Everything You Need to Know About AirPods Max

image credit: Apple

published by Chand Bellur
December 10, 2020 at 1:53 p.m.

 

  • Apple recently announced new over-ear, wireless headphones known as AirPods Max.
  • The new headphones offer similar features to AirPods Pro, with active noise cancellation, audio transparency, adaptive EQ, and spatial audio.
  • As with other Apple products, the company remains silent about audio specifications such as signal-to-noise ratio, frequency response, noise floor, and other essential attributes.
  • At an MSRP of $549, Apple’s AirPods Max are remarkably expensive, considering that high quality, wireless, studio-grade headphones typically cost around $200.

What Are AirPods Max?

AirPods Max are Apple’s newest high-quality wireless headphones. Unlike AirPods, these are headphones, not earphones. Like traditional headphones, they resemble ear-muffs, with two cup-shaped earpieces and a headband. Their design is nothing revolutionary. They look much like any other headphones on the market.

Like AirPods Pro, AirPods Max use the same H1 wireless chip to ensure easy connectivity with Apple devices. The new AirPods Max feature two H1 chips — one for each ear. If you don’t have Apple devices, you can still use AirPods Max; however, you’ll be better off with standard Bluetooth headphones. I own a pair of PowerBeats Pro earphones that use the H1 chip. They connect with Apple devices flawlessly; however, standard Bluetooth connectivity is worse than any other headphones or audio adapters I have used.

As with most Apple products, look and feel are paramount. There are no touch controls on the AirPods Max. Instead, it borrows the Digital Crown from the Apple Watch. Users can twist the digital crown to adjust volume and push this control, like a button, to accept calls and control audio playback.

AirPods Max come in a variety of user-configurable color combinations. The earpieces are replaceable; however, at $70, it’s another Apple accessory with a massive markup.

Overall, early reviews indicate that AirPods Max offer excellent build quality, apart from the headband. Those who have already handled Apple’s new headphones complain that the woven-fabric headband feels cheap and will probably succumb to scalp oils and dandruff. Apple used a fabric headband to lighten the headphones, which are still heavier than competing models. It seems odd to make headphones out of high quality, anodized aluminum, only to hold them together with mesh cloth. It’s a high-quality fabric, but perhaps headphones costing $549 should feature better materials.

AirPods Max: Questionable Audio Quality

As for audio quality, Apple offers no specifications. Details such as signal-to-noise ratio, noise floor, harmonic distortion, and frequency response aren’t listed. This is not new for Apple. Ever since the iPod, the company has sold mediocre audio products without releasing specifications. Most consumers won’t be able to hear the slight differences that audiophiles can detect. AirPods Max are for trendy spendthrifts and wealthy, fashionable people with disposable income, not audiophiles.

AirPods Max borrow the same audio features from AirPods Pro. They feature spatially-aware audio, noise cancellation, audio transparency, and adaptive EQ. While all of these features are compelling, the Cupertino company still won’t reveal basic audio specs that accompany virtually every other competing product. Apple’s own Beats headphones offer most AirPods Max features at almost half the price. It appears as though the most compelling aspect of AirPods Max is Apple branding. 

AirPods Max Emasculating Case

One of the more amusing aspects of AirPods Max are its rather feminine case. “The Internet” was quick to point out that the case resembles a bra or a purse. Gym “bros” will likely ditch the case and wear their status-symbol headphones instead of carrying around a bra-shaped purse. 

Beyond being absurdly feminine, the case doesn’t protect the AirPods Max very well. A space at the bottom of the case allows for charging, but it also makes the metal headphone “cups” available for nicks and scratches. Given that AirPods Max are more about visual appeal than substance, scratches undermine the overall appeal. If they get scratched up enough, some trustafarians may go out and buy a new pair.

Unfortunately, at this time, the case is required to power down the headphones. Without the case, the batteries drain away, regardless of actual usage. Even my PowerBeats Pros can detect when they’re worn. Perhaps AirPods Max 2 will offer this functionality at a reduced price.

AirPods Max Worth $549?

At $549, AirPods Max cost more than some new iPhone models. This is the typical Apple pricing model. When a new, appealing Apple product launches, the fashionable, wealthy, or debt-ridden line up for it, without question. Much like a pair of Air Jordan sneakers or De Beers diamonds, the value is largely artificial.

Those lining up for the AirPods Max will test a new Apple product, bearing the brunt of its defects. Slightly more rational consumers will wait until the next iteration, where Apple will fix defects, add improvements, and cut the price. They always do this! The genuinely rational consumer will just buy a pair of decent headphones from Sony, AKG, Sennheiser, or any other audiophile brand for a fraction of the price.

At this point, it’s impossible to say whether AirPods Max are worth the money, as Apple hasn’t released any detailed specifications. If you buy Sony, AKG, or Sennheiser headphones, you know what you’re getting. With Apple, it’s up to the listener to determine if the headphones are up to snuff. With over half a grand on the line, most will go with brands that disclose essential specifications.

AirPods Max are just that. They’re large AirPods. There’s no “Pro” in the product name because they’re not for professionals. If anything, Apple seems to be marketing this to professional women. The advertising, purse/bra shaped case, colors, and design seem to appeal to women looking for a new fashion accessory. Much like the Apple Watch, wearing AirPods Max in public will be the new status symbol demonstrating that you have money to burn (or maxed out credit cards) and don’t care about specs or sound quality. Priced at $549, they cost as much as designer shoes or purses, which seem like a more appropriate comparison than utilitarian Sony W4 headphones offering many of the same features at a fraction of the cost (and weight).

AirPods Max are available for pre-order. Apple’s newest fashion accessory will start shipping on December 15th. The product is already highly in demand, even though few have auditioned Apple’s new headphones. After all, it’s not about sound quality. AirPods Max are all about fashion.

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