When Apple released the AirPods Max, they weren’t exactly kept under wraps. Rumors have been circulating since 2018 that Apple is working on a pair of high-end over-ear headphones. Actually, we had a very good idea of how they would look and function. It was a low-key December reveal, but Apple nevertheless managed to surprise us with a press release announcement of the $549 headphones. After a week of testing, I can tell you that the AirPods Max are intriguing, but they aren’t the headphones for the majority of people.
When the first images of the “AirPods Studio” surfaced, I was a little skeptical. As it turns out, there’s a considerable gap between renderings and the real world. Finally, the AirPods Max look and sound premium. Five fashionable colors to match your iPhone are included in the design, which is made of aluminum and metal. The design of the AirPods Max is exactly what you’d expect from a pair of Apple headphones. ‘ As a result, it’s a good thing.
It looks like a MacBook with a set of earcups. All of them are made of metal with a tint to match the headband color. In order to keep out the outside world, memory foam cushions are placed inside of the earphones. Apple will offer you a new pair of magnetic earbuds for $69 if you need a replacement. Even though I’m not sure how often you’ll need to change them out, several reviewers have observed that the white variety seems dirty after a few weeks of use.
To help distribute the weight, the headband is substantially wider than conventional headphones. Breathable mesh is used to cover the metal frame, making it both comfortable and easy to use. Telescoping arms on the headband and earcups allow you to fine-tune the fit. It also features a swiveling and pivoting cup to fit your head.
The weight of the AirPods Max is one of the most startling aspects of the device. The WH-1000XM4 from Sony weighs in at just under 385 grams, more than 130 grams more. But the weight isn’t really an issue, which is surprising. Despite this, they seem to be quite content. Memory foam-coated earcups make these headphones a little less comfortable than other headphones I’ve tried, and I can feel the earcups’ rings after only a few minutes (and my big head). Nonetheless, that was the only cause of discomfort, and it had nothing whatever to do with weight loss.
Like the Apple Watch, the on-board controls were implemented using a spinning crown. To modify volume, it may be turned to the left or right, and a variety of buttons can be used to control audio and calls. Active noise cancellation (ANC) and transparency mode are also available via distinct buttons on the headset. On the right earcup is a pair of controls that are separated by the headband. Moreover, they’re a pleasure to work with. These settings are the simplest and most effective I’ve ever used on headphones, despite my first skepticism. An easy-to-use interface makes it possible to pause or turn on ambient sound with ease. The AirPods Max have only two buttons. In addition, there is neither power button or 3.5mm headphone jack on the device. Using a Lightning cable to connect is the only option if you’d rather not use an adapter.
Automatic wear detection was also added by Apple. Remove the AirPods Max from your head, and they will also stop when you raise one of the headphones off of your ear. A low-power mode is activated when the headphones are not in use for an extended length of time.
“Case” is the final word. On the AirPods Max, Apple made some baffling selections, but the Smart Case is among the worst. First and foremost, it does not adequately secure your investment of $549. The headband and the earcups’ edges are entirely exposed. It’s only a matter of time before these get scuffed up if you toss them in a bag. Leaving the Lightning port open so that the headphones may be charged is convenient, but an attachment that really protects your equipment would be even better. For some reason, it looks like Apple merely ripped apart old iPad cases to make this.
The Max does not have a companion app like regular AirPods. iOS includes everything you need in terms of software. Update to 14.3 in order to use these (You’ll need to do this). From the Bluetooth menu, hit the I icon next to the name of the device and you’ll see all of the adjustable options. By adding “off,” you can make the ANC button’s functionality “neither ANC nor transparency” if you choose. You can also manually modify the noise control (ANC, off, transparency). In Regulate Center, you may control volume, noise, and spatial audio as well. The rotation of the digital crown can also be changed from front to rear or back to front, if desired. In addition to disabling head detection and spatial audio, Apple will let you to disable automatic connection to your iPhone in this section. With the AirPods Pro, you get most of this.
The absence of a custom EQ is evident. Presets provided by Apple in the Apple Music settings are not very good. In my opinion, the default setting for the AirPods Max is the best. To compensate for changes in fit and earcup seal, they contain an adaptive EQ system that use “sophisticated software” and “computational audio” technology.
Even if you don’t possess an iPhone, you still have access to all of AirPods’ convenient features. Siri’s hands-free interactions and automatic device pairing are included in this feature. All this is possible because to Apple’s H1 headphone chip, which makes the initial setup process a breeze.
The AirPods Max can theoretically be used with Android devices. But if you do, you’ll lose a lot of the key features, such as spatial audio. That’s why I think you’d be better off with a set of headphones that aren’t tied to a specific operating system.
AirPods Max is the best option if you desire a more “natural” sound from your headphones. However, Apple’s adjustable EQ isn’t overbearing. The WH-1000XM3’s more bass-forward acoustics may be preferred by some, but in my opinion, the firm has done an excellent job here. Many music genres can be played via it, and the natural profile lets the finer elements shine through with a clear, airy sound.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of low-end tone available if you’re looking for it. “Knife Prty” by Deftones is an excellent example of this. Despite its prominence in the entire soundscape, bass is not overwhelming in its presence. In addition to being loud, you also receive a hint of atmosphere. Com Truise’s In Decay, Too’s thumping drum machines and O’Brother’s You and I’s droning guitars and bass are examples of this. With acoustic music like bluegrass, the AirPods Max are perfect for keeping the sound big and open.
In spite of the exceptional quality of their recordings, Apple does not provide any high-resolution streaming options. You’ll get the same AAC (256kbps) quality from Apple Music that you’ve been getting so far. For example, Amazon Music or Tidal both feature a high-resolution or lossless tier. If you’re willing to fork up a little more money, you can have access to Dolby Atmos Music and Sony 360 Reality audio. Sony’s wireless headphones have LDAC technology, which upscales music to CD-quality. If Apple doesn’t want to provide additional content and a more expensive membership to its service, it could do something like that with the AirPods Max. It would only be possible if these headphones are capable of it. When it comes to listening to high-resolution music, these new headphones offer some untapped promise. Although you can use them with other services and formats, the AirPods Max only officially support Dolby Atmos for listening experiences that go above and beyond standard.
Spatial audio was first introduced on the AirPods Pro in September by Apple, and it is now available on the AirPods Max. Because of this, the sound will remain stable while you move around thanks to accelerometers in the headphones working with your iPhone or iPad. For content recorded in 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos, it aims to replicate the experience of a home theater. However, it is currently only compatible with Apple devices. It is possible to use AirPods Max with Apple TV, but the sound quality will be limited due to the lack of spatial audio on the set-top box. The AirPods Max would be a great addition to the living room if the business could achieve the immersive audio quality of Dolby’s Dimension headphones.
When it comes to the AirPods Max, Apple doesn’t supply a wire with the device. In order to utilize the headphones, you’ll need to use a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter on the other end. As a result, you’ll have to cough up an additional $35. It costs $584 to use the AirPods Max for in-flight entertainment when you travel again. Travel is when I need noise-cancelling headphones the most, and most of the competition includes a cord in the box. If I pay over $550 for a pair, I expect to be able to use them while traveling.
The AirPods Max’s noise-cancellation capabilities are excellent. In general, ANC headphones perform better when they are exposed to a steady stream of noise, and this is true here. Things like Zoom calls were still audible even with these on, despite the fact that I had them on. Not as good as Bose and Sony, but not bad either. Additionally, the AirPods Max’s transparency mode is fantastic. It’s almost as if you’re not wearing headphones when the music is halted and that option is enabled. Transparency mode typically results in slightly muted audio. And it’s good that it’s not the case here! When we were having a short talk, I didn’t feel the need to speak louder or yell.
Apple claims a battery life of up to 20 hours on a single charge. When ANC and spatial audio are turned on, the results are as follows. Indeed, I was able to meet my goal. Over the course of a week, I only had to charge the AirPods Max once or twice a day. In part, it’s due of the company’s usage of low-power modes.
Unless the battery is entirely gone, the headphones will not switch off. They go into low-power mode after five minutes of inactivity. A “reduced power mode” will be activated if they are left outside of the case for more than 72 hours. The low-power mode is activated as soon as you place the AirPods Max in the case. After 18 hours in this “reduced power mode,” the headphones shut down. Only if you’re going to be leaving the headphones unattended for a long period of time will you notice a difference in battery saving. Putting the AirPods Max in the case immediately saved me only one or two percent over the course of a two- or three-hour break.
However, the outcomes speak for themselves. This feature is a huge time-saver. They are ready to use as soon as you put them on your head since they are always connected. Apple-style nixing of the power button left me wishing I could just turn them off and know that they were off. At the same time, it was lovely to be able to simply grab them and go. Connectivity and ease of use are definitely top priorities for Apple.
There’s also a five-minute quick-charging feature that will allow you to listen to an hour and a half of music. In the event of an emergency, you’ll have this at hand.
The AirPods Max cost $549, and there’s no disputing that. If you want to call it a “Apple tax,” so be it, but the fact of the matter is that Apple has built a high-end wireless headset. Is this a viable alternative for most people? Definitely not. It’s not that far off when businesses such as Master & Dynamic are selling high-quality noise-cancelling headphones for $499. As of this writing, Apple is reporting ship dates of mid-February for the new iPad Pro, which indicates a shortage of supplies. Other merchants, such as Best Buy, frequently run out of stock of the AirPods Max. However, for the time being, they can be found there.
As an AirPods Max substitute, I really enjoy Master & Dynamic’s MW65 ($499). It is possible that some will favor M&D’s design, which incorporates luxury materials such as aluminum and leather. The MW65’s tone is likewise quite natural, with no overt tweaking. Plus, these are now on sale for $400, which is a savings of $150 over the AirPods Max.
Of course, Sony’s WH-1000XM4 headphones remain the greatest all-around option. Plus, these have more bass than the AirPod Max and you can adjust the ANC. The 1000XM4 can also automatically modify noise cancelling and other settings according on your activity or location if you wish them to (you have to give the app permission to track you for the latter). Ultimately, Sony’s combination of sound quality and ANC performance, battery life (up to 30 hours), comfort, and customizability is unbeatable. As a bonus, these are $200 cheaper than AirPods Max at full retail pricing. They’re now on sale for $278.
Finally, if noise-cancelling performance is your major concern, the Bose 700 is another alternative. Prior to Sony’s 1000X range, the firm was the most popular choice for ANC headphones. While no longer king, it hasn’t lost a beat. Noise-cancelling and sound quality are both strong points of the 700’s design. They’ve also been given a facelift, so they no longer look like a dad on a business trip. The current price is $339, but we’ve previously seen them for as low as $299.
Over-the-ear headphones with a one-of-a-kind design have been created by Apple in the form of the AirPods Max. Because of their Cupertino-inspired design, they’re a far cry from the usual plastic offerings from Sony, Bose, and others that I regularly review. Noise-cancelling headphones have also been given the best features of AirPods, like as spatial audio and simple access to Siri. For the time being, spatial audio is only available on Apple’s iPhone and iPad, and high-res music streaming is not available. There would be a better case for these headphones if the firm could fully integrate these headphones with the Apple TV, and perhaps open them up to immersive sounds like Dolby Atmos Music or Sony 360 Reality Audio (or add them to its own service) there would be. But for $549, Apple has to make the AirPods Max a must-have. It will still be too expensive.