Apple Airpods Max Review: High-end Headphones for a Reasonable PricesOur expert found Apple’s headphones to be expensive but boasted impressive sound quality, noise cancellation and a host of other flashy features.
We like this
Amazing build quality
Excellent sound quality and noise cancellation
Spatial audio is one of the most popular features.
Integration seamless with Apple products
A little heavy on the head
The included case is not complete.
Although these headphones can be expensive, they are worth it if you're looking for the very best Apple products.
The Apple AirPods Max were purchased by us so that our reviewer could test them. Continue reading to see the complete product review.
Apple AirPods Max is the first real foray in premium headphones (i.e. expensive) by the tech company. While the in-ear AirPods can be considered premium headphones, they are not the best option for high-quality audio. Over-ear headphones will suffice if you want to achieve better sound quality. It was not surprising that Apple released the AirPods Max in 2020 after years of speculation.
These headphones cost $200 more than the most expensive Bluetooth headphones. These headphones are priced at the same price as high-resolution, mid-tier wired headphones.
These headphones feel very Apple with their mostly-metal build and packed features. The AirPods Max are truly great to listen to. Are they really worth it? My pair lasted me more than a week, so here is my opinion.
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The AirPods Max look great. If you look at all of Apple's consumer products—from the original AirPods to Apple Watches—you'll see some clear inspiration carried through to the build of the AirPods Max. The Digital Crown at the top right of the earcup is an oversized copy of the Apple watch crown. All color options for the iPad Air 4 are available. The shape of each metal cup is identical to that of the Apple Watch enclosure.
The AirPods look great overall. I like the telescoping, machined headband arms. The mesh and silicone coating at the top are very well contoured. Earcups are more of an acquired taste. Apple chose a rectangular shape for its earphones, which is what most consumer headphones prefer.
Objectively, the ear cups also are very large. It's a good thing for bigger ears, but you can still see it when wearing AirPods Max. This might not be an issue—when the first AirPods came out, people scoffed at the dangling stem design that has now become synonymous with premium earbuds. While it is possible that the design of these headphones might become more common, time will show. But one thing is certain: They are Apple-esque.
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You can't talk about Apple products without talking about the quality of the product. I will go in more detail in the next section. But, the design is what makes these headphones so comfortable on the head.
Soft-touch silicone and delicate mesh cover the headband, making it almost invisible. Ear cups are covered with a similar, woven fabric.
These headphones weigh in at over 13 ounces and are the most heavy over-ears that I have ever owned.
This seems like a missed opportunity. It is not as soft as faux leather, which can be found on many consumer headphones. The perfect combination of form-fitting and bouncy memory foam is what this cover contains. The earcups are large enough to accommodate even huge earlobes such as mine.
But all of these choices—the reinforced headband, the oversized earcups, etc.— actually work against the comfort to some degree. These headphones weigh in at over 13 oz. This is not an exaggeration. You would find lighter consumer cans if you looked at the scale. If you have sensitive ears to heavy headphones I would steer clear.
Apple's amazing way of distributing the weight to your head is remarkable. The headband is extremely strong and dispersing mesh canopy rests on the head so that most of the weight can be diverted to one ear. The headphones are not as heavy as they seem, as per the specs. They are still noticeable after just a few hours.
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Strong build quality is a key selling point for Apple products. AirPods Max have a premium feel and are built with high-quality materials. When you open the package, the first thing that you will notice is the earcups. The cups are made from one piece anodized aluminum, which feels high-quality but is also very durable.
These cups connect with the points of arms made of high-polished stainless metal. It's similar to the sides of Apple iPhones. Only the weak points, such as the woven earpads and canopy that rest on your head, feel fragile. These are extremely durable and can withstand normal stress.
Then there is the interaction with headphones. The majority of headphones have a click-type ratchet system for sizing, while the AirPods Max utilize a telescoping mechanism that almost feels hydraulic to resize and adjust the headband. The way that the earcups pivot, turn and bend outwardly feels intentional is not to put stress on fragile plastic points.
Every cup is made from one piece anodized aluminium, which feels high-quality but also rigidly strong.
The case is actually the most unintentional part of the entire package. The case is not perfect and I will explain why later. However, it does not completely cover all the headphones so I recommend that you be careful. Even if the case feels sturdy, it's likely to show minor cosmetic scratches at a price that will not disappoint.
These headphones sound amazing. These headphones are the most amazing-sounding I have ever heard. No. They are not as great as other Bluetooth headphones on the market. They are, in general.
Apple is full of fancy terms, such as "the driver's dual neodymium-ring magnet motor minimized Total Harmonic Distortion," etc. How does this translate?
Most headphones of this type use the same speaker arrays so you can only rely on Apple's digital signal processor. These headphones are remarkably balanced for what is essentially a pair consumer cans.
These bass lines actually have a lot of power, and the sub-bass has enough oomph to support even the most thumping mixes. Some of the highs can be a bit soft, while some mids may get lost at lower volumes. The best thing about these headphones is the fact that they can be turned up to a high volume and still produce a good sound, with no distortion like other headphones.
There's also active noise cancellation (ANC). Prior to this, I said that Sony's WH line has the highest ANC. That's true according to many. Apple does well with the adaptive portion of this equation. The headphones have six microphones that are facing outward and two mics that face inward. This allows them to read the environment and filter out any noise.
These headphones are amazingly balanced for what they cost. These headphones have a lot of bass and a great sub-bass.
These mics' 'beamforming" qualities help isolate common sounds such as voices and winds. Sony's noise cancelling is subtler and feels more natural to me, however, if immersion is what you are after, these headphones can be a great choice. You can customize the EQ settings in the iPhone's menu, but the headphones will deliver the intended sound.
The AirPods Max could be described as an "aural enhancement accessory", in many ways. The extra features that enhance battery life, such as transparency and spatial audio, will be covered in detail later. It's great to know that Apple claims up to 20 hours of battery life for users who take advantage of all of its functionality.
While the AirPods Max can last for a lot longer than other options like Sony and Bose, they are still not as efficient. However, the AirPods Max have held up well over the five days that I've used them. You can plug the headphones in and get an additional hour and a quarter of an hour with only five minutes charging.
The AirPods Max are also unique in that you can't turn them on or off manually. AirPods Max come with a case. It has magnets that force headphones to enter a low power mode. Apple claims that headphones automatically switch to this mode once they have been used for a while, however, if you want to preserve your battery life and save money, the case will be necessary.
You'll have the best integration with Apple products if your whole life is invested in Apple's ecosystem. You can quickly switch between your iPhone and Mac if you own an iPad, Mac or iPhone. You will be prompt to connect automatically when you use an Apple device, thanks to the H1 chip embedded in every headphone. No need to navigate through Bluetooth menus.
Bluetooth 5.0 is the actual protocol for connecting, while the codecs used are SBC or AAC depending on which device. All latency and sound quality are left up to Apple's signal processing software. Although you technically can connect your headphones to any Bluetooth device (Android also included), the Bluetooth headset won't offer spatial audio and other connectivity options.
My iPhone and Mac were both virtually silent and I was able to hear the music clearly. But when I went to connect to a non-Apple tablet, it was much more difficult—requiring me to disconnect from my Apple devices before forcing it into Bluetooth pairing mode. I think these headphones might be too costly if they are to be used with non-Apple devices, however, if you are an Apple fan, you can still benefit from the great value.
Apple does not give you much control over how these headphones feature sets are customized. This means that you will end up with a lot of extras that might or may not prove to be valuable.
Spatial Audio is Apple's first feature. The AirPods Pro also has this feature, however it is much more vivid in the AirPods Max's fully isolated sound. The software simulates surround sound systems, and it allows you to create a reference point so the sound you hear stays at the source device, such as your smartphone or laptop, even when you move your head. This is a simple trick that would make virtual reality even more immersive.
There's also the transparent mode. Although most headphones offer this feature, the majority will only pipe in a flat stream from their mics that are used to make phone calls. Apple's impressive microphone array delivers a stunningly natural transparency mode. This is great for carrying conversations and keeping your headphones on. This is a cool feature, however, it can seem a bit niche, particularly at this price.
The case is the final piece. The AirPods Max's most well-known feature is its tiny foldable case. It covers the base of the headphones and leaves the headband open. It's a strange choice. If one component of your headphones has to succumb, it will be the headband. The case is not meant to be used for traveling, but it does serve to keep the enclosures' metal parts from "clacking" together. The case also allows the headphones to go into a deeper, more powerful mode. Although the case is nice on the body, it's not enough at this price.
The attachment mechanism for the earpads is an additional feature. The woven pads attach to headphones using strong magnets. They are much more easy to remove than the majority of leather ear cups. You can mix and match the colors if you are willing to spend $70 on replacement Apple earpads. I'm thinking Sky Blue and Pink might look cool.
Apple and no one else would dispute that these headphones are priced in line with market prices. Apple has done this before—launching products at a huge up-charge to try to provide a fit and finish or ease of use that isn't currently available, all for a serious premium.
Bose and Sony are both great options for headphones at a fraction of the cost. The question is how valuable Apple's brand to you. The history of Apple has shown us that it can control a whole market segment that was previously considered niche. True wireless headphones and smartwatches, for example, are excellent examples of this phenomenon. Are these headphones an example? It's up to you.
There are few headphones that can be compared to the $549 price tag. Bluetooth ANC headphones for consumers start at $300. All headphones priced at $550+, however, are wired and DAC-focused headphones.
My current favourite pair of Bluetooth headphones, the Sony WH1000XM4s is closest rival. The headphones are extremely versatile and customizable, with great sound quality. AirPods Max are more robust in build and offer Apple-focused features that can't be found anywhere else. It could be worthwhile if you find the Apple products here important. However, I prefer the XM4s for their value.
Amazing for a Very Specific Listener
Looking at everything these headphones offer—incredible build quality, next-level features, and rich, balanced sound—it's nearly impossible to give them poor marks. It's not the cost that makes them questionable, but it is actually their price. The heaviness and awkwardness felt on my head by $350 would have been a thing of the past. These are the factors that you must consider for $549.
These headphones are great for everyday use. However, for travel, which is where an improved case and a lower price are more important, it's a tough sell. Apple lovers will be delighted with this purchase, as we know Apple is a premium brand. The final decision comes down to your budget and what you think of the ecosystem.