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AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Which headphones should you buy?

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4
(Image credit: Apple, Bose and Sony)

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4? There’s no shortage of over-ear, active noise-cancelling headphones to choose from. But while our AirPods Max review explains how they're the newest and shiniest, they also come with a high $549 price tag.

Next to the $339 Bose 700 and the $278 Sony WH-1000XM4, the AirPods Max have a lot of work to do if they’re to justify that investment. To find out if they can, we’ve put all three pairs of headphones head-to-head in a battle of price, design and features, to see which pair is the best wireless headphones for you. 

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Specs compared

Apple AirPods MaxBose 700Sony WH-1000XM4
Price$549$339$278
Size7.4 x 6.6 x 3.3 inches8 x 6.5 x 2 inches9.94 x 3.03 x 7.27 inches
Weight13.6 ounces8.95 ounces8.95 ounces
Battery life20 hours (ANC on)20 hours (ANC on)30 hours (ANC on), 38 hours (ANC off)
Companion appYesYesYes
Special featuresActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, automatic EQ adjustment, 3D audio, smart controls, Siri supportActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, adjustable ANC and EQ, smart controls, tri-digital assistant support, multipoint technologyActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, adjustable ANC and EQ, smart controls, tri-digital assistant support, multipoint technology

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Price

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

This is an easy win for the WH-1000XM4. Not only are they cheaper than the Bose 700 but they’re also nearly half — yes, half — the price of the AirPods Max.

It’s also unlikely that you’ll see as many AirPods Max discounts in the foreseeable future, though there could be a potential deal when buying the upcoming iPhone 13. Both the Bose and Sony headphones, by contrast, have been out long enough to drop in price fairly regularly.

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Design

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Apple)

The AirPods Max earn back some points for their design, which goes for an agreeably luxurious aluminum and mesh fabric build with memory foam earcup padding. Recycling the digital crown from the Apple Watch was a clever move, granting a tactile and nicely granular volume control than touch controls or small, flat buttons might.

Of course, the Bose 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4 are hardly ugly, and the former in particular cuts a very modern figure with largely metal construction. All three are also comfortable enough to wear for hours at a time, though it’s worth noting that the AirPods Max are the heaviest of the bunch. You might want to factor that in if you want a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to wear while exercising.

Also beware that there’s no 3.5mm jack on the AirPods Max, unlike on their other two. This means that if you want to switch to a wired connection, you’ll need to drop another $35 on Apple’s Lightning-to-3.5mm cable, bringing the total cost to $584.

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Sound quality

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Yes, they cost a lot, but the AirPods Max really do sound rich, deep and detailed, especially if you enable Apple’s Spatial Audio feature (last seen on the AirPods Pro) - this creates a stronger surround sound effect.

The Bose and Sony headphones don’t have an equivalent party trick, but still sound rich and detailed on both counts. The Bose 700 aim for a balanced, neutral sound signature while the Sony WH-1000XM4 are more bassy and boomy, though you can tweak this in the accompanying app.

There are no manual EQ controls for the AirPods Max, but Apple dances around this with its Adaptive EQ feature: essentially, the AirPods Max can analyze the fit and seal of the earcups and dynamically adjust the mids and treble for better acoustic performance on the fly using computational audio.

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Noise cancellation

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

In our testing, the Bose 700’s active noise cancelling is slightly more effective than that of the Sony WH-1000XM4 when it comes to shutting out ambient noises. Both work extremely well, and the AirPod Max can keep up: in our review we found Apple's headphones are better at silencing lower-frequency ambient noise, while the Bose 700 were better for mid-range and treble-heavy noise.

All three pairs of headphones also have “transparency” modes, which repurpose the onboard microphones normally used to create the silencing effect to help you hear the world around you without needing to take the headphones off. This comes in handy when you’re navigating busy streets or need to speak to someone briefly, so it’s good to see it included on the AirPods Max, Bose 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4 alike.

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Battery life

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

The AirPods Max and Bose 700 are in a dead heat on battery life, both being rated for 20 hours of playback. That’s not bad but nowhere near the longevity of the Sony WH-1000XM4, which can go for 30 hours with noise cancellation enabled and up to 38 hours with it switched off.

Sony’s headphones recharge faster too. 10 minutes of charging an empty pair will grant 5 hours of listening time; Apple, meanwhile, quotes 1.5 hours of playback from a 5-minute charge, and the Bose 700 offer 3.5 hours of playback from 15 minutes. 

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4: Outlook

AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

For some, the AirPods Max will sound so good, and have such effective noise cancelling and Spatial Audio features, that they could feasibly spend $549 on them and still be happy. These headphones are also competitive on design and specs, even if there are some odd omissions like the 3.5mm jack.

Still, you shouldn't overlook the Sony WH-1000XM4. These can go toe-to-toe with the Bose 700 on sound quality, design and comfort, while beating them handily on affordability and battery life. The AirPods Max might be a valid money-no-object choice, but the Sony WH-1000XM4 are undoubtedly better value.

James Archer

As Audio Editor, James covers headphones, speakers, soundbars and anything else that intentionally makes noise. His favorite musical genre is rock, despite once claiming the guitar is “too complicated” for humans to play. He plays bass instead.