Apple AirPods Max review: Premium headphones with a premium price

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The Apple AirPods Max is the company’s first over-ear headphones in the AirPods range, complete with active noise-cancelling (ANC) and many of the same technologies as found on the in-ear AirPods Pro.

But given a super-competitive market in the over-ear headphone space from companies like Sony and Bose, can Apple achieve the same success already enjoyed by the AirPods range?

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We’ve been using the Apple over-ear headphones in a variety of environments and situations to find out whether or not the steep asking price is justifiable.

Design

  • Colour options: Space Grey, Silver, Sky Blue, Green, Pink
  • Stainless steel design, 384g weight
  • No 3.5mm headphone connection

The AirPods and AirPods Pro were all about those white plastic teardrops in your ears, but that’s definitely not the case with the Max. There is no white plastic – or any plastic for that matter – to be found here, as the material has been banished from the Max’s design. Instead you’ll find two stainless steel earcups, which house drivers, and a silicone-coated stainless steel headband.

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The AirPods Max come in a choice of five different colours, expanding beyond the usual black or silver much of the market offers. The metal takes a subtle hue from the colour you’ve picked – much like the iPad Air’s design – while the silicone covering on the headband and fabric mesh delivers the real colour punch. The detachable soft fabric earcups are also colour matching with “L” and “R” woven into the fabric inside.

Pictured is the Sky Blue variant, which has a premium look that’s certainly in no way cheap looking. The colour choice is also echoed in the accompanying carry case. The headphones are designed to fit all sizes of head and hair, and within the headband is a retractable rod that is stiff enough to hold in place when extended without the need for ratchets or grooves.

Buttons are kept to a minimum and emulate the Apple Watch in terms of operability – there’s a Noise Control button to switch between noise cancelling mode (on, off, transparent/ambient), and a larger version of the digital crown to control volume and give you play/pause functions. We’ve found ourselves pressing that Noise Control button from time to time when positioning the headphones on our head, which could be annoying over time. If buttons aren’t your thing you can also talk to Siri.

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While there aren’t many buttons there are plenty of holes in the metal shell, to allow the eight microphones to hear what’s going on and cancel the noise accordingly, as part of the ANC system.

It’s worth noting though that none of those holes is a 3.5mm headphone socket – there’s only a Lightning connection on these headphones. If you’re looking to connect these over-ears to a plane’s infotainment system, you’ll have to buy a Lightning-to-headphone adapter, otherwise you’re looking at using Bluetooth (or something like the RHA Flight Adapter could solve your conundrum).

The AirPods Max hits the scales heavier than most, so we’ve certainly noticed the weight. At 384g It’s not heavy enough to ruin the experience, but you might notice the ‘downforce’ compared to a pair that predominately uses plastic for the build. Sitting on the sofa, at your desk, or on a plane should be fine – but when moving around you do feel it, making for a different experience compared to something like the excellent Beats Studio 3.

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