Buds, be gone. There's a new can in town. Apple's over-ear AirPods Max debuted on Dec. 8, 2020, following the October iPhone 12 event. And they made waves: Until the Max hit the scene, Apple's earphone options were scant: There was the AirPods and ... well, that was it.
The AirPods Max are over-ear premium wireless headphones that bring high-fidelity audio while offering a seamless experience across the board with your Apple gear, as long as you're on the latest software. There are rumors that an AirPods Max 2 may be on the horizon, but until they debut, the OG headphones are the over-ear cans of choice.
And on paper, they sound great. Butyou need to consider the price of admission — are all of these features worth the $549 that Apple is asking for? Here's everything you need to know to help you make that decision.
AirPods Max: The iMore Review
Our Apple AirPods Max review is quite conclusive. Our reviewer decisively called the AirPods Max "the best headphones that I currently own." The sound on these are fantastic — the soundstage is amazing and makes you feel like you're up front in a concert hall, so you can really make out all of the tiny details in your music. And if you've ever wanted to have your music louder, the AirPods Max have zero distortion at max volumes, so you can blast them as loud as you want (just be wary of the audio bleed around others).
The ANC is even better than the AirPods Pro, which was already impressive, and Spatial Audio is pretty mind-blowing, though it's something that you really need to experience first-hand to understand. If you plan on using AirPods Max for audio or video calls, then understand that the nine mic array works great to make you sound as best you can, but others will still be able to tell that you're using a headset.
Apple made sure that the AirPods Max are premium headphones with a hefty build made out of stainless steel and aluminum, and yes, they're heavy. But when you have them on your head, they're surprisingly comfortable, which is probably due to that mesh fabric canopy on the headband. The telescoping arms are smooth and sturdy, and the overall aesthetics will match up nicely with your other Apple gear.
AirPods Max: Price and Best deals
There are some great Apple AirPods Max deals to be found on AirPods at the moment, and some great deals on other AirPods as well, although some of the models are a little harder to find.
The AirPods Pro 2 have a reasonable $20 off, although we have seen that price a little lower. The AirPods 2 remain elusive and often full price. AirPods 3 currently have a $10 discount at B&H Photo but are hard to find almost everywhere else. AirPods Max are back down to $479, although they have been cheaper so it may be worth sticking it out for a little longer.
AirPods Max: Features
Active Noise Cancellation (ANC)
AirPods Max combines high-fidelity audio with Active Noise Cancellation. Each part of their custom-built driver works to produce sound with ultra-low distortion across the audible range. From deep, rich bass to accurate mids and crisp, clean highs, you'll hear every note with a new sense of clarity.
Apple H1 chip
As expected, the new AirPods Max offers an Apple H1 headphone chip in each ear cup. The H1 means instant pairing and device switching with the latest Bluetooth technology, "Hey, Siri" support, and better power management for increased listening and talk time.
Eight of the nine microphones found on the AirPods Max are used for Active Noise Cancellation. Three are used for voice pickup ((two shared with Active Noise Cancellation and one additional microphone).
The headphones include an Optical sensor (each ear cup), Position sensor (each ear cup), Case-detect sensor (each ear cup), Accelerometer (each ear cup), and Gyroscope (left ear cup).
Carried over from the Apple Watch, these Apple headphones come with a Digital Crown. The Digital Crown lets you precisely control volume, skip between tracks, answer phone calls, and activate Siri.
Apple AirPods Max: Battery life
Apple claims that the AirPods Max can get around 20 hours of battery with ANC/Transparency on, and that seems about right in our testing. If you don't use ANC, then the AirPods Max should last much longer. I am fine with putting them on the charger every night just so I don't need to worry about my headphones dying on me in the middle of my next workday.
As far as charging them up, it took exactly one hour for me to get about 65% charge with a standard USB-A to Lightning cable that was plugged into my couch. I'm sure you can get slightly faster-charging speeds with one of the best iPhone 12 chargers to use with the USB-C-to-Lightning cable that comes with the AirPods Max, but it's going to take at least an hour and a half to two hours to fully charge these from zero to 100.
Apple does say that a 5-minute charge should give you another 90 minutes of audio playback, however, they never state what wattage is required for that.
Each headphones pair comes with a Smart Case that Apple says will preserve the battery charge in an ultra-low-power-state. Charging is performed via a Lightning connector.
AirPods Max: Colors
Apple sells the AirPods Max in five different colors: Space Gray, Green, Silver, Sky Blue, and Pink. The company also lets you personalize your headphones for free. So go ahead, make them your own!
AirPods Max 2
As with everything. the industry leading AirPods Max can get better. But what will that look like and when will we get new AirPods Max 2 headphones?
January 2023 saw supply chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo say that he expected Apple to launch the next version of its best headphones towards the end of 2024 or the beginning of 2025, which of course gives him plenty of wiggle room.
The main change that we've heard of so far, and one that is pretty much a given, is the move to a USB-C port. Beyond that, interchangeable bands are a possibility, as are sound improvements if Apple moves to the new M2 audio chip.
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Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way.
Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.