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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 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 AirPods Max alternatives out there!
Editor’s note: this list of the best AirPods Max alternatives was updated on July 5, 2023, to include the Focal Bathys in Notable mentions and to answer a FAQ.
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 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 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 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.
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 reliable
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 canceling 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 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.
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 canceling 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 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 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.
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 an affordable alternative, try Anker Soundcore Space Q45
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 have 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.
The Anker Soundcore Space Q45 have a surprisingly nice sounding microphone. Like the AirPods Max, you can easily use them for work calls. In a budget set of headphones mic quality is often the weak spot, so in this way the Q45 are exceptional.
Anker Soundcore Space Q45 microphone demo (Ideal conditions):
Anker Soundcore Space Q45 microphone demo (Office conditions):
Anker Soundcore Space Q45 microphone demo (Street conditions):
Anker Soundcore Space Q45 microphone demo (Windy conditions):
How does the microphone sound to you?
The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) are 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 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 45 instead of 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 45; these are lightweight and notable for how comfortable they feel over long stretches. The AirPods Max, compared to the QC45 may look great with metal components, but the QuietComfort 45 are 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 sound pretty trebly, but you can fix that with an easy EQ adjustment.
The best Apple AirPods Max alternatives: Notable mentions
- Focal Bathys: Keep in mind that Apple AirPods Max have set the tone for the marketing upping the prices of headphones, so it should come as no surprise that premium enthusiast headphones like these go for more money ($699 at Amazon). 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: 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. Pick it up for $149 at Amazon.
- Monoprice BT-600ANC: Here’s a neat trick, for $84.99 at Amazon 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: 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 for $86 at Amazon.
- Shure AONIC 50: 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 for $298 at Amazon.
- Shure AONIC 40: 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 ($247 at Amazon).
- Skullcandy Crusher ANC 2: 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 mic and only $229.99 at Manufacturer site.
- Sony WH-1000XM4: Technically, the Sony WH-1000XM4 can still be found, but the newer, improved WH-1000XM5 are out. However, sometimes you can find these very good headphones for sale ($348 at Amazon) and it might be worth it to grab a refurbished pair for only $348 at Amazon.
- Sony WH-XB910N: 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, touch controls, and sells for $148 at Amazon.
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 canceling performance, what exactly you’re sacrificing in terms of Apple compatibility, and how Bluetooth codecs work.
How does active noise canceling (ANC) work?
You can read our in-depth article that breaks down the technicalities of active noise canceling technology, but 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?
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, but if you use an iOS device you only really need to know SBC and AAC.
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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 microUSB 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.