They’re big, they’re heavy, they’re expensive as heck, but the Apple AirPods Max headphones sound great and they blew my mind.
Let’s start off with something that got a lot of attention, the smart case. Sure, it looks like a handbag and it doesn’t actually provide much protection, but honestly, I’m quite alright with it as a sleeve, and not as a case. It does provide some scratch resistance to the aluminium earcups, and you can charge the headphones while it’s inside, so that’s a plus.
The case puts the headphones into an ultra low power mode, or sleep mode, which is definitely needed since there’s no power button on these. If you don’t like them though, there are brands who’ve released proper cases for protection, and that’s worth a look.
Anyway, enough about the case. Let’s move onto the headphones. These are heavy, and if you’re holding them in your hand, you’ll feel it. But the amazing thing is that when they’re on your head, the mesh headband actually makes it feel lighter than it really is.
You’ll definitely end up with some wearing fatigue, particularly in your neck, after a couple of hours, and I’ve experienced the headphones sliding backwards when I tip my head back because of the weight, but I absolutely love the mesh headband. It helps to dissipate heat and it spreads out the weight of the headphones so the crown of your head doesn’t start hurting.
Moving on to the earcups, these are one of the things I love most about Apple products. They’re just really refined and elegant, and that design aesthetic is present in the Airpods Max with the aluminium earcups. It’s a gorgeous shade of light blue and the magnetic earpads are very convenient.
I asked the folks at Apple, and unfortunately, these can’t be washed while the mesh headband actually can be rinsed with water. That being said though, if you love colour in your life, Apple will be selling different coloured ear cushions, so you can always mix and match.
Speaking of the ear cushions, I think the fabric is great. It allows for breathability so your ears don’t heat up, and the clamping force is just right for me. But one thing I’m not a fan of is that if you have the headphones on your neck and you move around, the ear cushions rub against each other and produce quite a bit of noise. Leaving the noise aspect aside, I’m quite certain we’ll see cases of early wear and tear since the fabric is constantly rubbing against each other when moving.
There are two buttons on the right earcup; the digital crown we first saw on the Apple watch and a pill-shaped button. The crown controls the volume and you can press it in once for play/pause, twice to skip forward and thrice to skip backwards. It’s pretty easy once you remember it. The pill-shaped button just controls ANC on, off and Transparency mode.
If you’re familiar with the Transparency mode from the Airpods Pro, well, you know Apple has got a monopoly on this. No other headphones or earphones do the Transparency mode as well as Apple, it’s just incredibly natural sounding.
On to how these actually sound. And the truth is, these are the best sounding wireless headphones I’ve tried so far. They sound excellent, with a balanced signature and an incredibly wide soundstage for wireless headphones. Of course, plenty of people compare these to the Bose NC 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4, both of which I’ve reviewed.
In 2020, I loved the Sony headphones. In fact, I loved them so much I went to purchase a pair of them with my own money. But after I got my hands on these AirPods Max, my first thought was that I regret buying the Sonys, because the AirPods Max are just that good.
Compared to them, the Sonys sound really boxed in, and sure, the Sony sound signature is more suitable for people who enjoy heavier bass, but if you enjoy a more balanced sound, these really do sound great. Apple claims that they use computational audio with the H1 chips in each earcup to measure and adjust what you hear, which is similar to how the AirPods Pro used to adjust the ANC 200 times a second.
That’s still being used here in the AirPods Max, by the way, and we’ll talk about ANC in a bit, but yeah. These really blew my mind when I heard them. They’re wireless and there’s no 3.5mm port for wired listening, but if you really want to, you can get the Lightning to 3.5mm cable or the Lightning to 3.5mm port if you have a cable that you want to use.
Now, the ANC. These work, really really well. In fact, I’d say they’re almost neck and neck with the Sonys. I know, blasphemy, how can one thing be great at everything? Sound quality, ANC, design and features? Well, they are. And before I get the “what an Apple fan” statement, I haven’t bought an iPhone since 2015. I use an Android phone and a Windows desktop. I don’t really use anything Apple at all or have any vested interest in Apple. This is really just a great product that I’m in love with.
Anyway, the ANC performance on these are pretty much neck and neck with the Sony XM4. If you’re considering which to purchase based on ANC performance, they’re so similar that I would recommend just choosing based on which sound signature you prefer.
Of course, you should also choose based on your budget, because these headphones cost S$849 or US$549. Right now, you could probably get the Sonys for around S$450 brand new, or even cheaper if you find a refurbished unit. I’ve seen refurb units go for as low as US$180 at online shops. You could, literally, purchase two WH-1000XM4s for the price of one AirPods Max.
So who would ever purchase these, you ask? Well, people who have the money to spend, for one. Apple fans. People who use iPhones, because let’s be honest, Apple’s ecosystem works great if all your gadgets are from them. If you use an iPhone or iPad, you even get features like Spatial Audio, which is Apple’s take on immersive surround sound, fuss-free pairing and more.
And if you just want excellent audio quality in a wireless package, these really are the first option you should consider. I almost can’t believe I’m saying this because I’ve loved the Sonys for so long and recommended them to so many people, but the Apple AirPods Max really does take the cake.
Content by Cheryl Tan