To ignore the H1 is to miss the point of AirPods Max

Apple Airpods Max Exploded
Apple Airpods Max Exploded (Image credit: Apple)

While we haven't yet seen any official reviews of Apple's new AirPods Max, we do have plenty of early impressions videos and articles to enjoy and, so far, things are looking promising. Audio quality is proving to be more impressive than most of us dare hope and the ANC works just as well as the leading competition.

But actually deciding what that competition is, is proving a problem. Because as much as everyone seems to be desperate to compare AirPods Max with something, there isn't actually anything to directly compare them with.

The most obvious comparison, and the one I'm seeing the most, is with the hugely popular Sony WH-1000XM4. I use the older Sony WH-1000XM3 and they're wonderful. But these things sell for around $250 less than the $549 AirPods Max. And you can see where those comparisons are already going.

"Why buy AirPods Max when you can buy the Sonys for $250 less?"

That's a fair question. And, so far, it seems to be where the conversation ends – especially if you look on social media. But to compare AirPods Max and the Sonys – I'm not going to type out that product name each time! – without mentioning the former's killer feature is like comparing a Tesla Model 3 with a Chevy Bolt without talking about the self-driving tech.

That killer feature is, of course, the pair of H1 chips inside AirPods Max. And people seem to be forgetting they're there or, specifically, what they mean.

They mean instant pairing with iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple Watches, and Apple TVs. They mean instant device switching. They mean improved range and more reliable connections. They mean lower latency than traditional Bluetooth connections. They mean hands-free "Hey Siri" and message announcements. There might be more, but I've made my point.

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise-Canceling Headphones (Image credit: Sony)

If AirPods Max really can match the Sonys on audio quality, microphone performance, longevity, etc, the question shouldn't be whether you should save the $250 and get the WH-1000XM4s. It should be whether the H1 chips and all their magic are worth the extra $250. For me, it might be but I haven't decided yet. For others, not so much. For anyone using a Windows PC and Android and set to miss out on the benefits of the H1s, absolutely not.

If you're looking at the AirPods Max and comparing them with other headphones and ignoring H1's capabilities, you're missing the point. Especially when there are plenty of other reasons to bash Apple's new headphones – like that case. And the fact they don't fold. And that case.

Oh, and the fact you can't get any for three months.

Turns out someone's buying them after all.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

  • Hello Oliver Haslam, great article! I would just like to clarify that "Automatic Switching" only works with "iOS 14, iPadOS 14, macOS Big Sur, or later" according Apple’s Support Site: So the Apple TV 4K unfortunately does not support "Automatic Switching", nor does it support "Spatial Audio". Why this is the case I have no idea. Hopefully Apple will address these glaring deficiencies in a future hardware or software update soon. That being said though, I completely agree with your estimation! To overlook the H1 Chip is to overlook the the primary benefit an Apple Mac, iPad, or iPhone user derives from using any of Apple’s AirPods. Being able to quickly pair and for the most part, seamlessly switch between these devices is all thanks to the H1 Chip. Also, I notice that I have a substantially larger connectivity range with my AirPods vs other Bluetooth Stereo Headsets I’ve used. Apple has done very well at offering real added benefits when staying within their hardware ecosystem, perhaps even more so than their competitors from what I’ve seen. Thank you again for your article.
  • I believe Spatial Audio doesn’t work with the Apple TV because it relies on the accelerometer in the device to keep sound in the same position even when you move your head. iOS and iPadOS devices have accelerometers, but the Apple TV does not. I can still see it coming to the Apple TV potentially, though.
  • I've heard this argument before, the Apple TV (and your 65" flat screen) don't move, so spatial audio doesn't/wouldn't work. I don't get that. The gyro's and accelerometers are in the AirPods Pro/Airpods Max. They understand where your head is at. The experience I've had is that the sound appears to coming from one point in space, and adjusts depending on your head position. Imagine being at a concert and looking at the band. someone taps you on the back, and you turn around. The band is now behind you. The sound is different to the point of things hitting your left ear more are now hitting your right ear more. I've done this with an iPhone sitting on a table in front of me and listening to something in front of me. Swiveling around in a chair I could imagine, looking left, that the sound was now to my right, and turning all the way around (180) the sound was coming from behind me. Without earphones that makes sense, the sound comes from the iPhone speakers. With earphones though, the sounsd should always seem like it is coming from right in front of you. Not so with spatial audio, it tracks your head and alters the sound so that its source appears fixed in space. No idea why that wouldn't work with Apple TV, other than it not having the software/hardware to play the files appropriately encoded. Don't think it matters that it's doesn't move.
  • I completely agree with you on the spacial audio. I actually experienced it for the first time using a Mac with my AirPod Pro's on Apple Music so I have no idea why it doesn't work with the Apple TV at least 4K. Guessing just a miss by the TvOS team.
  • Don't end your sentences with prepositions. Perhaps: "there isn't actually anything with which to directly compare them."
  • There is simply no good reason not to end a sentence with a preposition. It’s perfectly understandable.. It’s an arbitrary rule spouted by people who don’t understand language usage very well to make themselves sound cleverer than they are.
  • I'm looking forward to trying them out with late night Apple TV and Mac sessions. For some reason, the Airpods Pro just don't stay in my ears - no matter what size tips. I *think* I've twisted 'em in so they won't come out, carefully put my hood on, and next thing I know they're swimming somewhere in my jacket and drop to the ground when I get out of the car. Not good. Of course when I heard the price I waffled - and waffling can cause significant delays when it comes to hot new Apple products.
  • About a 3 month delay at this point ;)
  • The H1 chip is pretty minor compared to the overall package. The $549 price tag isn't justified by the H1 chip.