AirPods Max review
Launched earlier this week, the AirPods Max has made waves for precisely two reasons: its included soft case that’s shaped either like a bra or handbag, and its jaw-dropping price tag of SGD 849.
From initial impressions, the AirPods Max seems to be an entirely new product category: wireless audiophile-cum-luxury headphones with top-notch active noise cancellation as a cherry on top. Add to that a healthy dose of Apple hardware and software sorcery, and you’ve entirely reimagined the product category. Here’s our AirPods Max review.
Unique design, high-quality materials & notable comfort
Straight out of the box, the first thing that strikes you is its heft. A third heavier than most noise-cancelling headphones, the added 100g was apparent in my hand and I immediately dreaded how it would feel on my head. After all – as light as the Sony WH-1000XM3s were, the top of my head did hurt after a 9-hour transpacific flight.
But it was all surprisingly comfortable. The mesh “canopy” up top distributes the weight of the headphones across my crown delightfully, and I barely felt anything up at the top of my head. The knitted fabric was more breathable than your standard leather-like options, but the added heft, bulk and circumaural design still definitely marks this one out for a more sedentary lifestyle.
Because while the headphones were barely noticeable when I was seated still at work or during my commutes, movements like walking rubbed the cushions against the plastic arms of my spectacles and caused microphonics – little squeaking sounds.
For what it’s worth, the solid but gentle clamping mechanism, along with the acoustic memory foam within the ear pads accommodated my spectacles delightfully. I was able to keep them secured to my head for the full duration of a workday without any fatigue.
The AirPods Max is controlled via two inputs. Both located at the top of the right ear cup, the Digital Crown controls the volume and navigates between tracks, while the front button toggles between Noise Control modes. Their position on either side of the headband makes them extremely easy to locate – especially compared to more finicky controls like touch-based ones or buttons crowded on the bottom of the earcups.
I’ve listened to some expensive cans in my lifetime, and I mostly consume media on studio headphones at home. While I’ll be the first to acknowledge that sound quality can be subjective, these headphones are objectively outstanding.
The AirPods Max are incredibly well-balanced. Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car resonated with high-quality rumbling bass, as her the rich timbre of her lilt crept under the crystal-clean guitar riff. Gregory Porter’s rich baritone was complicated and textured. Songs across genres remained distortion-free even when cranked up all the way and boy – do these get loud.
The soundstage is another area where these cans shine. Where audiophile headphones with the best soundstage usually are ones that are opened back, these cans are decidedly not open at all – and in fact, have an added layer of active noise cancellation to further narrow down the sense of space.
Despite this, the studio where Herbie Hancock’s seminal Watermelon Man was recorded sounded cavernous and pitch-perfect, as the desperate flutes and harmonica were well-spread around the area.
Noise-cancellation and other features
Where it stands out as compared to other luxury audiophile headphones is with its active noise cancelling capabilities. This means you’ll be able to enjoy its tip-top audio quality even in a noisy office or a plane. The solid aluminium ear cups definitely help to make it block audio, and it’s capabilities are right up the there with top headphones.
The lack of a 3.5MM jack and passive powered mode is a slight pity, but the main use case for such a feature is for use with in-flight entertainment systems (IFE). That, I contend, isn’t much of an issue as games and movies are better enjoyed on my iPhone or iPad anyway.
Where the AirPods Max is like no other device is its Spatial Audio. Simply put, with compatible Dolby Atmos, 7.1 and 5.1 movies, you’ll be able to get a better surround sound sensation as the audio moves in relation to your head movements. It’s the first of its kind, and sounds like magic, especially with Apple TV titles like See.
Though I’d wish for a lighter form factor that supports folding, along with a more robust headband in place of the thin, taught mesh canopy, I fully appreciate that the AirPods Max aren’t designed as take-everywhere cans like its Beats compatriots or even the XM4s. So, apart from the price, my only gripe is the included case – that could provide a little more protection and the same refinement as the headphones themselves.
Pricing & availability
The SGD 849 price? Totally justified for those who might be attracted to the SGD 1,168 Beyerdynamic Amiron Wireless or the SGD 885 Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT. The closest thing I’ve been able to find to the AirPods Pro is the Master & Dynamic MW65, a pair of luxury headphones that pack (weaker) noise cancellation yet still costs $759.
It’s little wonder, then, that these headphones are fully sold out for the next two months here in Singapore – they’re available in the second half of February at the earliest.