Why I'm not buying the Apple AirPods Max

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

Apple has been on a roll for the past few months. September brought us the Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch SE, and iPad Air 4. October was the iPhone 12 series and HomePod mini. November gave us Apple M1 system-on-a-chip MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini. And now for December, we have AirPods Max.

The AirPods Max are Apple's new over-the-ear style headphones. These have Apple's H1 headphone chip, which allows for instant pairing and device switching, hands-free "Hey, Siri" support, and better power management. You also get the same Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), Transparency mode, and Adaptive EQ that are on the AirPods Pro, along with spatial audio. But the AirPods Max are geared for high-fidelity audio, with a custom acoustic design and advanced software for computational audio. This means you'll be able to hear every note in music like never before — think of it like HomePods for your ears.

While the AirPods Max will undoubtedly sound amazing, there are a few reasons why I am not buying a pair.

They're too expensive

You can pre-order your AirPods Max right now, but that price is hard to swallow. Seriously — they're $549. That's $300 more than the $249 AirPods Pro and $50 less than a new iPad Air. Heck, these headphones cost even more than a new Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, which are next-gen consoles. When you look at the price for the AirPods Max, it's just a little outrageous, especially considering that a lot of people are struggling even to make rent this year.

But it's not just that — there are many other headphones on the market that are also high quality, but for almost half the price of AirPods Max. And these aren't just unknown brands either — I'm talking about Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, and many other brands. For example, I have a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35 II that I bought on Black Friday last year, and they sound incredible, have fantastic ANC, and are comfortable to wear for hours at a time. At the time I bought them, they were around $230, but this year they fell below $200 for Black Friday. Another good pair of high-quality headphones that a few of our team members love are the Sony WH-1000XM4, which are just $350 normally (still $200 cheaper than AirPods Max), and are beloved by many in the tech world.

My point is that the AirPods Max are priced too high for most people. Then again, I don't think Apple was trying to price these for the average person, which leads me to my next point...

Not everyone is an audiophile

The AirPods Max are geared for high-fidelity audio, just like the original HomePod. Essentially, these are headphones for audiophiles, especially when you look at the price point. While most of the mainstream noise-canceling headphones from Bose and Sony are around $350 or less, there are higher-end brands that cost much more than that, and they are aiming for the audiophile demographic. The AirPods Max fall into this category as well.

Even though I love a good pair of high-quality headphones, I don't really consider myself an audiophile at all. I have several pairs of mid-level headphones, like my Bose QC 35 IIs, Razer Opus, AirPods Pro, and the HyperX Cloud Mix that I use daily for work, but I can't really tell you the tiny differences in the treble or bass or frequencies between all of those like an audiophile probably could. Maybe that's because I also don't have any musical background at all, but for me, as long as the sound isn't "tinny" or muddled, then I'm pretty fine with the sound quality. But I can tell the difference between having ANC on and having it off or not available.

Still, the audiophile community is rather niche, and for most people, it's hard to tell the difference between a pair of $50 headphones versus a $300 pair. So I'm not sure if the $549 for the AirPods Max is worth dropping to find out.

There are some...questionable design choices

My biggest gripe with the AirPods Max is the design of the Smart Case. It is just odd-looking, and for something so expensive, I would rather just have a case that can protect the entire pair of headphones, rather than just the ear cups. How am I supposed to keep the headband safe from scuffs in my bag this way? Plus, it looks like a certain lady's undergarment when it's in the case — you know you thought it too.

I'm also not a particularly big fan of the two-tone colors — especially the pink option (the band is supposed to match the iPhone 12 in PRODUCT(RED), which is a pretty bad color this year). I mean, it's great that these will match up with your iPhone 12 or iPad Air 4, but having two shades just feels a little off for me. And what about matching with my Pacific Blue iPhone 12 Pro, arguably the better blue? And as much as I love all things pink, that orangish-red coral is just not a great color overall, but this is just personal preference.

I also noticed that the Digital Crown and Noise Control Button both sit on top of the ear cup, near where it connects to the band. On the surface, this feels like a weird placement since every other headphone on Earth has the buttons on the bottom side of the ear cup. Considering that you need to twist the Digital Crown for volume adjustment, it just feels a little out of place.

And the Smart Case is supposed to put the AirPods Max into an ultralow-power mode when they're not in use. What happened to just having a power button, like other headphones? It feels overly fancy, but I guess that would be why these would be able to instantly pair and seamlessly switch devices.

What do you think about AirPods Max?

These are just a few of my early thoughts about the AirPods Max, but I think they're valid reasons for why I won't be initially getting a pair. The price is just too rich for my taste, and it's apparent that these are designed for audiophiles and the ones that are truly picky about sound quality. And like most first versions of products, some quirks in the design just don't sit well with everyone (remember the first Smart Battery Pack hump, the iPhone notch, etc.)

But who knows — the AirPods Max could be a total game-changer. I guess we'll just see when those reviews come out. What do you guys think about the AirPods Max? Are you getting one or giving it a hard pass? Let us know in the comments!

Christine Chan

Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed. When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.