Is condensation Killing your AirPods Max? Apple doesn’t think so

Silver AirPods Max standing on a table
(Image credit: Joseph Keller / iMore)

When you buy a pair of headphones for just over half a grand, you’d expect them to be relatively issue-free, no? Well, for hundreds of AirPods Max users, their pricey headphone investments have gone from dream to nightmare in the space of a few runs while wearing them.

The phenomenon has become known as ‘condensation death’, and one user who’s suffered from it has taken to Reddit to share their experience with the issue.

So what happens?

See more

As reported by 404, after a lengthy listening or exercise session, massive amounts of potentially headphone-ruining condensation can build up inside the AirPods. This condensation then can leak into the drivers themselves (the expensive bit that makes the noise), breaking them in a sweaty, watery bath of doom. Obviously, most owners aren’t a massive fan of their headphones suddenly becoming completely inoperable; especially seeing that most of the time it happens with little warning.

The only way they’d know it was happening is if they pull the earcups of the AirPods off, revealing the liquid’s intrusion into their expensive headphones. It has been an issue since the AirPods Max release three years ago in 2020, but nothing seems to have been done.

There is a class action lawsuit that 404 says alleges “a latent and material defect [that] causes condensation to accumulate inside the ear cups of the AirPods Max, often after only an hour or several hours of normal use.” Apple, besides fighting the lawsuit, remains coy about the issue.

What’s Apple even saying?

Well, not much. Within the lawsuit the company's lawyers have said that the AirPods Max aren’t waterproof, aren’t water resistant, and that you shouldn’t get moisture near any of the openings. Going further, they claim that the issue isn’t isolated to the AirPods — that it happens to all over-ear headphones, it’s simply more noticeable on the $550 premium AirPods Max.

Their biggest argument, again, within the lawsuit, is that normal use isn’t wearing them while exercising or walking about outside where you might introduce them to any kind of sweat or water ingress. There’s lots of legal speak, lots of finding holes, and not much actually being done.

Outside the lawsuit, however, Apple doesn’t comment on the broken AirPods.

What’s happening to these headphones?

AirPods Max laying flat on table.

(Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

Apple is right — there is some degree of condensation that comes from wearing a pair of over-ear headphones for an extended period of time, especially if you’re wearing them while exercising. The problem is that for the most part, in other models, it doesn’t break them quite like the AirPods Max gets done in by the phenomenon.

Some put the aluminum cups to blame, as it has different properties to a traditional plastic enclosure. This could well lead to an increase in condensation — although 404 talked to expert Justin Ashford who remains unsure.

The issue is that there isn’t any solid evidence to look at and dissect — that the most measurable form of proof, repairs, simply don’t seem to be available. Repair professionals aren’t seeing the issue, and so there isn’t much empirical data as to what’s going on, and how much it’s happening.

AirPods Max and their watery graves — iMore’s take

AirPods Max taken apart

(Image credit: iFixit)

First of all, full, upfront honesty; We use the AirPods Max, and we’ve never really suffered from the condensation problem. Admittedly, we only really use them for testing, comparison, and watching movies on an Apple TV box when the house is too quiet to use the surround sound system.

But there does seem to be enough evidence out there on the web that says it is an issue, and there are stories upon stories where people’s headphones are breaking. It’s a weird, weird issue, and one that Apple doesn’t currently seem to be doing much about — although you can bet that somewhere, deep within Apple Park, there’s an engineer who’s working frantically to make sure that the issue doesn’t plague the next version of the AirPods Max.

Tammy Rogers
Senior Staff Writer

As iMore's Senior Staff writer, Tammy uses her background in audio and Masters in screenwriting to pen engaging product reviews and informative buying guides. The resident audiophile (or audio weirdo), she's got an eye for detail and a love of top-quality sound. Apple is her bread and butter, with attention on HomeKit and Apple iPhone and Mac hardware. You won't find her far away from a keyboard even outside of working at iMore – in her spare time, she spends her free time writing feature-length and TV screenplays. Also known to enjoy driving digital cars around virtual circuits, to varying degrees of success. Just don't ask her about AirPods Max - you probably won't like her answer.