The premium over the wireless over the ear headphone category is chalk full of devices and price points. Popular products include Philips PH805, the Sony WH-1000XM4, the Bowers & Wilkins PX7, and the Sennheiser PXC 550-II. If you are an Apple user, the AirPods MAX is one of the most compelling. They automatically pair with your iPhone, iPad, or MAC computer. Are they worth the $700 CAD price?
The AirPods Max are exceptional noise-cancelling headphones with a luxurious design, sophisticated soundstage and clever computational features. They come in 4 different colors, Space gray, silver, sky blue, green and pink. For the purpose of this review, I got the space grey color, since they basically are they are dark and almost black. When you unbox them for the first time you get the headphones, a carrying Smart Case and Lightning-to-USB-C cable. The headphones basically always need to be in the case when you are not using them, since it automatically puts them into sleep mode, preserving battery life. If you just have them lying around, they will run out of juice in a day.
The earcups are made of memory foam and securely press against your ears, with little pressure. This ensures a tight seal when you have noise cancelation on, I don’t hear traffic right beside me. These are way better than the Beats Studio Pro, which also has noise cancellation, but the seal is not secure and always hear the wind. The cups on the MAX are attached with a stainless steel frame with slim, telescoping arms that expand at the top for a mesh headband. The mesh is really nice during hot weather, since it breaths better, so you sweat less. That said, the MAX headphones are pretty heavy, they weigh 13.6 ounces, whereas Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose 700 headphones, which both weigh just 8.96 ounces.
Right above the ear cup is a crown, which is similar to the one found on the Apple Watch. Twist the dial and it will automatically change the volume, if you press the crown it will start or stop the music. This is useful, because by default if you take the headphones off, to talk to people, the music automatically stops, so if you put the headphones back on, you need to press the crown again to start the music. Next to the crown is a button, which you can press to put in noise cancellation or transparency mode.
In terms of acoustic engineering, Apple has developed its own 40mm driver, which features a dual neodymium ring magnet motor. Apple claims that this design allows the AirPods Max to maintain total harmonic distortion of less than one per cent across the entire audible range. In terms of audio clarity it supports spatial audio from Apple Music, which provides a virtual surround sound experience from 5.1, 7.1 and even Dolby Atmos content. Sadly, the MAX does not support lossless, since Bluetooth connections don’t support lossless audio.
What are the things that I like about these headphones? 20 hours listening is not bad, I can usually go about a week before I have to recharge them. I walk for about 40 minutes every day, and I have yet to charge them. They feel really comfortable, although they are too heavy to wear for more than a few hours, before I need to take them off. Music, podcasts and audiobooks sound really good, although I tend to listen to more audiobooks, since my music playlists are feeling a bit dated. Although Spatial Audio on supported Apple Music tracks sound almost too good, I am not used to it, my head feels like I am swimming.
I would recommend the Airpods Max if you are heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem and want to easily switch from your iPhone to your iPad to your Mac. I found pairing them with my PC too much trouble with Windows 10, and they won’t even connect properly, so don’t buy them if you have a Windows PC or laptop. Are they worth the price? It depends, Apple users will find more value, Android, not so much. They sound better than the Airpods Pro, AirPods and anything that Beats makes, but they are heavy and not that portable.
Apple AirPods Max$779.99
- Fantastic noise cancellation
- Crisp and balanced sound
- Spatial audio is a game-changer
- Brilliant extra features for iOS
- Headband breaths good in hot weather
- Smart case provides no protection
- No on/off switch
- No 3.5mm audio port
- Limited features for Android
Michael Kozlowski has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past twelve years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times. He Lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.