Let me just get this out of the way before we get on with the serious stuff. For some reason, I call the Apple AirPods Max the Apple AirPods Pro Max from time to time, before I correct myself. For some reason, Apple AirPods Pro Max just rolls off the tongue better than Apple AirPods Max, and there is something distinctly "Pro" about them. Nevertheless, now we have that out of the way, onwards we go. It isn’t at all surprising that Apple made the AirPods Max. the continued success of the two generations of AirPods wireless earbuds followed by the AirPods Pro wireless earbuds meant it was only logical to go the next step. Headphones, full-fledged headphones, complete with noise cancellation and the larger feature set that particularly defined the AirPods Pro wireless earbuds.
The AirPods Max are priced at Rs 59,900 and can be had in five color options—space grey, silver, green, sky blue and pink, all in dual tone finish. The thing is, the Apple AirPods Max are priced significantly higher than most popular noise cancelling headphones. The Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless are priced around Rs 34,990 while the Sony WH-1000XM4 have a sticker price of Rs 29,990 and Bose has the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 which will set you back by Rs 34,500 or so. Mind you, we are pointing out the mainstream noise cancelling headphones, but there are most certainly ones that are also priced similar to the Apple AirPods Max. There’s the Dali IO-6 that costs around Rs 40,000 while you can also have the Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H9i priced at around Rs 45,000 while you have the Master & Dynamic MW65 that costs around Rs 90,000 and the Bowers & Wilkins P9 that costs around Rs 75,000. Apple isn’t the first to make really expensive headphones, and they most certainly won’t be the last.
The magic of the Apple AirPods Max begins after you’ve dealt with the perceived pricing shock. The AirPods Max is a mix of stainless steel, anodized aluminum and breathable knit mesh, complete with exquisite craftsmanship. They are heavy, mind you, and you’ll take some time to get used to how they fit over your ears and sit around your head. The use of metal means the AirPods Max weigh as much as 384 grams. In comparison, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless, which also uses a mix of metal and leather in the composition, tips the scales at 304 grams. In my opinion, that makes the AirPods Max great for a lot of listening environments, including at home, in office and while traveling. But you may not exactly like the weight if you are running, on the treadmill or cycling.
Mind you, the AirPods Max’s weight is around your ears and doesn’t sit on the head. It’s the earcups, with the meta casing, which is where most of the bulk is. You perhaps wouldn’t want to rock your head too much wearing these, at least initially, till you get used to the dual center of gravity.
The earcups have memory foam which should start settling down on your ear’s contours in a few weeks of using the AirPods Max regularly. Testing these in peak winter here, so hard to comment on how they will be like during the summers with regard to ventilation, comfort and sweat, but have to say that the ears don’t feel hemmed in and there is no urge to take them off to let your ears breathe after a while. The arm extensions let you set the ideal height that allows the headband to sit comfortably on around the head and the earcups have the tilt and rotate option so that they don’t press inwards on your head. When I wore these for the first few times, there was definitely an added feeling that these fit better around the ears and completely without pressing on any specific part of the ear, and that they also aren’t at all uncomfortable when worn for long periods of time.
These ear cushions are user replaceable too. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to order these on the Apple India online store and a set will cost Rs 6,500. Not a bad deal at all, considering we have seen many headphones sacrificed at the altar of damaged or worn out ear cushions after extended use—the replacements are either not easily available or it is simply too much effort to make runs to a service center.
The AirPods Max do take some inspiration from the Apple Watch and have an integrated digital crown-esque control for finer volume changes as well as the ability to play and pause music, skip tracks and handle phone calls. You can configure the direction of rotation from your iPhone. You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned any other physical buttons on the AirPods Max, and that includes the power button. That is because there isn’t one. You might be a tad perplexed, but you only have one option, and that is to trust the technology to keep the batteries charged up and not drain when you aren’t using the headphones.
The way Apple’s power-button-free AirPods Max work is that they power on when you place them on your head. The same set of sensors also pause media playback when you remove these, perhaps to do some work or to speak with someone.
And what when you aren’t listening to music and have kept the AirPods Max safely away? There is no user intervention required to power these down. In fact, leave your AirPods Max stationary and not in use for 5 minutes and they go in a low power mode, to save battery. And then it is all a matter of time from then on. Leave your AirPods Max unused for 72 hours and they go into what is an ultra-low power mode which turns off Bluetooth and Find My functionality. And this is without the Smart Case.
If you happen to use the Smart Case, putting the AirPods Max inside the case immediately sends them into the low power mode. And after 18 hours in the Smart Case, they switch to the ultra-low power mode. In my usage scenario, I have left the AirPods Max overnight without the Smart Case and with the Smart Case, and the battery drain has seemed to be very similar and very miniscule—never higher than 1% drain from the battery charge percentage I left them with.
Speaking of the Smart Case. Let us just say it is a very unique design. And it would very well be doing its job with the battery management on the AirPods Max as well. However, they will take a really long time to grow on you, as far as the looks are concerned. Secondly, they don’t really protect your headphones as you’d expect a case to. It isn’t a completely sealed off case even for the earcups that it is meant to protect, which means something in your bag could easily poke inside and scratch the earcups. In a way, the onus is on you to keep these AirPods Max safe while traveling or storing them—keep sharp objects away. The good bit is, you can plug the AirPods Max for charging even when they are in the Smart Case.
The AirPods Max has the H1 chip, the same as the AirPods Pro wireless earbuds. This H1 chip has 10 audio cores and can do as many as 9 billion computational calculations per second. It isn’t a surprise then that the feature set is largely the same, because the H1 chip manages all of these features. The Apple AirPods Max offer high-fidelity audio, Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency Mode and spatial audio. In each ear are 40mm audio drivers which have been designed by Apple. The unique dual neodymium ring magnet motor for each audio driver should do its bit in further reducing any distortion. The AirPods Max joins the HomePod Mini, for instance, where Apple has put extreme focus on the powers of computational audio.
Spatial audio was introduced on the AirPods Pro with iOS 14 update for iPhones, allowing users to experience 5.1 channel,7.1 channel and Dolby Audio—it also tracks the user’s head movement to remap the delivery of the audio channels so that the experience remains constant. This is something you’ll enjoy with the Apple TV shows for the most part, for instance. How much of this effect you enjoy will also depend on the input content and quality. You get to set this up when you pair the AirPods Max to your iPhone or iPad for the first time. You can turn it off, but why would you? The AirPods Max will also be compatible with Audio Sharing between two sets of AirPods paired with an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Apple TV 4K. There is also seamless switching between the iPhone, iPad and Mac computing devices for music playback and calls.
It takes a short while of listening to the AirPods Max to understand that these are a delight to listen to. It is just one of those rare well-balanced headphones which is neither catering to the bass-heavy audience nor it is leaning towards the other side in an attempt to sound louder. There are as many as 9 microphones on the AirPods Max, and each of those are constantly understanding the fit and seal of the headphone against your ears. These are very neutral sounding headphones, and that means the AirPods Max are in a good position with returning what users who buy premium headphones would want—refined sound, wide soundstage and no need to tweak audio settings manually. At no point do the AirPods Max sound bass heavy or do the higher frequencies sound sharp. This isn’t a warm sound signature like the Bose headphones nor is it the peppy sound like the newer line of Sony cans (bass is one of the reasons why the Sony WH-XM headphones are very popular). If at all, this is a lot like Sennheiser’s neutral sound, which is welcoming and sophisticated.
As far as the noise cancellation goes, the AirPods Max are very much doing what Sony managed with the WH-1000XM4, which we feel is the best noise cancellation in headphones around the Rs 30,000 price point. If at all, the AirPods Max might even be doing a better job, but keeping in tune with the times and my health indeed, I haven’t stepped into really noisy locales to test these.
It is a tad perplexing that the AirPods Max do not have a 3.5mm headphone jack. There is just the lightning connector, which means you’ll need an adapter if you want to plug these in an aircraft, for instance. The Lightning to 3.5mm Jack adapter costs Rs 900. Secondly, there is no cable in the box either, which means you need to order an audio cable too if you want to connect the AirPods Max for wired audio. At this price, that just is a tad perplexing.
The AirPods Max may also usher in, at some point, a serious upgrade for Apple Music. Apple still doesn’t offer a lossless audio option or a subscription tier for the higher quality music. With even more focus now on audio and the AirPods Max being the latest in Apple’s audio hardware line, this might just be the time to offer the High-Res audio option on Apple Music.
The Last Word: You May Not Be Able To Afford Them, But You Know You Want Them
The Apple AirPods Max, contrary to the not properly thought out first reactions, aren’t exactly the first headphones that cost this much. And they most certainly won’t be the last either. And the AirPods Max are doing well what they are supposed to do. The audio quality is sophisticated and refined. Battery life is robust, and the battery smarts work seamlessly (and without fail thus far). Plus, add in all the goodness of noise cancellation, spatial audio and seamless switching if you have multiple Apple devices in your daily workflow, just makes everything very convenient.
That being said, they do cost a lot more than some very capable headphones which we have already spoken about, and that’s something which constantly lurks in the back of the mind. But then again, nothing matches the AirPods Max in terms of the style and pure luxury quotient. And for someone who is splashing a lot of cash for these, they wouldn’t want to compromise on the style aspect one bit. It’s brilliant then, that its really good with audio too.