At a glance:
The Apple AirPods Max are the tech giant’s first over-ear headphones, and so far we’re impressed with the audio quality and noise cancellation – but we’re not entirely sure that the design, and the absence of a 3.5mm audio port justifies the high price tag.
- Fantastically wide soundstage
- Well-balanced audio
- Slick controls
- No 3.5mm audio port
- Smart Case doesn’t feel very protective
- Very expensive
The Apple AirPods Max are the most hotly-anticipated headphones launch of 2020, and after years of speculation and rumor, they’re finally here.
They were quietly announced via a press release posted on the Apple newsroom. According to Apple, the AirPods Max boast “incredible high-fidelity audio, Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, and spatial audio”, like the AirPods Pro
Since their launch, the unusual design of the Apple AirPods Max and their accompanying case have divided opinion – but then again, so did the original AirPods when they launched in 2016.
We’ve spent a little time getting to know the wireless headphones; and so far, while we’re impressed by the sound quality, we’re not entirely convinced that they justify their high price tag.
Apple AirPods Max price in India and release date
The Apple AirPods Max cost $549 or Rs 59,900 in India. They’re available to preorder now, and will be officially released on December 15, 2020.
However, expected stock shortages mean you may struggle to get the AirPods Max before the end of the year, whether you’re buying from the Apple Store or third-party retailers.
That price makes the AirPods Max far more expensive than many of the best over-ear headphones on the market, including our current favorite cans, the Sony WH-1000XM4; anyone hoping for a budget-friendly price, as we saw with the recently-launched HomePod mini, will be disappointed.
There are rumors that Apple is planning to release a cheaper, sports-friendly variant of the AirPods Max.
Design-wise, the AirPods Max are an interesting blend of classic only-Apple design flourishes and odd incongruities. The headband is stainless steel covered in white rubbery material, with a “breathable mesh knit canopy” across the top; Apple says this distributes the weight of the headphones more evenly across your head. The headband connects to the earcups with adjustable stainless-steel extensions culminating in a pleasantly spring-loaded hinge, all of which is nicer than any other premium headphones I’ve used.
They come in a range of stylish colors, including space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink.
The on-ear controls on the AirPods Max are minimal; interestingly, Apple has reprised the Digital Crown dial of the Apple Watch, which it says enables precise volume control, as well as allowing you to play or pause audio, skip tracks, answer or end phone calls, and activate Siri.
You can simply turn the dial on the top of the right earcup to adjust the volume, or press once to play / pause your music, press once to answer and end phone calls, press twice to skip to the next track, and press three times to skip backwards.
We liked the tactility a dial provides, and it definitely feels like a more precise way of adjusting the volume as opposed to a button or swipe controls. In fact, we’re quite pleased that Apple hasn’t opted for touch-sensitive housings; in our experience, they can be temperamental, and it’s tricky to remember all those different gestures.
The right earcup also houses a noise control button that allows you to switch between active noise cancellation and Transparency mode, which allows some environmental noise to pass through the headphones, while the bottom of the earcup houses an Apple Lightning port for charging.
What isn’t included is a 3.5mm audio port. So, if you want to listen with a wired connection, you’ll have to fork out for a Lighting to 3.5mm audio adapter as an additional purchase.
The Smart Case
Included with the AirPods Max is an unusual-looking Smart Case, which puts the headphones in an ‘ultralow power state’ which Apple says helps to preserve battery charge when the headphones are being used. The Smart Case has so far been compared to a bra, a sleeping mask, and a handbag by bemused Twitter users.
It’s made from a rubberized material, and it wraps around the earcups of the AirPods Max and snaps in place magnetically, leaving the headband exposed, which adds to the ‘handbag’ look. The case also leaves the Lightning port exposed, so you can charge the AirPods Max without taking them out of it.
While we appreciate the fact that the case puts the AirPods Max into a low-power state, we’re not sure it will do much to protect them if you want to pop them in a backpack while not in use. There’s nothing to stop debris from reaching the headphones, and at this price we’d really expect a hard case that will reliably protect the AirPods Max from damage.
Battery life and connectivity
Apple says the AirPods Max provide up to 20 hours of high-fidelity audio, talk time, or movie playback, which ordinarily wouldn’t seem a huge amount; however, given that this is with Active Noise Cancellation enabled, it’s a pretty respectable figure.
We’ll need a little more time with the AirPods Max to find out whether the stated battery life is accurate, but ANC tends to reduce the battery life of headphones, so we’d imagine that you can squeeze a little more playback time out of the AirPods Max if you’re using them without this enabled – plus, according to Apple, you’ll be able to conserve conserve some battery by placing the AirPods Max in their soft Smart Case.
The best over-ear headphones will usually hit around 30 hours of battery life, although many very good models only make it to around 20 – either way it’s enough for a full day or two’s use, depending on how wedded they’ll be to your ears.
Connectivity comes courtesy of Bluetooth 5, so you can expect pairing times to be fast, and you shouldn’t lose your connection as you move away from your source device (as long as you don’t go further than 800 feet / 420 meters, or put several thick walls between the AirPods Max and your phone).
The noise cancellation provided by the Apple AirPods Max seems strong based on the short time we’ve spent with them.
Each ear cup features three outward-facing microphones to detect environmental noise, while one microphone inside the ear cup monitors the sound reaching your ear.
Apple says the AirPods Max use computational audio to continuously adapt their noise cancellation performance based on “the headphone fit and movement in real time”.
Sitting in our kitchen, we were unable to hear the roar of our washing machine or the noise of builders drilling in the road outside – a little environmental noise came through, but it wasn’t enough to ruin the listening experience.
The Transparency mode is useful, too; you just need to press the noise cancellation button on the right earcup to allow environmental noise to pass through the headphones, allowing you to tap into your surroundings. It’s certainly handy if you need to have a quick conversation with someone without having to stop your music, and it worked really well in our tests.
We need more time testing the Apple AirPods Max, it’s hard to give a true assessment of their performance – and whether that performance justifies their high price tag. In particular we’re yet to try out the Spatial Audio feature.
So far the audio quality has impressed us, with a wide, well-balanced soundstage, rich bass, and detailed trebles. We’ve also found the noise cancellation to be very effective, and the inclusion of a Transparency mode is certainly useful.
Design-wise, we’re less convinced. We like the sleek feel of the earcups, and the mesh headband does feel comfortable. Still, we do appreciate the use of physical controls, and the nod to the Apple Watch with the Digital Crown is a nice touch.
Is that enough to convince people to part with $550 or Rs. 59,900? Like we say, we’ll have to spend more time with the AirPods Max to find out, but our gut instinct tells us that these headphones will probably only appeal to hardcore Apple fans.
Whether Apple has actually done enough here to justify the staggering premium over the competition is an open question that it’ll take us a little more time reviewing to answer.