Noise-canceling headphones battle royale: How do AirPods Max rate against Sennheiser, Sony, and more

Noise-canceling. It’s that cool tech that uses microphones and software to block out the sound of the outside world, putting you in a personal headphone cocoon of your own music. It’s been around for a little while now, and there are loads of headphones that offer the technology as a main selling point. From headphones you can find on Amazon for under $100 all the way to the AirPods Max and beyond, there are options.

But what does paying more actually get you? Say, for example, if you compare the AirPods Max to a pair that are less than half price, how much better are they? Or if you go for the midrange, will you find yourself wishing you’d spent a little more on the AirPods Max?

The big test

Noise canceling showdown

(Image credit: Tammy Rogers/ iMore)

I aim to find out – but not just by wearing them on the bus, but by using very scientific (Addendum – may not be very scientific. Maybe only a little scientific) noise canceling tests. The first will be a noise-controlled experiment where I’ll sit next to a running shower. The shower runs at a constant 51dB, and I’ve got a Decibel meter that tells me how much noise it’s making. Then, I’m going to run a five-minute simulation through my own HiFi system, with the volume at a constant rate through each test. The five minutes will be the same video of a busy city, played good and loud to test the headphones. Then, for a final, real-world test I’m going to go for a short walk in the area around my house with each pair of headphones.


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