In December 2020, after a dizzying year’s worth of new products and updates, Apple surprised us all with another new piece of gear: the AirPods Max
. The Upsie
team is here to offer you some first impressions on Apple’s first foray into truly high-end headphones. There’s a lot to cover here, so let’s jump right in.
AirPods Max Sound
The first question to ask of any new audio product is obvious: how does it sound? And on this front, the AirPods Max are fantastic. They sound every bit the premium headphones they are. If you’ve been disappointed by the more expensive Beats models, rest assured that Apple engineered the AirPods Max separately. The aural experience is markedly different – and appreciably better.
There’s a lot of tech packed into these headphones that improves the sound quality. There’s computational audio thanks to the powerful H1 chip in each ear cup and nine surrounding microphones. The AirPods Max adjust sound profile dynamically based on factors like the way they fit against your ears and head. Spatial audio
, previously introduced in the AirPods line, is here as well and it’s still stellar.
There’s also 40-millimeter drivers powered by dual-neodymium ring magnet motors, similar to what you get in floor-standing speakers. Apple boasts no distortion even at max volume, and The Verge agrees
with this assessment.
All that is nice, but what’s the sound experience like? Reviewers are generally very positive, with Forbes’s review stating that even when considering the price tag, the AirPods Max “sound pretty amazing, actually
.” Reviewers agree that sound production is even and clear, and not overly bassy or distorted/muted in the midrange. This is what high-end buyers are looking for, and Apple delivers.
Of course, it’s important to note that audio experiences can be extremely subjective. Gather a group of self-proclaimed audiophiles together and you’ll rarely get consensus about which set of high-end over-the-ear headphones are the best.
The AirPods Max are a premium product designed and built by Apple, so it pretty much goes without saying that the build quality is excellent. It’s clear that the company put a lot of thought and attention into the design and build quality. From the fabric earphone covers to the piston-like extenders to the mesh bar that sits atop the head, every element exudes quality.
A Note About Weight
There’s just one thing to note. As well designed as these headphones are, they’re heavy. Like, really heavy. Most reviewers consider high-end sets from Bose and Sony to be the main competitors, and those sets weigh about 250 grams. The AirPods Max? 385 grams. Many wearers won’t notice or care. Some reviewers state that the mesh band distributes the weight better than they expected. But some reviewers commented on fatigue after extended listening.
The bottom line here: if you have a sensitive head or neck, the weight might be an issue here.
First, there’s no dedicated power button, and you can’t really turn the headphones completely off. They pause when you remove them from your ears, and they go into a low power state after some period of time. Eventually (or immediately, when you put them in the provided case) they go into an ultra-low-power state, too. Still, no ability to actually turn them off is a pretty strange choice.
Second, there’s no 3.5mm audio jack. If you want a high-end wired audio connection, you have to get a specific cable from Apple, and it costs $35.
Third, that case. It’s so strange, it gets its own section.
What’s With the Case?
The AirPods Max comes with an Apple-designed case, and it’s kind of required for use since it’s the only way to quickly place the headphones in ultra-low-power mode. But seriously, it’s terrible. Various tech reporters and Twitter users have described it as looking like a bra, or a purse
. Also, it leaves huge portions of the headphones exposed.
Honestly, this case is not great. But chances are, it won’t persuade you one way or the other on your purchasing decision.
Does the Experience Justify the High Price Tag?
So, for $549, are the AirPods Max worth it? Not for everyone. If you’re simply looking for a high-quality pair of noise-canceling wireless headphones, the Sony or Bose headphones
are probably good enough – and much cheaper. And if you’re looking for the absolute highest-end audio experience possible, you aren’t shopping for wireless headphones in the first place.
But if you want a wireless noise-canceling headphone that rises above the competition in sound and build quality, the AirPods Max are worth consideration – despite the cost.
Verdict: A Great (But Expensive) Product Worth Protecting
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