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Apple AirPods Max Review

Last updated: 1 month ago
13 min read
Editor
rating
4.2
Apple AirPods Max floating

All-around excellent performing wireless noise-cancelling headphones that Apple users will enjoy. On Android, not so much.

Despite some weird anti-consumer practices, Apple is known for making wonderful-looking and engineered products.

The AirPods Max are high-end headphones with a design that’s unique in every way. For example, ear cups are made from a single block of anodized aluminum.

It’s refreshing to hold a piece of cold metal while other headphones rock a plastic body.

Features don’t disappoint either. The best AirPods Max feature is active noise cancelling, which works exceptionally well. Also, Transparency mode sounds as natural as ever.

The sound quality is also above average, at least in the Bluetooth over-ear headphones category. A slight boost in sub-bass and upper treble creates a rumbly U-shaped signature that is a joy to listen to.

However, their metallic construction makes them a bit heavy, and an included protective “case” is annoying to use.

On the other hand, experience is degraded when paired to an Android device, with no Spatial sound, battery percentage information, button customization, Google Assistant, or even an “OFF” switch for noise cancelling.

Are these the best wireless headphones, and are they truly worth $550? Or are you paying extra for the brand and bragging rights? Let’s dive deeper into the review below.

  • Excellent, smooth sound
  • Excellent ANC and realistic Transparency mode performance
  • Tons of features (for Apple users)
  • Premium build with replacable earpads
  • Exceptional Bluetooth range
  • Good battery life (23h with ANC)
  • Degraded user experience on Android devices
  • Uneven clamping force (could cause discomfort)
  • Included Smart case is useless
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4.2
By HeadphonesAddict
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Table of Contents

    Sound

    Star Rating
    4.5 Almost Perfect

    A very faithful sound to the original, with a slightly U-shaped frequency response for deep bass extension. However, for the price, they could be more detailed.

    Check the Apple AirPods Max sound test

    Apple AirPods Max Sound Quality Test – HeadphonesAddict

    Learn how to understand sound comparisons.

    While most wireless headphones for consumers sound heavily boosted, the AirPods Max use a slightly different approach. Apple’s over-ear headphones are fairly balanced throughout the entire audible range.

    While there’s still some elevation on both sides of the spectrum, it’s done very tastefully. And by using what Apple calls Adaptive EQ and computational audio, everyone can hear the sound Apple’s engineers wanted you to hear.

    AirPods Max are using an in-house Apple-designed dynamic driver.

    Bass

    The low-end is fairly neutral for the most part. Only the sub-bass receives a small boost, which adds more body to bass guitars and drums. The latter sounds especially great.

    It also helps produce some rumble without getting bloated. Bass notes feel controlled and sharp, and the decay is very natural. Headphones don’t distort, even at higher volumes.

    Midrange

    The tuning of mid frequencies is slightly recessed but still very natural. Vocals and acoustic instruments sound lovely and realistic.

    Furthermore, there’s no sibilance in sight and no harshness when listening to electric guitars.

    Treble

    The boost in high frequencies is very subtle and smooth. Headphones have a good extension and sound quite airy.

    Cymbal crashes are very polite but natural. The AirPods Max are lovely for more relaxing music but will work fine with energetic genres like hip hop, as well.

    Apple AirPods Max on a book
    AirPods Max have a very easy-going audio quality, great for long listening sessions.

    The soundstage is pretty good but not amazing. The sounds are pushed slightly out of your head, and the overall audio performance feels roomy enough not to appear congested.

    In contrast, the imaging is excellent. Everything sounds very tight with no blind spots.

    The only thing I’m missing is a bit more detailed presentation. Otherwise, these are a great pair for listening to your favorite songs.

    While they have a great sound quality, I feel like I hear slightly more details even from Sony WF-1000XM4, which are true wireless earbuds. And those cost almost half as much.

    Can Apple AirPods Max play lossless audio files?

    Even though the Apple Music app now supports lossless playback, you can’t really take full advantage of it using any of Apple’s headphones, including AirPods Max.

    The reason is in use of the AAC codec, which isn’t lossless. Since Apple doesn’t provide codecs with higher bitrates, like aptX HD, Adaptive, or LDAC, that’s the best they can do for music playing.

    Can you listen to Apple AirPods Max in wired mode?

    Yes, you can, but you have to use a Lightning to 3.5mm audio cable. It doesn’t come with headphones (which for the price, it should), so you have to buy the cable separately for $35.

    Of course, you’ll also need a Lightning to 3.5mm audio dongle or USB-C to 3.5mm audio dongle if you want to listen to them on the newest smart devices (since they all lack an AUX port).

    While making AirPods Max wired is a complete mess, it does open more possibilities for changing sound and listening to high-fidelity audio at higher bitrates.

    Apple AirPods Max Frequency Response

    Apple AirPods Max frequency response
    Apart from the hump in sub-bass and a dip at 5kHz, the frequency response is quite balanced.

    Comfort & Fit

    Star Rating
    4.0 Great

    AirPods Max provide good comfort with big, decently plush earpads. However, an uneven clamp force and the weight can get slightly annoying.

    Noise-canceling headphones use special fabric earpads with memory foam to sit over your ears. The padding isn’t very generous yet sufficient enough to keep your ears from touching the drivers.

    Ear cushions are also easily swappable with the use of magnets. You can buy them in different colors to personalize the headphones’ color palate. However, replacements are costly at $70 for a pair.

    A uniquely designed headband uses suspended fabric mesh instead of foam to rest on your head.

    It works surprisingly well, distributing the weight of the AirPods Max without causing pressure on the top. Also, the mesh headband helps with air circulation, making you less sweaty during use.

    Apple AirPods Max in space gray color on white background
    Headphones fit quite comfortably with oval-shaped ear cups that are made from a single piece of aluminum.

    While overall comfort is good, there’re few problems:

    • Earcup’s hinge is on the top, so the clamping force isn’t evenly distributed on your ears. That means headphones apply greater clamp force right where the hinge is, whereas the bottom side (near a jaw) feels a bit lose.
    • Another problem is the weight. The use of luxurious materials added extra weight, and you can definitely feel the extra 100 grams.

    Fortunately, if you plan to use them somewhere stationary, you will slowly forget how heavy they are. But, if you want them for commuting, you’ll feel the weight.

    Which leads me to overall stability. AirPods Max aren’t going to fall off if you make sudden movements or lean your head backward.

    However, running with them isn’t advisable. The headphone’s weight will slowly push them off your head. And you don’t want to drop AirPods Max on the floor.

    Durability

    Star Rating
    4.0 Great

    The AirPods Max are made of premium materials and feel very sturdy. However, the aluminum cups might get easily scratched or dented, and the headband mesh doesn’t look very durable.

    Apple was brave enough to go all-in and deliver the first wireless headphones made of more premium-looking and feeling materials.

    Ear cups are made from a single piece of aluminum and are wonderfully cold to the touch. Headband adjustment is made of stainless steel.

    The adjustment glides smoothly up and down, and the two physical controls (one is also a rotating crown, like on the Apple Watch’s digital crown) are stiff enough to know when you’ve pressed them.

    That kind of attention to detail is why Apple products stand out from the rest.

    To cut down some weight, Apple designed a uniquely shaped headband made of stiff rubber, stainless steel frame, and a suspended fabric mesh.

    Apple AirPods Max headband fabric
    Fabric mesh does a great job distributing the weight of the headphones.

    The headband’s mesh is probably the weakest part of the whole construction, as it might tear fairly easily.

    Another concern are aluminum earcups.

    • Firstly, both earcups like to bang together when you lay them flat or take them out from the Smart case.
    • Moreover, aluminum isn’t the hardest metal, and if they fall, you can expect a few dents.

    Hopefully, the uniform construction, machined from a single block of aluminum, will help from completely bending the whole earcup in case of an accident.

    Also, there were reports of water condensation inside earcups over extended use. Since headphones aren’t water-resistant and don’t have an IPX rating, that could potentially be alarming.

    Apple AirPods Max in Smart Case
    The Smart Case offers barebones protection and is practically an inconvenience.

    Smart Case

    Finally, let’s talk about the included carrying case. It’s by far the most unprotective protective case for headphones ever.

    There are two big problems with it.

    • Firstly, it only partially covers the earcups and leaves the headband exposed.
    • Secondly, big cuts out on the bottom and the top mean that the sides of the earcups can still scratch if they drop on the floor.
    • Furthermore, placing earcups in the case is annoying as it feels you require 3 hands to put them inside effectively.

    Unfortunately, using the Case is essential. AirPods Max don’t have an ON/OFF power button, so you have to put them in the case in order to go into ultra Low Power mode.

    Repair-ability

    By design, The AirPods Max are quite modular. Not only can you replace earcups, but the headband as well. And you only need a SIM ejector tool to disconnect it from the earcups.

    Apple AirPods Max earcups
    Earpads and ear cups are easily removable. You can remove the latter by pushing the pin into a small hole on top of the ear cup.

    That means you could potentially replace every part of these headphones by yourself. However, Apple doesn’t sell replacement headbands, neither do third-party retailers, which is a shame.

    Also, since Apple is still quiet about the possibility of removing earcups, you might void your warranty by doing that yourself.

    Battery

    Star Rating
    3.5 Almost Great

    The battery life lasts for around 23 hours with both Spatial Audio and active noise cancellation enabled. It’s a respectable full-day duration, but the competition can do much better.

    Apple AirPods Max battery comparison

    Apple AirPods Max battery comparison

    Despite their size, the battery can only last an average of 24 hours on a single charge, which is the exact amount that Apple claims. However, you get better results if you completely turn off the noise cancelling.

    Be careful when taking breaks from listening. You have to put the AirPods Max into the included carrying case. Otherwise, they don’t go into Sleep mode.

    Consequently, they draw power indefinitely. Not sure why Apple designed them that way, especially since the AirPods Max case is pretty useless for protection.

    On top of that, you can only see the battery percentage on Apple gadgets. If you connect them to Android or Windows, you’ll have to guess how much battery life is still left.

    Headphones can fast charge, with a five minute charge resulting in 1.5 hours of playtime. They use Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector. Charging cable comes in a box.

    Apple AirPods Max charging port and a Lightning cable
    The case has a cut-out for the charging Lightning port.

    Features

    Star Rating
    4.5 Almost Perfect

    Noise-canceling headphones come packed with features that work exceptionally well. However, most of the features on AirPods Max work only with iOS and macOS.

    As you expect from a premium product like the AirPods Max, they offer tons of features. The most useful ones are the ANC and Transparency mode.

    Headphones also use the feature called Adaptive EQ. It uses inward-facing mics to adjust the frequency response based on your head’s shape.

    • If you wish to make a custom EQ, you have to use equalizers that are built into your favorite music app (or download a dedicated EQ app). Even iOS users lack an EQ option, having to choose between various presets in the Apple Music app.

    However, note that the AirPods Max don’t like to be equalized as they lose a lot of power and dynamics in the sound when you boost a specific frequency.

    Another cool feature is the Spatial Audio, which uses Dolby Atmos virtual surround signal to enlarge the sound field when watching movies or listening to music.

    Also, by moving your head, you can follow the sound, creating a more cinematic experience. The same feature is supported by Apple AirPods Pro.

    There are 2 physical buttons on top of the right ear cup: a Noise Control button and a digital crown.

    Apple AirPods Max buttons & hinge
    A rotatable digital crown in the back and the NC button in the front.

    The Noise Control button lets you toggle between ANC and Ambient sound mode.

    Note that only with an Apple device you can completely turn off both features. If you own an Android device, ask a friend with an iPhone to add the “Off” option to your AirPods Max.

    By rotating the digital crown, you adjust the volume. When doing so, you can hear a clicking sound from the headphones, which is a nice touch.

    Apart from volume adjustment, the rotating crown also acts as a playback button, double-click to skip tracks, and you can also use it to summon smart assistant Siri for voice commands.

    Apple AirPods Max settings on iPad
    You can only access these settings on an iOS device, otherwise, you’re stuck with default ones.

    Lack of customization on Android

    However, everything about customization and how to activate Siri isn’t accessible when using Android phones, degrading the overall user experience.

    Some mobile apps will enable individual features, like a pop-up animation when paired to AirPods Max or showing the battery left inside noise-cancelling headphones.

    But that’s not nearly enough to use these luxury headphones to a full extent. There are no substitute apps for active noise cancellation controls, Spatial Audio, or audio sharing.

    It’s a shame that Apple is purposely locking their products to properly work only with iOS devices.

    Apple AirPods Max magnetic earpads
    Fabric earpads with a hole for a proximity sensor that automatically pauses the music playback.

    Microphone Quality

    Call quality in a quiet environment is great. AirPods Max headphones pick up your voice with excellent clarity, and you shouldn’t have any problems using them for video calls and office work.

    When adding some environmental noise, headphones want to reduce a lot of ambient noise. That results in some occasional distortion when your voice gets slightly muffled.

    Overall, it isn’t bad, but for $550 and a total of nine microphones, the performance could be better. At least they do a good job compared to Sony WH-1000XM4, which have problems with some artifacts and crackling sounds.

    On the other hand, taking calls with the OneOdio A30, a pair of headphones for under $60, can deliver more consistent voice pickup quality.

    Nevertheless, if you plan to use the AirPods Max to make and answer phone calls, you’ll be more than satisfied with the results.

    Apple AirPods Max microphone test

    Noise Isolation

    Star Rating
    3.5 Almost Great

    Fabric ear cushions aren’t the greatest for passive noise isolation. You can still hear most of the surrounding sounds, just more muffled.

    Big over-ear headphones like AirPods Max are pretty good at passive isolation. Rather than blocking, they only muffle down the ambient noise.

    Apple AirPods Max in the city
    The ambient sound mode on AirPods Max is fantastic, so you can hear people normally, even in a noisy city.

    Thankfully, playing music helps mask surrounding sounds in passive mode, even at lower volumes.

    Headphones can also do the opposite and boost ambient noise with Transparency mode. It works splendidly, amplifying sounds with excellent clarity.

    This is probably the best ambient mode performance out there.

    Be aware that if you don’t own an Apple device, you can only use the AirPods Max in either ANC or Transparency mode. Only within iOS or macOS can you customize the NC button to turn off both features.

    Noise Cancelling

    Star Rating
    4.5 Almost Perfect

    ANC performance on the AirPods Max is top notch. It successfully reduces everything from lower notes to human speech. Compared to other noise-canceling headphones, these are the best.

    Apple AirPods Max Active Noise Cancelling Test

    Apple AirPods Max ANC Test – HeadphonesAddict

    AirPods Max deliver close to perfect ANC performance. These are probably the best active noise cancelling headphones out there. With up to nine mics, most of them are outward-facing microphones, we didn’t expect anything less.

    While Sony WH-1000XM4 are excellent too, the AirPods Max perform slightly better.

    Upon pressing the noise cancellation button, the lower frequencies get erased entirely. Even vocals get significantly reduced, to the point where they are barely audible, which is truly impressive.

    Wearing headphones will dampen people’s chatter, making AirPods Max a perfect gadget to wear in a loud office space.

    Only the highest frequencies still pass through since they’re the hardest to block. However, not many distracting noises consist of higher frequencies, so that isn’t really a dealbreaker.

    Still, if you want something for commuting, office work, or travel, you can’t get any better than AirPods Max.

    Bluetooth

    Star Rating
    4.5 Almost Perfect

    The Bluetooth range is amazing, despite having aluminum ear cups. However, when connected to a laptop, the audio often starts distorting.

    Since these are from Apple and prefer connecting to the Apple ecosystem, I mostly used my iPad Air 2 during testing.

    Apple AirPods Max with Macbook and iPhone
    You can only access all the AirPods Max’s features if you pair them with another device from Apple.

    Due to the H1 chip (the same chip as in AirPods and AirPods Pro), the pairing process was effortless. That also ensures them to easily switch between two devices.

    As soon as you pop out the headphones from the Smart case, an animation pops out, showing the headphone’s name and battery percentage. That doesn’t happen on Android.

    Nevertheless, they still pair quite easily to Android.

    • You just have to hold the ANC button for a few seconds until a small LED at the bottom starts blinking
    • AirPods Max will show up in the Bluetooth menu on your device

    The Bluetooth range is by far the most impressive. Connected to my iPad (which uses Bluetooth 4.0), I managed to pass the second wall and walk on the other side of the house (roughly 65 feet or 20 meters).

    Note that in between those 65 feet, there are many obstacles like brick walls and other gadgets that also use Bluetooth and WiFi, which can interfere with connection strength.

    The audio stuttered for a bit but eventually continued working flawlessly right to the end. So far, no other wireless gadget had such a range, making the AirPods Max the best in this category.

    Apple AirPods Max antenna line
    Antenna line on the bottom of the left ear cup.

    Occasional connection issues

    They don’t deserve a full rating due to weird stutters when connected to a laptop.

    • They stuttered the first time when I covered antenna lines on the bottom of the ear cup with both hands. However, I did the same thing when connected to the iPad, and the headphones worked just fine.
    • The second time was when I placed the headphones on a MiniDSP rig and started playing songs. I had to reconnect them with my laptop to resolve the issue. After that, they worked fine.

    It could be that my laptop has a weak Bluetooth antenna. However, no other headphones or earbuds behaved like this before.

    Multipoint works, but only between iOS devices. You can automatically switch from your iPhone to your Macbook without any fiddling within settings.

    On the other hand, you must manually reconnect the AirPods Max between various Android or Windows devices.

    For Bluetooth codecs, you only get SBC and AAC, which isn’t too surprising. Apple devices work best with an AAC since they have the best encoders and decoders for it.

    Apple AirPods Max listening to music
    The movie-watching experience is good on both Apple and Android.

    Is There Any Audio Lag?

    There’s a tiny bit of delay on Android devices when watching YouTube. Thankfully, it’s only noticeable if you really focus on someone’s mouth.

    If you find it too distracting, you can force your smartphone to use the SBC codec, which helps minimize the lag.

    ain contrast, there’s no visible delay during movie playback on Apple devices.

    Should You Get Apple AirPods Max?

    These headphones are undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best, Bluetooth noise-canceling headphones on the market right now.

    Apple AirPods Max red background
    AirPods Max’s unique design may be weird at first, but you quickly start to like it.

    The AirPods Max offer superb active noise cancellation and sound quality, realistic Transparency mode, exquisite build quality and looks, and good comfort and fit.

    They also provide many features and can be further customized inside another iOS device, which leads us to the main problem.

    That’s not that this product is bad. It’s Apple’s decision to make the user experience inferior if you’re using Android.

    If you prefer using non-Apple devices but want the AirPods Max, the same features aren’t available to both systems.

    Android users:

    • Lack button customization
    • Can’t see battery life percentage
    • Can’t use the Spatial audio feature
    • Can’t turn off ANC/Transparency mode

    While every other company makes an app that works on both operating systems, Apple is the only one that purposely lowers the experience if you dare not to use an iPhone.

    Also, you have to carry the headphones with their impractical Smart Case if you don’t want your battery life to drain by the end of the day.

    In summary, the AirPods Max are an excellent product for most people that already have another iOS device to pair them with. Of course, if they don’t mind paying a higher price.

    How Apple AirPods Max Compare to the Competition?

    • They have a more balanced sound tuning than the others and more focused imaging capabilities.
    • Are made of higher quality materials like aluminum cups and stainless steel headband, whereas the others use primarily plastic.
    • The ANC performance and Transparency mode are by far the best in class, blocking a large chunk of surrounding noise.
    • While they offer many features, they lock most of them when using an Android device, which is a disadvantage compared to the competition.
    • The battery life of around 20 hours is okay, but others can do much better.

    Apple AirPods Max Alternatives

    Sony WH-1000XM4

    Sony WH-1000XM4 on a desk

    Sony’s headphones have a more energetic, V-shaped sound that works better for bassier genres.

    They’re slightly comfier and more lightweight. The battery is also longer-lasting, reaching 29 hours with ANC enabled.

    The ANC and ambient mode works great but can’t quite cancel out the same amount of outside noise as the AirPods Max.

    However, it’s still hard to justify the price difference. Especially since all the features are available on both Android and iOS.

    Sony WH-1000XM4 review

    Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

    Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

    While the tuning is closer to neutral, Bose headphones can sound a bit dull in comparison.

    They’re made of plastic and lighter, with more comfortable earpads. They use touch controls instead of physical ones.

    The ANC is great but not as good as Apple’s AirPods Max. Playtime at around 20 hours per charge puts them in the same category.

    Bowers & Wilkins PX7

    Bowers & Wilkins PX7 wireless headphones

    The PX7 are a better option if you want a wider soundstage and overall better comfort.

    Otherwise, the sound is noticeably V-shaped and geared towards general consumers, despite their high price tag.

    Build quality is excellent, with carbon fiber frame and fabric stitching.

    ANC is good and comes in 3 modes, but not as good as on AirPods Max.

    What’s in the Box?

    Apple AirPods Max accessories
    • Apple AirPods Max Bluetooth headphones
    • Smart Case
    • Lightning to USB-C cable
    • User manual

    Specifications

    Type: Over-ear
    Connection: Bluetooth 5.0
    Back design: Closed-back
    Drivers: 40mm dynamic
    Frequency range: n/a
    Impedance: n/a
    Weight: 13.6oz (384.8g)
    Mic & Controls: Yes
    Water resistance: None
    Battery life: 24h (ANC & Transparency mode ON)
    Active noise cancelling: Yes
    Bluetooth codecs: SBC, AAC
    Wireless range: 33ft (10m)
    Microphone: Yes, total of 9 mics