True Wireless Stereo (TWS) headphones have been around for a while, but it’s fair to say that Apple’s AirPods Max are some of the most eagerly awaited headphones ever. After years of conjecture and hypothesizing, the wait for Apple’s first-ever over-ear headphones finally came to an end on December 8th, 2020.
But was it worth it? What makes the AirPods Max different from other options? And most importantly, should you buy a pair?
Read on for our take on 2021’s hottest headphones…
Design has always been at the forefront of Apple’s approach to its products, and this hasn’t changed with the launch of the AirPods Max. The minimalist aesthetic of the AirPods Max practically screams Apple, and their sleek exterior hides a wealth of nifty design features that contribute to the listening experience.
Apple has never been one to skimp on the build quality of their products, and this approach remains unchanged for the AirPods Max.
For the earcups, Apple has opted for anodized aluminum as the material. The earcups are encased in memory foam for comfort, which has been covered in a type of knit fabric for comfort. The two earcups are connected by a stainless steel headband that has more of the same mesh-knit fabric for comfort.
The fabric in the middle of the band adds comfort and is lightweight, but overall the earphones are way too heavy.
Size and Weight
Perhaps unavoidably, the AirPods Max are a little on the heavy side. Weighing in at 385g, Apple’s over-ear headphones are far from the lightest choice on the market. But through a combination of clever design and smart material choice, you probably won’t notice the extra weight.
In total, the AirPods Max are 187mm tall and 169mm wide. Unfortunately, the AirPods Max are not capable of folding, but the earcups do rotate to make storage and transportation easier.
The H1 Chip
The AirPods Max come jam-packed with clever technical features and innovations, including adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, transparency mode, and spatial audio. These features are powered by two of Apple’s fearsome H1 chips. There’s one in each audio cup.
The H1 chips are the backbone of the AirPods Max. Each one has 10 audio cores, each capable of 9 billion computations per second, enabling great sound, amazing noise cancellation, and ultra-fast pairing with your devices.
If you have ever used an Apple Watch, you will be familiar with the Digital Crown used to control them. Apple has imported this directly onto the AirPods Max, and they work fantastically in this setting.
To change the volume, you simply turn the Digital Crown left or right. Additionally, a single press will either pause, play or answer an incoming call. To skip forward is a double-press, to skip backwards is a triple-press. You can even use a long press to access Apple’s voice assistant, Siri.
Once upon a time, you could only buy Apple products in one color – white. Fortunately, Apple has kept up with the times, and most of their products are now available in an assortment of colors, so you can express your truest self.
The AirPods Max are available to purchase in five different color options: Space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink.
The case that is supplied with Apple’s AirPods Max has an…interesting design, to say the least.
Dodgy stylings aside, the AirPods Max case isn’t that useful as a case. It doesn’t offer much in the way of protection for the earcups, and it doesn’t protect the headband at all.
With their premium price tag, you will probably want a case that offers a bit more protection for your AirPods Max. There are some third-party options available, but we find it a little odd that this should be necessary, considering how much a pair of Apple’s latest and greatest will set you back.
The AirPods Max are, to put it simply, gorgeous. For those of you out there who might be worrying that the beautiful exterior of the AirPods max hides an inferior listening experience, rest assured that your fears are mislaid.
The sound produced by the AirPods Max is, put simply, fantastic. The treble is punchy and clear, and the bass is heavy, deep, and resonant. The overall delivery is spacious, and the attack is crisp and precise.
In a large part, the superior audio quality provided by the AirPods Max comes from their specially designed 40mm drivers. With such impressive audio, even the most fidelity-obsessed audiophiles are likely to be pleasantly surprised when they hear the AirPods Max in action.
As well as the massive drivers, the AirPods Max also features an adaptive EQ that adjusts the sound relative to the fit and seal of the earcup by measuring the sound level delivered to the user and adjusting the low and mid frequencies on the fly.
Active Noise Cancelling (ANC)
Like most high-end headphones on the market today, Apple’s AirPods Max boasts active noise cancellation, also known as ANC.
The ANC on Apple’s AirPods Max works through a clever array of microphones dotted around their shell. They detect background noise, such as the hum of plane engines or anything else, then generate a sound that neutralizes the incoming noise before it reaches your ear.
The ANC on the AirPods Max is top-notch, but it does have a tiny (yet noticeable) effect on the sound when turned on. Specifically, engaging the ANC appears to make the treble a bit more prominent, although nowhere near enough to harm your listening experience.
If you decide you do need to hear the world, after all, a simple button press activates Transparency Mode. In Transparency mode, the ANC microphones pick up ambient sounds and play them into the earcups, though this does have a noticeable compressing effect on any music that is playing at the time.
Analyzing the competition
Apple has, in recent years, done a lot for the world of hi-fi appreciation. After normalizing a $250 price tag for true wireless stereo earbuds, they look poised to do similar for premium over-ear headphones. But what does the rest of the market look like? And who are Apple’s main competitors in the premium over-ear bracket?
There are any number of headphones out there we could compare the AirPods Max with. Sony and Bose are two of the most recognizable names in the audio space, so it makes sense to compare their flagship products with Apple’s latest offering.
AirPods Max vs Sony XM4
Off the bat, Sony’s offering cost around $200 less than Apple’s. The question is whether or not Apple’s product justifies its heavy price tag.
The Sony XM4 has many of the same benefits as the AirPods Max, including ANC, and other clever features such as speak-to-chat and multiple Bluetooth connections.
One area where Sony has Apple beat hands down is in the battery life of their respective devices. The battery life of Sony’s MX4 headphones comes in at around 30 hours from a single charge, where the AirPods Max lag at around 20 hours.
With regards to codecs, Sony’s headphones work with more advanced Audio codecs than Apple’s, including the Sony 360 HD format, but this fact is unlikely to be a deal-breaker for many.
There’s no denying that the AirPods Max are pretty bulky, weighing in at 384 grams. The XM4 from Sony comes in a lot lighter at 251 grams. Practically, both headphones are comfortable for extended periods of wear, but this difference is worth noting.
AirPods Max vs Bose 700
Next up are the Bose 700 over-ear headphones. Bose has been a heavyweight in the consumer audio market for many years, and they are responsible for numerous innovations in noise-canceling technology.
The Bose 700 headphones are a lot easier on the pocket than Apple’s, coming in at about $200 cheaper than the AirPods Max.
The Bose 700 couldn’t look more different to Apple’s headphones. Bose has opted for a sleek, modern look with more traditional oval-shaped ear cups. Additionally, Bose has opted for capacitive touch controls as opposed to Apple’s physically controlled Crown. Which one is preferable is simply a matter of personal taste, but the touch-controls do feel a bit sleeker to us.
The battery life of Bose’s over-ear headphones is nearly identical to Apple’s at 20 hours from a single charge.
With regards to sound quality, the Bose 700 are pretty darn impressive. They produce a wonderful sound with awesome clarity. The soundstage isn’t as wide as the AirPods, and overall the sound quality is slightly (ever so slightly) better in the AirPods Max than the Bose 700.
If budget, battery life, and comfort are important to you, we recommend the Sony XM4, which are both cheaper and much lighter than Apple’s new AirPods Max, while also having superior battery life.
Deciding what’s important to you
If sound quality is the most important consideration, and the price isn’t an issue, our vote goes with the AirPods Max. They offer a wealth of features powered by the H1 chips inside, and simply unbeatable audio quality in the sub $1000 price bracket. Arguably the AirPods Max compares favorably with much more expensive headphones.
There are some instances in which smaller, lighter headphones are more suitable, like when you’re commuting, in the gym, or exercising outdoors. Check out our article for a complete list of times that TWS headphones beat over-ear ones.
If you’d rather not break the bank or you’re more of an easy-listener than an audiophile, why not check out some of UGREEN’s fantastic offerings? Our TWS earphones have great sound and battery life, might be a great alternative as well.