Here's why I traded in my AirPods Max after 3 years — even though they're the best headphones I've ever owned

AirPods Max
(Image credit: Future)

Goodbye AirPods Max. It's been a good four years, but it's time to move on to something that's better for me.

When Apple originally unveiled AirPods Max back in December 2020 I, like pretty much everyone else in the world, completely balked at that $549 price tag. Up until that time, the most expensive AirPods headphones were the AirPods Pro which came in at $249. The AirPods Max more than doubled that price. Ouch.

Regardless, being the dutiful Apple fan and audio nerd that I am, I bought them. Three years later, I can now say two things: these are the best-sounding headphones I've ever owned, and I'm glad I'm getting rid of them. Here's why.

Enter AirPods Pro 2 and that noise cancellation

AirPods Pro 2 on a mosaic table

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / Future)

When I was using the AirPods Max for the first two years, I found that they worked much better than my earbuds — the 1st generation AirPods Pro — in certain scenarios.

When I was working during the day at my desk, taking a flight to go on vacation or for work, or kicking back to just enjoy music, AirPods Max was by far the best choice for me. The first-generation AirPods Pro, on the other hand, took the crown when it came to everything else — whether that be working out in the gym, running, hiking, or just going about the day and wanting to listen to some music, podcasts, or audiobooks while I'm doing so.

However, the gap between AirPods Pro and AirPods Max in those select scenarios where the AirPods Max won out closed significantly when Apple released the AirPods Pro 2 in September 2022. The noise cancellation on these is incredible — arguably better than on AirPods Max due to the AirPods Pro 2 featuring Apple's newer H2 chip.

These also came with new audio drivers and amplifiers that elevated the audio quality compared to the AirPods Max. While AirPods Max is still the audio quality king (you're not going to beat those larger drivers), the gap is closed enough that I don't feel like I'm missing out by sticking with my AirPods Pro 2.

AirPods Max just isn't comfortable

AirPods Max

(Image credit: Future)

As AirPods Pro 2 closed the gap in terms of audio quality and noise cancellation, there was also another reason I started to fall out of love with my AirPods Max. While they sounded better, there was one thing I couldn't deny anymore — they just weren't comfortable for me.

There's no denying that the AirPods Max are a heavy set of cans. They clock in heavier than every other popular wireless over-the-ear headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM5 or the Bose QuietComfort Ultra. I tried on both of these competitors and, especially in the case of the Bose, their headphones were much more comfortable to wear compared to the AirPods Max. Apple did what it could to handle that weight, but it just doesn't get rid of the fact that these headphones feel heavy, especially when you're trying to walk around with them.

In comparison, the AirPods 2, as long as you find the right-sized ear tips, are incredibly comfortable to wear in any situation.

Death by a thousand features

AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Mike Sawh)

In the end, it wasn't a big thing that made me ditch my AirPods Max completely, but several small things instead.

In September of 2023, Apple released a USB-C version of AirPods Pro 2. Picking these up meant that I could finally abandon the Lightning port once and for all. Since the AirPods Max are still stuck with Lightning, that was one less reason to bring them along.

In the same month, Apple also released iOS 17 and, with it, brought several new audio features to the AirPods Pro 2 like Adaptive Audio, Conversation Awareness, and Personalized Audio. These features are also exclusive to the AirPods Pro 2 due to the processing power required of the H2 chip — a chip that AirPods Max still lacks.

We'll see what Apple does with AirPods Max 2

AirPods Max in different colors

(Image credit: Floating Pixels)

I'm still curious what Apple might do with an AirPods Max 2, even though there's no chance I'll pick up another pair of these cans again. USB-C will be an obvious addition, and it's also obvious the next generation will feature the H2 (or maybe H3) chip to support the latest audio features — but I'm wondering if the company will go with radically different materials to cut the weight as well.

If they're able significantly cut the weight, I might be willing to give them another go. I love the audio quality you get to enjoy out of over-the-ear headphones like the AirPods Max, but I just can't stick with them due to their weight. A lower weight could solve that comfort issue I've had.

Until then, AirPods Pro 2 (with USB-C) has my heart. Goodbye AirPods Max, you sounded great.

Joe Wituschek

Joe Wituschek is a Contributor at iMore. With over ten years in the technology industry, one of them being at Apple, Joe now covers the company for the website. In addition to covering breaking news, Joe also writes editorials and reviews for a range of products. He fell in love with Apple products when he got an iPod nano for Christmas almost twenty years ago. Despite being considered a "heavy" user, he has always preferred the consumer-focused products like the MacBook Air, iPad mini, and iPhone 13 mini. He will fight to the death to keep a mini iPhone in the lineup. In his free time, Joe enjoys video games, movies, photography, running, and basically everything outdoors.