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Apple AirPods Max vs Bose NC Headphones 700: Which should you choose?

Bose launched its follow-up to the QC 35 II in the summer of 2019 with the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, offering the same Bose ANC and music performance that we’ve come to appreciate. With the AirPods Max, Apple has unveiled its rival.

While Bose is an experienced head in the noise cancelling market, delivering the QuietComfort series and the Nosie Cancelling Headphones range, the AirPods Max are Apple’s first ever attempt at over-ear headphones.

How else do the AirPods Max compare against the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700?

AirPods Max vs Bose NC Headphones 700 – Price

You can purchase the NC Headphones 700 from the Bose website for £294.95. Look elsewhere and they’re available at £279, with the limited edition Triple Midnight colourway on the Bose website priced at £349.95.

Apple has opted for a higher price, with the AirPods Max setting potential customers back £549.

It’s a rather easy win for Bose, especially considering that they’re almost half the price of the Apple headphones.

AirPods Max vs Bose NC Headphones 700 — Design

Apple’s AirPods Max are one part headphone and another part fashion accessory. Going for a very distinctive profile, the headband uses a breathable knit mesh canopy to distribute weight across the head and reduce pressure. With the slightly oval shape to the earcups, they remind us a bit of the Oppo PM-1 headphones (which were double the price in 2014).

The shape of the headband allows the AirPods Max to fit a wider range of head shapes and sizes, and in our testing it distribute the weight across the head well, making it very comfortable to wear. There are no touch controls, with operation done via the Apple Watch-inspired Digital Crown. It’s basically a multi-function dial for the volume, playback, skipping tracks, activating Siri and taking/ending phone calls and having the physical feedback works well.

The Noise Control button on the other side of the (left) earcup switches between ANC and Transparency Mode. The headphones come in five distinctive colours that includes pink and green. The Smart Case is available for stowing away the headphones away, but it’s the weakest aspect of the AirPods Max as it doesn’t offer great protection.

Apple AirPods Max

The Bose headphones are, we feel, just as stylish. They’re also much lighter. The Max weigh 385g compared to the NC Headphones 700’s 250g. They’re not available in as many colours – Black, Luxe Silver and Triple Midnight – the third colourway a revolving door of limited edition finishes (it was Soapstone earlier in 2020). Like the AirPods Max, one of the biggest downsides is that they’re not collapsible. They need to placed flat in the hard carry case.

Touch controls are included, with the right ear cup home to taps and swipes for playback, volume and track skipping. There are physical buttons for power, Bluetooth pairing or waking the voice assistant, while a third on the left ear cup cycles through noise cancellation presets. You also get a USB-C connection and a 3.5mm jack.

We find both to be very stylish in their own way. The Apple headphones are very comfortable to wear, but they’re also very conspicuous when worn outside. We’re going to call it a draw. Aesthetically the Apple headphones look unique, but the Bose headphones are much lighter.

AirPods Max vs Bose NC Headphones 700 — Features

The ANC/Transparency Mode performance of the AirPods Max is excellent, and edges out the Bose though it must be said that the difference is minimal considering the big difference in price. While the ANC is adaptive, the wearer cannot adjust it themselves. The adaptive ANC does appear to respond the noise levels in different environments but we’d like to have further control over it.

Bluetooth is 5.0 and battery life is up to 20 hours, matching the Bose. Adaptive EQ adjusts low- and mid-frequency sound to the fit and seal of the ear cups though we found it harder to see if this had an actual difference on music. Spatial Audio works with 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos content, placing sounds ‘virtually’ within the soundfield for a more immersive effect. Other features are iOS-centric such as Auto Switching, Audio Sharing and, of course, Siri voice control.

The Bose NC 700 have 11 levels of noise cancellation in the Bose app (you can set presets for three levels). The ANC performance is particularly strong with the NC Headphones 700 – you never fail to be impressed by how much noise they clear away.

Recharging the headphones to full takes 2.5 hours, and a quick charge offers 3.5 hours of playtime from just 15 minutes of charging. The NC Headphones 700 support Bluetooth 5 and cover SBC and AAC codecs. For voice control there’s the choice of Google Assistant and Alexa. If you have a compatible Bose soundbar (500 or 700), you can pair the headphones with the soundbar for a more personal listening experience.

The big difference is the inclusion of adaptive noise cancellation for the Bose. The Max have features that are more focused toward iOS users. In that sense the AirPods Max is for those embedded in the iOS ecosystem. For everyone else, the Bose may be the more attractive option.

AirPods Max vs Bose NC Headphones 700 — Sound

The AirPods feature 40mm custom drivers for what Apple calls a performance that offers “rich, deep bass, accurate mid-ranges, and crisp, clean high-frequency extension”. Apple says they’re primarily designed for those who use music streaming services or download content from iTunes to listen to.

The AirPods Max don’t mimic the AirPods Pro’s warmth, instead pursuing a balanced and versatile sound. They don’t just sound good with just one music genre, they sound great across a number. There’s plenty of bass for the Max to call upon, but even with bass-heavy tracks there’s a sense of refinement that allows the midrange to shine instead of it being overwhelmed. Treble frequencies avoid sounding harsh, offering a refined all-round sound quality.

The Headphones 700 maintain a similar character to the QC 35 II, which means a reassuringly neutral and at times very satisfying sound. They boast clear vocals with tight, controlled bass frequencies, and a sound that’s attacking and full of energy. Treble reproduction is very good, as are the Bose’s skills in terms of dynamism and timing, with a soundstage that’s nice and wide too. Again, the AirPods Max would seem to edge it, but you must also take into account the price difference. To us the difference in performance isn’t worth the gulf in price between the two headphones.

AirPods Max vs Bose NC Headphones 700: Which is best?

If were to nominate the better headphone, we’d say the AirPods Max offer the better sound and noise cancellation. The problem is that the difference isn’t all that massive, especially in light of the price, and in many cases the AirPods Max edge out the Bose rather than beat it handsomely.

In our opinion the AirPods Max work as a great option for Apple users who enjoy being within the iOS ecosystem. It’s built from the ground up to serve that market. For everyone else the Bose would work as the better option. They sound very good and the noise cancelling remains one of the best available for full-sized headphones.

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