I’ve been using AirPods Max all week, and I’ve got a lot of thoughts. My biggest takeaway is that these headphones are overpriced. I like them a lot for various reasons, but they are 100% overpriced. The reasons you would buy this pair of headphones could be quite similar to the same reasons someone buys a $500+ pair of shoes — it’s just because you like what you like. And while $550 is a lot to command, the vast majority of consumers these headphones are being marketed to are absolutely going to enjoy these headphones. Here’s why.

Design

These headphones are a perfectly-Apple product as far as design. I’m much more curious about how well the design’s durability will hold up over time with continued usage. But I don’t mind the aesthetic choices Apple made. I especially think the Sky Blue and Pink colors look very unique and pleasing to the eye.

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The headphones, in general, provide a nice sense of durability. But I feel as though these should not be in the hands of toddlers or small active children. The hinge feels sturdy, but just based on my experience using these normally, I wouldn’t trust AirPods Max around children who are potentially rough with tech.

Comfort is the more interesting aspect of these headphones. Because of the headphones using stainless steel and aluminum materials for the build, it’s a bit heavier than some of its biggest competitors from Sony and Bose. They don’t feel heavy on the head, per se — more so just very firm. That weight holds the headphones on your head very firmly, so there’s been little to no fit or slippage issues. To achieve the best personal comfort level, I had to extend the arms out all the way, but I’m sure this will vary per user. 

The Max uses a mesh material for the ear cups, which I’m indifferent about. In my opinion, it doesn’t feel better on the ears than a soft-leather material that headphones in this price-bracket are known to have. I think the potential bright side here is that the ear cups are easily removable via magnets. I think this will make these headphones better for long-term usage. And hopefully, a third-party accessory maker can produce magnetic ear cups using leather to substitute these with. That would be awesome. 

Noise Canceling

Coming from AirPods Pro, the noise canceling is much more effective here on Max. I’m sure the larger drivers and over-ear design have a part to play in that. But it’s substantially more isolating than AirPods Pro. You get a slight hiss from that noise canceling, but overall, it works very well. And something Max does much better than AirPods Pro is maintaining a clean sound when ANC is on and fighting-off environment noise like wind or a moving train. There’s significantly less audio distortion in noise-canceling mode, which is probably my biggest long term complaint of the AirPods Pro. Is the noise canceling in AirPods Max significantly more powerful than the ANC in over-ear headphones half the price? No, but it’s definitely an improved experience from AirPods Pro.

Transparency Mode

Transparency mode on Max is probably the most impressive aspect of these headphones. The Nine microphones placed on the ear cups are extremely effective in delivering a truly transparent audio experience. I can have music playing at 75% volume with transparency mode on, and I’ll still be able to clearly hear my keyboard as I typed on it or my voice as I spoke normally. The closer the sound to the microphone, the clearer it sounds, obviously, but it’s a very nice experience.

Wired Mode Performance

I will say that the wired experience using these headphones isn’t as limiting as I thought it would be. Firstly, in wired mode, transparency and noise-canceling mode work just fine. And the digital crown can still be used to adjust volume, but nothing else. You’re unable to skip or pause tracks, and obviously, there’s no Siri functionality. The head detection and auto-pause functionality still work in wired mode, though, which I didn’t expect to work in wired mode, but it’s nice that it does.

The fact that these headphones use the lighting port, while not surprising, is definitely a missed opportunity. Apple could have used USB-C to make these headphones better. Some sort of USB-C Hi-Fi mode could have been a cool feature not only for users to experience but for Apple to market.

This $35 Lightning to 3.5mm cable is what Apple expects you to use with these headphones for the wired experience. For $35, this is down-right pitiful. It’s too short, it’s very flimsy, and I’m only one accidental snag away from having to buy another one. We all know Apple accessories aren’t meant to last, but for $550, they could have definitely included a lengthy, color-matching, braided cable to use with AirPods Max. That would make the wired experience a lot better personally.

Battery Life

Battery life on AirPods Max is good but assuringly not the battery champion compared to other headphones with ANC in various price brackets. I have sub-$200 Audio Technica headphones (with ANC) that can easily outperform Max in the battery department. The AirPods Max float around the 15-20 hour range as far as battery life from my testing.

If you’re using AirPods Max non-stop all-day with noise canceling on; you can definitely get close to killing them. If you’re the type of user who only uses headphones for an hour in the day, then these will definitely last you all week or longer depending on your usage. But these are definitely not the best battery-wise for $550 or even $300. I think they’re good enough to be reliable to use on and off throughout the workweek.

Smart Case

There’s absolutely nothing smart about this case in the sense that we know the word “smart” to be used in product naming. This is a flimsy cover with magnets in it. There’s no charging port or battery inside. Apple could have made the case for these headphones a highlight feature. The case is meant to put the headphones in a low-power mode to prevent idle battery drain, but it’s been confirmed by Apple that the headphones will do this on their own after 5 minutes of being idle… So this case truly is purposeless.

They could have implemented a battery to extend the battery life or provided connectivity to AirPods Max in a way that provides faster charging capability. But instead, Apple gave us this joke. And while I don’t like the case, I think it still matches the AirPods Max very well aesthetically.

Sound Quality

Flat out, these do not sound like $550 headphones. I think AirPods Max do a great job of delivering a clean sound overall in both wired and wireless mode. They can get extremely loud; you should rarely need to put these at over 80% volume. And I feel as though all of the frequencies have a consistently clean presence. Are you getting the insane high-fidelity detail you get from Tesla-powered headphones and other audiophile centric products? Absolutely not. But especially given the way most AirPods users consume audio, they deliver a pleasing listening experience overall. At volumes below 50%, the sound experience is still clean, but very dull. You don’t get nearly that same vibrance and presence from other headphones in this price range. 

The mids and highs are extremely present and moderately clean but don’t quite have that clarity and sharpness that headphones in this price point have. The low end is especially dull at lower volumes, but at 80% volume and higher, the bass will literally cause the headphones to start rumbling depending on the track you’ve got playing. At those higher volumes, the bass distortion is really minimal, which is something that pleasantly surprised me. I tried using Max with some extremely bass-heavy tracks, and I was thoroughly surprised with the bass response.

The wired mode takes this experience a bit further. Depending on what kind of device you’re connected to, you can definitely achieve a higher maximum volume with these headphones in wired mode. The bass response is definitely improved in wired mode, and I can hear all of the little nuances in certain tracks just a little bit clearer. It’s not better to the point of me feeling like the wireless experience lacks in comparison, but the sound is objectively better in wired mode. Overall, for music listening, these are very enjoyable for me. The sound quality alone doesn’t warrant a $550 purchase, in my opinion, but they sound very good.

Video/Movie Experience & Spatial Audio

I think these are some of the most capable wireless headphones I’ve ever used for general media consumption. A lot of that is due to the spatial audio feature. This is something found on the other AirPods models. It essentially gives you that surround-sound feel when watching videos and movies, even content without official Dolby Atmos support. I watched a bunch of Dolby Atmos content and some videos with 8D audio. The experience for that kind of content is really solid. Watching content with spatial audio enabled can make the experience noticeably more immersive than without. This feature in combination with the active noise canceling makes these nearly perfect headphones to watch an airplane movie on.

9to5Mac’s Take

These headphones are priced like headphones made for audiophiles, but they’re far from it. From my experience, these have best-in-class noise-canceling and transparency modes. But other than that, AirPods Max aren’t necessarily the best at anything specifically. But when you combine all of the features these headphones have to offer: from the amazing transparency mode to spatial audio, you’ve got a very compelling package for Apple users overall.

Is it an experience that’s worth $550? In my opinion, no. I think these would be much more justifiable at $400 or $450. But I personally don’t see myself using any other over-ear headphones for the majority of things I do now that I’ve got them in-hand. I like using these overall, and I think anyone who’s already invested in the Apple ecosystem should thoroughly enjoy the experience these headphones provide. What are your thoughts on AirPods Max? Sound of in the comments below!

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