Apple's AirPods Max headphones are among my favorite pairs of headphones. They deliver a strong ANC performance and mind-blowing spatial audio sound with head tracking when connected to an iOS device.
But, if you're less concerned about the customized options and simply want the best ANC performance and sound, there are plenty of AirPods Max alternatives to choose from that do just that. And many cost considerably less.
A mainstay in our best over-ear headphones roundup since they launched, the chunky styling and rectangular earcups sported by Apple's AirPods Max flagship headphones doesn't make them easy on the eye. Wearers will definitely get noticed with a pair of Apple AirPods Max headphones on their head, and although comfortable to wear, the 13.6 ounce weight is considerably higher than many rivals.
Despite the hit or miss styling (depending on your point of view), I'd say the high price is what turns buyers off Apple's flagship headphones. Even if many are already on board with the company's ecosystem via Apple devices elsewhere, they are a considerable outlay.
At $549, the AirPods Max are far from cheap, and although they can regularly be found discounted via online retailers, the price still feels disproportionately high when compared to many of the best AirPods Max alternatives out there.
So if you're looking for similarly strong performance at a more affordable price, read on to discover my pick of the best AirPods Max alternatives.
Best value AirPods Max alternatives
1. Sony WH-1000XM5
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. I also appreciate how the WH-1000XM5 are lighter. This makes them easier to wear for long periods of time and more comfortable to carry around with you.
As the current XM-series flagship, the Sonys are a confident, convincing and enjoyable listen in every respect: low frequencies are muscular but agile, highs are well managed and there's plenty of detail across the range. Noise canceling — always an XM-series strong point — banishes pretty much all external sound, and the excellent Sony Headphones Connect app allows you to personalize your audio according to taste.
Battery life runs to 30 hours with ANC on, beating the AirPods Max at 20 hours with ANC-enabled.
Additionally, these are one of the few models that integrate with popular music streaming services; you can enable 360 Reality Audio on Tidal and seamlessly connect to Spotify with the push of a button. Alexa digital assistant support is also on board.
2. Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2
I've chosen the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 over-ear headphones as one of my alternative AirPods Max recommendations because of their similar approach to luxury styling and sound finesse. Although not quite up to the standards of the more costly Bowers & Wilkins Px8, they look and feel remarkably good. The beautiful construction is either good-looking in an understated way, or a bit too understated for their own good — it depends on your taste.
They are priced the same as the Sony WH-1000XM5 (above), and have active noise-cancelation and a control app — but ‘extended functionality’ is not their thing.
The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 are designed to deliver the best wireless sound this sort of money can buy, and they do. The entire frequency range hangs together well, with nothing overstated and nothing struggling for representation. Tonality is clean, consistent and entirely convincing. If you want every wireless headphone feature under the sun, you have plenty of choice. If, however, you want headphones that make the most of the digital audio information you give them, the Px7 S2 really needs to be in your thinking.
3. Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless
I am a big fan of Sennheiser over-ear headphones, and the Momentum 4 Wireless are one of the most versatile wireless headphones around today. The latest flagship version may not stand out quite like their classic-looking predecessors, but the 60-hour battery life with ANC enabled is a real crowd pleaser and makes them the model to beat at any price.
Add in the easy-going Sennheiser sound and effective noise canceling, and the Momentum 4 are one the most practical wireless headphones I've heard, perfectly built for a life on the road rather than tethered to a power socket needing regular battery top ups.
My review commented on Sennheiser's smooth house sound, and I was impressed by how well they handled the wide range of music content I played. From pounding beats to more mellow tunes, every track was handled with aplomb. They have Bluetooth 5.2 and aptX Adaptive support. ANC performance is effective, and auto Wind Noise Reduction is very impressive when standing on a windy train platform on daily work commutes. Alexa support is enabled via the Sennheiser Smart Control app.
My AirPods Max alternatives: The bottom line
Although you won’t get Apple-specific features on any of the models above, such as spatial audio with head tracking support, all of the models listed above match or even exceed the AirPods Max on comfort, sound quality, and battery life. Of course, any model should work with spatial audio in Apple Music, and these 3 alternative AirPods Max headphones each have robust connectivity and easy to use control apps, and are better value overall.
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As a former editor of the U.K.'s Hi-Fi Choice magazine, Lee is passionate about all kinds of audio tech and has been providing sound advice to enable consumers to make informed buying decisions since he joined Which? magazine as a product tester in the 1990s. Lee covers all things audio for Tom's Guide, including headphones, wireless speakers and soundbars and loves to connect and share the mindfulness benefits that listening to music in the very best quality can bring.