Apple AirPods Max Review

Apple AirPods Max Review

Suddenly they were there and enchanted with Apple’s magic. We were finally able to test the Apple AirPods Max from Apple. What can the ANC headphones from Cupertino do? Does the sound keep what was promised? Find out here.

With the Apple AirPods Max, Apple has presented an impressive first headphone set, cutting a fine figure apart from ANC. Beautifully balanced in terms of sound, with a fine hand for voices, the AirPods Max are perfect companions for on the go and at home. The quality and operation also speak for the Apple brand.

PROS:

  • Excellent audio performance with rich lows and crisp, detailed highs
  • High-quality active noise cancellation, especially for low-frequency rumble
  • Stunning, unique design
  • Adaptive EQ and Spatial audio
  • Hands-free Siri access

CONS:

  • Expensive
  • Sound signature and Adaptive EQ/spatial audio aren’t for purists
  • No user-adjustable EQ
  • Button placement makes it easy to misfire when adjusting fit
  • Smart Case does little to protect the headphones

It’s not fair: We have only just chosen the best headphones of the year, and then with the new AirPods Max from Apple, a candidate comes into the house who could throw this ranking upside down. What’s more, if our first impressions are confirmed, the AirPods Pro’s big brothers overshadow all other ANC headphones we’ve heard over the past year. But one after another:

As we already reported, Apple brought its first headphone to the market just in time for Christmas time. Apple stabbed the audiophile community in the middle of the wasp’s nest with the promise of active noise suppression, adaptive EQ, 3D audio, perfect operation, and flawless quality.

Since every new Apple product is out of stock worldwide, we had to wait a bit, but now we could hold the Apple AirPods Max in our hands and see if all the excitement wasn’t much ado about anything. (Small spoiler: It wasn’t.)

Understatement à la Apple

The quality is already apparent when unpacking. Because, as you would expect from Apple, it is flawless. The AirPods Max is comfortable to hold with a comfortable weight. This promises value but does not reduce the wearing comfort in the least. Even if Apple has repeatedly shown a mind of its own in its history, their first headphones fit pretty much everyone. This is ensured by the stepless adjustment and the pleasantly airy mesh of the headband.

With the Apple AirPods Max, Apple has remained true to its simple and elegant design language. We particularly noticed the lack of the typical Apple logo. That speaks for the sovereignty of the brand: An Apple product can be recognized even without a logo. So let’s see whether this self-confidence is otherwise justified.

As much noise caused its emergence, the quieter remained under the auricles, as we found after switching on. The noise-canceling does what it says on the tin. Eight of the nine (!) Microphones take care of that. Two of the ANC microphones also support the ninth in transparency mode. In this, the AirPods Max should amplify the ambient noise. They should ensure that you have your environment unadulterated – and without the headphones depose – can perceive.

Transparency mode

In transparency mode, the attenuation that closed headphones inevitably exert on the hearing is to be compensated. For this purpose, the ambient noise, which is faded out in noise-canceling mode, is reproduced more intensely by the headphones. So you can perceive the surroundings without having to forego music.

It was an impressive experience to switch from the cozy ANC sound bubble to the transparency mode. This showed one of the sonic strengths of the AirPods Max, which we should encounter again later in the hearing test: Human speech is reproduced extremely precisely.

This is what the Apple AirPods Max sound like

The rocking foot is and will remain an important criterion for sound evaluation – wherever it occurs, someone has fun with the music. And sometimes your foot even bobs to music that you didn’t even know you liked before. Then you know that the listening pleasure comes from the sound. This is what happened to the writer of these lines with the jazz piece. You Look Good To Me by the Oscar Peterson Trio.

The stage that built up under the Apple AirPods Max was amazingly wide and precise. The plucked strings of the double bass were next to the drums and piano, no instrument pushed into the foreground and superimposed on the others. This performance aroused curiosity and a desire for more. Classical music with a large orchestra is a challenge for pretty much any headphones. Is the dynamic range of the Apple AirPods enough for Camille Saint-Saens Third Symphony?

In the Poco Adagio, the winds of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra play a fanfare-like question-and-answer game with the organ. Even if the musicians slide a little closer together, all instruments can still be heard clearly. The organ bumps come across as appropriately powerful, but they do not drown out the orchestra clumsily but quite naturally take their place in the recording center.

Regarding the speech reproduction mentioned at the beginning: In the transparency mode, you can hear other people’s voices extremely clearly and analytically. A property that can be an advantage in traffic but might be a bit too much with music. But the concern is unfounded, on the contrary: Nick Cave’s voice on Idiot Prayer – Nick Cave Alone At Alexandra Palace loses nothing of her dark-dominant timbre.

On the “Live” album recorded in 2020 under Corona conditions, Cave only shares the huge concert hall in London with his grand piano. The hall of the empty hall gives the pieces an unusual note and harmonizes perfectly with Cave’s melancholy ballads. Transporting this goosebumps mood is phenomenal with the AirPods Max. Nick’s voice appears life-size in front of the listener without being too powerful.

The Apple AirPods Max in the practical test

“I completely forgot that I got those things in.” A sentence that we have heard several times concerning the AirPods Pro. It isn’t easy to find a better guarantee of wearing comfort. And it looks similar to the AirPods Max too. Of course, even the most comfortable over-ear headphones can hardly be completely forgotten, but the new Apple still makes it very easy.

The bracket lies softly on the head, cushioned by the downward arched net. At the same time, it ensures that the mussels stay securely in the desired place without pressing. The AirPods Max also does a lot in terms of comfort. So you can forget that you are wearing headphones. Especially when, thanks to the activated transparency mode, all ambient noises, and even your voice can be heard crystal clear.

Apple promises 20 hours of running time with activated noise suppression or activated transparency mode. As far as tested, the AirPods Max keeps this promise. The earphones are also convincing in terms of the quick charge function. Within a few minutes, the charge is enough for one hour of music enjoyment.

However, just like with the AirPods Pro in-ear headphones, Apple remains true to its philosophy of maximum functionality. So you can’t turn off the AirPods Max in the conventional sense, either. As long as the headphones are not in the smart case, they remain ready for use. So if you want to save electricity, the smart case is essential. In it, the headphones switch to standby and, according to Apple, have “extremely low energy consumption.”

Telephony

As with the AirPods Pro, the ANC is an extremely practical companion when making calls. Apple goes beyond the normal level of noise suppression and attenuates the ambient noise for the wearer and the conversation partner. An extremely practical feature is if, for example, you are sitting in a roaring train.

But the transparency mode once again proves its right to exist. Many people feel insecure when they have to talk but only hear their voice muffled. But that is precisely what can hardly be avoided with headphones. It is easy to speak much louder than intended. With the transparency mode activated, even the longest conversations were no longer a problem.

3D audio: AirPods Max in the cinema test

The much-touted 3D audio, in which built-in position sensors and a gyroscope evaluate your listening position on the screen, also works perfectly. If you play films from a supported app – such as Apple TV Plus – on a suitable Apple product, you can completely immerse yourself in the cinema feeling. The difference between stereo and 3D is striking. Not only does the sound of the film always come from the direction of the screen, but the sound of the film also gains depth and appears more finely graduated.

Smart Case: the AirPods Max in a touch of nothing

Sex sells. And suggesting what is hidden under the surface increases curiosity. So it’s understandable that Apple designed the protective cover for the AirPods Max to be as compact and “figure-hugging” as possible. If you turn the ear cups sideways, they disappear into the two separate pockets of the Smart Case. A magnetically secured flap then secures the headphones from accidentally sliding out.

Presumably also via a hidden magnet, the AirPods Max notice when they have been stowed away and automatically switch to standby. It works amazingly well. As soon as they are taken out again, they instantly connect to the last connected device. Incidentally, this feature also works with Android phones.

However, there is a small downer in the handling of the AirPods Max. It is practically impossible to prevent the earcups with their metal housings from hitting each other when you turn them to the side to stow them. This could lead to scratches in the long run. However, the material seems to be very resistant: Even after a very strict week of testing and a lot of packing and unpacking, no wounds were noticeable.

Nevertheless, the “Smart” case only protects the ear cups, but not the bracket. Other covers defy the elements better in this regard but are also clunkier and take up more space. Space optimization is still an important factor in the company whose founder is said to have sunk the prototype of the first iPod in the aquarium. Where air bubbles rise, says Steve Jobs, there is also unused space. So in terms of space and design, the duo of Smart Case and AirPods Max – which from a distance can also be mistaken for a fashionable handbag – is the winner.

Operation: iOS vs. Android

Apple likes to adorn itself with the title “magical. ” The operation of the AirPods Max within the Apple universe can certainly be described in this way. As usual, the devices from Cupertino work with each other exactly as they should. Connection, playback, parallel mode, everything works right away. It is almost magical how intuitively the devices “think along.”

The operation on the device itself is intuitive and works straight away. On the Digital Crown – which is modeled on the Apple Watch – you can adjust the volume, skip songs forwards and backward, start and pause music, and answer and end calls. The stepless volume control automatically controls that of the connected Apple device to set one volume. Android Phones still has two volume controls. In addition, a discreet warning tone sounds when you have reached the highest or lowest volume with the Digital Crown.

Unfortunately, as with the AirPods Pro, Apple does without a personally adjustable equalizer. As a result, the sound cannot be adjusted by yourself but is adjusted to the auricle position solely by the Adaptive EQ. As described above, it sounds great to give the music your personal touch, but it is not possible.

The Apple AirPods Max on Android

Even if you leave the Apple universe behind and pair the AirPods Max with Android-based devices, many basic functions are retained. Answer or end a call, play/pause, and forward / back work with the Digital Crown. Contactless coupling, or pausing playback when removing the headphones, is just as little supported as 3D audio.

In addition, when playing music on Android devices, there may be slight interference when changing the track. Also, the music playback doesn’t seem to be as low in distortion as it is with Apple players: The recording of Jocelyn B. Smith’s live concert in Berlin is, in fairness, a tough nut to crack for every driver:

The force and intensity with which she makes Sinatra’s My Way vibrate in the room with the entire volume of the lungs have already brought many tweeters to their knees. Nevertheless, the same recording from the iPhone was less distorted than from the HiRes Player Kann from Astell & Kern.

They are permanently connected with Bluetooth

Apple relies on the current Bluetooth 5.0 standard for its headphones and transmits data using Apple’s own AAC codec. UNFORTUNATELY, since AAC compresses, you have to do without lossless music playback with the AirPods Max. But the earphones convince with enormous signal stability!

The author had to go down to the basement from the first floor to cut the connection between the iPhone and the headphones. Interestingly, it made no difference whether an Apple product or a smartphone from another company sent the signals. Only on the other side of the metal boiler room door was the signal too weak.

Apple’s way at the ANC

As already indicated above, noise-canceling delivers what it promises. If you switch it on using the function key, a cozy cotton-wool film covers the world. The noise suppression of the challenged top model Sony WH1000XM4 may seal you off even more effectively from your environment, but the ANC of the AirPods Max focuses on different things. This way, it can precisely address those users for whom the “ANC vacuum” that seems to arise among Sony ANC listeners is too extreme. Remove the AirPods the disturbing environmental noise only, but left no dominant emptiness.

After the above listening test was performed with all three listening modes (transparency, ANC, off), it was found that all three modes made only minor differences in sound. It is only worth mentioning that the headphones lost some of their brilliance in the highs when noise suppression was activated. Otherwise, the sound level of the AirPods Max remained consistently high.

Conclusion: The Apple AirPods Max as a strong partner

With the Apple AirPods Max, Apple has made a big hit in the middle of the ANC world. Wherever you look – and listen – you can tell in the headphones that you took your time with the development. Almost every detail has been thought through and has its purpose. From the fit, the design to the usability to the listening modes, the AirPods Max hovers around the nimbus of functionality.

Behind all these features, there is still a means of listening to music. And here, too, it has to be said that Apple did a lot of things right. The AirPods Max is fun but not intrusive. The bass has neither become too dominant nor do the highs slide into the analytical corners. One of the AirPods Max’s strengths is voice reproduction: Singing and spoken word are presented concisely and with a lot of feeling.

Apple has created perhaps no high Fidelen headphones with the AirPods Max, with which one the last nuances can experience audiophile music reproduction. Still, it is a rock-solid Join r succeeded with which you can dive for hours.

And this is Apple’s first product! So what journey will Apple take our ears on in the future? We can certainly be curious.

Apple AirPods Max Review
Apple AirPods Max Review

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