Apple AirPods Max review: Expensive yet incredible ANC headphones

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Like every Apple product that is released, there has been a lot said about the AirPods Max. Whatever you might think of Apple, they’ve done an excellent job of marketing their brand. Because they’ve done such an excellent job at marketing, their devices sell very well.

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

That’s not to say that Apple is all marketing and no substance. The company has had its fair share of misses and mistakes, although they rarely acknowledge such things. No, Apple isn’t perfect, but dammit, these AirPods Max ANC headphones..these things are freaking good.

I’m not even going to try and soften the blow when it comes to price; these guys are silly expensive. I mean, US$549 for ANC headphones when the competition sells for much less; that’s bold. But Apple does bring several things to the table that makes these headphones worth the cost.

I’m not going to get into all of my thoughts in the introduction; you’ll have to keep reading to find out what my personal thoughts are on the Apple AirPods Max.

Specifications

The Apple AirPods Max has the following features and specifications:

  • Active Noise Cancellation
  • Transparency mode
  • Adaptive EQ
  • Apple-designed dynamic driver
  • Spatial audio with dynamic head tracking (with apps that support it)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Sensors:
    • Optical Sensor (each ear cup)
    • Position Sensor (each ear cup)
    • Case-detect sensor (each ear cup)
    • Accelerometer (each ear cup)
    • Gyroscope (left ear cup)
  • Chip: Apple H1 chip (each ear cup)
  • Charging Case: Smart case puts Apple AirPods Max into ultra low power mode
  • Size and Weight AirPods Max:
    • Height: 7.37 inches (187.3 mm)
    • Width Ear Cup to Ear Cup: 6.64 inches (168.6 mm)
    • Width Ear Cup to Headband: 0.94 inches (24.0 mm)
    • Weight: 13.6 ounces (384.8 grams)
  • Charging Case:
    • Weight: 4.74 ounces (134.5 grams)
  • Controls:
    • Digital Crown:
      • Turn for volume control
      • Press once to play, pause, or answer a phone call
      • Press twice to skip forward
      • Press three times to skip back
      • Press and hold for Siri
    • Noise Control Button:
      • Press to switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode
  • Hey Siri:
    • Say “Hey Siri” to invoke Siri commands
  • Battery AirPods Max:
    • Up to 20 hours of listening time on a single charge with Active Noise Cancellation or Transparency mode enabled
    • Up to 20 hours of movie playback on a single charge with spatial audio on
    • Up to 20 hours of talk time on a single charge
    • 5 minutes of charge time provides around 1.5 hours of listening time
  • AirPods Max With Charging Case:
    • Storage in the Smart Case preserves battery drain in an ultra-low-power state.
    • Notch for charging via Lightning

What’s In The Box

  • AirPods Max
  • Smart Case
  • Lightning to USB-C Cable
  • Documentation

Design

Headphones made from aluminum and metal are something most audio company’s stay away from. Why? Because these materials can be heavy and this tends to make wearing them uncomfortable. I have to say; I had some reservations about the AirPods Max being made of metal materials.

The AirPods Max weigh 384.8 grams which is .85 pounds. In contrast, the Bose 700’s weigh 254 grams or .56 pounds. That is a huge difference, and when you take the AirPods Max out of the box, you can certainly feel that weight.

One reason headphone makers don’t use metal materials is to keep the weight down for comfort reasons. This is usually a good idea, but in this case, Apple has managed to use metal materials without making these feel heavy on the head. Although, I’m not sure these would be great for intense workouts with a lot of head movement.

The Apple AirPods Max are super comfortable, and I don’t even feel them on my head. The earpads are plush and comfortable and don’t put any pressure on my glasses. Many other over-ear headphones put a lot of pressure on glasses, pushing them in, causing discomfort, not so here.

Apple AirPods Max Techaeris
Only time will tell if this headband stands up

The headband, which is made of a mesh material, is comfortable even after hours of wearing. Usually, most headphone headbands cause discomfort for me on the top of my head. While I like the headband, I’m not sure how long it will last given the mesh material it is made of.

The controls are all located on the right earcup, and they consist of the Digital Crown and ANC/Transparency buttons. There are mics all over both ear cups, which are used for ANC/Transparency.

The ear cups are removable and replaceable, and this is done with magnets. The headband is also removable through a pin located at the base of the hinge. A YouTuber showed this off some months back, but no word from Apple if headbands will be swappable or replaceable.

Speaking of ear cups, one annoying thing is that the ear cups clack together when folded flat. When you take them out of the Smart Case, they clack together. This could lead to wear in that area over time. Oh, and the Smart Case…just plain ugly and a missed opportunity by Apple.

Overall, the design is what you’d expect from Apple. It’s minimal, clean, well thought out, and easy to use and understand. The Smart Case is ugly and does nothing to protect the headphones; the clacking of the earcups when removed from the case is annoying, and the headband will have to be a long-term test.

Ease Of Use

I tested the Apple AirPods Max using my iPhone 12 Pro Max, iPad Pro 11″, MacBook Pro, and iMac. Because these are all Apple products, pairing is seamless and extremely easy. When I removed the AirPods Max from the case, they went into pairing mode and popped up on my iPhone. I connected, and I was on my way.

Handoff to other Apple devices is seamless as well. When I move from one device to another, the AirPods Max switches over to the device that I’ve moved to. All of this is thanks to the H1 chips inside both ear cups. If you’re using anything other than Apple devices, you need to head into Bluetooth settings and find the AirPods Max to connect.

As for controls, I love love love the Digital Crown and simple button controls. No silly swiping or touch controls. Only tactile and satisfying physical controls allow for volume, track, and ANC/Transparency modes. Here is what these buttons do:

  • Digital Crown:
    • Turn for volume control
    • Press once to play, pause, or answer a phone call
    • Press twice to skip forward
    • Press three times to skip back
    • Press and hold for Siri
  • Noise Control Button:
    • Press to switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode

The AirPods Max are as easy as it gets in terms of pairing and controlling these headphones. Overall, most users are going to appreciate how simple these are to use.

Sound

In my AirPods Pro review, I mention how I initially purchased them, intending to deride other reviews and railing on what I thought would be crappy sound. If you read that review, you’ll see that I was shocked to find just how good those TWS headphones are. I did not approach this review with the same attitude and kept an open mind even though I was skeptical due to the price.

Below you’ll find a few of the tracks I used to test the AirPods Max along with any other headphones that come across for review:

Of course, sound is subjective and the type of music you listen to also influences most of our purchasing choices. I really love a neutral soundstage and can appreciate a very slight tweak to the bass frequencies but not crazy.

To my ears, the Apple AirPods Max have a very neutral soundstage, but I do feel the bass is every so slightly tweaked up. However, it’s almost perfect for me, and I did not use any of the EQ settings on my iPhone to adjust anything.

One thing that’s evident right off the bat is the clarity and presence of these headphones. Vocals come through with no mud or distortion at all. Guitars, strings, cymbals, all of the mids and highs are very present. The bass is exactly where it needs to be, just where the engineer put it in the mix.

I also tested the AirPods Max using Tidal Lossless and the FiiO BTR5 DAC. Holy wOw! The sound coming from the AirPods Max alone was already amazing. However, bumping up to lossless tracks using a DAC completely transformed the experience.

This isn’t to say you need a DAC to enjoy these headphones; you don’t. The sound is pure quality even without a DAC, but if you’ve never experienced lossless music through high-quality headphones and a high-quality DAC. Well, then you should give it a go sometime; it really is amazing.

Apple AirPods Max Techaeris
The case is ugly, that is all.

The AirPods Max also boasts transparency mode. Now honestly, I’ve never liked transparency mode on any headphones. It always sounds like you’re on a phone call, not natural at all. I have reviewed many headphones with this feature, and it’s fine…just fine, but useless to me.

So I was really pleasantly shocked by how good transparency mode is on the AirPods Max. Even the AirPods Pro transparency mode is just ok. But the Max transparency mode is the real deal. It blew me away just how clear and natural everything sounds when using it. It’s like you don’t have headphones on at all—huge thumbs up for this feature.

Active Noise Cancelling, another widely used technology that can be done really well or not done well at all. I’ve used many different ANC headphones, from Bose and Master & Dynamic to Cleer and JBL. But, by far, my favorite headphones for ANC have come from Bose.

That is until now. In my opinion, the ANC on the AirPods Max is revolutionary, outstanding, and the best in class. The Max easily outshines the Bose ANC headphones and every other I’ve ever used. Of course, I can’t speak for Sony’s offerings (since I’ve not used them), but other reviewers have said it even beats their ANC offerings.

I had the opportunity to test the ANC on a flight from Texas to Montana, and the ANC was fantastic in flight. Hands down, these are the best ANC headphones on the market right now. At least in the $300-$550 range. They are a lot more costly than the Bose or Sony’s but well worth it.

Overall, the soundstage is neutral, and sonically the Max are just amazing. Add transparency mode and ANC to the mix, and the sound package is complete.

Apple AirPods Max Techaeris
Big earcups even fit my massive ears and the sound is amazing.

Reception/Call Quality

The reception of the AirPods Max is outstanding. Just like the AirPods Pro, I can be far from the normal Bluetooth range and still have a solid connection to my iPhone. Even through walls, I never had an issue with reception. So again, these have a solid range, and I think it is the H1 chip that allows this to happen.

As for call quality, I never use headphones for phone calls except when I have to test the feature for reviews. Well, call quality is excellent on the AirPods Max. Callers told me I sounded crystal clear, and they couldn’t even tell I was on a headset. Callers also sounded clear with no tunnel or echoing effect at all.

Overall, these cans hold reception well, and the call quality is amazing. For those who use headphones for calls, you will love these.

Battery Life

Battery life is fine, it’s certainly not the best out there, far from it, but with around 20-hours of playback, it’s fine. I found myself plugging my AirPods Max in after about a week of use. Of course, I don’t tend to use my headphones for more than 3-5 hours a day, so your mileage will vary.

The nice thing is that you can plug these in overnight and have a fresh pair of headphones in the morning. Speaking of plugging in, I was disappointed to see that Apple opted for a Lightning connector and not USB-C. Complaining about this is beating a dead horse; it is what it is, and Apple is who they are.

Overall, battery life is good, not the best out there, but considering the H1 chip and all the other bits of tech these are sporting, it’s good enough and will get most users through a whole day if they use them all day.

Apple AirPods Max Techaeris
Battery life doesn’t stand up to others but it will get most people through.

Price/Value

US$549…OUCH! There is no doubt that the AirPods Max are incredibly expensive. Putting that into some perspective, though, brands such as Focal, Sennheiser, and others offer headphones far more expensive. So my first reaction was that there was no way Apple could make a pair of over-ears that were worth this much.

Well, value is really a subjective thing. I personally think the AirPods Max are worth the money. The ANC is absolutely the best I’ve ever used, hands down. Transparency Mode is also the best I’ve used on headphones, and I actually use this one.

The sound is stellar and almost perfectly balanced to a neutral soundstage. Of course, you can EQ your music in iPhone settings if you choose to, and Android devices have plenty of EQ options. But I love the soundstage here, and the sound is definitely worth the money.

Overall, I think the Apple AirPods Max are worth the price. However, I do think the company could have priced them at US$499 and still made money while giving them a more comfortable price point. But we know Apple and we know they feel their brand is worth a premium markup.

Wrap Up

Simply put…Apple AirPods Max are all that and a bag of chips. Apple device users will love these for their ease of use, sound, comfort, and features. The Apple AirPods Max are my favorite over-ear headphones as of right now.

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Last Updated on June 18, 2021.

Apple AirPods Max

US$549

Design

9.5/10

Ease of Use

10.0/10

Sound

10.0/10

Reception/Call Quality

10.0/10

Battery Life

9.5/10

Price/Value

9.0/10

Nailed it

  • Amazing design
  • Amazing build quality
  • Simple to use and setup, especially with other Apple products
  • The sound is outstanding
  • The best ANC of any over-ear headphone that I've used
  • Amazing call quality and reception
  • The best Transparency Mode of any headphone
  • Great battery life
  • Very comfortable

Needs work

  • These boys are expensive, silly expensive
  • The clacking of the two ear cups together might cause wear over time
  • The lifespan of the headband mesh is questionable
  • The smart case is ugly, just ugly
Apple AirPods Max Techaeris Review Feature
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