facebookAffordable Apple AirPod Max Alternatives: Best Wireless Headphones With Noise Cancellation Under S$549
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Affordable Apple AirPod Max Alternatives: Best Wireless Headphones With Noise Cancellation Under S$549

profileJoel Koh
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Whether you love or hate Apple Inc’s (NASDAQ: AAPL), you got to admire the company’s ability to influence technology trends.

It was not too long ago that Apple came under fire for removing the headphone jack with the iPhone 7.

The company then released the AirPods and we began to see the widespread adoption of Bluetooth earphones.

And now Apple is trying again, having just announced the AirPods Max: a pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones with an over-ear design.

Source: Apple

The new headphones from Apple are the first time the company is making headphones.

But, as usual, these Apple products do not come cheap as the AirPods Max retails for a whopping S$849 (US$549).

If you are not willing to pay so much for a pair of headphones but still want the convenience and sound quality a pair of good headphones can deliver; we got you!

Here are five affordable over the ear wireless headphones with active noise-cancelling (ANC) under S$549 for you to consider!

Do note that information is accurate as of 9 December 2020. Product prices and promotions are subject to change without prior notice. 


TL;DR: Best Wireless Headphones in Singapore With Noise Cancellation Under S$549

HeadphonePrice (SGD)USB ConnectionBluetooth VersionBluetooth Codec
Mpow H21$82.11Micro-USBBluetooth 5.0SBC
Anker Soundcore Life Q20$149.90Micro-USBBluetooth 5.0SBC | AAC
Bose QuietComfort 35 IIS$299.99USB-CBluetooth 4.1SBC | AAC
Sony WH-1000XM4S$439USB-CBluetooth 5.0SBC | AAC | LDAC
Sennheiser Momentum 3 WirelessS$539USB-CBluetooth 5.0AptX | AptX Low Latency | AAC

But before we begin, here is a quick guide on how to shop for wireless headphones.

There are five qualities I look for when I shop for headphones or earphones.

I will also be using these five qualities to curate this list of over-ear ANC headphones.

1. Sound Quality

The first quality I look at is the sound quality.

Although the sound you may like is subjective, there are a few objective metrics that you can use to evaluate headphones.

In general, People judge sound quality in headphones on their ability to accurately reproduce audio as it was intended by the engineer or producer.

An ideal headphone should be able to produce a consistent sound and response regardless of the user’s head/ear shape or where the headphone is positioned.

The next thing to consider is the headphone’s ability to produce bass (low frequency sounds like drums and bass instruments), mid-tones (tones like vocals) and treble (high-frequency tones like some vocals and the higher registers of instruments).

Good accurately reproduced bass does not muddy up or overwhelm the mid-tones or treble.

In other words, you can distinctly hear the separation between bass and the other tones.

This can add quite a bit of excitement to the song.

Mid tones are arguably the most important frequency section, as this is the section which has the most frequencies audible to the human ear,

Bad mid-tones will make the vocals or instruments sound thin, far away and/or clustered.

For treble, a good pair of headphones will allow you to hear the detail and brilliance of the higher-pitched vocals and instruments.

The song will sound more sparkly and bright.

The soundstage is also important.

A pair of headphones with good soundstage will be able to give the feeling that the sound is coming from outside the headphone and not limited to your head.

In other words, headphones with good soundstage will sound more like speakers in your room rather than just headphones.

2. Sound Signatures Explained

Source: Headphone Zone

Although some headphones are objectively better, listening to music is a subjective experience.

There are some sound signatures as described above that you may prefer as a listener.

This is why you should always try and listen to headphones before buying them.

3. Bluetooth Connection

The Bluetooth connection also affects sound quality.

You should look for Bluetooth headphones that support the latest Bluetooth 5.0 for better range and better battery life.

The Bluetooth codes are also important as they affect the amount of audio information a pair of headphones can stream from the phone to the headphone. This in turn affects the sound quality.

You should get earphones with support at least the AAC, AptX codecs.

Another thing to look out for is latency. A Bluetooth headphone with bad latency can really affect the listening experience.

For the uninitiated, latency refers to the tiny delay between an audio signal being sent and to the point where you can hear it.

Although you cannot hear latency much when listening to music, it is a lot more obvious when you are watching videos on YouTube or playing mobile games.

4. Comfort And Ease of Use

Comfort is pretty self-explanatory. But the ideal pair of headphones should feel like it’s not there.

The clamping force of the headphones should also not be too tight to cause discomfort.

As for east of use, the headphones should be easy to use and not make you want to tear your hair out.

Features to look out for include easy pairing with your device and intuitive controls.

5. Battery Life

Another vital thing to look out for is battery life.

After all, the headphone will be useless if it’s dead.

With that out of the way, here are some of the best alternatives to the AirPods Max under S$549.

Why S$549? Not only is this price the same as the Apple AirPod Max in USD, but I also don’t believe in spending too much on headphones because of the law of marginal diminishing returns.

This applies to the sound quality of headphones as once some optimal level of quality is reached, any additional improvements will actually result in smaller increases in sound quality.

Take headphones for example.

You could spend a few thousand dollars to get the absolute best pair of wireless headphones.

However, I’m pretty confident we can get about 90 per cent of the performance for something around S$500.

1. Mpow H21 (S$82.11)

First up we have the Mpow H21, one of the best headphones Mpow has to offer.

Source: Headfonics

The Mpow H21 is a closed-back over the ear wireless headphone with ANC.

Sound

For just S$82.11, you get clear treble, punchy bass and smooth mids which are decent for this price.

However, the headphone slightly emphasises the mid-tones, with the treble being slightly recessed.

Despite this, the H21 still has a rather coherent and warm sound signature.

Noise Cancellation

Also, there is a pretty decent level of noise cancellation (32dB) from the headphones.

This level of noise cancellation means it can ‘cancel’ background noise by 32dB in a noisy an MRT train, bus, traffic and more.

Call quality is good too with support for Qualcomm’s cVc 6.0 (clear Voice capture) technology; which uses a set of noise reduction algorithms built into the microphone to reduce ambient sound to the listener (and enhance the voice of the caller) at the other end of a call.

Comfort

In terms of comfort and build quality, the H21s have soft memory foam earcups and breathable padding.

The 90° flexible rotatable design gives extra comfort and will help in achieving a better seal.

The adjustable headband with minimal clamping force offers a great wearing experience that is suited for most head sizes.

Bluetooth

However one of the main drawbacks at this price is that the H21s use the sub-band coding (SBC) codec over Bluetooth v5.0.

Although it does not have any of the fancy APTx, AAC, or LDAC codecs that are available today, the connection you get is still easy and convenient.

Latency might be an issue, as SBC is rated at 173ms. This may mean that the H21 might not be the best for gaming or watching with videos.

Audio quality is also hampered, as streaming hi-res audio above 328kpbs will not be possible.

Battery Life

Battery life is rated by Mpow for 40 hours on a single charge in ANC mode and 60 hours with ANC turned off which is pretty insane for a pair of wireless headphones.

However, you can only charge these headphones with a micro-USB cable.

Warranty

2 Months local warranty.
Where to Buy

You can buy these headphones on Mpow’s official ShopeeMall store here.

2. Anker Soundcore Life Q20: (S$149.90)

Moving up the price range, we have the Anker Soundcore Life Q20 which comes in silver and black.
Source: Amazon
Ben Patterson/IDG

The Q20 is a closed-back over the ear wireless headphone with ANC.

Sound

For just S$149.90, you can a rich lifelike sound that is surprisingly good for the price.

The headphone has a very typical V-shaped sound signature that emphasises the bass and the treble with recessed mids.

This makes the headphones good for pop and rock.

Noise Cancellation

Also, there is a pretty decent level of noise cancellation from the headphones that block out speech well. But the headphone does not do too well with the rumble of bus and plane engines.

Comfort

In terms of comfort and build quality, the Q20’s are quite lightweight and have comfy memory foam ear cups with breathable padding.

The 90° flexible rotatable design gives extra comfort and will help in achieving a better seal.

The headband is also smaller, which means that people with smaller heads need not worry about fit.

Bluetooth

The Q20s support the Advanced Audio Coding (AAC) and SBC codecs over Bluetooth v5.0.

However, it does not have any of the fancy APTx, AAC, or LDAC codecs that are available today – the sound you get should be still pretty decent.

Battery Life

Battery life is rated by Anker at 30 hours on a single charge with ANC turned on, and 60 hours with ANC turned off.

However, you can only charge these headphones with a micro-USB cable.

This is above average for a pair of wireless headphones with ANC.

Warranty

12 Months local warranty.
Where to Buy

You can buy these headphones on Anker’s official ShopeeMall store here.

Alternatively, you can check out their Tech House stores:

  • 1. 02-19 Tampines 1
  • 2. 03-21/22 Jurong Point (near Starbucks)
  • 3. 03- K02 Causeway Point (in front of M1)
  • 4. 03-18 Compass One
  • 5. B1-128 Northpoint City South Wing
  • 6. 02-216A VivoCity (Next To Singtel & M1)
  • 7. 02-K4 Parkway Parade (in front of M1)
  • 8. B1-31A Plaza Singapura

3. Bose QuietComfort 35 II (S$299.99)

This list of some of the best wireless ANC headphones would not be complete without an entry from Bose.

For the uninitiated, Bose were one of the first companies to release noise-cancelling headphones. As such, the Bose QC 35 II is an evolution of the Bose legacy.

Source: Bose

The headphones come in silver and black and have a button that summons the Google Assitant or Amazon’s Alexa.

This means that you can control your phone just with your voice.

Soundwise, the Sonys and Sennheisers of the world might sound better.

But if you want a super dependable pair of ANC headphones, the QC 35 II is the dependable workhorse to get.

Sound

For S$300, you can get classic Bose sound which is detailed and entertaining.

The headphone has a fairly neutral and flat sound signature that does not place emphasis on any of the frequencies.

This is good as you can always equalise your headphones in your phone to adjust the sound to suit your taste.

Noise Cancellation

Noise-cancelling is among the best in class, as you can toggle the active noise cancelling between three levels: high, low, or off.

Comfort

In terms of comfort and build quality, the QC 35 II has a reputation for being one of the most comfortable pairs of headphones on the market.

Users report that they can wear these earphones for hours without fatigue or much discomfort around their ears.

Bluetooth

The QC 35 II uses the AAC codec over Bluetooth v4.1 which is a bit of a bummer at this price.

However, it does not have any of the fancy AptX, AAC, or LDAC codecs that are available today, the sound you get should be still pretty decent.

Battery Life

Battery life is rated by Bose at 20 hours on a single charge with ANC turned on.

This is rather average for a pair of wireless headphones with ANC. But the good thing is, you can charge the headphones over USB C.

We know, there’s also the newer Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. 

But the 700 retails for a good $200 more and is not too different in terms of sound quality and noise cancellation.

Warranty

12 Months local warranty.
Where to Buy

You can buy the Bose QC 35 II here.

4. Sony WH-1000XM4 (S$439)

Next up we have the challenger to Bose’s crown: the Sony WH-1000XM4 that comes in black and silver.

Source: Sony

The Sony WH-1000XM4 is the successor to the widely successful Sony WH-1000XM3.

The headphones deliver great sound quality and superb noise cancellation in a light, comfortable and stylish designed package.

Even though the design remains largely unchanged from the Sony WH-1000XM3, the headphone has exciting new features like:

  • Multipoint pairing (connect multiple Bluetooth devices)
  • DSEE Extreme upscaling (scales up the quality of music)
  • Conversational awareness and auto-play/pause using a built-in sensor
  • Improved noise cancellation.
Sound

In terms of sound, there is not much difference between the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the older WH-1000XM3.

This is because Sony is using the same 40mm drivers in the WH-1000XM4 as it had in the WH-1000XM3, so tonally and in terms of mix, there’s not much to separate the WH-1000XM4 from the WH-1000XM3 headphones that preceded them.

It’s a warm and balanced sound that does well to offer a wide soundstage when required and detail that can pierce through a powerful bass performance.

Noise Cancellation

Noise-cancelling is arguably the best amongst noise-cancelling headphones due to its Sony QNe1 processor that continuously samples audio to dynamically adjust the level of noise cancellation.

Comfort

In terms of comfort and build quality, the WH-1000XM4 supports a premium plastic build with soft pleather padding.

The headphone also remains super comfortable to wear for long hours without fatigue or much discomfort around their ears.

Bluetooth

The WH-1000XM4 uses the SBC, AAC, and proprietary high res Sony LDAC codec over Bluetooth v5.0.

However, it does not have any of the fancy AptX codecs.

Battery Life

Battery life is rated by Sony for 30 hours on a single charge in ANC mode and 38 hours with ANC turned off which is slightly above average.

The good thing about this headphone is that you can charge over USB C.

Warranty

12 Months local warranty.
Where to Buy

You can buy the Sony WH-1000XM4 here.

If you can live without the new features, the Sony WH-1000XM3 is a really good deal at S$299. You can get it here.

5. Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless (S$539)

Last but not least we have the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless headphones which come in Black and Sandy White.

Source: Sennheiser
Sound

In many comparisons, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless is neck and neck with Sony’s WH-1000XM3, with some preferring the Sennheiser headphones.

The headphones produce a superb sound with high levels of detail, warm bass, and natural-sounding highs.

The sound signature is largely neutral with a big bass emphasis. But, the bass quality and quantity is top-notch.

Noise Cancellation

The customizable noise cancellation on offer here is also good, but it doesn’t quite reach the class-leading standards set by the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless headphones.

Comfort

Sennheiser uses genuine leather for the headband and covering for the memory foam cups which rotate and rest comfortably on your ears.

The premium materials make it more comfortable as a result.

Build quality is also fantastic and the headphone looks super stylish.

Bluetooth

The Momentum 3 supports SBC, AptX™, AptX Low Latency, AAC over Bluetooth 5.0.

This wide array of codecs allow the headphone to support high-quality wireless streaming.

Battery Life

However, battery life is rated by Sennheiser for 17 hours on a single charge in ANC mode which is decidedly average.

The good thing about this headphone is that you can charge over USB C.

This pair of headphones should be bought only if you are very particular about sound quality.

Warranty

2 years local warranty.
Where to Buy

You can buy the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless here.

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About Joel Koh
History student turned writer at Seedly. Before you ask, not a teacher. My time as a history student has equipped me with the skills to evaluate the impact societal development has on financial and nonfinancial events.
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