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Apple AirPods Max review – headphones that look as good as they sound

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  • VERDICT

The AirPods Max make a huge statement – headphones don’t just have to sound good; they should look good as well. Mission accomplished.

The Apple AirPods Max headphones are here! And they’ve lived up to my expectations. But with a price tag of a whopping $899 they’re not for everyone.

Only a company like Apple, which prides itself as much on design as it does on functionality, can get away with the release of a product like this.

Many Apple devotees who are firmly ensconced in the Apple ecosystem wouldn’t have even batted an eyelid before buying the AirPods Max.

At this price, the AirPods Max are hundreds of dollars more expensive than even the most premium noise cancelling headphones from Bose, Sony and Sennheiser.

But what you get from Apple is a remarkably designed piece of technology which uses premium materials like aluminium and stainless steel to create a product that looks amazing.

Those other $500 noise cancelling headphones all look pretty similar and are basically made of plastic so Apple’s justification could be you’re paying for not only a great audio experience but also a great quality product as well.

The AirPods Max  ear cups are designed to rest comfortably on your ear but allow a range of movement so they stay in place no matter how you move or how large your head happens to be.

I’ve got a big head and the AirPods Max  still fit quite comfortably and maintained a nice passive seal on my ears no matter how I moved around.

What draws your eye is the large mesh headband which distributes the weight quite evenly.

And there is a bit of weight because of the largely metal construction – they are noticeably heavier than other headphones.

But that’s not an issue thanks to that mesh headband. We’re not sure how that mesh will weather over time – I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

The ear cups are made from acoustic memory foam and attach magnetically to the headphones.

In combination with the mesh headband, the foam ear cups contribute to the overall comfort of wearing the AirPods Max  for hours at a time

There are no gesture controls on the outside of the ear cups despite there being plenty of room to have them.

The only physical controls is the digital crown – similar to the one you see on Apple Watch just bigger – which allows you to adjust the volume while pressing it pauses and plays your music again.

The other button is to toggle between active noise cancellation and Transparency mode.

Transparency lets you hear your music and everything else going on around you and then at the press of the button you’re back in your world again.

With the H1 chip on board, AirPods Max are easy to pair with your iPhone and other Apple products and checking the battery level involves simply bringing the AirPods Max close to your iPhone.

When we first heard about the AirPods Max  and that $899 price tag – our first reaction was “these I have to hear!”.

And those high expectations have been met.

The sound quality of the Apple AirPods Max  is superb with a beautiful sound scale detailed high and mid-levels and balanced bass that’s on point.

Apple’s computational audio is hard at work in the background with nine billion computations a second to optimise the sound quality based on what you’re listening to.

In terms of sheer audio quality these headphones hold their own against the best that Bose Sennheiser and Sony have to offer in this class.

Apple has gone for a high fidelity sound that remains faithful to what the artist intended and hasn’t tried any kind of trickery to take the sound beyond what would have been played live in the studio.

This includes the bass which is just the right measure.

If the AirPods Max  would have pumped up the bass they would have risked making them sound more “street” like the Beats headphones (which Apple owns).

Instead what you’re getting is what you would hear if that band was in the same room playing in front of you.

But the real surprise for us was the quality of the active noise cancellation which we think not only matches its competitors but probably slightly exceeds them.

The AirPods Max noise cancellation absolutely shuts out the outside world.

For our review we tested them half a metre away from a fan on our desk which audibly just disappeared.

We could not hear it despite it being at arm’s length away from us but could still feel the breeze on our face.

You are in your own world with active noise cancellation on the AirPods Max. It’s exceptional.

One thing we didn’t like was the maximum volume level which we felt could have been a little higher.

But still there is no doubting the audio quality and the active noise cancellation which, when combined, offer a fantastic listening experience.

The AirPods Max are not water resistant so don’t think you’ll be taking these to the gym or out in the rain. There are other headphones and earphones that can do that.

There is also no connection for a 3.5mm cable as you see with other noise cancelling headphones.

This cable would be used to connect to an inflight entertainment system and to use the headphones if they run out of battery.

The AirPods Max don’t have that and so, when we’re back flying again, you’ll need to be creative to connect to the inflight entertainment system.

One way of doing that is with a Bluetooth dongle like the RHA wireless flight adaptor which can create a Bluetooth link to the system.

This might be a deal breaker for some power users who are not afraid to spend hundreds of dollars on noise cancelling headphones to use while they’re travelling.

On the battery side, the AirPods Max run for up to 20 hours on a single charge which would be a week’s worth of listening if you’re a commuter and a Sydney to Los Angeles flight if you’re a traveller.

Users can charge the headphones through the lightning port on the right ear cup with the supplied cable.

The AirPods Max also come with a smart case which can protect the headphones when not in use and also places them in an ultra-low power mode to save your battery.

There is actually no on or off switch on the headphones so the AirPods Max will remain connected to your device even when you’re not listening to them unless they are placed inside the smart case.

The headphones do fold down flat but, unlike other headphone brands, don’t fold down even further to fit inside a zip up case for added protection.

Are these good headphones? Absolutely!

Are they worth $899? We think that price is a little high.

If you’re a fan of the Apple brand and its beautiful products, you’re more likely to want to spend your money on the AirPods Max.

These are like the Ferrari of noise cancelling headphones because they look great and also sound great.

Yes they basically do the same thing as the other top shelf headphones on the market – they just do it with a little bit more style and flair.

But if it’s just great audio quality and noise cancellation that you’re after then the cheaper headphones from Bose, Sennheiser and Sony are probably a better fit.

But price tag aside, the Apple AirPods Max headphones are simply stunning in every department – design, audio quality and noise cancellation – they more than hold their own against those other established audio brands.

The AirPods Max are available now in five colours – space grey, silver, sky blue, green and pink – and are priced at $899.

VERDICT

The AirPods Max make a huge statement – headphones don’t just have to sound good; they should look good as well. Mission accomplished.