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Best AirPods Max alternatives

The AirPods Max may be good, but it's not the only option.
By

Published onApril 12, 2024

The Best
Sony WH-1000XM5
MSRP: $399.00
8.6
Check price
Positives
ANC performance
Outstanding microphone
App features, including custom EQ
Bluetooth 5.2 with SBC, AAC, LDAC, and wired connectivity options
Bluetooth multipoint
Find My Device enabled
Negatives
Price
No IP rating
best for Android
Bose QuietComfort Ultra
MSRP: $429.00
8.5
Check price
Positives
Great ANC
Good passthrough mode
Snapdragon Sound
aptX Lossless
Negatives
Price
No IP rating
Immersive audio
Some channel matching issues
Best style
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless
MSRP: $350.00
8
Check price
Positives
Excellent battery life
Excellent sound quality
Connectivity options
Price
Negatives
Middling ANC
Mic noise rejection
Bang for your buck
Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless
MSRP: $179.95
8.3
Check price
Positives
Price
Weight
Comfort
aptX, aptX HD support
USB-C audio
Negatives
Will not get LE Audio
No TRS jack
Best earbuds
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
MSRP: $249.00
7.6
Check price
Positives
Effective ANC
Great sound quality - Lossless Audio
Great auto-wear detection
Water-resistant buds and case
USB-C charging
Good fit with four ear tip options
Negatives
Many Apple-exclusive features
No way to customize the EQ without third-party app

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 canceling (ANC) AirPods Max headset is pretty expensive. The AirPods Max has its benefits like unrivaled active noise canceling, 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 headphones out there out there with comparable specs for far less cash. Here are the best AirPods Max alternatives.

What's new?

  • This list of the best AirPods Max alternatives was updated on April 12, 2024, to adjust some formatting.
  • If you simply aren't satisfied with any of the alternatives, you might want to hold off until the Apple AirPods Max 2. And be sure to check out our list of the best iPhone earbuds for more options.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 is the best AirPods Max alternative

A top down view of the Sony WH-1000XM5 resting on a dark grey graph patterned surface.

The Sony WH-1000XM5 and AirPods Max are neck-and-neck when it comes to the best active noise canceling 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 is the leader of the ANC pack.

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 quickly 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 canceling 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.

Sony WH-1000XM5Sony WH-1000XM5
SoundGuys Editor's Choice
Sony WH-1000XM5
ANC performance • Outstanding microphone • Useful app features
MSRP: $399.00
The king of the ANC pack extends its reign

The chart below shows how the sound of the Sony WH-1000XM5 was assessed by the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS) algorithm from HEAD acoustics.

A bar chart showing how the Sony WH-1000XM5 rates in Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Scores.
The Sony WH-1000XM5 rates pretty well in terms of audio quality, with good results across the board.

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Without any equalization, you may find that stringed instruments, horns, woodwinds, and even higher vocals get dulled in your favorite tunes.

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are best for Android

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones lying atop a wood slab.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys
At 253g, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are quite a bit lighter than headphones with an all-metal construction and more portable as a result.

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are a compelling alternative to the Apple AirPods Max, particularly for Android users. They are lightweight with ample padding that is notably glasses-friendly and designed for ease of use, featuring folding hinges and articulating ear cups for compact storage alongside a more traditional control scheme with buttons and a capacitive volume strip, which may appeal to users seeking tactile feedback over the digital crown control found on the AirPods Max.

One of the standout features of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones is their broad compatibility across devices, supported by the inclusion of Bluetooth 5.3, AAC, SBC codecs, and the notable addition of Qualcomm’s aptX Lossless codec for high-quality audio on compatible Android devices. This feature alone sets the Bose headphones apart for Android users, offering an optimized audio experience that leverages the latest technology. Furthermore, the headphones’ battery life surpasses that of the AirPods Max, providing longer listening sessions with ANC enabled, which is critical for users prioritizing longevity and convenience.

The Bose QC Ultra bring quality, comfort, and future-proof features.

Moreover, the Bose Music app’s functionality across both iOS and Android platforms, in contrast to the AirPods Max’s Apple-centric integration, ensures that users can access firmware updates, customize settings, and enjoy features like immersive audio without being tied to a specific ecosystem. This inclusivity, along with the headphones’ competitive pricing and superior noise canceling capabilities, makes the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones an attractive option for Android users. They offer a blend of advanced features, comfort, and audio quality that challenge the premium-positioned AirPods Max, delivering a compelling alternative for those seeking high-quality audio experience outside the Apple ecosystem.

Bose QuietComfort UltraBose QuietComfort Ultra
SoundGuys Editor's Choice
Bose QuietComfort Ultra
Great battery life • Advanced audio experience
MSRP: $429.00
Quality and comfort noise canceling headphones
Going ultra with their ANC headphone experience, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra noise cancelling headphones offer up to 24 hours of battery life, a comfortable fit, Spatial Audio support, and powerful ANC.

The chart below shows how the sound of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones was assessed by the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS) algorithm from HEAD acoustics.

The Bose Quietcomfort Ultra Headphones have excellent sound quality for most, as reflected by MDAQS.
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones have rock-solid audio quality.

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These headphones adjust their sound to meet your biology with their CustomTune feature, meaning everyone will get a slightly different frequency response, but this is what we found in our testing.

The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless gets style points

The Sennheiser momentum 4 wireless sits on a headphone stand
The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless is very comfortable for hours on end.

If you’re looking for auto-pause and auto-resume, aptX, aptX LL, AAC support, and much more, the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless just might be for you. This wireless noise canceling headset has dropped 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.

These headphones keep the momentum going for many different listening environments.

The default sound is very 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 canceling 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. Additionally, a recent update brings surround sound to the MOMENTUM 4 Wireless, like the AirPods Max.

Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 WirelessSennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless
SoundGuys Editor's Choice
Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless
App for EQ changes • Simple, elegant design • USB-C charging
MSRP: $350.00
High-end ANC over-ear headphones focus on style and comfort
If you need total immersion in your music, you need some ANC over-ears. The Sennheiser Momentum 4 focus on style and comfort while delivering the core features high-end shoppers need with their headphones.
See price at Amazon
Save $60.72
Sennheiser Momentum 4
See price at Best Buy
Save $49.99
Sennheiser Momentum 4

The chart below shows how the sound of the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless was assessed by the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS) algorithm from HEAD acoustics.

This chart shows the MDAQS results for the Sennheiser Momentum 4 in Default mode. The Timbre score is 4.8, The Distortion score is 3.5, the Immersiveness score is 4.1, and the Overall Score is 4.6.

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The measured response of the Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless is extremely close to our headphone preference curve: most people will like the sound a lot.

If you want an affordable alternative, go for the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless

The Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless is a great pair of headphones with stellar sound quality that won’t break the bank. And won’t find a carrying case in the box; the build quality is solid enough to withstand a toss into your bag. These headphones are light enough for prolonged wear, thanks to a cushioned design reminiscent of Bose’s QuietComfort series. You might hit a snag if you’re bespectacled; the thinner padding may prevent a perfect seal. But for the majority, it’s comfort without compromise.

The Sennheiser Smart Control app opens up a world of customization, from detailed EQ settings to feature toggles. If you’re the type who likes their audio just so, the app is a must. The on-ear buttons may be petite, but their tactile feedback makes for easy navigation. Add in a battery life nearing 47 hours, and you’ve got a gadget that goes the distance.

The ANC feature isn’t the most robust on the market, but it’s no slouch either. It effectively blocks out a substantial amount of high-frequency noise and manages decently in the lower range. While the AirPods Max may offer a more isolated soundscape, the ACCENTUM performs admirably at a fraction of the cost.

Sennheiser ACCENTUM WirelessSennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless
SG recommended
Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless
Comfortable • Impressive battery life • Effective ANC
MSRP: $179.95
An affordable set of ANC headphones with excellent sound quality.
The Sennheiser Accentum Wireless headphones are a great choice for immersive, comfortable, and extended listening experiences. With up to 50 hours of battery life, they offer high-definition sound and effective ANC. These headphones deliver comfort and audio quality, making them a fantastic choice for both at-home enjoyment and on-the-go use.

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, 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 canceling true wireless earbuds, and the second generation brings a handful of notable improvements.

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) has pretty much all the comforts the AirPods Max have. Still, 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.

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 a little speaker that can emit noise to help you find it when you can’t remember where you set it down.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
Impressive ANC • Comfortable fit • Wireless charging
MSRP: $249.00
One of the best true wireless earbuds for iOS users.
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) modestly improve upon the first-generation AirPods Pro and feature the same iconic look. Apple's upgraded H2 chip begets better noise canceling and battery life, while the case's U1 chip and integrated speaker let you precisely locate the case. If you own an iPhone, the AirPods Pro 2 are an obvious choice.

The chart below shows how the sound of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) was assessed by the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS) algorithm from HEAD acoustics.

The Apple AirPods Pro 2 have high audio quality scores, which should appeal to most.

Loading chart ...

In short, the AirPods Pro (2nd Generation) sounds great and will make most music sound good. Through the bass and mids, the AirPods Pro (2nd gen) closely follows our headphone preference curve and only makes significant deviations above 8kHz.

For the budget-conscious, try Anker Soundcore Space Q45

A handheld view of the Anker Soundcore Space Q45's ear cup.
The design, comfort, and noise canceling are all fairly impressive, but the headset is unfortunately let down by the poor frequency response curve.

Those searching for a cheaper Apple AirPods Max “dupe” ought to look at the Anker Soundcore Space Q45, not because they actually clone Apple, but because there aren’t equivalent clones out there, and the Q45 headphones are good.

Like the AirPods Max, the Anker Soundcore Space Q45 has solid ANC on tap, particularly for the sub $200 price. Anker includes a useful app with comprehensive EQ options and, of course, the AAC Bluetooth codec for your iPhone. If you don’t have an iPhone, the Q45 also supports LDAC in addition to wired listening.

As a comfortable set of headphones, Anker has a winning formula. Sure, you don’t gain spatial audio, but for most audio, that feature is more of a novelty than it is essential. While the frequency response isn’t perfect, it doesn’t sound bad, and you can adjust it.

Anker Soundcore Space Q45Anker Soundcore Space Q45
Anker Soundcore Space Q45
Full-bodied audio • Good ANC • Customizable EQ
MSRP: $149.00
Have it all on a low budget.

Should you get the Bose QuietComfort instead of the Apple AirPods Max?

One of the downsides of Apple AirPods Max is that while they are comfortable headphones, they’re also pretty heavy and not super portable. Enter the Bose QuietComfort Headphones; these are lightweight and notable for how comfortable they feel over long stretches. Unfortunately, we still think their predecessor, the Bose QuietComfort Q45, is the better buy.

The AirPods Max, compared to the QC45, may look great with metal components, but the QuietComfort 45 is pretty robust for being mostly plastic: their headband is made of glass-filled nylon. Rounding out the Bose QuietComfort 45 are the excellent ANC and a good frequency response. By default, the QC 45 sounds pretty trebly, but you can fix that with an easy EQ adjustment.

Bose QuietComfort 45Bose QuietComfort 45
SG recommended
Bose QuietComfort 45
Excellent ANC • EQ adjustable • Comfortable ear pads
MSRP: $329.00
An ANC headset that provides comfort and ease of use.
The Bose QuietComfort 45 does an excellent job cancelling outside noise, and it sounds great for podcast listening. It has a decent battery life, and the fast-charging USB-C adds another 180 minutes with only a 15-minute charge.
Bose QuietComfort HeadphonesBose QuietComfort Headphones
Bose QuietComfort Headphones
Great battery life • Comfortable materials • Great ANC
MSRP: $349.00
Comfortable cans with next-level noise cancellation and great battery life
The Bose QuietComfort Headphones focus on your comfort and listening experience in noisy environments. Enjoy up to 24 hours of battery life and Bose's high-quality sound in a plush set of new wireless headphones.

The best Apple AirPods Max alternatives: Notable mentions

The Skullcandy Crusher ANC 2 rests on its case on a floral background.
Jasper Lastoria / SoundGuys
The Skullcandy Crusher ANC 2 looks more professional than the name brand might suggest.
  • Anker Soundcore Life Q30 ($79.99 at Amazon): With good sound, active noise canceling, and battery life, these are some of the best headphones on the market for less than $100.
  • Focal Bathys ($699 at Amazon): Keep in mind that Apple AirPods Max has set the tone for the marketing by upping the prices of headphones, so it should come as no surprise that premium enthusiast headphones like these go for more money. These sound great, use a myriad of excellent codecs and have some ANC to boot. You won’t get the same level of tech wizardry or app integration, just good sound and connectivity.
  • JBL Live 660NC ($149 at Amazon): For a decent set of ANC headphones, these perform relatively well and undercut the AirPods Max price. The mic isn’t the best we’ve heard, but the ANC is pretty good.
  • Monoprice BT-600ANC ($84.99 at Amazon): Here’s a neat trick: 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 HD 350BT ($86 at Amazon): Not the newest kid on the block, the HD 350BT upgrades your listening experience with aptX and aptX-LL support (in addition to AAC and SBC), and it’s rather inexpensive. The ANC won’t beat the AirPods Max, but your wallet won’t suffer with these.
  • Shure AONIC 50 ($298 at Amazon): Although its ANC has been beaten out, the AONIC 50 is a great quality set of headphones with upgraded leather padding and a huge selection of codecs. As a complete package, it’s pretty luxurious.
  • Shure AONIC 40 ($247 at Amazon): A more stripped-down version of the Shure AONIC 50, the AONIC 40 still offers great comfort, good looks, and a ton of connectivity. The ANC isn’t the best, which is the downside for the price.
  • Skullcandy Crusher ANC 2 ($229.99 at Manufacturer site): So, if you want some of the ease of use you get from AirPods Max but prefer way more bass, these headphones are pretty decent. You won’t get the same level of noise canceling, but otherwise, they’re decent notably the microphone.
  • Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278 at Amazon): Technically, the Sony WH-1000XM4 can still be found, but the newer, improved WH-1000XM5 is out. However, sometimes you can find these very good headphones for even better sales.
  • Sony WH-XB910N ($148 at Amazon): These ones are for the folks out there who like way more bass than most headphones yield by default. It has good ANC, 360 audio, and touch controls.

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 canceling performance, what exactly you’re sacrificing in terms of Apple compatibility, and how Bluetooth codecs work.

How does active noise canceling (ANC) work?

How active noise canceling actually works
Sound waves of equal amplitude, offset at 1/2 wavelengths result in compression waves with an amplitude of 0—canceling out the sound.

You can read our in-depth article that breaks down the technicalities of active noise canceling technology. Still, the short of it is this: active noise canceling 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?

The Sony WF-1000XM5 and AirPods Pro 2 in their open cases next to each other.
Harley Maranan / SoundGuys
Sony's case isn't water-resistant but Apple's has a durable, IPX4 rating.

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 to 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?

A chart showing the frequency response performance of the AAC Bluetooth wireless codec.
Android phones don’t give you CD-quality playback with AAC.

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, but if you use an iOS device, you only really need to know SBC and AAC.

Why you should trust SoundGuys

Ultimate Ears UE Premier worn in ear profile
Harley Maranan / SoundGuys
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Each writer at SoundGuys has accumulated years of experience in the consumer audio market, and our staff adheres to a strict ethics policy. We don’t use sponsored content on the website at a time when doing so is the norm. SoundGuys’ survival depends almost exclusively on readers enjoying their purchases. We pride ourselves on transparently outlining objective facts while accounting for the subjective experience to contextualize an audio product’s performance. When we do misspeak, we correct and own up to it.


Frequently asked questions

The Sennheiser PXC 550-II ($299.99 at Walmart) is a very good set of headphones, 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 micro-USB input, and compared to Sony’s headset, you may feel like you’re missing out. When you buy the WH-1000XM4, you get some of the best 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, but you might have trouble finding a pair. You can see a direct comparison of the two headphones.

All that said, both headphones have been either superseded or discontinued. The next alternatives are the Sony WH-1000XM5 and either the Sennheiser HD 350BT or Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless.

Yes, you don’t need to download the Bose Music app to connect the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 to your smartphone, but you do need it if you want access to firmware updates and a streamlined custom EQ.

Unlike the AirPods Max, which requires a Lightning to 3.5mm cable, the majority of our picks come with optional headphone jack cables. Some of the headphones, like the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and Sennheiser MOMENTUM 4 Wireless Headphones, use 2.5mm to 3.5mm cables, but those come with them and are inexpensive to replace down the line.

The value of AirPods Max largely depends on what you’re seeking. If you prioritize top-notch noise cancelation, seamless integration with Apple products, and high-quality build materials, then yes, they could be worth the investment. However, if you’re budget-conscious and willing to compromise slightly on features, there are quality alternatives like the Sennheiser ACCENTUM Wireless that offer good performance for less.

The reputation for being “overpriced” often stems from a combination of factors—brand premium, build quality, and technology. Apple is known for setting a high bar for design and materials, using elements like anodized aluminum and mesh fabric. The company also touts exceptional sound and noise canceling capabilities. You’re not just buying headphones; you’re buying into the Apple ecosystem and the status symbol that comes with it, which, unfortunately, commands a premium.

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