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Audio

Everything you need to know about the new Airpods Max

By Nadeem Sarwar January 11, 2021, 6:00 pm
AirPods Max Source: Jaime Rivera, Pocketnow

"I'll buy them just for that sweet design." This was my earlier reaction when I first saw the AirPods Max during the online launch event. However, the joy was short-lived, as Apple announced the exorbitant $549 price tag soon after. Now, I do spend more than I should on headphones, but the price commanded by Apple’s first over-the-ear headphones is a bit too high. Now, early reviews have lauded their audio performance, but there is more to these headphones than meets the eye. Here’s everything you need to know about the AirPods Max.

Design: A key selling point of the AirPods Max

Hands down one of the best aspects of the AirPods Max. The design is unlike any other headphones out there, and the build quality is terrific too. Apple has used anodized aluminum for the earcups, while the headband frame is made out of stainless steel. The upper canopy, on the other hand, is made out of breathable knit mesh to reduce the bulk and pressure on your cranium. However, the canopy is not real fabric, and will likely last longer than natural fabric.

AirPods Max
AirPods Max come in Silver, Space Gray, Sky Blue, Pink and Green colors.
Source: Apple

Say what you want, but this design is really something!

But these do not fold in the same way as a lot of other headphones you might have seen. Instead, they have clean telescopic arms for adjustment, and they are really flexible. So, if you got a larger-than-average head, you don’t have to worry about an uncomfortably tight fit. As for the color options, Apple offers you a choice between Silver, Space Gray, Sky Blue, Pink, and Green trims.

For additional comfort, Apple has gone with acoustic memory foam with a breathable mesh layer on top, something that not only ranks high on comfort value but will also handle sweat well in hot weather. But do keep in mind that the AirPods Max is** not water-resistant**. Notably, you can swap the earcups for new ones rather easily, as they attach magnetically and cost $69 a pair. Just like the Apple Watch, there’s a crown for volume controls and a dedicated button for enabling noise cancellation controls.

AirPods Max
AirPods Max miss out on water resistance.
Source: Apple

You're definitely going to feel the bulk of AirPods Max

The biggest issue with the AirPods Max is that they weigh 385 grams, which means you’re definitely going to feel their bulk while on your head or wrapped around your neck. And this is something that you should seriously consider if you plan on wearing them for a long flight or just want to blaze past an assignment that is going to take a better part of your day. But the approach they take to fit around your head might not be the best solution. The AirPods Max clamp your head instead of relying on the canopy, which is good for a snug fit, but bad if you wear glasses with a thick frame.

Another aspect that has me worried is the weird case. Actually, this bra-butt hybrid case is one of the worst designs I've ever seen for headphones. The half-open approach taken by Apple doesn't instill much confidence when it comes to protecting the headphones against scratches and other forms of mechanical damage either, especially the canopy. Another huge problem is that it serves no purpose other than to place them on stand by. It can't carry wires or anything else, which further puts its usefulness into question.

AirPods Max Case
This is one of the worst designs I’ve ever seen for a headphone case.
Source: Apple

I can't stress how much this case design irks me!

Take a look at rival Sony, which ships its high-end cans in a sturdy case that also looks the part. It must also be noted here that Apple doesn't ship a cable with the AirPods Max for wired listening. You have to spend extra cash to buy one that can be connected with your iPhone or other Apple device. Yeah, all that expense after paying the soul-crushing amount of $549 on a pair of headphones.

There are a total of nine mics on the AirPods Max, eight of which are used for ANC, while voice pickup ends up using three of them. Inside each earcup sits the in-house Apple H1 chip that brings computational audio smarts to the table. Overall, the AirPods Max is designed to look premium and they'll soon be a fashion statement, just the way the AirPods became a sensation on their own.

AirPods Max: Internals and features

AirPods Max Blue
AirPods Max come equipped with the 10-core Apple H1 chip.
Source: Apple

The AirPods come equipped with a custom-built 40mm dynamic driver that provides an excellent sound output with a tight bass and fantastic clarity. Even without spatial audio, the soundstage is so good that the headphones vibrate to the beat in a way that doesn't deter from the music or video watching experience. I'd actually call this more immersive. They are backed by what Apple calls a dual neodymium ring magnet motor that is claimed to keep the levels of total harmonic distortion below 1%, ensuring that users get the best audio output without any tearing or other issues even at peak volume.

Transparency mode is the biggest victory for AirPods Max

The 10-core Apple H1 chip brings to life features such as Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency Mode, and spatial audio. Now, these happen to be the standout features of the AirPods Max, but there are a few other tricks up its sleeves such as automatic device switching, audio sharing, and always-on Siri among others. Each earcup also comes equipped with an optical sensor, position sensor, case detect sensor, and accelerometer. The gyroscope is only present in the left earcup.

AirPods Max Black
AirPods Max excel at noise cancellation and the transparency mode is outstanding as well.
Source: Apple

Starting with spatial audio, it is Apple's own take on the 3D surround sound gimmick that relies on head-tracking via gyroscopes and accelerometers to deliver a theater-like music listening experience. It comes to life by using all the motion data it collects from these sensors and then adjusts the sound field with respect to the device accordingly. Apple says that Spatial Audio will work with content recorded in 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos.

The noise cancellation experience here is simply top notch

Active Noise Cancellation is part of the package as well, and in my brief experience, it is right among the best out there. Another useful feature is adaptive EQ, which takes into account how well the AirPods Max has been fitted and accordingly tweaks the audio signal, offering a more personalized music listening experience by doing all these changes in real-time. Apple says that Adaptive EQ 'adjusts the low and mid-frequencies in real-time — bringing rich audio that captures every detail.'

AirPods Max Green
AirPods Max are definitely heavy, but their build quality is outstanding.
Source: Apple

You also get transparency mode as part of the package. It is essentially an external awareness mode that allows ambient sound to pass through so that users are aware of what is happening in their surroundings. The AirPods Max has a dedicated physical button that allows users to switch between ANC and Transparency Mode with a single press of the button.

As for the actual performance, it is extremely good. "Transparency is probably the best I've tested, but it also brings the problem that it's so good, that on an airplane it only maxes the noise around you," notes my colleague Jaime Rivera of Pocketnow. And yes, the noise cancellation output is better than the AirPods Pro. In case you're torn between the two devices, read our comparison of the AirPods Pro vs AirPods Pro comparison to find out which one better suits your needs.

AirPods Max Pairing
AirPods Max offer a one-tap pairing experience.
Source: Apple

The AirPods Max can also detect when users are wearing them, and if you take them off, they automatically pause the music playback to save battery. And when you place them in that horribly designed case, they enter an ultra-low-power mode. But they never turn off. And in our tests, we've found that they lose around 2% battery per hour.

The AirPods Max never actually turn off fully

The pairing experience is also hassle-free, as you just have to put the AirPods Max near your iPhone or iPad and tap on the on-screen connection prompt. No going through the process of entering the pairing mode and searching for a nearby device.

Talking about connectivity, the AirPods Max can be connected to multiple devices at once and they offer a seamless switching experience too. So, if you're listening to music while connected to your Mac, the AirPods Max will automatically switch to your iPhone to attend an incoming call. On a similar note, you can share an audio stream with two AirPods from the same device, which can be an iPad, iPhone, iPod, or the Apple TV 4K.

AirPods Max ANC button
AirPods Max have a physical button to switch between ANC and transparency mode.
Source: Apple

Apple says that the AirPods Max can last up to 20 hours of music playback with ANC and Spatial Audio enabled, which is quite impressive. You can also enjoy movie playback and voice calling for the same amount of time on a single charge. Talking about charging, 5 minutes of being connected to a power source will provide enough juice for 1.5 hours of listening time. However, the AirPods Max stick with the Lightning port, which is almost infuriating, but not too surprising either. Also, they do NOT wireless charging, which is again disappointing given their price tag.

You can use the AirPods Max with Android devices too over Bluetooth, but the functionality will be limited. For example, you will miss out on spatial audio, which is one of the key features of Apple's pricey headphones. Here's a list of all the Apple devices that are compatible with the AirPods Max:

  • Apple TV 4K
  • Apple TV 4K HD
  • Apple Watch SE
  • Apple Watch Series 1
  • Apple Watch Series 2
  • Apple Watch Series 3
  • Apple Watch Series 4
  • Apple Watch Series 5
  • Apple Watch Series 6
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013–2019)
  • Mac mini (Late 2012–Late 2018)
  • Mac mini (M1, 2020)
  • MacBook (Retina, 12-inch, Early 2015–2017)
  • MacBook Air (11-inch, Mid 2012–Early 2015)
  • MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2012–2017)
  • MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
  • MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2018–2020)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2012–2020)
  • MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid 2012–2019)
  • MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)
  • MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2012–Early 2015)
  • MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2012–Mid 2015)
  • MacBook Pro 13-inch (2020, four ports)
  • MacBook Pro 13-inch (2020, two ports)
  • MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)
  • iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2012–2017)
  • iMac (27-inch, Late 2012–Late 2013)
  • iMac (Retina 4K, 21.5-inch, Late 2015–2019)
  • iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014–2020)
  • iMac Pro (2017)
  • iPad (5th Gen)
  • iPad (6th Gen)
  • iPad (7th Gen)
  • iPad (8th Gen)
  • iPad Air (3rd Gen)
  • iPad Air (4th Gen)
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPad Pro 10.5-inch
  • iPad Pro 11-inch (1st Gen)
  • iPad Pro 11-inch (2nd Gen)
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st Gen)9
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2nd Gen)
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd Gen)
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (4th Gen)
  • iPad Pro 9.7-inch
  • iPad mini (5th Gen)
  • iPad mini 4
  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 11 Pro
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • iPhone 12
  • iPhone 12 Pro
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max
  • iPhone 12 mini
  • iPhone 6s
  • iPhone 6s Plus
  • iPhone 7
  • iPhone 7 Plus
  • iPhone 8
  • iPhone 8 Plus
  • iPhone SE (1st Gen)
  • iPhone SE (2nd Gen)
  • iPhone X
  • iPhone XR
  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPod Touch 7th Gen

Where to buy the AirPods Max from?

The AirPods Max is currently up for grabs from the official Apple website as well as Best Buy. You can also throw in a 2-year Apple Care+ protection plan that costs $59 on top of the $549 Apple asks for the AirPods Max. If you don't want to pay that amount upfront, you can opt for a 12-month EMI plan that costs $45.75/mo.

AirPods Max hero

AirPods Max

AirPods Max are the culmination of a particularly long research and development process, but Apple has really delivered here. The sound output of the AirPods Max has received widespread acclaim, and their noise cancellation capability as well as excellent transparency mode has been lauded as well.

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