Why the AirPods Max Are the Ultimate Wireless Cans for Apple Users

Stefan Vazharov
·6-min read
Photo credit: Apple
Photo credit: Apple

From Popular Mechanics

We judge headphones and earbuds on a scale of 10, analyzing the categories we think are most important: sound, comfort, design, battery performance, and, if applicable, special features.

Here's how the Apple AirPods Max wireless noise-canceling headphones stack up.

The AirPods Max are Apple’s first wireless headphones that aren’t rocking a Beats by Dre logo. The over-ear, noise-canceling cans are not only the biggest but, at $549, also the most expensive AirPods yet, and a bona fide luxury item. They’re significantly pricier than top-tier products from Bose and Sony, so I began testing them with hefty expectations.

Scores

Sound: 10/10
Comfort: 9/10
Design: 8/10
Battery Performance: 8/10
Overall Score: 9/10

All You Need to Know About the AirPods Max:

  • The headphones sound great and tune out din superbly.

  • They have attention-commanding design and luxurious craftsmanship.

  • Their tactile button controls are the product category’s new gold standard.

  • Their bundled Smart Case is stylish but a bit ineffective.

  • They lack a power button and a bundled wired audio cable.

Sound: 10/10

The AirPods Max deliver a detail-rich and balanced sound with exceptional quality, thanks to custom 40-millimeter audio drivers with dual neodymium magnets, plus an H1 chip in each ear cup. Considering the price, I expected their sonic capabilities to blow me away, and they did.

Because of the dual magnets in each driver and a clever ventilation setup, the AirPods Max sound distortion-free even at high volume. This is an impressive feat even for high-end wireless headphones. It’s common for many headsets to lose a bit of acoustic detail as their volume levels increase.

The H1 chips, on the other hand, brings computational audio capabilities, including Adaptive EQ. The last bit tunes the sonic experience in real time based the headphones’ fit and seal, ensuring a great sound regardless of the content that’s playing.

I profoundly enjoyed The Richest Man in Babylon—my favorite Thievery Corporation album—on the AirPods Max. The balance between the mellow beats, the eclectic instrumentals, and the vocals was present in every track.

Photo credit: Apple
Photo credit: Apple

Like the H1 chip-toting AirPods Pro, the Max have spatial audio capabilities with dynamic head tracking. The feature brings support for virtual surround sound, as well as Dolby Atmos-enhanced content. It makes the cans a legit, take-anywhere replacement of a full-blown home theater system, and it sets the product apart from its premium rivals.

The noise cancellation of the AirPods Max is as excellent as their acoustic performance. A quartet of microphones in each cup and the H1 chip help the cans tune out ambient noise almost completely. I spent entire work days in quiet bliss while testing them.

Like all top-shelf noise-canceling headphones, the AirPods Max have a transparency mode, which lets some ambient sound in when the wearer needs to be aware of their surroundings while streaming content. It’s available via a dedicated button on the right ear cup. Overall, when it comes to sound and noise cancellation, the big AirPods are among the category’s best.

Comfort: 9/10

Weighing 13.6 ounces (almost 400 grams), the AirPods Max are bulky yet incredibly comfortable. Apple has equipped the cans with well-padded memory foam cushions and a headband with a mesh canopy, which helps distribute their weight evenly to reduce fatigue.

Photo credit: Apple
Photo credit: Apple

The tactile button controls of the headphones are the industry’s new gold standard. For comparison, the range-topping wireless headphones from Bose and Sony have touch controls which, while reliable, are nowhere near as convenient.

A signature feature of the Apple Watch, the digital crown on the AirPods Max is hands-down the coolest, most convenient tool for controlling playback and volume I have experienced in headphones to date. I often found myself fiddling with the volume just to hear the crown’s audible clicks.

Pairing the AirPods Max is as easy as bringing them close to an iPhone or iPad and tapping on their screen. Once paired, the headphones will connect and seamlessly switch between all Apple devices that use the same iCloud account. Like all AirPods, the settings of the Max are intuitive and easy to access—there’s no need to install an app.

Design: 8/10

The AirPods Max have a gorgeous design. Large aluminum housings and a stainless-steel frame make most high-priced wireless headphones look generic in comparison.

Photo credit: Apple
Photo credit: Apple

Apple offers the cans in silver, space gray, sky blue, green, and pink, with each pair sporting a matching headband. I like that they have removable magnetic cushions for easy replacements if necessary.

The bundled Smart Case of the AirPods Max, while worthy of a conversation, is not really effective in protecting them when not in use. The accessory doesn’t cover the headband, the telescoping arms, the hardware buttons, and the Lightning connector. You’ll always have to be mindful of how and where you store the headphones, especially while traveling.

Lack of a power on/off button is another AirPods Max design oddity worth mentioning. When in their Smart Case, the headphones will stay in a low-power mode instead of being completely off.

Battery Performance: 8/10

According to Apple, the AirPods Max can deliver up to 20 hours of playback between charges. During my testing, I found the product to perform in line with that claim—I easily got two full work days of use before I had to look for a charging cable.

The headphones’ Lightning connector is convenient and fast. Users can get 1.5 hours’ worth of playback after only five minutes of charging.

Overall: 9/10

The AirPods Max are the ultimate wireless headphones for Apple hardware users, so long as they are fine with their strange case, lack of a power button, and thunderous price tag. With impeccable craftsmanship, top-tier sound and noise cancellation, and a host of Apple-exclusive smart features, the cans are worth the splurge, especially for buyers who already own a multitude of Apple devices.

In case you find $549 to be a bit to much, consider the Sony WH-1000XM4, the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700, or the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 instead. They offer top-tier sound and noise cancellation for less. However, they have neither the spatial audio capabilities nor the easy integration with Apple hardware of the AirPods Max.

Also worth noting, the AirPods Max don’t come with an audio cable for wired listening in the box. The optional accessory costs an extra $35.

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