This best AirPods Max alternatives roundup champions top noise-canceling headphones that are more affordable than Apple’s flagship. While there’s no denying that the AirPods Max are some of the best over-ear headphones around, the seriously high price can be a big turn off for many.
Although you won’t get Apple-specific features such as spatial audio with head tracking, there are plenty of more affordable models offering alternative immersive sound features that match or even exceeded the AirPods Max on comfort, sound quality and battery life.
Read on to discover our pick of the best AirPods Max headphone alternatives for you based on our testing. And don’t forget, you’ll find lots more info in our in-depth standalone reviews, covering design and comfort, features, ANC and sound quality with all kinds of media, as well as how well they handle calls. Just follow the link at the end of each product summary below for everything you need to know.
The best AirPods Max alternatives you can buy right now
Though the AirPods Max score high marks on design and sound performance, the Sony WH-1000XM5 are a more compelling set of cans overall. For a lower price, broader smart features/controls and longer battery life, they have a lot to offer. They are lighter too, making them easier to wear for long periods of time and more comfortable to carry around with you.
The current XM-series flagship have everything you could want, and even with their price hike, the WH-1000XM5 are still cheaper than the AirPods Max. During our review we found they had strong audio quality and some of the best active noise cancellation (ANC) in a pair of headphones you can buy right now.
The 30-hour battery life (with ANC) is excellent (or 40 without), which is considerably more than the AirPods Max, and everything from the touch controls to the ability to tweak the EQ via the Sony Headphones Connect app is well thought out and seamlessly integrated. Call quality has also been improved greatly and there’s really nothing to criticize beyond the slightly bland styling and the $50 price increase over the XM4, which are still available and another great AirPods Max alternative that cost even less.
Read our full Sony WH-1000XM5 review.
Although the revamped design of Sennheiser’s fourth generation Momentum Wireless headphones don’t stand out quite like their classic-looking predecessor, the 60-hour battery life is a real crowd pleaser and make these the one to beat. Add in the easy-going Sennheiser sound and effective noise cancelling, and the Momentum 4 are one the most practical wireless headphones we’ve seen, perfectly built for a life on the road rather than tethered to a power socket needing regular battery top ups.
Sennheiser’s smooth house sound handles a wide range of music content, from pounding beats to more mellow tunes with aplomb. They have Bluetooth 5.2 and aptX Adaptive support, and there’s a supplied 3.5mm cable for audiophile wired connections. ANC performance is effective, and we found auto Wind Noise Reduction was very impressive when stood on a windy train platform on daily work commutes.
Read our full Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless review.
The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are the best ANC headphones overall. As the replacement for the Bose 700, the company has raised the bar yet again for active noise-canceling headphones, effectively silencing outside world around you. The new model throws in Immersive Audio tech and plenty of extras including Bluetooth 5.3 with multipoint connectivity, aptX Adaptive support, and touch volume control. This all comes in an all-new modern and lightweight design that’s comfortable enough to be worn for hours.
There are multiple levels of noise cancelation to balance the level of quiet with Aware mode (transparency) to suite your surroundings. Battery life has been extended to give up to 24 hours, while changes made to the controls and design make usability more practical and seamless. While the Bose 700 are a great alternative option to consider (and can be found discounted in early Black Friday headphone deals), the QC Ultra Headphones raise Bose’s game and are remarkably strong option as an AirPods Max alternative with class-leading ANC.
Read our full Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones.
If you like your music with a bit more energy than the majority of mass market wireless headphone models supply, then the updated Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e are for you. As the second update to its entry-level series in 18 months, the new version benefits from a re-tuned acoustic architecture and 24-bit digital signal processing. I loved the way they made the most of the music in my review, with a sound that was both weighty and dynamic with everything that’s played.
In much the same way as many are drawn to the build and styling of the AirPods Max, these new Bowers & Wilkins are beautifully constructed, bringing style in a low-profile design that many will love. Despite being short on flagship features compared to rivals though, the Bowers & Wilkins Music control app provides some useful tools. They’re equipped with aptX Adaptive codec support for the best wireless audio from compatible devices, which improves audio signal handling over over the AirPods Max, and it doesn’t disappoint.
ANC may not be the strongest compared to the best noise-canceling headphones out there, but it’s more than satisfactory for the majority of listeners and was effective during routine train commutes.
Rear our full Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e review.
If you’re looking for a more professional-looking pair of headphones to help keep you productive, Microsoft’s second-gen Surface Headphones may be for you — and they cost less than half the price of the AirPods Max.
The unique thing about the Surface Headphones 2 is that they integrate with Microsoft 365, and offer real-time voice dictation in the Office programs you may be using for work. That can be incredibly useful if you prefer to talk than type, or if you’re away from your desk but don’t want to lose your train of thought. They also have adjustable dials on the side of each cup, letting you quickly and easily adjust the volume and noise cancelling levels.
At 20 hours (with ANC on), the battery life is the same as the AirPods Max, but if you want great sound for less, the Surface Headphones 2 are well worth checking out.
Read our full Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 review.
All of the headphones on this list are AirPods Max alternatives that cost less, but the Enduro ANC is the best AirPods Mac alternative that’s truly cheap. At a mere $149 you could buy three for the price of Apple’s headphones, and you’d still be getting a good-sounding set of over-ear cans with effective ANC and a particularly impressive ambient pass-through mode.
The best part is battery life. Although in our testing, the Enduro ANC fell short of Cleer’s official 60-hour figure, we still got more than 50 hours of playback with noise-cancelling enabled. That’s more than twice what the AirPods Max delivers, and for a third of the cost. Premium models like the Sony WH-1000XM4 are still better overall, but check out the Enduro ANC if you’re on a tight budget.
Read our full Cleer Enduro ANC review.
The Cleer Enduro ANC isn’t the only noise-cancelling AirPods Max alternative you can get for less than half of Apple’s asking price. The JBL Live 660NC offers full ANC, a bass-rich sound signature and long battery life all for a fraction of the AirPods Max’s cost.
There are some drawbacks here: the fit isn’t particularly comfortable and Google Assistant can be unreliable. Siri works better, though, and the Live 600NC earns back some technical points with its rock-solid, long-range Bluetooth connectivity and well-featured companion app.
Read our full JBL Live 660NC review.
If you want to keep things in the Apple family, but don’t want to resort to using earbuds, then consider the Beats Studio3 — particularly if you’re a fan of the heavy bass performance Beats headphones are known for.
The Studio3 also offers a comfortable fit, adaptive EQ, and fast charging that adds 3 hours of playback time after just 10 minutes. As for total battery life, you’re looking at around 20 hours with ANC switched on, though it’s worth pointing out that it don’t have the best noise cancellation around. Still, the sound is good, and like the AirPods Max, this pair can be easily paired with iOS devices.
Read our full Beats Studio3 Wireless review.
How to choose the best AirPods Max alternatives
Picking from the best AirPods Max alternatives isn’t that different from picking from the best headphones in general: you’ll want the best combination of sound quality, comfort and battery life that you can get on your specific budget.
That said, if you want an AirPods Max alternative specifically, it probably means you admire a certain something about Apple’s headphones. If it’s features, then look out for active noise-cancelling headphones in particular. Currently there aren’t any non-Apple headphones that support spatial audio for video, though any model should work with spatial audio in Apple Music.
Design: You may also be looking for an alternative with the AirPods Max’s eye for design and styling. This is one area in which the AirPods Max is fairly unique, and there aren’t any good-quality headphones that explicitly copy that distinctive design, though there are many that match it on comfort. Whatever type you choose, make sure the headphones are well built, easy to carry, and comfy to wear for about 1 to 2 hours daily.
Sound quality: Different models offer different sound, and since you’re buying a pair to enjoy music individually, it’s important to find headphones that match your sound preference, be it heavy bass or distinctively clear to where you can hear the littlest nuances in recordings. Some models offer personalized sound via companion app, which allows the user to create their own profiles and tweak EQ levels to their hearing.
Battery life: Sennheiser’s 60-hour battery life is a real crowd pleaser, but most wireless over-ear headphones typically manage around half that.
Accessories: It’s disappointing spending money on a new pair of headphones only to find that you need to buy the accessories separately. For wired models, the manufacturer must include the aux cable, and any headphones that come with a carrying case, charging cable, user guide, and extra ear cups or tips are solid purchases.
Pricing considerations: Obviously, price is a big consideration when looking for the best headphones. Although there are always exceptions, big-name brands will typically command a bit extra, but generally speaking, the less you spend on a pair of headphones the greater the chance that sound and features will be compromised. Going for a budget option isn’t always the best choice, as any money you save on your purchase won’t do you much good if you’re constantly needing to recharge your audio gear, or the sound quality is poor.
As the saying goes: timing is everything; and right now many of our favorite models will are being discounted by online retailers, meaning you can bag a bargain for even less. Bookmark our headphone deals page to keep track of the best bargains.
How we test the best AirPods Max alternatives
When testing any over-ear headphones, including the best AirPods Max alternatives, we’ll listen to a variety of tracks downloaded and stored to a portable music device covering a range of different music genres. Check out our headphone playlist on Tidal and Spotify for examples of the variety of tracks we use. This lets us see (well, hear) how each pair handles distinct styles, which also demonstrates how they reproduce different frequencies, how wide their soundstages are and how detailed they sound.
We’ll also spend some quality time with each pair, typically wearing them for 2-3 hours at a time, several times over a week. This gives a more reliable indication of comfort and design than with only brief listening sessions.
When it comes to features, we test the effectiveness of active noise cancelling, Bluetooth range, and battery life for wireless and wired headphones. Additional features are also tested for app-enabled headphones, along with ease of setup. Build quality, controls, and fit are taken into consideration for all headphone types. Fitness-focused headphones go through vigorous workouts, as we analyze fit while exercising and how well they handle ambient sound in loud environments.
Once testing is complete, we rate headphones based on our five-point system (1 = worst, 5 = best). If a product is truly exemplary, it’s awarded an Editor’s Choice.
Contributions from: Alex Bracetti, Simon Lucas