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AirPods Max Vs Bose QC35 (2021): Which Is The Better Pair Of Over-Ear Headphones?

Just last week Apple finally released the much-awaited and their first-ever over-ear headphones, the AirPods Max. This pair of headphones comes with a stunning all-metal design and perhaps the best audio quality you can get in a pair of consumer headphones. However, Apple’s latest release also comes with a very hefty price tag. 

With all the buzz that’s been going around about Apple’s new headphones, you may be wondering how they stack up against the trusty and well-loved Bose QuietComfort 35 I noise-canceling headphones that sit at a much lower price point. In this article, we compare design, comfort, sound quality, battery life, and more between the Apple AirPods Max and the Bose QuietComfort 35 to help you decide which one to purchase.

Apple AirPods Max vs Bose QuietComfort 35 I

ModelApple AirPods MaxBose QuietComfort 35 I
 
PriceCheck price at Apple.comCheck price at Amazon
ControlsDigital crown, physical buttonsPhysical buttons
Active Noise-CancellationYesYes
Transparency ModeYes, on/offYes, adjustable in app
Water-ResistanceNoNo
Battery Life20 hours20 hours / 40 hours using 3.5mm cable
Wireless ChargingNoneNone
AppiOSBose Connect App
Release DateDecember 15, 2020June 5, 2016

Design & Build

The AirPods Max has a sleeker and more simplistic all-metal design but is quite heavy compared to the Bose QC35’s all-plastic lightweight design

Apple AirPods Max (left) and the Bose QuietComfort 35 I (right)

Countless predictions were made about the design of the Apple AirPods Max before they were officially released. Some predictions were quite close to the actual thing and many were pretty far off. Because Apple owns Beats by Dre, a number of people assumed they would have a similar design and share a few hardware components, but this is not the case. Apple designed the AirPods Max from the ground up with an all-metal frame, anodized aluminum earcups, unique detachable and replaceable knit textile ear cushions, and a knit mesh headband cushion. The AirPods Max has a total of nine microphones around its earcups, a crown control wheel to control volume, play/pause and take and reject calls, an ANC and transparency button, and a Lightning charging port on the right earcup. The earcups are slightly larger than that of the Bose QC35’s, providing a more comfortable over-ear fit for people with larger ears. The sound seal, or passive noise-isolation, on these headphones also works great. 

Adjusting the AirPods Max is as simple as pulling and pushing on the metal telescope headband. It adjusts very smoothly without any clicking effect, but it is also firm enough that it won’t move while on your head. Although the AirPods Max has a very premium and robust feel to it, the earcups are also quite delicate. The smooth anodized aluminum is easily scuffed so you will want to keep it in its protective smart case when it’s not in use. Overall the headphones are very solidly built and look stunning in their sleek and simplistic design which, surprisingly, doesn’t have any Apple logo. You can get the AirPods Max in either silver, space gray, sky blue, pink, and green. One thing to note is that these headphones do not fold up into their case, so they hardly get a score for portability. 

The Bose QC35, one of Bose’s most popular over-ear headphones, comes in an all-plastic frame with very soft leatherette material on the ear cushions and headband. These headphones were designed to be lightweight but they don’t feel cheap on your hands. Everything looks like it’s been put together with precision and there are no creaking noises when you twist and bend the headband. On the right earcup, you get an on/off switch, three buttons for controlling volume, music, and calls, and a micro-USB charging port. On the left earcup is your 3.5mm jack that you can use if you opt to plug your headphones in instead of using Bluetooth, a feature missing on the AirPods Max. The earcups on the Bose QC35 can also be folded inward for portability and compact storage.

Comfort

The AirPods Max provide great comfort with memory foam ear cushions wrapped in knit textile but the Bose QC35 is more comfortable during prolonged use because of its light weight

The AirPods Max (left) and Bose QC35 (right) shown in use

The AirPods Max provide great comfort with their large knit mesh headband and acoustically engineered memory foam earpads wrapped in unique knit textile material. As we’ve mentioned, the earcups on these headphones are quite large, which provides more comfort especially for people with bigger ears. Because of the all-metal over-ear headphone design, the AirPods Max are quite heavy, weighing in at 13.5oz. With that much weight and the clamping pressure from an all-metal headband, these headphones might not be the most comfortable when using them for long hours, although they feel very comfortable when you first put them on. They also lack a proper cooling system and an eyeglasses groove.

The Bose QC35, on the other hand, weighs only 8.2oz with its lightweight plastic design. The headphones are really light and they don’t clamp hard on your head so you will almost forget they’re even there. The Bose QC35’s can be worn for long hours without any discomfort. This is in part thanks to its soft leatherette earpads. The Bose QC35’s also don’t come with a cooling system or eyeglasses groove, but their light weight is what gives them the edge in comfort over the AirPods Max.

Audio

The AirPods Max provide superior sound and call quality compared to the Bose QC35

AirPods Max (left) and Bose QC35 (right) shown in use

Sound

When it comes to sound quality, the AirPods Max and Bose QC35 both deliver really high-quality audio. The Bose QC35’s are known and loved for their crips details paired with powerful bass. However, the AirPods Max have superior sound. They deliver fuller and clearer audio at all levels. They also have better audio depth and separation. The AirPods Max sound better in all aspects compared to the QC35 and they are even spatial audio enabled with their built-in gyroscope and accelerometer. This means a more immersive sound experience when you’re watching films that support spatial audio. 

ANC & Transparency Mode

The AirPods Max uses eight of its nine microphones for active noise-cancellation, with three outward-facing microphones on each ear detecting noises in the environment and one inward-facing microphone in the earcups to monitor the sound reaching the listener’s ear. As you would expect, noise-cancellation on the AirPods Max works excellently, performing on par with the Bose QC35’s world-class ANC. 

Both sets of headphones also have transparency modes which allow sound from the environment to enter the earcups through the headphones’ microphones. The AirPods Max delivers a more natural transparency sound than the QC35, but the QC35 allows you to adjust the level of transparency on the Bose Connect App.

Call Quality

You can use both the Apple AirPods Max and Bose QC35 for calls. They allow you to answer, reject, and drop calls without ever touching your smartphone. When it comes to call quality, the AirPods Max take the win with much clearer sound. The Bose QC35, although quite close, doesn’t sound as natural as the AirPods Max.

Battery

Both pairs of headphones give you up to 20 hours of use on a single charge

AirPods Max (left) shown in its Smart Case, Bose QC35 (right) shows controls and indicator lights

The AirPods Max and Bose QC35 both hold 20 hours of listening time on a single charge with or without ANC or transparency mode on. The Bose headphones will give you 20 hours more of ANC or transparency when your headphones are plugged in with a 3.5mm cable. To save power on the QC35, you can turn off the headphones when they’re not in use by flipping the switch on the right earcup. The AirPods Max lack an on/off switch, but they do have an ultralow power state that can only be activated by putting the headphones into the supplied Smart Case or by leaving it idle for two hours.

Verdict

The AirPods Max are perfect for those already in the Apple ecosystem and are looking for headphones with superior quality sound and sleek aesthetics while the Bose QC35 are great for those who want a lightweight pair of headphones that have excellent sound quality and don’t break the bank

It is difficult to pick a winner between the Apple AirPods Max and Bose QC35 because of how different they are. The decision will depend on your needs and preferences. If you’re looking for a pair of wireless over-ear headphones with superior sound quality, a sleek and premium all-metal design, and if you’re already in the Apple ecosystem and you have some money to burn, the AirPods Max will be the best option for you. However, if you’re looking for a pair of headphones that have to be light and comfortable enough to be worn for long hours every day, and you don’t want to break the bank to get high-quality audio, you should go with the Bose QuietComfort 35.

FAQs

📌 Can I use the Apple AirPods Max with an Android device?

Yes, the Apple AirPods Max can work with most devices that have Bluetooth capabilities. The only downside is that you cannot customize controls on non-Apple devices and you won’t be able to use spatial audio.

📌 Can I use the Bose QC35 with my iPhone?

Yes, the Bose QC35 works with any device that has Bluetooth capabilities. The Bose Connet App is also available in the App Store for iOS devices.

📌 Are the AirPods Max water-resistant?

Unfortunately, the AirPods Max are not water-resistant. They are not suitable as workout headphones or for walking in the rain.

📌 When were the AirPods Max released?

December 15, 2020.

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Manolo Martinez

Senior Editor at Compare Before Buying. Writer and researcher passionate about music, film, and DIY projects.