Apple AirPods Max Quick Review
The Apple AirPods Max was rumored for two years and was the most highly awaited headphones of 2020.
Expectations were high for Apple’s first over-ear headphones, especially after the success of the Apple AirPods and AirPods Pro, the world’s most recognizable wireless earbuds.
There have been reports about the AirPods Max being the most modern wireless headphones ever produced, with futuristic features like air motions that don’t require you to touch the headphones.
Who would have justified the $549 / £549 / AU$899 price tag for the AirPods Max if they had those game-changing features?
In actuality, the Apple AirPods Max is more average than many imagined, despite their exceptional audio quality and excellent quality of life features for Apple fans.
Let’s start with the positives: the AirPods Max sounds fantastic. There is no doubt that they can compete with the Sony WH-1000XM4 in this area.
The AirPods Max exposes details in your favorite songs that you may not have noticed previously, which is the mark of a great pair of headphones.
The active noise canceling rivals the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700. Transparency mode is invaluable when you need to scan your surroundings swiftly.
Apple’s design, however contentious, is a victory. The AirPods Max is an undeniable ‘Apple,’ with their enormous, flat ear cups made of stainless steel.
The stainless steel construction makes the AirPods Max feel more luxurious than the Sony WH-1000XM4, mostly plastic. The AirPods Max contains a mesh headband to alleviate strain on your head during usage. Still, their density means they may not be suitable for those who are sensitive to on-head pressure.
The tactile controls are a nice change from the trendy swiping controls that most wireless headphones seem to favor these days. We like the return of the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown, which allows you to manage volume and audio playing effortlessly.
The AirPods Max, like all Apple goods, work. Apple has rejected technologies like swipe controls that it deems unsuitable for its devices to stay up with the competition.
Removing a 3.5mm audio connector means you’ll need to buy a USB-C to 3.5mm audio port converter to listen to music wired or connect the AirPods Max to an amp or DAC. Suppose Apple intends to promote them as luxury headphones. In that case, the inability to use them with an amp right out of the box is problematic.
The absence of compatibility for Hi-Res Audio codecs, which is confined to Apple’s proprietary Apple Digital Masters, will further annoy audiophiles.
So, who are the Apple AirPods Max for? Despite their high price and excellent sound quality. They aren’t aimed towards audiophiles who seek to squeeze every last drop of audio fidelity from their headphones using Hi-Res Audio codecs and amplifiers.
The AirPods Max isn’t a mass-market product either, since many casual music listeners won’t pay that much for a set of noise-canceling headphones.
We’ve concluded that the AirPods Max is geared directly at Apple fans; individuals who already own an iPhone often use Siri and possibly own a pair of AirPods.
For Android users, the AirPods Max is just a high-performance set of noise-canceling headphones with a distinctive style – and the premium price isn’t warranted for these consumers.
If you’re an Apple fan, have a lot of cash to burn, and don’t care about Hi-Res Audio, you won’t find better-sounding or easier-to-use headphones than the AirPods Max.
Apple AirPods Max: Price and Release Date
The Apple AirPods Max retailed at $549 (£549) and was introduced on December 15, 2020.
That makes the AirPods Max significantly more costly than many of the best over-ear headphones on the market, including our current pick, the Sony WH-1000XM4.
The AirPods Max is starting to get excellent discounts a year after their introduction, so you’ll likely find them cheaper than their initial RRP.
Apple may develop a less expensive, sports-friendly version of the AirPods Max, but even then, expect them to be costly.
Apple AirPods Max: Design
The Apple AirPods Max is unlike any other headphones on the market right now, with broad flat stainless steel ear cups and an instantly identifiable carrying case.
The ear cups have an unmistakable ‘Apple’ quality. Some call them attractively simple, while others call them featureless. AirPods Max is available in silver, sky blue, green, and pink colors for those seeking a bit of extra impact from their headphones.
Those stainless-steel ear cups make the AirPods Max weighty at 385g, compared to the Sony WH-1000XM4’s 254g. Sure, the increased mass makes the AirPods Max seem more solid and well-made, but it’s a lot of weight to wear all day.
The Apple AirPods Max comes with a knitted mesh headband that’s supposed to lessen on-head pressure. Despite their relative heft, the AirPods Max is surprisingly pleasant to wear.
Is the Sony WH-1000XM4 as comfortable? However, unlike sure over-ear headphones, the AirPods Max doesn’t give the painful clamping sensation that some over-ear headphones do.
The stainless steel headband frame has telescoping arms that may be adjusted to get a suitable fit. They stay in position once adjusted, so no more messing with the fit. The frame is firm but not hefty enough to put pressure on your head.
The memory foam ear cups are very soft and can rotate to fit your head. Replacement ear cups for the AirPods Max are available for $69 / £75 / $99 from the Apple Store.
However, Apple has reintroduced the Digital Crown dial from the Apple Watch. Which it claims allows precise volume control, play/pause audio, skip songs, answer/end calls, and activate Siri.
You may control the level by turning the right ear cup’s dial or by pressing once to play/pause music, twice to answer/end phone calls, and three times to skip backward.
Compared to a button or swipe control, a dial changes the volume more accurately. We’re glad Apple didn’t go with touch-sensitive housings; they’re demanding and difficult to memorize all the different motions.
The right ear cup also has a noise control button that lets you choose between active noise canceling and Transparency Mode. Some ambient sounds pass through, and a charging Apple Lightning connector is at the bottom.
A 3.5mm audio port is absent. You’ll need a $35 / £35 (about AU$45) Lighting to 3.5mm audio adapter to listen through wired.
When you pay $549 / £549 / AU$899 for a set of headphones, you could reasonably expect to be able to connect them into an amplifier or DAC. Wring out every last drop of quality straight out of the box.
That isn’t the case with the AirPods Max’s Smart Case, which puts the headphones in an “ultralow power mode” while not in use, conserving battery life.
Twitter users have compared the Smart Case to a bra, a sleeping mask, and a purse, and we can’t blame them.
That design wouldn’t be so bad if the case protects your headphones. Instead, the Smart Case exposes the AirPods Max’s headband. While an aperture at the bottom allows them to be charged without being removed, it exposes them to debris.
A bag or smudge on the rubberized surface of the Smart Case will destroy the clean look you get immediately out of the box. Again, we’d expect more from Apple; a hard case with a zip would give significantly more protection and peace of mind.
Apple AirPods Max: Audio Quality
The Apple AirPods Max provides exceptional audio quality. They have a large, balanced soundstage that allows each instrument to shine, with intriguing features like automatic pause when you remove the headphones and Spatial Audio.
Listening to Phoebe Bridgers’ Garden Song, the AirPods Max painstakingly transmitted every aspect of her gentle singing. I like the quality of the glitchy plucked guitar and the feeling of rhythm and sonic separation.
The glockenspiel was vibrant on The Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way, and the precise bass created a sturdy foundation for the guitar and vocals. The headphones’ neodymium ring magnet motor, which drives its 40mm speakers, kept distortion at bay when we pushed up the volume.
The AirPods Max is perfect for listening to the music of many genres, including classical music, unlike the AirPods Pro. The noisy start of Mozart’s Jupiter sounded spacious and decadent, while what handled the gentler flute parts softly and precisely.
Despite the AirPods Max’s premium price, Hi-Res Audio functionality is confined to Apple’s own Apple Digital Masters recordings, exclusively accessible via Apple Music. The absence of lossless streaming support is regrettable given that Apple Music supports Lossless Audio, and we’d expect broad codec compatibility at this pricing.
Apple AirPods Max: 3D Audio
The Apple H1 microprocessor in each ear cup, included in the AirPods and AirPods Pro, allows for Adaptive EQ, active noise cancellation, Transparency mode, and Spatial Audio.
Spatial Audio is a new iOS 14 that works with 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos content to place sound all around you in a virtual sphere.
To test it out, discover video in the surround as mentioned above formats — Apple TV Plus, Disney Plus, and HBO Max all support Spatial Audio. At the same time, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have yet to add it to their iOS applications.
Using the AirPods Max or AirPods Pro, you can convert stereo content to Spatial Audio by entering your device’s headphones’ settings.
We used the AirPods Max’s Spatial Audio function with Apple TV Plus material and found it quite successful. It’s not quite as immersive as an actual Dolby Atmos setup. Still, it’s an excellent addition for folks who watch a lot of TV episodes and movies on their iPhone or iPad.
Apple AirPods Max: Noise Reduction
The Apple AirPods Max provides excellent noise cancellation, comparable to the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700.
Apple claims the AirPods Max employs computational audio to continually adjust noise reduction effectiveness depending on “headphone fit and movement in real time.” We found them beneficial in a variety of scenarios.
We couldn’t hear the train rumble since our music was playing. Use the AirPods Max in noisy situations like the kitchen or a bustling commute to obtain a sense of tranquility.
Transparency mode allows you to tap into your surroundings by allowing ambient noise to seep through the headphones.
It’s helpful if you need to talk to someone without stopping your music, and it performed well in our tests, making it feel like you’re not wearing headphones at all.
Apple AirPods Max: Battery Life and Connectivity
Apple claims the AirPods Max delivers up to 20 hours of high-fidelity audio conversation time. Movie playback with activated Active Noise Cancellation.
The most incredible over-ear headphones have approximately 30 hours of battery life. Still, many excellent versions only have around 20 – adequate for a whole day or two, depending on how attached they are to your ears.
We enjoy the idea that the Smart Case puts the headphones in low power mode, but the inability to truly switch off the AirPods Max puzzles us. Leaving them in the Smart Case overnight didn’t seem to affect battery life much.
You shouldn’t lose your connection if you walk away from your source device by more than 800 feet/420 meters or install numerous solid barriers between the AirPods Max and your phone.
While the AirPods Max will operate with Android and Windows devices, you won’t be able to enjoy Spatial Audio or Automatic Switching without one of the Apple as mentioned above devices.
Automatic Switching allows you to seamlessly switch between iPhone, iPad, and Mac while listening to music or making calls. A one-tap setup will enable you to get up and running with your new cans quickly. Both Android and iOS devices install easily, while iPhone users benefit from selecting Spatial Audio and other control settings.
You can now transfer audio between two AirPods from any Apple device, including the Apple TV 4K and iPod Touch. So you and a friend may listen to the same music.
So you can play music, make calls, control the volume and obtain directions using voice commands when you’re out and about using Apple’s intelligent assistant Siri. For those who don’t want to retrieve their phones out of their pockets, bags, or anywhere, Siri can read their incoming messages.
Apple has added a new function to the AirPods Max: Conversation Boost. When in transparency mode, this function amplifies the loudness of talks in front of the user. While everybody can benefit, it is beneficial for the deaf.
Like the AirPods Max, these features are only available on iOS devices, so Android users won’t be able to use many of their advantages.
- Incredible audio performance
- Incredible user experience
- Excellent new features for iOS
- Surpassing noise cancellation
- 3.5 mm audio port
- Short features for Android
Apple AirPods Max: VERDICT
The Apple AirPods Max sound great, are simple to use, and their noise cancellation beats the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700. We’d only suggest them to iOS users who have a lot of money to burn — and don’t care about Hi-Res Audio.