Apple AirPods Max Review: Superb but expensive

The AirPods Max is Apple’s first ever over-ear headphones and it comes with all the bells and whistles you can think of.

PRICE: $849
DRIVERS: 40mm neodymium drivers
CHIP: Apple H1 (each ear cup)
WEIGHT: 385g

It features 40mm drivers, two H1 headphone chips (each ear cup), nine microphones and nine sensors from accelerometer to gyroscope (left ear cup only). Basically, everything and more you might expect from a pair of high-end over-ear headphones.

The internal of AirPods Max’s ear cup. (Photo: Apple)

The AirPods Max looks absolutely gorgeous regardless of the colour you choose, whether it is silver, space grey, sky blue, pink or green (version tested).

It features smooth anodised aluminium ear cups with telescoping arms connected to a stainless steel headband. The arms extend smoothly but stay in place to your desired length.

At the top of the headband is an open knit mesh canopy. Compared to the normal headband cushions found on the top of most headphones, this mesh canopy is something unique. At first I was skeptical and wondered if it would be comfortable.

To my surprise, the mesh canopy is not only breathable and conforms nicely to the top of my head without any pressure. I can wear it comfortably for hours.

Adding to the comfort level is the memory foam cushions of the ear cups. Furthermore, the memory foam is magnetically attached to the ear cup. So you can easily replace them when needed. Not cheap though, one pair of ear cushions will set you back $95.

The controls are equally intuitive. You can find all the controls on the top of the right ear cup.

You find all the controls on the right ear cup. (Photo: Apple)

There is a button that toggles between active noise cancellation (ANC) and transparency modes when pressed. Transparency mode lets sound in for situations when you need to beware of your surroundings, for example when crossing the road.

You will find the Digital Crown – adopted from Apple Watch – for volume control and music playback. You turn the crown to adjust volume, press it once to play or pause, twice to skip a track and thrice to go back to the previous track.

While the headphones look great, the included smart case looks really questionable. My wife said it looks like a bra.

The smart case of AirPods Max has some questionable design. (Photo: Apple)

Not to mention, it also does not offer much protection either – with the headband exposed. It merely prevents the ear cups from scratches.

Its only useful function is putting the headphones into an ultra-low-power state to preserve battery when the headphones is in the case.

Definitely need a third-party case, in my opinion.

+ Gorgeous design
+ Sturdy build
+ Very comfortable
+ Superb sound output
+ Great active noise cancellation

– Very expensive
– No manual EQ setting

As you might expect, pairing AirPods Max with your iPhone is really easy. Just bring it near to your iPhone, a window will pop up, tap on it and it is paired!

Once paired, it is also linked to the rest of your Apple devices on the same iCloud account. In fact, its automatic switching ability means it will seamlessly switch to the Apple device you are currently using.  

The AirPods Max allows for easy pairing and switching with iOS and Mac devices. (Photo: Apple)

The sound output is top-notch with strong bass, clear mids and detailed highs. Some might prefer the bass to be stronger or the highs to be sharper, but I think Apple has gone the middle road with a balanced soundscape.

In fact, Apple uses computational audio or adaptive equaliser (EQ) to deliver such a soundscape. Others might want to tweak the EQ themselves, but not Apple.

But what gives the AirPods Max the edge over some of its competitors is its spatial audio support. This means it will render a virtual surround sound for content encoded in 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos as well as supported apps played on iPhone or iPad.

So, the likes of Apple+, Netflix and the upcoming Disney+ apps will support spatial audio provided the iOS devices are running iOS 14 or iPadOS 14.

For example, watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom on my iPad Air (4th-generation) was simply mind-blowing. I heard sound effects from directions I didn’t know previously existed.  

In terms of ANC performance, it is excellent – right there with the best in its class like the Sony WH-1000XM4. For instance, when I wear it, I cannot hear the constant humming of the air-conditioning in the office. So, I think it will probably drown out the engine’s groan when you are in an airplane.

If you are wondering how you can use the AirPods Max on the plane, you can purchase Apple’s Lightning-to-3.5mm cable for $49 to do so.

The AirPods Max use sensors in each ear cup to detect when you are wearing it. In fact, when you take off the headphones, it will stop playing music. All these little details help to save battery life.

In my tests with the volume level at 60 per cent and ANC turned on, it lasted around 19 hours. But I think you probably will charge it everyday anyway.

On the downside, there is no power button. Thus, you cannot fully shut it down. Still, it will easily last you an entire day or a long-haul flight when we travel again.

Apart from the hideous case, I love everything about the AirPods Max. Except the price.

At $849, it is significantly more expensive than its competitors such as the Sony WH-1000XM4 ($549) and Sennheiser Momentum Wireless ($539).

And the AirPods Max does not even come with a 3.5mm headphone jack adapter. Only a USB-C-to-Lightning charging cable.

But if you have the money, you will not be disappointed with the AirPods Max.

That said. Even if you have money and order it now, you can only get it in March due to the strong demand.

DESIGN: 9/10

Trevor Tan

Started out with dreams to become a street photographer, Trevor Tan somehow became a tech journalist with over 16 years of consumer tech experience. Maybe he plays too much video games and buys too many new gadgets.
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