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$549 AirPods Max: All the things you could buy instead of Apple's new headphones

Before you plunk down that kind of money on headphones, consider what else you could bring home.

apple-airpods-max-or-everything-else

One pair of pricey headphones or a mixture of other great loot. What's it gonna be?

Rick Broida/CNET

There's a headphone-shaped elephant in the room this week: Apple just announced the AirPods Max over-the-ear headphones, challenging the premium likes of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and the Sony WH-1000XM4. But if you thought the AirPods Pro were pricey at $249, get a load of this: The AirPods Max (with its much-mocked Smart Case) will run you $549.

Worth it? I guess that remains to be seen, as the new headphones won't arrive until Dec. 15. CNET audio expert David Carnoy was eager to get his hands on them (or his ears in them), noting the benefits of features like spatial audio and transparency mode. Here are his hands-on first impressions of the AirPods Max. Certainly there are audiophiles out there willing to pay this kind of money for fancy headphones -- though I'm not one of them. Not even close.

Indeed, I can't help thinking what else I could buy with $549. So, pretending I found exactly that amount in my couch cushions, I put together this list.

Sony WH-1000XM4 + Apple AirPods Pro + 6 months of HBO Max = $547

This is my favorite option by far, because you're not only getting top-rated over-the-ear headphones, but also top-rated earbuds and half a year of streaming goodness. (Wonder Woman 1984, anyone?)


Oculus Quest 2 + Nintendo Switch Lite + Anker Soundcore Life Q20 = $543

The Quest 2 is hard to come by right now -- unsurprising given what an utterly awesome VR console it is -- but the upshot here is that for a bit less than $549, you could buy two great gaming platforms and a set of over-the-ear headphones with ANC (one that made CNET's list of the best noise-canceling headphones under $100).


Google Pixel 4A + Beats Solo Pro + 1 year of Disney Plus + Ember Mug 2 + Oxo Brew Single Serve Coffee Dripper = $552

Visible's phone deal includes not only a slightly discounted Pixel 4A, but also the highly regarded Beats Solo Pro over-the-ear headphones with ANC -- a $300 value. Then, just for fun, I tossed in my beloved Ember Mug (crazy-pricey but, hey, we're splurging here) and Oxo's great pour-over gizmo to go with it. The total comes to just a few bucks more than the AirPods Max.


7 Amazon Echo smart speakers + Aukey EP-N5 true wireless earbuds = $535

The new-for-2020 Echo is still marked down to Black Friday pricing, so you might as well put one in every room of the house (that's right, bathrooms too!) And because sometimes you just want a little peace and quiet, Aukey's earbuds are an AirPods Pro alternative that's pretty darn good for the price. They normally run $60, but an on-page coupon knocks 25% off.


OK, those are just a few ways to blow $549. How would you spend that cash?

Now playing: Watch this: AirPods Max hands-on: New noise-canceling king
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