Apple’s AirPods Max are among the best high-end headphones available today, but they suffer from two major problems. First, the price of the AirPods Max is high, and they offer many of the same features and sound quality as much cheaper headphones. And second, the AirPods Max have a frustrating battery drain issue that Apple has yet to acknowledge, much less fix. So here are the best AirPods Max alternatives, without the inflated price tag or battery problems.
It’s hard to look at any premium wireless headphones without comparing them to the AirPods Max. But really, Apple’s over-ear headphones aren’t all that groundbreaking. Bose launched its first Bluetooth noise-canceling headphone in 2016, and several of today’s high-end wireless headphones sport the same ANC (Active Noise Cancelation) and Transparency features the AirPods Max has helped to popularize.
Still, it’s hard to find a headphone that shares all of the AirPods Max’s features. Let’s take a moment to review what the AirPods Max has to offer, so you know which features you care about before buying another set of headphones.
- Sound: AirPods Max have a relatively “flat” or “clean” sound profile without the excessive bass boost that you find in many Bluetooth headphones. They also have an exclusive feature called Adaptive EQ to automatically adjust audio quality based on the shape of your ears. While Adaptive EQ is exclusive to Apple’s flagship headphones, most wireless headphones offer manual EQ controls through an app.
- ANC: Apple is famous for its advanced noise-canceling technology, but high-end headphones from Bose, Sony, and Sennheiser feature ANC systems that are practically indistinguishable from what you get with the AirPods Max.
- Transparency Mode: Transparency mode is the opposite of ANC. Instead of blocking sounds, the AirPods Max uses its microphones to pipe in your surroundings, allowing you to hear people speak to you while you go about your business. Many other high-end wireless headphones have a Transparency mode.
- Head Detection: AirPods Max uses gyroscopes and proximity sensors to detect when it’s on your head. Removing one earcup will pause your music, and placing the headphones back on your head will cause music to resume. Other premium headphones, like the Sony WH-1000XM4, share this feature.
- 3D Spatial Audio: 3D Spatial Audio places you in a virtual surround sound environment while watching movies on supported Apple devices. AirPods Max can track your head movements in this virtual environment, emulating the change in sound that you would hear by while turning your head in a theater. No headphones in this roundup support 3D Spatial Audio or an equivalent feature.
- Battery and Charging: AirPods Max have a 20-hour battery life and charge via Lightning cable. They do not have a power button and instead enter a power-saving mode when slipped into their carrying case. While the AirPods Max’s 20-hour battery is quite common, its lack of a power button is (thankfully) a rare feature. Of all the products featured in this roundup, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 is the only headphone to forgo a power button, instead entering a low-power mode when folded shut.
- Connecting and Switching Devices: You can connect your AirPods Max to your iPhone just by holding by devices close to one another. Only Apple and Beats-branded headphones can do this. (Apple owns Beats by Dre.)
Now that you know what to look for in a pair of high-end ANC headphones, let’s get to business. Here are the best AirPods Max alternatives.
For a time, the Sony WH-1000XM4s were the most popular wireless noise-canceling headphones. I believe that the WH-1000XM4s would still hold that crown if Sony hadn’t blessed the headphones with a gibberish name. Not only are the WH-1000XM4s over $200 cheaper than the AirPods Max, but they have nearly identical ANC and Transparency features, customizable EQ settings, head-detection, and a 30-hour battery life with ANC enabled—a much longer listening time than what the AirPods Max has to offer.
But features aren’t everything. The Sony WH-1000XM4s also sound fantastic, with a “flat” frequency response that’s similar to the AirPods Max. When you consider all the features, battery life, and sound quality, Sony’s WH-1000XM4s are the best alternative to the AirPods Max, and they cost nearly half the price of Apple’s headphones.
If ANC is your top priority, then the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 are a fantastic, powerful alternative to Apple’s AirPods Max. They feature 11 levels of ANC, with options ranging from full transparency to heavy-duty noise cancellation. And thanks to an intuitive “favorites” button, you can quickly cycle through your 3 favorite ANC modes without entering the Bose Music app (which is where your EQ, ANC, and Smart Assistant settings live).
Like the Sony WH-1000XM4s, the Bose NC Headphones 700 have a relatively “flat” sound profile that should appeal to Apple fans. And while the NC Headphones 700 only offer 20 hours of playback with ANC enabled (the same as the AirPods Max), you can extend that battery to 60 hours with the included charging case (which is just a protective case with a built-in battery, you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to).
Why spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of noise-canceling headphones when you could buy the Anker SoundCore Life Q30s? The affordable SoundCore Life Q30s feature three ANC modes specially designed for office, outdoor, or airplane settings, along with an impressive 40-hour battery life (with ANC enabled) and an extremely lightweight design.
Predictably, the SoundCore Life Q30s can’t match the sound quality of the AirPods Pro or any other high-end wireless headphones, but they sound good enough for the price and place a strong emphasis on bass frequencies. They also lack a dedicated transparency mode, which is a defining feature of Apple’s AirPods Max.
Best Budget Option
It’s a shame that the AirPods Max have a battery drain issue, as its use of a low-power mode is actually a bit ingenious. Because the AirPods Max doesn’t need to power on every time it’s used, it can connect to your device and start playing music as soon as you pull them from the carrying case.
Sennheiser’s Momentum 3 headphones offer a much more reliable take on the low-power concept, “powering down” when folded shut and “turning on” when opened. The Momentum 3 headphones also use head detection to automatically pause or play music and feature three increasingly effective ANC modes.
Unfortunately, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 headphones lack a Transparency mode and only offer 13 hours of battery life with ANC. But the headphones sound great, with a greater emphasis on bass frequencies than the AirPods Max (you can flatten out the EQ through Sennheiser Smart Control app).
Best Premium Option
Let’s keep it in the family. Apple owns the Beats by Dre brand, so all Beats headphones contain Apple-exclusive features, like automatic iPhone pairing and Lightning charging. Of all the great Beats headphones available today, the Beats Solo Pro are the closest to AirPods Max, with ANC and Transparency modes, a 22-hour battery, and Apple’s signature “flat” sound profile.
We rated the Beats Solo Pro an 8/10 in a review last year, knocking off a few points because the headphones are too tight and (like the AirPods Max) only work wirelessly. Beats Solo Pro also lack Adaptive EQ and the AirPods Max’s head detection feature for automatic pausing. If you can ignore these faults, the Solo Pro headphones are a compelling and cost-effective alternative to the AirPods Max.