Apple has gone all in with the AirPods Max, its first set of noise-cancelling, over-ear headphones. They’ve been packed to the brim with premium features, and sport a design that will be popular with Apple fans across the world. Unfortunately all that doesn’t come cheap, and AirPods Max include a firm $549 price tag.
If you’ve read our Apple AirPods Max review, you’ll know that we loved everything Apple’s headphones had to offer, including adaptive EQ, 3D spatial audio, a transparency mode, powerful active noise cancelation, and sensors that can detect if you’re wearing the headphones or not. Despite AirPods Max packing in so many extras features, the price still stings, and they’re far from what you’d consider an impulse purchase.
So before you rush down to the Apple Store to pick up a pair, be sure to check out all the best (and less expensive) alternatives from the likes of Sony, Bose, Beats, and other top brands.
Sony has been absolutely killing it in the headphone department in recent years, and the latest WH-1000xM4 are unquestionably the one of the best pairs of headphones you can buy right now. The MSRP is $349, but you can regularly find them on sale for under $300.
The WH-1000xM4 comes with everything you could want from a pair of headphones. During our testing we found that they outperformed every competitor in numerous categories, including audio quality and noise cancelation. On top of that, they’re packed with special features, including customizable EQ, touch controls, adaptive sound control and more.
Better still, the Sony xM4 offered 30 hours of battery life with ANC switched on (or 38 without), which is 10 hours more than the AirPods Max.
Read our full Sony WH-1000xM4 review
A strong runner up in our headphone testing, the Bose Noise Cancelling 700 headphones does a lot to stand out from the other wireless headphones. Not only does it have a sleek and attractive design, complete with memory foam cups, it combines that with excellent sound quality on calls and music.
This is some of the best noise cancelling we’ve used, with 11 adjustable levels to choose from, so you can pick the one that’s right for each situation. On top of this you have smart and intuitive touch controls and 20-hour battery life when noise cancelling is switched on. It’s not as good as Sony, but it’s the same as the AirPods Max, and you can top them up by another 40 hours with the included charging case
The Bose Music App is one of the real stars, and that’s where all the fancy features are kept. The usual things like noise cancelling and adjustable EQ are found here, but it also lets you swap between voice assistants and change how much of your own voice you can hear during a call.
Read our full Bose 700 review
If you’re looking for a more professional-looking headphones to help keep you productive, Microsoft’s second-gen Surface Headphones may be the headphones 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
Bose has a solid reputation for its active cancellation technology, and the QuietComfort 35 II delivers just that for $250 less than the AirPods Max. It only has three levels of ANC, compared to 11 in the pricier Bose 700, but it still does a fantastic job of keeping out distractions and ensuring your audio sounds great.
You can expect crisp and clean sounds pumping into your ears, whether you’re listing to music, watching Netflix or making calls. And with its lightweight and comfortable design, you have a great pair of headphones for all your day-to-day work. You can also customize the sound using the Bose Connect app, which also offers a helpful “auto-off” feature that stops your battery from draining
Read our full Bose QuietComfort 35 II review
If you want to keep things in the Apple family, but don’t want to resort to using earbuds, then Beats Studio3 are the headphones to check out. Particularly if you’re a fan of the heavy bass performance Beats headphones are known for.
The Studio3 also offer 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 they don’t have the best noise cancellation around. Still the sound is good, and they can be easily paired with iOS devices.
While not the best performing headphones on the market, Beats Studio3 are definitely worth checking out of you’re on a tighter budget. After all, with prices under $200 in a lot of places, they’re one of the cheapest pairs of headphones on this list.
Read out full Beats Studio3 Wireless review
If you want the Apple audio experience for less, the best AirPods Max alternative is the AirPods Pro. Sure, they’re not over-ear headphones, but the AirPods Pro are still some of the best wireless earbuds on the market.
Not only are the AirPods Pro so comfortable you might forget you’re wearing them, they also feature active noise cancelling and a transparency mode to hear the world around you. You also get both water resistance and sweat resistance, plus multiple ear tips to achieve the best fit.
The battery life isn’t as good due to the AirPods Pro’s size, and you’ll only get 4.5 hours of power with noise cancelling on. Thankfully, the charging case can top them up on the move, offering up to 24 hours in total. The AirPods Max reaches 20 hours.
If you have your heart set on a pair of over-ear headphones, these are not going to suit you. But overall the AirPods Pro are a great choice at less than half the price than the AirPods Max.
Read our full AirPods Pro review