One of the best-sounding headphones we’ve ever tried is the Apple AirPods Max. They are simple to use, and they readily compete with noise-canceling headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 in terms of noise cancellation. Nonetheless, we would only suggest them to iOS users with a lot of money to spare—and no desire in Hi-Res Audio—because of their expensive price, restrictions for Android users, and absence of a 3.5mm audio connector.
Review of the Apple AirPods Max: design
The design of the Apple AirPods Max, which are notably different from other headphones currently on the market with their huge, flat earcups made of stainless steel and an easily identifiable carrying case, is the next major point of contention after the pricing.
The earcups have a very “Apple” feel; some could call them attractively basic, while others might think they lack many features. If you want your headphones to make a bigger statement, consider getting the AirPods Max in one of their more vibrant hues, which include silver, sky blue, green, and pink.
At first, we weren’t sure about the overall aesthetic, but we have to admit that we’ve come to like it. They stand out from the competitors and have a build quality that feels appropriate for the price.
Even though they are unique, the AirPods Max weigh 385g, which is quite a bit more than the Sony WH-1000XM4 at 254g. This is due to the stainless steel earcups. The AirPods Max certainly seem more substantial and well-made because of their added weight, but it’s a lot of weight to wear on your head all day.
The knitted mesh headband that is included with the Apple AirPods Max is meant to lessen pressure on the head in order to counterbalance the weight increase. The headband’s appearance is undoubtedly new, but after using the AirPods Max for a while, we’ve grown to like it since, while being quite heavy, they’re really pleasant to wear.
Do these offer comparable comfort as the Sony WH-1000XM4? In that regard, we don’t think the AirPods Max quite match up to the best headphones available right now, but they don’t have the painful clamping sensation that other over-ear headphones have.
The stainless steel headband frame itself has telescopic arms that you can adjust for a proper fit; once you do, they’ll stay in place, so you won’t have to fuss with the fit all the time. Although the frame is solid and well-made, your head won’t feel the weight of it.
Moreover, the memory foam earcups are cozy and may independently rotate to accommodate your head. The AirPods Max’s earcups are simply removed by snapping them into place with a magnet; new earcups are available from the Apple Store for $69, £75, or $99 each.
Interestingly, Apple has reintroduced the Digital Crown dial from the Apple Watch, which it claims offers accurate volume control in addition to allowing you to play or stop audio, skip songs, answer or finish phone calls, and activate Siri. The on-ear controls on the AirPods Max are basic.
Just flip the dial on top of the right earcup to change the level. Alternatively, you may play or stop music by pressing once, answer and finish phone calls by pressing once, go to the next track by pressing twice, and go backwards by pressing three times.
In comparison to buttons or swipe controls, we loved the tactile sense a dial offers and how it seems more accurate while changing the volume. We’re really glad Apple didn’t use touch-sensitive housings since, in our experience, they can be finicky and it may be difficult to recall all the different movements.
While the bottom of the earcup holds an Apple Lightning connector for charging, the right earcup also has a noise control button that lets you choose between active noise canceling and Transparency mode, which allows some outside sounds to flow through the headphones.
An absence is the 3.5mm audio port. However, you will need to spend an extra $35/£35 (approximately AU$45) on a Lighting to 3.5mm audio adaptor if you wish to listen through a wired connection.
When you consider how much money these headphones cost, it’s disappointing that this isn’t included. If you’re paying $549, £549, or AU$899 for a pair of headphones, you might (quite reasonably) expect to be able to plug them into an amplifier or DAC to get the most fidelity possible right out of the box.
The AirPods Max’s unusual-looking Smart Case, which puts the headphones in a “ultralow power mode” to preserve the battery when they aren’t in use, is actually more polarizing than the absence of an audio jack.
We can’t say that we blame bewildered Twitter users who have so far compared the Smart Case to a bra, a sleeping mask, and a purse.
If the case accomplished what it was intended to do—protect your headphones—that design wouldn’t be quite so offensive. However, the Smart Case completely exposes the headband of the AirPods Max, and although a hole in the bottom of the case makes it simple to charge the headphones without taking them off, it also makes them susceptible to foreign objects getting inside.
The Smart Case’s rubbery surface is also a magnet for smudges and scuffs, so even putting it in a bag is enough to tarnish the brand-new appearance it has out of the box. Again, for the price, we’d expect more from Apple. A hard cover with a zip would offer much more protection and peace of mind, even though it’s lightweight and small.
Review of Apple AirPods Max’s audio quality
The Apple AirPods Max provide just excellent audio quality. They have a large, well-balanced soundstage that gives each instrument lots of room to sing, and when you add in some fun extras like Spatial Audio and automatically stopping your music when you take off the headphones, you have yourself a pretty remarkable set of headphones.
While listening to Phoebe Bridgers’ Garden Song, the AirPods Max faithfully reproduced every nuance of her delicate voice. With a great sense of rhythm and sonic separation, the glitchy plucked guitar had a nice, rich texture to it.
The glockenspiel in The Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way was bright and lively, while the tightly-controlled bass created a strong foundation for the guitar and vocals. We didn’t notice any distortion when we increased the volume, in part because of the neodymium ring magnet motor within the headphones that drives its 40mm speakers.
Whether you enjoy glitzy pop with powerful voices or hip-hop with snappy basslines, the AirPods Max are wonderful for listening to music. And unlike the AirPods Pro, they can also handle classical music. The noisy start of Mozart’s Jupiter sounded opulent and decadent, while the flute’s gentler portions were handled with accuracy and precision.
Despite the AirPods Max’s exorbitant price, only Apple’s own Apple Digital Masters tracks—which are only accessible through Apple Music—support Hi-Res Audio files. Again, this gives the impression that we are being underserved because at this price, we would anticipate extensive codec compatibility; also, the absence of lossless streaming capability is regrettable given that Apple Music supports Lossless Audio.
Review of the Apple AirPods Max: Spatial Audio
The AirPods Pro were the first devices to support the Spatial Audio feature, which was included in iOS 14 and places sound all around you in a virtual sphere. For example, if you’re watching a Dolby Atmos movie and a plane is flying overhead, it will sound as though the plane is actually passing above you.
The AirPods Max’s ability to monitor your head movement using onboard accelerometers and gyroscopes, as well as the location of your iOS smartphone, is something that makes Spatial Audio special; when you move your head, the music will always seem as though it’s coming from the screen.
To experience it for yourself, simply look for material that is offered in the aforementioned surround formats. HBO Max, Disney Plus, and Apple TV Plus all support Spatial Audio, but Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have yet to do the same for their iOS applications.
By accessing the headphones’ settings on your device, you can happily convert stereo content to Spatial Audio while wearing the AirPods Max or AirPods Pro.
Using video from Apple TV Plus, we put the AirPods Max’s Spatial Audio function to the test, and we have to admit that it works really well. It doesn’t sound as convincingly realistic as a real Dolby Atmos system, but it does make viewing movies seem much more immersive. For people who watch a lot of TV and movies on an iPhone or iPad, this is a great supplementary feature.
Review of Apple AirPods Max: Noise cancellation
The Apple AirPods Max offer extremely effective noise cancelling that is comparable to those of models like the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.
Three external microphones on each ear cup pick up ambient sounds, while one inside microphone tracks the sound that reaches your ear.
Apple says the AirPods Max employ computational audio to continually modify their noise reduction capabilities based on “the headphone fit and movement in real time”. As we tried them out in several scenarios, they most definitely seemed to work.
We were able to completely shut out the train’s rumbling while commuting because to the music we were listening to. Using the AirPods Max in noisy situations gives you a genuine sense of calm, whether you’re working in your kitchen while the washing machine is humming or trying to find some peace and quiet on a bustling commute.
The transparency mode can also be helpful; all you have to do is push the noise cancellation button on the right earcup to let outside sounds pass through the headphones so you can hear what’s going on around you.
In our tests, it performed extremely well, giving the impression that you are not wearing headphones at all. It is undoubtedly useful if you need to have a brief discussion with someone without having to pause your music.
Review of Apple AirPods Max: connection and battery life
Although 20 hours of high-fidelity audio, call time, or movie playback with the AirPods Max may not seem like a lot, given that this is with Active Noise Cancellation active, it’s a fair estimate.
Depending on how permanently attached they will be to your ears, the best over-ear headphones typically have a battery life of roughly 30 hours, however many very decent versions only last for about 20.
The claimed battery life seems to be about correct, and we like that the Smart Case switches the headphones into a low power mode, but it’s perplexing that you can’t truly turn the AirPods Max off. We often put them in the Smart Case over night, but we didn’t see a noticeable reduction in battery life.
While Bluetooth 5 is used for connectivity, pairing is quick and reliable, and you shouldn’t experience any connection drops when you walk away from your source device (as long as you don’t place more than 800 feet/420 meters or a few solid walls in the way between the AirPods Max and your phone).
While the AirPods Max will work with both Android and Windows devices, you won’t be able to use Spatial Audio or Automatic Switching without one of the aforementioned Apple devices. Apple says the AirPods Max require Apple devices running iOS 14.3 or later, iPadOS 14.3 or later, macOS Big Sur 11.1 or later, watchOS 7.2 or later, or tvOS 14.3 or later.
While switching between music listening and taking calls, you can quickly move between your iPhone, iPad, and Mac thanks to the Automatic Switching function, and the one-tap setup will help you get started with your new headphones right away. While iPhone users do benefit from the option to select Spatial Audio and other control settings, we found the setup to be relatively simple on both Android and iOS devices.
Almost every Apple source device, including the Apple TV 4K and the iPod Touch, allows you to share audio between two pairs of AirPods so that you and a buddy may listen to the same music at the same time.
Apple has once again included support for Siri, its intelligent personal assistant, so you can use voice commands to do a variety of activities while on the go, like play music, make calls, change the volume, and seek directions. If you don’t want to take your phone out of your pocket, backpack, or other possible hiding place, Siri can also read your incoming texts.
After their debut, Apple has added Conversation Boost as a new function to the AirPods Max. While you are in transparency mode, this function amplifies the loudness of talks taking place in front of the user. While everyone may gain from it, it particularly helps those who have hearing loss grasp what is being said in a discussion.
Furthermore, since these functions are only available on iOS smartphones, many of the features that make the AirPods Max stand out from the crowd won’t be accessible to Android users.
The Apple AirPods Max are among the best-sounding over-ear headphones we’ve ever tried and a genuinely great pair of headphones. They look elegant and a little different, are really simple to use (thanks, as always, Apple), and have noise cancelling that rivals the finest in the business.
Nevertheless, there are restrictions for Android users and they are quite pricey. We would only suggest these to iOS users with a lot of money to spare—and no interest in Hi-Res Audio—as there is also no 3.5mm audio connector here.