Apple just released its first over-ear headphones, the AirPods Max, and they're excellent but also extremely expensive at $549. If you're looking for noise-canceling headphones that are more affordable alternatives to the AirPods Max, well, you've got a lot of options. We've rounded up our favorites below.
If you're not specifically looking for over-ear headphones, Apple's AirPods Pro are probably the closest alternative to the AirPods Max. They have all the same features —quick iPhone pairing, noise-cancellation and transparency modes, and support for spatial audio — in a pair of true wireless earbuds. They're also less than half the price of AirPods Max.
But if you demand a traditional headphone form factor, read on.
Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Wireless
Released in late 2019, Bowers & Wilkins's flagship noise-canceling headphones are an upgraded and redesigned version of the company's PX from a few years back. The PX7 have a lighter and more premium feel thanks to a carbon fiber design. They do deliver some incremental improvements in terms of sound and noise-canceling abilities over the PX, but the advantage of the B&W PX7 headphones remains the same: a neat industrial design and a truly excellent sound.
The WH-1000XM4 are arguably better noise-canceling headphones than the AirPods Max, and come in at basically half the cost. They are just as good at blocking out lower frequencies as the Sony WH-1000XM3, like from a vehicle (car, train, plane), but significantly better at blocking out the human voice. They have an improved microphone array to better the phone call experience. Maybe most importantly, they allow you to pair to two devices at one so you don't have to toggle with Bluetooth settings.
Bose Headphones 700
Bose's flagship noise-canceling headphones are also great. They have a number of modern features that the QuietComfort 35 Series II lack, including a new transparency mode, customizable noise canceling, swipe gestures for playback and USB-C charging. Aside from the completely new design, the biggest upgrade is a six-microphone array that enables the Headphones 700 to be, by far and away, the best noise-canceling headphones for making phone or video calls.
Master & Dynamic MW65
The M&D MW65 combine the company's signature industrial design (anodized aluminum and genuine leather) with active noise-cancellation. They’re beautiful headphones with above average noise-cancellation, and they have a number of modern features: USB-C charging, swipe gestures to control playback and support for a companion app that gives you the ability to adjust EQ settings. At nearly $500, however, the MW65 are considerably more expensive than other flagship noise-canceling headphones. Bottom line: it’s all about whether you like the Master & Dynamic’s signature sound and look.
Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless
Released in fall 2019, Sennheiser’s new flagship noise-canceling headphones are the successor to the Momentum Wireless 2 and add a bunch of modern features, like USB-C charging, a transparency mode and a neat Tile integration. There's also support a companion app which allows you to adjust EQ settings as well as the strength of the noise-cancellation. For anybody looking for something that looks and sounds great, and is willing to spend a little extra for style and sound quality, these headphones are great.