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Apple AirPods Max Review

For the Apple aficionado, this model offers seamless integration with your iOS devices while providing a high-quality and immersive listening experience, plus exceptional noise cancellation
Apple AirPods Max
Credit: Apple
Top Pick Award
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Price:   $549 List | $479.00 at Amazon
Pros:  Great noise cancellation, high quality sound, very user-friendly when used with Apple products
Cons:  Very expensive, pressure points above the ears, don't function as well with Android devices, no headphone jack
Manufacturer:   Apple
By Michelle Powell and Matt Bento  ⋅  Jun 29, 2021
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79
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 15
  • Sound Quality - 30% 8
  • Noise Isolation - 25% 9
  • Comfort - 25% 7
  • User Friendliness - 10% 10
  • Portability - 10% 5

Our Verdict

Crammed full of innovative tech, the hype-worthy Apple Airpods Max delivers a high-quality and immersive listening experience. They are impressively user-friendly with convenient features and functions, and the active noise cancelling is top notch. We're big fans of their functionality when connected to Apple devices, and appreciate the simple controls that allow you to control many parameters with just one button and a control wheel. While these certainly have an impressive "wow"-factor, it's worth looking at the top competitors, as they offer equal or better sound quality at a price point that's easier to swallow. Android users will not experience all the benefits that Apple users will and should definitely look elsewhere. For those looking to remain in the iOS ecosystem, these headphones are another example of why you love Apple products.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Apple AirPods Max
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Apple AirPods Max
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award 
Price $549 List
$479.00 at Amazon
$350 List
$348.00 at Amazon
$400 List
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$299 List
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$60 List
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Pros Great noise cancellation, high quality sound, very user-friendly when used with Apple productsSuperb active noise cancellation and overall sound quality, multipoint Bluetooth pairing, auto-pause, relatively comfortable for most peopleExcellent sound quality, field-leading noise cancellation, comfortableGreat sound quality, relatively small and portableInexpensive, powerful bass, effective active noise cancellation, comfortable
Cons Very expensive, pressure points above the ears, don't function as well with Android devices, no headphone jackExpensiveExpensiveCan be uncomfortable if you have larger ears, noise cancellation lags slightly behind that of comparable modelsLacks some brightness in mid and vocal ranges, headband may be to large for smaller heads
Bottom Line For the Apple aficionado, this model offers seamless integration with your iOS devices while providing a high-quality and immersive listening experience, plus exceptional noise cancellationTop-notch in terms of both noise cancellation and sound quality, it's hard to find a better listening experiencePillowy comfort and one of the best personal listening experiences we've enjoyed from any deviceA great choice for those that place a premium on sound quality over active noise cancellationImpressively inexpensive given the sound quality, active noise-canceling performance, and comfort
Rating Categories Apple AirPods Max Sony WH-1000XM4 Bose Noise Cancelli... beyerdynamic Lagoon... Soundcore Life Q20
Sound Quality (30%)
8.0
10.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
Noise Isolation (25%)
9.0
10.0
10.0
7.0
6.0
Comfort (25%)
7.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
User Friendliness (10%)
10.0
9.0
9.0
6.0
8.0
Portability (10%)
5.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Specs Apple AirPods Max Sony WH-1000XM4 Bose Noise Cancelli... beyerdynamic Lagoon... Soundcore Life Q20
Type Over-ear Over-ear Over-ear Over-ear Over-ear
Noise cancelling Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Manufacturer reported battery life (hours) 20 30 20 45 40
Measured weight (ounces) 13.6 8.8 9.2 9.9 9.3
Included case Pouch to hold ear cups Semi-hard case Semi-hard case Semi-hard case Lined drawstring pouch
App No Yes Yes Yes No
Earcup padding cover material Mesh textile Foamed urethane/leatherette Leather Protein synthetic leather Leatherette
Charging cable length (inches) 39" 7.9" 42" 27.5" 40"
Microphone for voice? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Bluetooth version 5.0 5.0 5.0 4.2 5.0
Onboard buttons Volume, play/pause, forward/back, Siri, noise canceling/transparency, bluetooth pairing Volume, change track, take/make calls Volume, play/pause, forward/back, noise cancelling, voice assistant, power/bluetooth, answer/decline/mute calls Volume, play/pause, forward/back, fast forward/rewind, noise cancelling, voice assistant, power/bluetooth, answer/decline/mute calls Volume, multifunction, power, NC

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Airpods Max offers top-of-line clarity, a unique features set, and an unparalleled user experience when paired exclusively with Apple products. They utilize Bluetooth 5.0 and support AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs. They charge with a Lightning cable (included but no charging brick), not USB-C, and come with a minimally protective case. The Airpods Max is the heaviest over-ear headphones we have tested, though they remain comfortable, improved with a widely-liked mesh headband that effectively distributes the extra weight. Avoiding touch sensors, these headphones are controlled by two tactile buttons.

Performance Comparison


These headphones fit seamlessly into the Apple tech-scape. The focus...
These headphones fit seamlessly into the Apple tech-scape. The focus on the user experience is clear, though it's best paired with other Apple devices for smoothest operation.
Credit: Jason Peters

Sound Quality


For the eyebrow-raising price, these headphones should provide eyebrow-raising sound quality. We're happy to report that the Airpods Max delivers crisp highs, warm mids, and a punchy low-end. Dynamic clarity is also impressive here, as our testing team can distinguish the nuanced flourishes along with powerful vocals found in well-mixed audio.


However, we noted some room for improvement, as the earcups create an uneven seal around the ears. They're noticeably tighter above the ear while being a bit "leaky" below the ear. A balanced fit would likely result in a fuller sound, not to mention a higher comfort score. Compared to other top-scoring models, these headphones aren't especially bass-heavy, but we feel that they'll satisfy most listeners. Consider them bass-ample.

We're very impressed with the intuitive controls on these...
We're very impressed with the intuitive controls on these headphones. A button and a dial let you skip tracks, toggle noise cancelation, and control volume with ease. We like that when switching between noise canceling and transparency mode, the music isn't interrupted.
Credit: Jason Peters

Noise Isolation


Unsurprisingly, Apple's noise-canceling technology is top-notch. A button is dedicated to controlling the noise-canceling feature, allowing you to switch between active noise canceling (ANC) and transparency mode with a tap of the button on the top of the right ear cover. When used with an Apple device, you can adjust the settings to add a third option to the button, which turns off both ANC and transparency modes. If using an Android or PC, you only get ANC and transparency modes.


The effect when switching out of ANC mode is jarring in a good way, as our tester found themselves ejected from noise-free isolation to a world of ambiance, full of voices and the hum of fans. The contrast assures us that the active noise canceling technology is doing its job. Sitting next to a fan at 70db, we could hear it if we tried, but our listening experience was still satisfying, and these cans are sure to improve air travel for anyone who invests in a pair.

While the soft memory foam pads are comfy, the seal is uneven...
While the soft memory foam pads are comfy, the seal is uneven, creating pressure points above the ears, and not enough pressure below.
Credit: Jason Peters

Comfort


The Airpods Max has a few unique comfort features, and the results are mixed. The ear cups are sufficiently deep and very soft; too soft in the opinion of a few testers. If you're in the window seat on a plane, you'll bottom out the padding while leaning your head against the wall, resulting in uncomfortable pressure points. However, the deep and large circumference of the earcups should ensure they fit a wider range of ear shapes and sizes. As previously mentioned, the ear cups have an uneven seal for some, creating more pressure above the ear, which becomes more apparent after a few hours of use.


Aside from our nitpicking, these headphones have some great things going for them comfort-wise. The ear cups are a combination of perforated mesh and memory foam, providing excellent breathability. They're held securely in place by magnets, and they are easily removable, so you can dry them out after a strenuous workout. The headband is comprised of a tightly stretched mesh, and we hardly noticed it up there. Despite the significant weight (13.6 ounces) of these headphones, the large ear cups and headband effectively distribute the weight. They feel heavier than most headphones, but not that much. Two telescoping arms attached to the earpieces at ball-in-socket points make sure that the Airpods Max will accommodate a wide variety of head shapes.

Five minutes of charging via the lightning cable provides an...
Five minutes of charging via the lightning cable provides an impressive 1.5 hours of listening time, with a full charge lasting around 20 hours.
Credit: Jason Peters

User Friendliness


When incorporated into the ecosystem of Apple products, these are some of the most user-friendly headphones we've had the pleasure of testing. Once paired with Apple devices, they have the classic Apple "wow" factor, introducing novel features that may one day become standard among the competition. Right from the get-go, these headphones sync immediately with an Apple device, without the need to mess with one's settings. One of our favorites is the gyroscopic and accelerometer sensors that alert your device to pause the sound or video when you take the headphones off. This feature works flawlessly regardless of what media player we used, including Spotify, YouTube, or Amazon. Put the headphones back on, and the audio playback automatically resumes. Like many Apple products, everything feels a touch smoother than its competition if used in conjunction with other Apple devices.


While Apple introduced us to the swipe and the pinch, they've decided to use button and control wheel functions on the Airpods Max. This is a surprising yet wise call, as the "digital crown" control wheel provides satisfying tactile feedback as you rotate it to adjust the volume or press it to skip tracks or activate Siri. The control wheel and noise cancellation button are very intuitive and don't require you to learn any swiping locations or movements.

This model doesn't have a devoted app for making adjustments, but a...
This model doesn't have a devoted app for making adjustments, but a few extra preferences can be changed via the settings menu and it worked well even with this older iPhone 5 we had kicking around the office.
Credit: Matt Bento

The Bluetooth menu on an iPhone lets you adjust noise canceling levels and even which direction on the digital crown will increase the volume, but be aware these control parameters are only available on Apple devices. When we tested these headphones with a Google Pixel phone, the auto-pause function (when removing the headphones) didn't function, and they don't automatically resume play when placed back on the head, either. You cannot control the button settings with an Android or PC device, so you can't change the factory presets of the button controls. Voice-activated voice assistants on these devices also won't work—these headphones only work with Siti voice assistant, which is only found on iOS devices. Pairing with an Android or Windows computer requires navigating the Bluetooth menu on that device, too, instead of automatically syncing. No doubt about it, the Airpods Max's user-friendliness factor goes down a few notches for Android folks, and we highly recommend they look at something from Bose or Sony that will pair better with their device (and is most likely less expensive).

If you need to take off your headphones to interact with a...
If you need to take off your headphones to interact with a co-worker, these headphones will pause your music or podcast when you take them off, and then start right back where you left off when you put them back on. Slick.
Credit: Jason Peters

These headphones are jam-packed with technology, including 9 microphones for noise cancellation control and on-the-fly EQ optimization, and the aforementioned gyroscope and accelerometer can track your head for a more immersive theater-like experience. While we didn't find these features game-changing in the way we devour television, they function seamlessly in the background, improving the listening experience.

Portability


These are some of the heaviest headphones we've tested, tipping the scales at 13.6 ounces due to their sturdy aluminum construction and utilization of magnets in the ear cups. They fold flat into an X shape, with a protective sleeve that slides over the earcups. The sleeve will keep any dirt or debris from your backpack or messenger bag from scratching the slick-looking external ear covers but offers little in the way of structural reinforcement (good thing they're made of aluminum). We are surprised that such an expensive product has such an unprotective "case," if you can even call it a case.


Considering the hefty price, we'd prefer a case that offers more...
Considering the hefty price, we'd prefer a case that offers more protection from dirt or whatever else might be in the bottom of a backpack.
Credit: Matt Bento

In terms of battery life, this model provides 20 hours of use from a full charge, which is fairly standard for headphones running Bluetooth and active noise canceling, and impressive considering the microphones and motion-sensing tech constantly relaying information to your device. The Airpods Max don't have an "off switch." Instead, they enter a low power mode and switch off the Bluetooth connectivity when they're placed in their protective sleeve. This allows them to have instant connectivity as soon as you pop them back on your head, and Apple is the king of the "always-on" tech, but we can't help but wonder if these would perform longer away from an outlet if we had the option to just turn them off. That being said, it's worth noting that 5 minutes of charging time via the included lightning cable gives you an impressive 1.5 hours of listening. This rapid-charging ability helps make up for the lack of a headphone jack.

The protective sleeve doesn't offer a ton of protection, but you...
The protective sleeve doesn't offer a ton of protection, but you should keep it around, since putting it on the headphones puts them in a low power sleep state, and they don't have an "off" button.
Credit: Jason Peters

Value


These headphones are significantly more expensive than their high-quality competitors, and their price is congruent with the usual gut-punch to the wallet that Apple aficionados are used to at this point. Folks looking for seamless integration into their Apple-sphere won't be disappointed by the features or sound quality, but folks looking to save some money can find a similar or better listening experience elsewhere.

Noise cancelation makes it much easier to tune out your housemates...
Noise cancelation makes it much easier to tune out your housemates while you study, or ignore them while you watch your shows. Conversely, transparency mode will amplify your surrounding so you can hear better, even when the headphones are covering your ear.
Credit: Matt Bento

Conclusion


These puppies are surely worthy of the hype typically surrounding new tech from Apple, and we're super impressed with their seamless connectivity with Macbooks and iPhones. If you're dedicated to an Apple-centric network of integrated devices then the Airpods Max is a worthy addition. For audiophiles in search of the very best sound quality, it's worth taking a hard look at the competition. Android and PC users will also likely be better served by a different model.

Michelle Powell and Matt Bento