AIRPODS MAX: OPULENT AUDIO THAT SHOULDN'T COST SO MUCH
Macworld|April 2021
APPLE’S HIGH-END HEADPHONES LOOK, SOUND, AND FEEL GREAT, BUT THE PRICE ISN’T RIGHT.
JASON CROSS

Apple’s latest expansion of the AirPods brand is a set of large over-the-ear wireless headphones. The AirPods Max look great, sound great, and are quite comfortable despite their heavy weight. They’re also $549, a difficult price to justify when the competition (primarily the Sony WH-1000XM4 [go.macworld.com/1xm4] and the Bose 700 [go.macworld.com/ b700]) are around $200 to $250 less.

In some ways, the AirPod Max give you what you pay for. Build quality is unmatched at any price, and there are some clever design flourishes. But there are also a few compromises worth noting, like a “Smart Case” that is anything but.

For those embedded in the Apple ecosystem, the AirPods Max will be worth considering when they’re on sale for $449 or less, but it’s otherwise hard to justify the price tag, and those who regularly dip outside Apple’s product ecosystem should probably look at alternatives.

DESIGN AND COMFORT

It comes as no surprise that Apple designed a set of headphones that looks fantastic and is made from premium materials. But Apple doesn’t always knock it out of the park with ergonomics. (I’m looking at you, Apple TV remote.) Fortunately, the AirPods Max are both great-looking and a delight to use.

Apple’s new headphones just plain look better than any other you’ve used. Credit the smooth matte finish on the aluminum closed-back earpieces, the stainless steel rods in the band, the fine mesh of the ear pads and “canopy” headband—it all works together to create a sleek and minimalist look that puts nearly all other headphones to shame, even those that cost a lot more.

People will notice you’re wearing AirPods Max, even though they oddly don’t have an Apple logo anywhere.

All that metal makes them a lot heavier than similar headphones, as much as 50 percent heavier at 384 grams (the Sony XM4s and Bose 700s both weigh just over 250 grams). Apple has done such a good job of maximizing comfort with the soft, deep, breathable ear pads and the mesh canopy headband that the weight doesn’t bother you at all. There’s a bit more clamping force than I’ve experienced on most other consumer wireless headphones, but that too is mitigated by the fantastic ear pads.

Try to run or work out with these on, or just turn your head quickly, and you’ll suddenly feel all that weight. No matter, as these are not at all sweat or water resistant, so you shouldn’t be doing anything more active than a brisk walk in them anyway.

The controls are great, too. Apple avoided touch controls (everyone with a hoodie, rejoice!), opting instead for a digital crown like that on the Apple Watch along with a single button, both on the top of the right earpiece. The crown is thankfully much larger than that on the watch and controls volume and playback: click it once to play/pause, twice to skip forward, three times to skip back, and press and hold to invoke Siri. You can even reverse the direction of the wheel if you find yourself turning the volume up every time you want to turn it down. The button toggles between noise-canceling and transparency mode, or turns noise canceling off if you enable that option in Bluetooth settings. The controls are simple, intuitive, unobtrusive, and attractive; everything you want in a pair of headphones.

Despite the excessive weight, AirPods Max look great, feel great, and have excellent controls. I wore them for hours without discomfort, with and without glasses, which is more than I can say for other consumer wireless headphones.

If there’s a downside, it’s the fact that these headphones charge only with a Lightning connector and have no 3.5mm headphone jack input (as with many products, Apple does not include a power adapter in the box, only a USB-C–to-Lightning cable). If you want to use these to listen to an in-flight movie or to lossless audio from your computer or a headphone amp, or you’re editing video and you want to eliminate the latency of Bluetooth, you’ll have to buy a separate and grossly overpriced $35 Lightning-to-3.5mm cable (go.macworld.com/35lt). For the price, the AirPods Max should absolutely include this.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM MACWORLDView All

TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR PASSWORDS USING iCLOUD KEYCHAIN ON YOUR iPHONE, iPAD, & MAC

IT’S MORE POWERFUL THAN YOU THINK.

5 mins read
Macworld
April 2021

WINDOWS 10 ON M1 MACS: WHAT YOU CAN DO (VIRTUALIZATION, SORTA) AND CAN'T (BOOT CAMP)

VIRTUALIZATION IS KEY, BUT THE LACK OF A CONSUMER VERSION OF MICROSOFT’S M1 -COMPATIBLE OS KEEPS THE SITUATION IN DOUBT.

9 mins read
Macworld
April 2021

Mac 911

Solutions to your most vexing Mac problems.

7 mins read
Macworld
April 2021

AirVPN: Excellent service that power users will love

An excellent service with a known history, a solid network, and very good speeds.

7 mins read
Macworld
April 2021

AIRPODS MAX: OPULENT AUDIO THAT SHOULDN'T COST SO MUCH

APPLE’S HIGH-END HEADPHONES LOOK, SOUND, AND FEEL GREAT, BUT THE PRICE ISN’T RIGHT.

10+ mins read
Macworld
April 2021

Tribit XFree Go headphone: Amazing sound, great price, and one glaring flaw

These cans sound like headphones that cost three or four times as much, but the controls on not one but two review units locked up after an hour or so of sustained use.

4 mins read
Macworld
April 2021

INPUT DEVICE: LOGITECH MX MASTER 3 MOUSE: LOGITECH STICKS WITH A WINNING FORMULA

I have two desktop Mac setups, one at home and one at the Macworld office (ah, going to the office, those were the days).

5 mins read
Macworld
April 2021

Hot Stuff

What we’re raving about this month

1 min read
Macworld
April 2021

Bluesound Powernode 2i (with HDMI): Bodacious sound from a micro-sized box

This self-amplified multiroom music streamer delivers high-res audio experiences that Sonos won’t, but Bluesound’s user experience isn’t nearly as polished.

8 mins read
Macworld
April 2021

Aukey EP-N5: Entry-level ANC that gets it (mostly) right

Good sound and decent active noise canceling for a wallet-friendly price.

5 mins read
Macworld
April 2021
RELATED STORIES

women's health AT EVERY AGE

A woman’s health needs change dramatically over the years. Use this guide to find hormone-balancing tips and remedies based on your age.

8 mins read
Better Nutrition
May 2021

Instant Pot Lamb Stew

Celebrate spring with this quick-and-easy seasonal favorite.

1 min read
Better Nutrition
May 2021

AIRTAGS: NEXT-GENERATION TRACKING TECHNOLOGY HAS ARRIVED

Two years after they were first rumored, Apple finally lifted the lid on its tracking device AirTag at its Spring Loaded event in April, designed to help consumers keep track of items that matter most.

6 mins read
AppleMagazine
AppleMagazine #497

The Fortnite Fallout

Apple and Epic meet in court, making the collapse of a once-close relationship complete

3 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
May 10, 2021

Android loses a huge innovator as LG quits making phones

LG phones pushed the bleeding edge of innovation, but it wasn’t enough.

2 mins read
PCWorld
May 2021

APPLE MUSIC LAUNCHES MORE THAN 100 CITY-FOCUSED MUSIC CHARTS

Apple Music is coming to a city near you — the streaming service has launched daily music charts focused on particular cities around the world, including New York City, Tokyo and Lagos.

1 min read
Techlife News
Techlife News #496

APPLE'S iPHONE PRIVACY CLAMPDOWN ARRIVES AFTER 7-MONTH DELAY

Apple is following through on its pledge to crack down on Facebook and other snoopy apps that secretly shadow people on their iPhones in order to target more advertising at users.

4 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #496

APPLE PROFIT SOARS IN LATEST QUARTER ON HIGHER iPHONE SALES

Demand for the iPhone and other Apple products drove profits to more than double in the January-March period as the tech giant continued to capitalize on smartphone addiction.

2 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #496

iPAD PRO 2021: SUPERCHARGED WITH XDR DISPLAY, M1 CHIP, & THUNDERBOLT

The iPad Pro has become something of a workhorse in recent years, offering professionals an alternative to a laptop with cutting-edge capabilities and software.

6 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #496

APPLE ANNOUNCES 1ST EAST COAST CAMPUS IN NORTH CAROLINA

Apple is expanding spending in the U.S. and announced plans to build its first East Coast campus, in North Carolina.

3 mins read
AppleMagazine
AppleMagazine #496