Apple has put the AirPods’ formula for success in full-fledged headphones. That makes for a great device, but with such a hefty price tag that it is of interest to few people.
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The AirPods Max for this review was purchased by iPhoned itself.
AirPods Max review
Normally, we end our reviews with a paragraph about the price, but every now and then Apple releases a product that discards this order. The price of the AirPods Max determines everything we say in this review. With a suggested retail price of 629 euros, it is more expensive than almost all popular wireless headphones.
In any case, the design of the AirPods Max immediately shows that we are dealing with a premium product. The headphones are a lot heavier than we are used to, mainly due to the aluminum ear cups and the stainless steel frame. As a result, the Max immediately feels and looks more premium than most wireless headphones that often use plastic.
Wear for hours without problems
Fortunately, you will hardly notice this weight if you actually put on the headphones. This is thanks to the (wide) headband that distributes the weight evenly over your head. This one does its job remarkably well, so that the Max fits comfortably on your head and does not clench your ears too much. The ear pads are made of soft fabric; a striking alternative to the leather ear cushions used by many competitors. According to Apple, this material breathes more, which ensures more wearing comfort.
The combination of this wide headband and soft ear pads have ensured that I have had the headphones on for hours on end. Only when you move your head a lot do you feel that you have something heavy on your head.
As far as wearing comfort is concerned, it is therefore good with the AirPods Max, and the design is also nicely finished. There is nowhere a logo or text to be seen, which makes the headphones look minimalist. However, the mesh that holds the headband together is very fragile. It does not help that the supplied storage cover does not protect this part of the Max at all.
The cover makes the Max go to sleep as soon as you put it in, but in terms of protection, the cover has hardly anything to offer. In addition to not covering the headband, there are also large holes in the bottom of the cover, so dust, dirt or anything sharp can easily get on the earcups.
This has meant that we don’t dare to put our AirPods Max in our backpack, or take it with us at all when we go out the door. Especially with such an expensive device, you can expect that you also get a solid protective case, something that is actually the norm among many of Apple’s competitors.
Sound quality and noise cancellation
We were already very pleased with the sound quality of the AirPods Pro, but with the AirPods Max, Apple has shown what they can do if they can completely cover your ears. In short, the AirPods Max sound exactly as you would expect from a high-end headphones.
The sound is warm with deep bass tones and a fine balance. That balance is due to Apple’s H1 chip. This is a special audio chip that constantly monitors what you are listening to and searches for the optimal sound settings. As a result, you also hear subtle details in songs, especially if you filter out the ambient noise by turning on noise cancellation.
This noise cancellation is much better than that of the AirPods Pro, simply because the AirPods Max can shut off your entire ear from the outside world. This makes the headphones ideal for quietly listening to music or working in a crowded train or noisy room. Although not all sound is diverted, the noise reduction is good enough to completely filter out a TV that is in the same room, for example.
Like the AirPods Pro, the Max also has the handy Transparency mode. This counterpart of noise cancellation amplifies the sound around you, so that you do not have to take off the headphones if you want to listen to a broadcast on the station, for example, or someone asks you something. The function got surprisingly good for headphones that completely cover your ears.
An honorable mention for Spatial Audio (or Spatial Audio in Dutch): with this sound mode, videos that support it surround sound simulate. This makes it sound like you hear something behind you, or about ten meters in front of you. An impressive technique that will hopefully be applied in many video apps soon.
Ease of use: Less is more
When it comes to the ways in which the AirPods Max can be operated, Apple has taken the principle of ‘less is more’ to the extreme. The only two buttons can be found on one of the ear cups: a button to switch the noise cancellation on and off and a digital crown that we know from the Apple Watch. With that you adjust the volume by turning it and press it to pause your audio.
There is no on and off button. The only way to turn off the AirPods Max is to put it in the protective case or simply take it off your head. The headphones then quickly go into a sleep mode on their own, using minimal energy. That works fine, because we only have to recharge the AirPods Max after listening for about fifteen hours.
That makes the AirPods Max easy to operate, but for a pair of headphones costing over 600 euros, we would have expected a bit more versatility. For example, the AirPods Max, just like the iPhone 12, only comes with a Lightning-to-USB-C cable. You can use it to charge the headphones. Do you want to connect the headphones to a classic 3.5mm audio port? Then you will have to purchase a separate cable.
If you only use the headphones wirelessly, you will not be bothered by this. Thanks to the automatic switching function in iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur, the headphones know which device you are using and the audio is automatically transferred. That means you can simply hold up the AirPods Max when you walk away from your Mac and go outside to listen to a podcast on your iPhone.
Who is the AirPods Max for?
With the price of more than 600 euros, the AirPods Max is not just a competitor of Bose, Sony, Microsoft and Sennheiser. Apple is more than a hundred or sometimes even two hundred euros above the popular noise-canceling headphones of these brands. That makes it difficult to determine who these headphones are really intended for.
On the one hand, you have a group of people who are looking for good wireless headphones with noise canceling. On the other hand, you have the audiophiles who are willing to pay a huge amount for the best of the best. The AirPods Max dangles between them and will be too expensive for one group, and not comprehensive enough for the other group in terms of audio settings and quality.
Also read: AirPods Max too expensive? These are three more affordable alternatives
Conclusion AirPods Max review
This brings us straight to the pain point of this AirPods Max review. It is a very nice pair of headphones to wear that sounds good, looks nice and has excellent noise cancellation. But for the high purchase price of more than 600 euros, minor flaws such as the non-protective protective cover and no included audio cable are extra annoying.
Moreover, there are simply many good wireless headphones from, for example, Bose and Sony that are also very good for much less money. That does not detract from the quality of the AirPods Max, but it does make it a difficult product to recommend to many people.
Great balanced sound
Excellent noise cancellation
Long battery life
Protective cover does not protect
Much more expensive than competition
No audio cable included
Buy AirPods Max
Are you convinced after reading this AirPods Max review? Then check our AirPods Max price comparison where you can find the providers in the Netherlands that sell the headphones.
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