Apple’s AirPods Max headphones are excellent, but they cost $550 and are far from affordable. I’ve rounded up top alternatives you can buy for as little as $50. There’s no doubt that Apple’s AirPods Max is the best noise-canceling headset you can buy, but they’re also the most expensive. If its $550 price surprises you, I can offer you some convincing alternatives.
The good news is that you can buy a quality noise-canceling headset for $50 (yes, $50). Of course, the more money you spend, the more audio performance, active noise reduction (ANC), and/or other features, and the best selling point for this category seems to be around $300. Keep in mind that mine main focus here is headphones, but if you don’t like large, bulky handsets, consider using many real wireless earbuds that eliminate noise.
Also, note that I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy AirPods Max. If you like what they offer and have a $550 expense, you’re almost certainly not disappointed. But be aware that you can buy a pair of headphones for less, which provide better sound quality and noise reduction, even if they don’t integrate seamlessly within the Apple ecosystem.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
The name Bose seems to be synound for noise elimination for a reason – the company invented the ANC headset category about 20 years ago. In 2019, Bose released the Noise Reduction Headset 700 while still keeping the QuetComfort 35 II on the market.
If the ANC is put first, it is a better choice in these 700 units. Why get them instead of AirPods Max? Although not cheap, they are much cheaper, and they provide a more reliable and adjustable ANC experience – even if Airpods Max eliminates deeper low frequencies, I find them less stable in testing than the Bose NC 700.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Back in 2018, Bose QuietComfort 35 II is my top-of-the-line ANC headset of choice. In 2021, of course, they won’t be out of date, but they have a lot of companies, and the design may feel a little clumsy or out of date by today’s standards. That said, noise elimination here is still top-notch, and you can usually find them for about $100 less than the Bose NC 700.
Sony’s WH-1000XM4 headset stands out for its powerful and adjustable noise reduction and sound characteristics. Accompanying applications not only provide user-adjustable controls for audio but also provide user-adjustable controls for noise elimination. From custom EQ presets to ANC for your environment, they’re the best noise-canceling headphones if you want to precisely adjust your sound to your preferences. AirPods Max, by contrast, does not provide EQ and ANC control parameters.
Sennheiser HD 450BT
In most reviews of ANC headsets, the focus is on the power of noise elimination. The truth is, if you spend most of your time listening to music or podcasts, the ANC doesn’t have to be first-class to work. Similarly, high-quality ANCs do not improve sub-standard audio performance.
In other words, you might prefer a pair of headphones that provide excellent audio performance and adequate noise elimination. Sennheiser’s HD 450BT is the best sound quality I’ve ever tested with a better-than-average ANC, at a relatively reasonable price. I’ve seen them sell for as little as $150 recently, which is an amazing deal.
Marshall Mid ANC
When I look back at Marshall Mid ANC headphones in 2018, I wrote: “For less than $300, you’ll find a better noise-canceling Bluetooth headset than Marshall Mid ANC.” In 2021, of course, you can find better ANC models for less than $300, but will they look cool? Suspected. Marshall Mid ANC headphones keep the aesthetics of timeless rock star/guitar amplifiers fresh while providing audio and ANCs that still meet today’s standards. It’s worth noting that this is the only pair of in-ear headphones on this list.
If all of these $200 or more price options are chilling for you, I’m good news for you: there are some pretty good options in the super-budget area. Do you want best-in-class ANC and audio performance? No, but the Wyze headphones sound better than most $50 headphones and offer adjustable EQ and built-in Alexa support. In addition, they have more benefits than they actually do.
IF YOU ONLY WANT HEADPHONES FROM APPLE
The only headset on this list, the AirPods Pro, is relevant, apparently because they are also AirPods, and therefore offer the same AirPods-specific features, such as spatial audio and hands-free Siri access. They also offer excellent noise reduction, which may be expensive for in-ear headphones, but cheaper than ear cuffs or ear-mounted headphones. So if you want seamless iOS integration from AirPods for less than half the price of the AirPods Max, that’s the only way to get it.