KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 24 — It is 2am in the morning. I am still awake, not because I am reading, scrolling social media or binge watching. The main reason is a ludicrously expensive and yet rather comfortable pair of headphones.
The AirPods Max seemed like a ridiculous proposition at its price point though I know for audiophiles, RM2,399 isn't an uncommon price for headphones.
For this review, I will just get what I don't like out of the way first.
First, the price. It is fairly expensive for a pair of headphones that work best with Apple things ― there isn't an app usable on other platforms and you can't truly customise the EQ, besides some presets on Apple Music that are rather limited.
Like other reviewers I find the lack of cable irksome ― if you want to use it in wired mode, you need to spend extra on a Lightning to 3.5mm jack cable but as the headphones don't work without a charged battery, if your AirPods are out of juice the cable won't work either.
The case's design is a mystery. It's rather flimsy, seems more cosmetic than protective and offers no functionality otherwise. Fortunately China's Taobao already has protective hardcases aplenty as well as individual silicon covers for each cup.
Speaking of the cups, you can now buy replacements for them on the Apple Store for RM349 a pair.
My pet peeve has to be the Lightning charging port: why, Apple, why? I really don't see why they can stuff a USB-C port on the iPad Pro, MacBooks but not the AirPods Max.
I wouldn't suggest these while working out or doing anything that will get you sweaty; one round of vacuuming got the cups fairly soggy but at least cleaning/drying required just removing the cups, wiping down the internals and leaving it to air.
A real trip (in a good way)
All that being said if you haven't stopped reading, here's what I do like about it ― enough I went on a musical memory lane just to see how my favourite songs from all time periods and genres sounded on these. I was that intrigued.
It's a lot more comfortable than I thought. The previous on-ear headphones, including a Beats model, never lasted long on my head as they would start to pinch or get too warm.
I barely feel the mesh on top of the strap and the cups fit nicely over my ears even when I wear glasses.
As for controls, there is no power button; instead Apple puts the headphones in sleep mode once inside its special cover or when you lay them down. You do have a button to turn noise cancellation on or off as well as a dial (Apple calls it the Digital Crown) to adjust volume or play, pause, skip forward and back.
Switching from one device to another is also fairly seamless as I had no issues moving from the iPhone to the MacBook Air.
Back to the sound. These headphones support spatial audio which brings surround sound to your ears without needing you to set up a home theatre system.
Of course you would need content that supports Spatial Audio for you to get the best experience but even if it is “just” music, the AirPods Max offers a pleasing depth and vibrance to your listening.
On Spiritualized's Broken Heart the string arrangement is rendered beautifully, and the lowest percussion beats are clearly audible, where on lesser headphones they would be muddy.
It was also fun listening to the energetic synthpop of New Order's Bizarre Love Triangle, the swelling score from the film Taal and K-pop group Apink's 2020 summer hit Dumhdurum as well as Britney Spears' criminally underrated 2016 Glory album.
I was perhaps underwhelmed listening to Biffy Clyro's Many of Horror but perhaps the production of the song makes it more suited to it being blasted on speakers, and not so much on high-end headphones.
The AirPods Max isn't perfect ― the oddly designed case, the missing audio cable, an absent power button but as far as sound is concerned, it's an audio wonder. It's a shame that non-Apple ecosystem members won't be able to appreciate these headphones as much but for Apple users these are worthy of your consideration, if you don't mind the price point.
You can buy the AirPods Max online now on the Apple Store for RM2,399 with the following colour options: silver, space grey, green, sky blue, and pink.
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