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Thursday, December 15, 2022 - 10:20 PM

What's The Max?

Written by Matt Maurer

Should anybody pay $549 for these? No, not really.

These days you can find AirPods Max on Amazon frequently for $100 off. So are they worth it for $449? The answer to that is most likely still no - but I’ll concede these are some awesome sounding, premium headphones. They are well made and have a great feature set, but they exist in an awkward space where they are priced above their capabilities and getting into the range of much higher end headphones. You are paying a lot for the Apple design sense and attention to detail here, with one exception that we’ll get to later. That being said, it is a compelling package but one that I feel like $399 is probably the sweet spot.

Like most Apple products the design and material quality is top notch. The ear cups are made from metal instead of the plastic commonly found on head phones even more expensive than these. Even the headband has a sturdy feel. The The only downside is with that hefty premium feel, these have a little more weight than most headphones. After wearing AirPods Max during a multi-hour coding session, I can definitely feel it afterwards. Also the internal ear pads are removable and super comfortable. They have a super nice magnetic attachment that is strong but yet easy to remove. Fun fact here - you are actually supposed to replace the ear pads on headphones every so often, which I did not know. Apple just engineered a crazy elegant solution to accomplish that. It does let you mix and match colors which is cool.

So how do you get these fancy headphones hooked up to your device? The AirPods Max will connect over Bluetooth or you can connect to a standard audio 3.5mm jack. Wired connections do require an additional purchase of a lightning to 3.5mm cable for about $35, available from the Apple Store. I think most people in the market for the AirPods Max are going to take advantage of the H1 chip to get all the fancy Apple goodies. That gives you Spatial audio (which sounds crazy good), auto device switching via iCloud, one tap pairing, transparency mode and noise cancellation mode and access to Siri. The AirPods Max borrow the button and digital crown from the Apple Watch and they work out really well. That gives you some fairly precise volume control and a also a quick way to toggle your sound mode. Holding down the crown will trigger Siri. The transparency and noise cancellation modes are stellar. I can’t stress this enough. I have used some other brands of headphones and the AirPods Pro (1st gen). I can confidently say the Max is better than the AirPods Pro and rival or exceeds other noise canceling headphones I’ve tried. The immersion (or not) is fantastic depending on what you’re after.

Now I’m sure you are really asking, how do these things sound? For $500, they should be mind-blowing right? Well, for the average listener I would say they are. Music is phenomenal, with excellent range and deep bass. Vocals are crystal clear and I found myself hearing parts of songs I had never noticed before. It’s an amazing experience. They also get loud - louder than any headphones I’ve ever owned - without much distortion at all. The sound is really impressive. They exist in a weird gulf however where professionals have higher quality headphones they use for digital mastering or mixing. And these probably sound better than most people streaming Apple Music or Spotify really need, especially at this price point. They are nice, but keep in mind you are for sure paying a luxury tax.

Like all AirPods, the Max includes a case. Except like all the other AirPods, this one is terrible and no one likes it. With independent ear buds you need something to store and charge them. The Max’s case looks more like a tiny bra. Also the case is what triggers the AirPods Max to go into their power saving mode - so if you don’t put them back in their case they go through battery much faster. I really think a slider for power like the silence slider on the iPhone would have been perfect here, but I like having that control. I hang my headphones on a stand and the current stand I use does not play well with the AirPods Max because they have to be in their case. It’s not the end of the world by any means, but it’s an unforced error in a product that is otherwise super impressive.

So should you buy AirPods Max? I couldn’t bring myself to spend damn near $600 for headphones, even as cool as the AirPods Max looked. Even at $449, I still felt a little crazy spending so much on headphones. But I live in an Apple world and I appreciate the little things that make the AirPods Max shine. They sound awesome and they have an uber premium build quality. The seamless connectivity with other Apple devices and next level noise cancellation and spatial audio round out a very nice product. If you don’t mind paying the price of entrance and you want an extremely Apple-specific experience these are some of the nicest over ear headphones you’ll find.

But damn, $549? Everything is Max here, including the price. At least get them off Amazon and save a little some cash.


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