit means the ear cups fit all the way around your ear and don’t leave any gaps between the padding and your skull. If you’re dealing with earbuds a cogent seal is indicative of a proper fit.
Do you need an iPhone to use AirPods alternatives?
Many non-iPhone users may find themselves on this page because they like all the bells and whistles the AirPods Max offers, but their Android devices can’t take advantage of these features. Apple products have a lot of proprietary features, so we usually reserve AirPods recommendations for iPhone owners. However, if you’re an Android user who couldn’t care less about these features and just wants the AirPods Max for the stellar ANC performance and sound quality, then go for it.
For ultimate compatibility, it’s always best to stick within a single brand, but a lot of people don’t want to do this. Luckily a lot of products, like many of those on this best list, are OS agnostic, so you can enjoy plenty of customization no matter your source device.
What is a Bluetooth codec?
When you’re shopping for Bluetooth headphones, it’s worth keeping an eye on Bluetooth codecs. A Bluetooth codec determines how a digital signal from your source device is converted to audible media in your headphones. Think of it as a language—the source device and headphones need to speak the same language.
All Bluetooth devices support the SBC codec, but there are newer and better codecs out there, such as AAC for iPhones and aptX for Android phones. These codecs can stream high-quality audio but the functionality is limited. iPhones don’t support aptX streaming and Android phones can stream over AAC, but the Android OS can’t efficiently encode AAC in a uniform fashion: it’s highly hardware-dependent.
There are more codecs out there than SBC, AAC, and aptX, and you can head over to our full explainer piece to learn about all the common codecs.
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Frequently asked questions about Bluetooth headphones
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II is a very good headset, but you don’t get the same amount of features as you do from the Sony WH-1000XM4. The PXC 550-II is a years-old headset with outdated hardware like a microUSB input, and compared to Sony’s headset, you may feel like you’re missing out. When you buy the WH-1000XM4, you get best-in-class ANC, a very good companion app with plenty of customizable features, speak to chat functionality, ambient sound mode, and more. Still, the Sennheiser PXC 550-II is a great deal for listeners who want good, lightweight travel headphones for no more than $200 USD. You can see a direct comparison of the two headsets here.
Yes, you don’t need to download the Bose Music app to connect the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 to your smartphone, but you do need it if you want access to firmware updates and a streamlined custom EQ.