AirPods Pro vs AirPods Max: Which should you buy?

So you want to buy some Apple headphones. We hear you. The AirPods Max and AirPods Pro are bigger than the Beatles, and everyone wants a bit of the best. So which should you buy?

For starters, know that Apple hasn't released new AirPods in ages, and while we may be hoping for a sequel -- we're waiting on you, AirPods Max 2 -- frankly, the company may not need to. Our Apple AirPods Max review is pretty conclusive: Our reviewer decisively called the AirPods Max "the best headphones that I currently own." And our AirPods Pro review calls those buds "the best audio invention since AirPods."

Both provide a premium Apple experience for people who want a great sounding pair of headphones with active noise cancelation and transparency modes. Both contain Apple's H1 chip for easy pairing, device switching, and "Hey Siri" capability. The AirPods Pro are in-ear earbuds and the AirPods Max are over-ear headphones. So which pair of Apple-branded headphones is right for you?

AirPods Pro vs. AirPods Max: Let's compare

Head to head there are many features that are similar in both sets of headphones, but there are also obvious differences. Let's take a look at some of them.

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Header Cell - Column 0 AirPods ProAirPods Max
Weight0.19 ounces per earbud13.6 ounces
Battery lifeUp to 20 hours (with ANC on)Up to 4.5 hours (with ANC on); 24 hours total with charging case
ColorsWhiteSpace Gray, Silver, Pink, Green, Sky Blue
Active noise cancelationYesYes
IPX4 water resistanceYesNo
H1 chipYesYes
Wireless chargingYesNo

The choice between the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max really comes down to budget and personal choice. Do you want a compact pair of in-ear headphones or do you want over-ear headphones that have more battery life but are much less portable? Let's take a look at what the major differences are so you can make a buying decision that is best for you.

AirPods Pro vs. AirPods Max: Price and design

Airpods Max On End Hero

Airpods Max On End Hero (Image credit: Joseph Keller / iMore)

The AirPods Pro are compact in-ear headphones that you can take anywhere with you. With its charging case, they can fit in a pants pocket, purse, or any bag. They are made of plastic and are IPX4 water-resistant, meaning that they could survive sweat and splashes. The AirPods Pro also has three sizes of silicone ear tips, so you can find the right size to fit your ears.

The AirPods Max are over-ear headphones, so by design, they are not compact. The ear cups are made of stainless steel, and the headband is a mesh finish. The digital crown, similar to the Apple Watch, provides onboard controls for volume, track skipping, and Siri. The AirPods Max are also heavy, but not uncomfortably so. They may not be headphones that you want to work out with but you can listen to music all day without wanting to pull them off of your ears.

The AirPods Pro retail for $249 while the AirPods Max retail for $549. You have to decide if the extra $300 is well spent on the over-ear design, deeper sound, and better materials that the AirPods Max features. Not to mention that $549 is very expensive for this class of headphones. With the Beats Solo Pro and the Sony WH-1000XM4 retailing for around $300, with many of the same features such as active noise cancelation, the AirPods Max face stiff competition.

The AirPods Max comes with a smart case that, when inserted, will put the battery in low power mode. However, it's not the most protective case, and it, unfortunately, resembles undergarments. Check out some of the best AirPods Max cases if you decide the AirPods Max are for you.

AirPods Pro vs. AirPods Max: Features

Airpods Max Smart Case Top

Airpods Max Smart Case Top (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

Both the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max come loaded with features such as active noise cancelation (ANC) and transparency mode. ANC sounds great on the AirPods Pro but it sounds outstanding on the AirPods Max, and that's due to the design of the earcups and how they cover your ear to reduce any outside sound. With the AirPods Max and ANC turned on, you can completely tune out the world and enjoy your music or movie.

Transparency mode will allow you to hear outside sounds while listening to your music, so you can maintain awareness of your surroundings. I have tested this out with the AirPods Pro in New York City, and you can hear people walking aside you, as well as the sounds of cars and buses on the street. With the AirPods Max, transparency mode is equally effective at hearing outside sounds.

Apple's H1 chip is included in both AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, so that means easy pairing, device switching with any device on your iCloud account, and low audio latency.

AirPods Pro vs. AirPods Max: Sound quality

AirPods Pro on stage

Air Pods Pro on stage (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

While the AirPods Pro sound great, they can't compete with what the AirPods Max offer. The Pro are earbuds so just by design they'll never sound as good as a full-size pair of headphones. You will be missing the full bass that larger over-ear headphones provide. The Pro do still sound great, however.

The AirPods Max contain a 40mm dynamic driver that will enable you to hear sounds in your music that you may never have heard before. According to Apple, the dynamic driver, "provides rich, deep bass, accurate mid-ranges, and crisp, clean high-frequency extension, so every note can be heard." What this really means is that the AirPods Max sound exceptional, as they should if you are paying $549 for them.

Both the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max are capable of Spatial audio for both music or for watching your favorite TV shows and movies. You will get the surround sound feeling with just the headphones on your ears.

AirPods Pro vs. AirPods Max: Battery life and color choice

Apple fans, do you go on long trips where you listen to music or watch movies for many hours at a time? Or do you use your headphones for a short workout and a phone call before taking them off? These are the use cases that you have to explore while deciding on the AirPods Pro or the AirPods Max.

The AirPods Pro features up to five hours of battery life with a full charge out of the charging case. The charging case can charge them for up to 24 hours, but of course, after five hours you will have to recharge. The AirPods Max can be used for up to 20 hours, great for long flights or binging your favorite TV show.

As far as color choice, if you like white then the AirPods Pro are perfect for you since it's the only color available. With the AirPods Max, you can choose from Space Gray, Silver, Green, Pink, or Sky Blue.

AirPods Pro vs. AirPods Max: The choice is yours

Grogu Airpods Max Iphone 12 Pro

Grogu Airpods Max Iphone 12 Pro (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

The decision between AirPods Pro and AirPods Max comes down to how you use your headphones, how you travel with them, and how much battery life you want.

If you want a compact pair of headphones packed with features such as active noise cancelation, transparency mode, Apple's H1 chip, IPX4 water resistance, and great sound with a design that allows you to carry them around in any pocket, then the AirPods Pro are for you. These are great for a workout or a quick phone call as well as listening to spatial audio with your music, movies or TV shows.

If you are looking for a full-size over-ear pair of headphones, with many of the same features as the AirPods Pro, with sound quality that will breathe new life into your music, with battery life that will last you all day and more, a choice of colors, and a digital crown for physical controls, then the AirPods Max is worth a look. Only you can justify if the additional $300 cost is in your budget and worth spending. However, you won't be disappointed if you do.

Mark Goldschmitt

**Mark Goldschmitt** is the father of three boys and loves anything Apple. Born and raised in Queens, NY, and currently residing on Long Island, Mark is a lifelong New York Mets fan. {.end}