The mac daddy from Apple is the AirPods Max. They come in green, pink, silver, sky blue, and space grey and cost about $450.
Inside the box, you get the headphones, the so-called “smart case,” and a USB-C to Lightning cable for charging. Sounds pretty standard for headphones these days. But let’s take a closer look in my in-depth Apple AirPods Max review and find out if these high-quality Apple headphones are worth that price tag.
Design and Build
Apple has decided to go radical with mostly metal construction. The aluminum and steel frame is cold to the touch, and at over 400 grams, this is not a featherweight headset. The yolk for adjusting the size of the headphones is without ratchets and, therefore, very smooth.
The knitted mesh canopy and memory foam cushions feel plush and high quality. The cushions are secured by magnets, so you can take them out by simply pulling on them.
Replacements are sold by Apple for $70. This is very expensive, but still, the modular design lends long-term value to the headphones.
But, there is something that diminishes the long-term value…
The unrepairable nature of the headphones. If you like to DIY your gear, your best bet with these headphones is to make sure they don’t get damaged. Apple does have a repair service, but that is as expensive as the headphones are.
Fit and Comfort
These are some of the most comfortable headphones, no doubt about it. You hardly notice the knitted mesh headband when wearing these. The memory foam cushions are luxuriously plush and soft, as well as breathable. So, you can wear them for hours without getting all sweaty.
The one small design criticism is the weight. These are heavy headphones. You don’t feel it while sitting still. But you feel it when you turn or lift your head. However, the biggest criticism is the so-called travel case.
Supposedly inspired by Japanese Origami, the new smart case is one of Apple’s biggest blunders yet. It looks terrible and offers no protection whatsoever. Even worse is that the only way to get the AirPods Max into low-power mode is to place it in this terrible case. That’s because the magnetic tag that activates the low-power cycle is inside the case.
That being said, the battery is impressive enough for you to basically just throw away the smart case and wait for third-party options to become available.
Functionality and Battery Life
The quality of the functions on the AirPods Max is considered by many to be the Belle of the Ball. But, if you’re not using an Apple device as your audio source, many of these features will be unavailable or diminished.
First off, you can listen to the AirPods Max wirelessly as well as wired. For $35, you can get an Auxiliary to Lightning cable that has a built-in DAC (digital-analog converter).
This will allow you to enjoy the AirPods Max wired. And there is some benefit if you want to listen to high-res files without latency.
As for wireless listening…
You are limited to AAC with the AirPods Max. However, the multi-point pairing makes for seamless jumping between various devices without the need to re-pair every time.
Inside the ear cups are optical sensors that serve many functions. One function is that the music will automatically pause and play when you remove and replace the headphones.
The controls will look familiar to anyone who has used one of Apple’s smartwatches before. Its intuitive multifunction design allows you to control volume, track skipping, pause/play, call answering, and your voice assistant.
Right next to the controls is a button for the three noise modes…
The AirPods Max Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) is probably its most impressive feature. It’s nothing short of industry-leading. Some of the more static sounds, like an airplane, a car engine, or a fan in your room, might be tricky. But, for everything else, the AirPods Max is fantastic.
Honestly, these are some of the best active noise-canceling headphones currently on the market.
Likewise, the Transparency Mode is superb…
While the other AirPod models are also famed for their Transparency Modes, these take it to another level. With Transparency Mode activated, it sounds like you’ve taken the headphones off. Just like with the noise canceling, Apple is in a league of its own.
Spatial audio is a new feature that Apple has been playing with. The practical applications are as of yet unclear. But the illusion of directionality created by these headphones is nothing short of insane. Spatial audio is especially fun if you’re playing a game.
One of the best AirPods Max features is the battery life. The headphones can be fully charged in about two hours and will provide 20 hours of playback with ANC or Transparency mode activated.
If you’re in a pinch, simply put them in the charger for five minutes to get one and a half hours of playtime. Despite these impressive figures, though, it’s time for Apple to fully embrace USB-C and end our suffering.
Now we come to the most important part of this AirPods Max review. The AirPods Max comes with 40mm drivers, and they sound fantastic.
Again, these are not headphones for high-fidelity listening. These headphones were made to maximize your listening pleasure, and they do that brilliantly.
So, how do they sound?
The default sound signature is bassy with a prominent boost in the low-mids and the sub-bass frequencies. This boost is managed with such precision that it makes the low-end sound very powerful and warm without muddying up the mids.
The mids are just as lovely as the low-end. Vocals and lead guitar have presence and depth, which is merely enhanced by turning up the volume.
Instrument separation and clarity are off the charts with these headphones. You’re going to hear things you’ve never heard before because these headphones are going to highlight them for you.
The high-mids and highs where the default sound signature might fail a bit. There’s a roll-off to tame the brightness at high levels. But, when listening to songs with a lot of treble, they can seem a bit recessed and timid at times.
Luckily, the Apple settings allow you to do some sound shaping. If you put it on the “bright” profile, those highs begin to shine like they were meant to. You can also dial in some more bass which is sure to make these headphones addictive to bassheads.
Overall, the soundstage is very impressive…
Especially considering that they are closed-back headphones. As mentioned, instrument separation is nothing short of superb. And, when combined with this expansive soundstage, it enhances the experience even more.
Whether you’re listening to music or playing a game, these headphones are going to be immersive and visceral for sure.
Adaptive EQ is another Apple feature that you won’t even notice…
That is what makes it so great. If you like to have a ten-band EQ and all the control over your sound, these are unlikely to appeal to you. Adaptive EQ adjusts the mids and highs as the source material demands, and for the most part, it works great.
Thanks to the Adaptive EQ feature, the Apple AirPods Max is one of the best headphones for listening to music.
Along with all the sensors and those massive drivers, the AirPods Max features nine microphones. As mentioned, these work to create some of the best ANC and transparency that money can buy.
When it comes to calling quality, the AirPods Max is in the upper echelons. But, some competitors offer a more natural-sounding voice quality, such as the Sony WH-1000XM4. Still, as far as making calls is concerned, these headphones will do a stellar job.
Apple AirPods Max Review – Pros and Cons
- Excellent build quality.
- Replaceable cushions
- Great sound quality.
- Very comfortable.
- Superb ANC and Transparency modes.
- Great battery life and fast charging.
- Can get heavy on your head.
- No USB-C.
- No AUX.
- Terrible travel case.
- No high-res audio support.
Looking for Great Headphones You Can Use with Apple Devices?
If so, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best AirPods Alternative, the Best Apple AirPods Pro Alternatives, the Best iPhone Earbuds, the Best True Wireless Earbuds, and the Best Wireless Earbuds For Small Ears you can buy in 2023.
Also, have a look at our detailed reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Headphones for Hip-Hop, the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Best Bass Earbuds, and the Best Sound Quality Earbuds currently on the market.
Apple AirPods Max Review – Conclusion
$450 is a lot of money. But these are not the kind of headphones you buy for a two-week holiday. The AirPods Max is one of the best-built and premium-feeling headphones on the market.
It is also one of the best sounding headphones as far as ANC and transparency modes are concerned. There’s nothing that even comes close.
That being said, $450 is a lot for a headphone that has no AUX jack and requires an expensive cable for wired listening. There’s also no USB-C. And let’s not get started on the frankly terrible travel case. In the end, this is something you buy because you want to own it, not because it actually makes sense.
Until next time, happy listening.