Apple AirPods Max: Expensive price tag but unmatched headphone quality
Review: Headphones are extremely comfortable, while the sound quality is excellent
Product name: Apple AirPods Max
Where to buy: apple.com
Apple AirPods Max
Let’s address something upfront: the Apple AirPods Max are expensive. Very expensive. At more than €600, they are the most expensive pair of headphones that Apple – and its Beats brand – produces.
But as the iPhone has proved in the past, price isn’t always an immediate barrier when it comes to Apple products.
The AirPods Max are the latest in Apple’s line of headphones, and the first time the AirPods line has included over-ear headphones instead of ear buds. The company is pitching these at the ultra-premium market, as the price may suggest, with lightweight aluminium ear cups and a metal and mesh headband that make these an extremely comfortable wear.
Apple has thought of almost everything here. First, there is the colour choice. Apple has opted for silver, grey, pink, green and blue for the Airpods Max, thus nicely covering both those who want understated and sophisticated, and those who like more of a pop of colour.
Instead of touch controls, there are familiar – for Apple Watch users at least – controls. On the right ear cup, you have a digital crown, for controlling volume, track selection and Siri access, and a button that switches between noise cancelling and transparency mode. You can customise those controls in the AirPods Max Bluetooth menu on iOS to some extent, but there isn’t much scope for radical change.
These buttons make it much easier to control volume and track selection, for example, and there are no accidental touches to mess with your listening.
One thing the AirPods Max don’t have? A power button. When you put them on your head, the sensors on the headphones immediately wake them up, connecting to your phone, tablet or computer. Remove them, and like others in this market, the audio pauses. So how do you switch them off when you’re done? You don’t. Taking them off your ears for a few minutes will kick them into standby mode, which won’t completely stop them drawing power from the battery. Instead Apple relies on the smart case to put the headphones into an ultra low power state, so it should preserve most of your charge. I got caught by this once, leaving the headphones on the desk for a couple of days minus said case, and had a set of depleted headphones by the time I used them again.
All told, you get 20 hours of use out of the headphones, which is decent if not spectacular, and charging is via lightning cable. I would have preferred to see USB C, similar to the iPad Pro, for convenience but chances are if you are buying these headphones you are already an Apple user and likely used to the lightning charger.
When it comes to sound quality, the AirPods Max performed as well as a €600+ pair of headphones should. Detailed, rich sound and with good bass, without overdoing it, the headphones are quite simply up there with the best I’ve tested in a long time. I listened to tracks I’ve been listening to for a long time on wireless headphones and heard a noticeable difference in quality, with new details that I hadn’t noticed before.
The Airpods have H1 chips inside, which help the audio adapt to the fit and seal of the ear cushions, adjusting the low and mid frequencies accordingly. It all adds up to an excellent audio experience.
For film and TV fans, the AirPods Max have spatial audio with dynamic head tracking, which means they simulate surround sound.
The last piece of the puzzle is noise cancelling. Apple has put a lot into the noise cancelling. These headphones, given the price, are competing at the premium end of the market so anything less than perfect would be a major letdown. The AirPods Max cut out much of the background noise – other people’s Zoom calls on iPads were muted and almost completely inaudible, general household noise was gone at the touch of a button.
These are possibly the most comfortable headphones I have worn for a long time. There are few pairs I can wear for several hours straight without feeling like my head is being pinched. Three or four hours is usually where I max out.
Under the current restrictions, with home working now the norm, I’ve been wearing headphones more often, and for much longer periods of time. The AirPods Max were the most comfortable pair yet. The memory foam cushions, mold to your head without feeling overly sweaty. The mesh band was equally light and airy. In fact, when using the headphones in transparency mode, it was easy to forget I was even wearing them. The ambient noise came through effectively without being overly loud.
The big question is: does all this add up to a performance worthy of spending €629? That would be a personal decision. But if you want a set of headphones that will work for both home working and leisure, and have excellent sound and noise cancellation, the AirPods Max are a great choice – if you have deep enough pockets.
The headphones themselves are extremely comfortable, while the sound quality is excellent. Noise cancelling is on a par with some of the best that I have tested in the past, and frequently led to people “sneaking” up on me while working.
The not so good:
Do you have the money to spend on €630 headphones? The price tag isn’t an easy one, but considering these should last several years, they are an investment that hopefully should pay off.
These are more easily repaired than other Apple products. The ear cushions are magnetic, and are replaceable. Because they are fabric rather than the fake leather that many ear cushions are made from, it’s unlikely that you would have to replace them for functional reasons, although if you want to change the look of the headphones, it will cost you €79 per pair. According to teardown specialists iFix, the AirPods Max scored 6/10 for repairability.
Pricey, but it’s hard to beat the AirPods Max on quality