The AirPods Max are Apple's first attempt to make its own branded over-ear headphones, and they don't come cheap. Those premium pair of cans enter a competitive field more than capable of taking them on, including established brands and models that have already proven themselves. If you've got your eyes on an alternative to what Apple has put out there, look no further than this group.
These headphones stand out for their superb — and improved — active noise cancelation (ANC) performance that does an even better job of blocking out background noise. They sound great, and there's an excellent equalizer in Sony's Connect app to tailor the experience. Improved call quality and the ability to simultaneously pair with two devices, plus solid battery life, rounds out an elite package.
Canceling the noise
Bose engineered the NCH 700 to deliver one of the best ANC performances for any pair of headphones, including 11 steps of customization. With excellent sound quality that provides great balance to please most listeners, plus a comfortable fit, despite their larger size, that also offers effective passive noise isolation. Battery life is okay, though fast charging helps get back up and running again.
Sennheiser's pedigree in sound quality is renowned, and it shows with the Momentum 3 Wireless, which can play with excellent sound signatures that get even better with the EQ in the app. The onboard ANC is pretty good, if not as effective as Sony and Bose, but the real benefit here is the smooth sound they pump out. Battery life isn't great at up to 17 hours, though.
When it comes to quality and sophistication, Bowers & Wilkins' PX7 checks off both boxes. They're not quite as elegant as other pairs the company has, but they make up for that with outstanding audio fidelity and consistent performance that counts. Battery life is solid, and these are the first to support the aptX Adaptive codec. They also come with a hard case that doesn't look like a handbag.
Big and soft all at once, Shure put 50mm drivers inside the cans, which is one good reason for the extra heft. They cover the ears well, albeit with a headband that might need shifting along the way. The key is the sound, which is bold, with plenty of bass and no lag when you need it for movies and gaming. ANC isn't too bad, either. Battery life is a modest 20 hours per charge,
Bang & Olufsen has earned its reputation as one of the best in the industry for producing quality sound on Bluetooth headphones, and the Beoplay HX keep that going. In addition, the HX come with several features worth considering, including multiple levels of noise-canceling, dual device pairing, and the ability to selectively filter in background sounds with a quick swipe gesture.
Going the wired route won't sound bad at all once you place these over your ears. There is some modularity involved with two sets of earpads that can change the sound profile, but the gist is that you get a marvelous pair of cans you can keep on wearing for years to come. With a clear focus on audio fidelity and clarity, there's still plenty of thump to hear through them with every track you listen to.
Still going strong
Compared to the AirPods Max, these headphones look like an absolute bargain. And they're still popular, which is why Bose continues to manufacture them. The claim to fame was always the ANC performance, but they also sound really good and feel comfortable to wear for longer sessions. The 20-hour battery life isn't remarkable, but it's no different than Bose's NCH 700.
It's always great to see an upstart upstage bigger and pricier competitors, and Anker does that with these impressive headphones. While they may not match the pure quality of others on the list, they sound better than their price says. Plus, you get excellent customization support through the Soundcore app and some of the best battery life you could ever hope for.
Take a chance with the best AirPods Max alternatives
If you can't stomach the price of the AirPods Max because you think there's something better, you wouldn't be wrong. For the same amount of money or less, you can find some exceptional headphones that outdo Apple's best effort so far. The Sony WH-1000XM4 stand out as our top pick for the best wireless headphones overall. They simply deliver the kind of performative balance you want in a good pair of cans. They also prove it every time you wear them while listening to some tunes.
Others are on the board here that also offer unique abilities. The Bose NCH 700 and QuietComfort 35 II are among them, as are additional models coming from Sennheiser, Bowers & Wilkins, and Bang & Olufsen. This list covers the elite of consumer headphones, so whatever it is you're looking for, you'll find something for every need here.
Ted Kritsonis loves taking photos when the opportunity arises, be it on a camera or smartphone. Beyond sports and world history, you can find him tinkering with gadgets or enjoying a cigar. Often times, that will be with a pair of headphones or earbuds playing tunes. When he's not testing something, he's working on the next episode of his podcast, Tednologic.
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