Apple AirPods Max Review: Ecosystem Excellence Only

aa2020 is recommended

The Apple AirPods Max is a great pair of headphones with amazing active noise reduction (ANC) and a good sound signature, though they do have some annoying quirks that earmark them as an obvious Apple product. If you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, love your AirPods Pro and do not mind spending a lot of money, you’ll love these.

Ever since Apple bought Beats in 2014, it has been clear that Apple wants to get more into the consumer sound space. The original AirPods were a hit despite being awful, but the AirPods Pro is among the best genuine wireless earphones you can get. So of course we were excited and yet skeptical when the AirPods Max was announced.

Is this just another overpriced Apple product, or are they actually good?

This Apple AirPods Max review comes from the audio experts at our sister site SoundGuys. Check out their in-depth bid on Apple AirPods Max.

Who is Apple AirPods Max for?

  • People in Apple’s ecosystem will love AirPods Max.
  • Those who love AirPods Pro but would like a pair of over-ears will enjoy many of the same software perks, but in a more comfortable form factor.
  • Anyone who wants great noise reduction should consider the AirPods Max as they surpass both the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700.

How’s Apple AirPods Max?

Apple AirPods Max 23 scaled 1

This AirPods Max is a mixed bag. Sometimes they’s great, but when you want to use them in a way that Apple does not intend, they’re weird. Even just using them with cord requires jumping through hangers, but more on that later.

AirPods Max has a luxurious build quality, but the lack of a power button and a flimsy case is strange.

AirPods Max has great noise reduction and a transparency mode so you can hear your surroundings, which is useful when you are out for a walk or need to be aware of your surroundings. The volume and playback controls are on the digital crown at the top of the right earcup, which ended up being so slippery that it’s easy to accidentally raise or lower the volume when adjusting the headphones. Sensors in the ear cups automatically pause playback when you remove the headphones and resume when they are turned on again.

Apple AirPods Max 03

Adam Molina / Android Authority

There is no on / off button to turn off the headset, instead it goes into low power mode inside the case. The strange case (pictured at the top of this section) basically only works as a power button, as it doesn’t really protect the headphones from much. When AirPods Max are not in the case, they stay on for a few hours before going to sleep, draining the battery in the process.

Also see: Best AirPods Max cases

The build quality is luxurious with a stainless steel headband and aluminum ear cups that feel sturdy, and soft padding and light fabric around the metal interior. The ear cups feel amazingly comfortable and the padding can also be replaced. The ear cups are deep, which means it is much easier to isolate noise for more people.

AirPods Max are not waterproof at all, so even though these are portable, it can be risky to take them outside. This is clearly a miss on Apple’s part.

How do you connect to your Apple AirPods Max?

A man wears Apple AirPods Max and uses the built-in headphone controls.

Adam Molina / Android Authority

The AirPods Max has a really solid connection (on Apple devices) and that’s due to the H1 chip. A colleague at SoundGuys reported occasional errors while listening to Spotify from an iPhone SE (2020), and podcast audio was not routed to AirPods Max despite being connected, but it appears to be an isolated issue.

Like AirPods Pro, these use Bluetooth 5.0 with AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs. AAC is ideal for iPhones, but not so much for Android phones, as the sound quality can vary greatly among devices using AAC.

The AirPods Max does not have a 3.5mm headphone jack, so if you want to use anything other than a Bluetooth device, you need to buy a Lightning-to-3.5mm audio cable for $ 35 from Apple. If your device does not have a headphone jack (like a newer iPhone), use another $ 9 dongle.

Apple AirPods Max 16

Adam Molina / Android Authority

It’s super easy to connect AirPods Max to an iOS device, if you hold the headset about two inches away from your device, a corticon icon will be prompted to connect the headset, and then all devices in your iCloud account will automatically connect.

You can also connect your AirPods Max to Android devices. Simply remove the headphones from the case, hold down the noise reduction button at the top of the right earcup until the LED at the bottom of the earcup flashes white, and connect to the AirPods Max in the Bluetooth settings of your device. Just be warned that you will miss out on a lot of features when using these with Android devices.

What is Apple Spatial Audio?

Apple AirPods Max 15

Adam Molina / Android Authority

Spatial Audio is Apple’s surround sound technology that uses gyroscopes and accelerometers in the headset with those in your iPhone or iPad. This detects which direction your head is moving in relation to the device and adjusts the sound accordingly so that you get an immersive sound experience. This feature does not work at all on Android devices, only iOS.

How is the battery in AirPods Max?

Apple AirPods Max 12

Adam Molina / Android Authority

Apple claims that the AirPods Max will keep you around 20 hours of continuous playback with active noise canceling teeth. When testing the headphones over at SoundGuys, the battery lasted close to 21 hours at a uniform output of 75dB (SPL), and just over 21 hours with ANC off. At least this battery life compensates for not being able to turn them off, but it’s still bad that they lose the battery when not in use, considering that more frequent charging is bad for battery life. You can not easily replace the batteries in AirPods Max, so take good care of them.

How is the active noise reduction?

AirPods Max noise reduction chart.

Sam Smart / Android Authority

The active noise reduction on the AirPods Max is fantastic. This is important as the better you can prevent outside noise from reaching your ears, the better your headphones will sound as well as they can.

AirPods Max will offset the hiss of a radiator, and sound as if music from roommates and typing on the keyboard is significantly quieter. The one annoying thing is that you can only turn off noise reduction if you have an iOS device. By default, the button on the headphones switches between transparency mode and active noise reduction.

Check out: Instructions for buying headphones

Apple AirPods Max 20

Adam Molina / Android Authority

AirPods Max blocks noise better than the Sony WH-1000XM4, which is already a top performer in noise reduction. Noise reduction in the WH-1000XM4 drops in the bass range below the 150Hz mark, and the AirPods Max stays stable.

AirPods Max also outperforms the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700, which falls a little short when it comes to sounds below 100Hz. AirPods Max blocks more sound in this area, which are really low-frequency sounds that you’d like to block. See our deeper comparison of the AirPods Max and Bose Headphones 700 for more.

How does Apple AirPods Max sound?

Apple AirPods Max Frequency Response Chart.

Sam Smart / Android Authority

AirPods Max sounds really good and has a comfortable sound profile that will appeal to most people. The frequency response (cyan line) corresponds exactly SoundGuys goal curve (pink line) for the most part, with a bit of a kick in the sub-bass region. There is a slight decrease in the midtones, but the vocals are still very clear. The higher frequency range also sounds good and you probably will not feel the need to mess with any EQ settings.

AirPods Max sounds really good and has a comfortable sound profile that will appeal to most people.

You do not get lossless sound with these, as they are Bluetooth headphones, but by using a Lightning dongle you get pretty close, even if you want to convert the signal from digital to analog, back to digital and eventually to analog again, which is not ideal. But if you listen via Bluetooth, you will not get lossless sound. Apple’s AAC implementation is great, but you’re still listening to a compressed signal when using Bluetooth, so feel free to drop your sound quality settings when streaming music to save energy and data.

How’s the microphone on the Apple AirPods Max?

The microphone quality of the Apple AirPods Max really depends on which device you are connected to. The loss of sound quality of the microphone depends to a large extent on how your device handles wireless communication, and it is not always clear which devices will handle it poorly. The best results are found on a flagship Android or Apple device. Below is an example of the microphone under ideal conditions.

Apple AirPods Max Microphone Demo (Ideal):

Apple AirPods Max Review: The Verdict

Apple AirPods Max 09

Adam Molina / Android Authority

Whether you need to spend around $ 549 on a pair of headphones is your question. Objectively speaking, the AirPods Max is a spectacular pair of headphones with amazing features like autopause and transparency, phenomenal noise reduction and amazing construction. But this only really applies if you’re committed to Apple’s ecosystem, and if you’re not sure this is for you, it probably is not. In addition, the lack of cable connection is frustrating and the sparse slip box is seriously lacking. To answer the introductory question, yes, the AirPods Max are an overpriced pair of headphones, but they are also amazing.

AirPods Max in black on white background.

Apple AirPods Max

Grade-A noise-canceling headphones with a sleek design.

Apple’s debut noise-canceling headset shakes an H1 chip in every headphone and has the best ANC in its class. This powerful headset is for niche consumers and works well in Apple’s ecosystem.

Apple AirPods Max Options

Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones next to magazines on a wooden bench

Zak Khan / Android Authority

If you want the best noise reduction, but do not want to use an arm and a leg for AirPods Max, the Bose Quietcomfort 45 ($ 329) may suit you well. They have their issues, such as a high treble response and an inability to listen without ANC or transparency mode, but these can be non-issues for the right person – plus Bose has added an EQ feature to its app so you can change how the headphones sound. They can be compared well with AirPods Max and Sony WH-1000XM4. We also recommend the year-old Bose Quietcomfort 35 II ($ 249) for the price, ANC and sound profile.