The Apple AirPods Max Wireless are premium over-ear headphones. They have an active noise cancelling (ANC) feature that helps significantly reduce noise like bus engines or office chatter around you. Their warm sound profile and balanced mid-range are also well-suited for a variety of audio content. However, while they have great build quality, they're heavy, which can make them feel uncomfortable over time. The carrying case doesn't protect the headphones, either. Still, their noise isolating performance rivals competitors from Bose and Sony, and their over 21 hours of playback time should be good enough for most.
The Apple AirPods Max are good for neutral sound. These headphones have Adaptive EQ, which adjusts the audio as you're listening to it based on fit and seal. That said, their sound profile has a neutral mid-range that ensures detailed vocals and lead instruments. Their slightly overemphasized bass range also adds just a hint of extra warmth, as well as thump and rumble. However, the treble range is mostly underemphasized, resulting in a veiled sound with dull sibilants. You may also experience a drop in bass delivery if you have thick hair or glasses.
The Apple AirPods Max are good for commute and travel. They can reduce a lot of bass-range noise like bus or plane engines, and their 21-hour battery life should be enough to get you through long trips. However, they're heavy, and some users may find them fatiguing to wear over time. Their carrying case doesn't protect the headphones from damage either, as they only cover the ear cups and leave the headband exposed.
The Apple AirPods Max are satisfactory for sports and fitness. While they're decently comfortable and well-built, they're very heavy and bulky. The headband can move around your head if you're doing moderate physical activity. Unfortunately, even though we don't currently test for it, they lack an IP rating for water resistance. Luckily, their wireless design makes it difficult for something to snag on the headphones and pull them off your head.
The Apple AirPods Max are decent for office use. They block out office chatter around you, which is handy if you work in a noisy environment. They also don't leak too much audio, so you shouldn't disturb others around you. Their 21-hour battery life should easily last you through a couple of 9-5 workdays, too. However, they're heavy due to their build, and some people may find them fatiguing to wear for several hours at a time.
The Apple AirPods Max aren't compatible with PlayStation or Xbox consoles. While you can use them with Bluetooth-enabled PCs, their latency is likely too high to be suitable for gaming.
While you can use the Apple AirPods Max wired, you need to purchase a Lightning to AUX cable separately.
The Apple AirPods Max are passable for phone calls. They use an integrated mic, and recorded speech sounds understandable, although a bit muffled and thin. It also struggles to separate your voice from ambient noise around you, even in moderately loud environments. On the upside, it has an outstanding ANC feature, so you can focus on your call.
The Apple AirPods Max have a refined and minimalist design that reflects their premium status and high-end materials. The ear cups have a sleek aluminum cover with a satin finish, and the headband is wrapped in athletic knit webbing, which adds texture to the look. They come in several colors to better suit your style: Space Gray, Sky Blue, Green, Pink, and Silver. You can also buy additional magnetic ear cushions from Apple separately if you prefer to mix and match colors.
The Apple AirPods Max are satisfactorily comfortable headphones. They're very heavy overall, and their clamping force can be fatiguing over time. That said, the ear cups are well-padded and are detachable if you need to replace them. The headband is also comfortable for short listening sessions, but some users may feel that its two metal components put pressure on your head.
The Apple AirPods Max have very good controls. There are only two buttons found on the right ear cup's top side, and registering commands is very easy. They have a unique Digital Crown, which acts as both a knob and button. It makes a clicking sound when you adjust the volume. There are audible beeps to indicate when you're connected or disconnected from a device. Unfortunately, when you press the crown, it doesn't give any feedback. The headphones also lack a power on/off button, which is a little disappointing.
The digital crown has the following functions:
There's also a button that offers the following controls:
The Apple AirPods Max have passable breathability. Due to their over-ear design, they trap in some heat, which could become uncomfortable over time. It shouldn't be too noticeable while working at your desk, though. While they can make your ears especially warm if you're wearing them while working out, they aren't designed for this purpose.
The Apple AirPods Max have mediocre portability. They're bulky and can't fold into a more compact format. While they come with a carrying case, it doesn't make them easier to take with you on the go.
The Apple AirPods Max have a just passable carrying case. It's a sleeve that only fits over the two ear cups, so their headband isn't protected at all. This is by design, as Apple advertises that you can use the headband as a carrying handle. There are magnets near the inside of the case that automatically put the headphones into a low-power sleep mode.
Update 01/11/2021: We've raised the scoring of this box from 7.5 to 8 to better reflect the materials used to construct these headphones. They have a premium look and build, thanks to their aluminum and metal build. However, we consider the mesh headband as the weak point, especially as it acts as the carrying handle. To reflect this, we had lowered their score in this category. We previously judged this too harshly and have adjusted the score to better reflect the premium feel.
The Apple AirPods Max's build quality is great. Compared to other premium headphones like the Bose QuietComfort 35 II/QC35 II Wireless 2018 or the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless, which are both made from hard plastic, the Apple are made with premium materials and have an aluminum exterior with a metal and silicone headband. However, these materials also have different pros and cons than traditional plastic builds. The mesh screen surrounding the headband feels very fragile as it can rip or become damaged, especially if you're using the headband as a handle when carrying the headphones around. That said, the ear cushions are held in place by magnets, so you can easily replace them if they get damaged.
There have been reports from users about condensation forming on and inside the drivers after wearing them for a few hours. It can occur even if you're wearing them at your desk or if you live in a dry climate. Some reports suggest that this is due to the metal ear cup design, which may trap heat from your ears, and create condensation. They don't have an IP rating for dust or water resistance, as Apple hasn't had them IP-evaluated.
The Apple AirPods Max have alright stability. While the cups form a good clamp on your ears, the headband can move around a bit if worn during moderate physical exercise.
Update 04/06/2021: Apple has released firmware 3C39, which some users have reported has changed the headphones' sound profile. We had trouble getting them to update to the current firmware as you can't do this manually. To update the headphones, they have to connect to an iOS device via Bluetooth, be placed in their case, and be plugged in to charge. That said, upon retesting them, firmware 3C39 performs very similarly to the original firmware's sound profile. You can see a graph comparison of our results here. As a result, there has been no change to our review.
The Apple AirPods Max have a neutral although slightly warm sound profile, which is suitable for a variety of audio content. They have a touch of thump and rumble that should especially please fans of EDM and hip-hop. However, the dip in the low-treble veils vocals and lead instruments.
These headphones use Apple's Adaptive EQ, which adjusts their sound to the fit and seal of the headphones on your head. iOS and iPadOS users also have access to three different EQ presets in their phone's settings menu.
The Apple AirPods Max have satisfactory frequency response consistency. They're somewhat prone to inconsistencies in bass and treble delivery due to the headphone's fit, seal, and positioning on your head, and you may especially notice a drop in bass if you have thick hair or glasses.
The Apple AirPods Max's bass accuracy is excellent. The whole range is slightly overemphasized, which adds a bit more thump, rumble, warmth, and boom to your mixes. However, it shouldn't overwhelm vocals and instruments.
The mid accuracy is outstanding. The range is very even and neutral, resulting in clear, present, and detailed vocals and lead instruments.
The Apple AirPods Max's treble accuracy is sub-par. It's underemphasized throughout most of the range, resulting in veiled vocals and lead instruments. Sibilants like S and T sounds are slightly dulled.
The Apple AirPods Max's peaks and dips performance is decent. There's a peak in the low-bass, which adds thump and rumble to your mixes. Another peak in the high-mids can make vocals and lead instruments sound a little harsh. However, a large dip towards the end of the low-treble veils the upper harmonics of vocals and lead instruments, dulling their clarity and detail.
The Apple AirPods Max have good imaging. The weighted group delay falls below the audibility threshold, resulting in a tight bass and transparent treble. The L/R drivers of our unit are also well-matched in phase response, ensuring a stable stereo image. However, the amplitude and frequency response are slightly mismatched, so some objects like voices or footsteps may not be accurately placed within the stereo image. These results are only valid for our unit, and yours may perform differently.
Note: Unfortunately, we couldn't test the left and right drivers at the same time, as we normally do. These headphones use Apple's Adaptive EQ, which adjusts its sound profile to the fit and seal of the headphones on your head. You can't turn off this feature unless you turn off ANC or Ambient mode as well. We ran the left driver separately from the right driver to test with the ANC on. While we don't know how comparable the results may be due to this change in our methodology, the results of this test are still valid.
These headphones have poor passive soundstage. Just like many other closed-back headphones, their soundstage sounds unnatural, closed-off, and as if audio is coming from inside your head, rather than from speakers placed around you.
The Apple AirPods Max have a Spatial Audio feature. However, we don't currently test the capacity of this feature. You can also turn it on/off by going into your iPhone's Bluetooth settings, or when you connect to them for the first time with iOS 14.3.
The Apple AirPods Max's weighted harmonic distortion performance is good. There's a small peak at normal listening levels in the low-treble, but it can be hard to hear with real-life content. They also perform well at max volume, resulting in clear and pure audio reproduction.
Update 01/11/2021: After user feedback, we've retested the frequency response using AAC codec. We first tested them by placing them on our Head Acoustics HMS, using a PC with SBC codec, and we ran a sweep. Without changing the position of the headphones, we then connected to our iPhone 11 Pro (iOS 14.3) with AAC and ran another sweep. From our measurements, we didn't detect any significant changes to the frequency response, and our results haven't changed. You can see the graph here. For over-ear headphones, we also do a sweep with humans and match the crossfade. Ignore anything below the 200-300hz range on this graph, as this was entirely measured on our testing equipment. The review still reflects the results measured with SBC.
These are the settings we used to test the Apple AirPods Max, and our results are only valid when using this configuration.
The Apple AirPods Max's noise isolation performance is superb. Their active noise cancelling (ANC) system can block out a significant amount of bass-range noise like the low rumble of bus and plane engines. They can also reduce a lot of noise like ambient chatter as well as higher-pitched sounds like the hum of an AC unit.
The Apple AirPods Max have a decent leakage performance. They leak a bit of sound across the range, but most of it falls below the noise level of an average office. It's unlikely that it should bother those around you, even if you're listening to audio at a high volume.
The Apple AirPods Max's mic has an alright recording quality. Your voice sounds thin and a bit muffled, but you should still be understood by whoever's on the other end of the line.
The noise handling of the Apple AirPods Max's microphone is poor. It has a hard time separating speech from moderate ambient noise, so if you're taking a call from a loud environment like a busy street, your voice may be drowned out.
Update 04/06/2021: There have been user reports that firmware 3C39 has improved their battery performance. However, after updating our model to this firmware, we received similar results. The scoring of this box hasn't changed.
The Apple AirPods Max have a great battery performance. They have a continuous battery life of over 21 hours and charge quickly. Apple also advertises a 5-minute quick charge that can give you up to 1.5 hours of playtime, but we don't currently test this. While the headphones don't technically turn off unless you completely drain the battery, they enter a very low-power state when they're placed in their carrying case. They also go into a low-power mode when in an idle position for five minutes. If you don't want to be away from your audio for too long, you can use them while charging.
The Apple AirPods Max don't have a companion app but have an interface that only works on iOS and macOS devices. On the iOS screen, you can switch between ANC, Ambient mode, and off. You can reconfigure the Digital Crown knob to adjust the volume by going up and down or down and up. You can also turn the Spatial Audio feature on or off and access the same controls on macOS via your headphones' Bluetooth settings.
Apple allows you to adjust their sound through Headphone Accommodations in iOS and iPadOS 14. You can find instructions on how to access these features here. This interface allows you to tune audio for 'Balanced Tone', 'Vocal Range', and 'Brightness'. This interface is only available for select Apple and Beats headphones, and it only works on iOS and iPadOS 14. You can't use it on macOS, Android, or Windows. Due to this limited compatibility and because these features are found outside the headphones' interface settings, we don't consider these to be EQ presets for the headphones.
The Apple AirPods Max have decent Bluetooth connectivity. Although they don't support NFC pairing, and you can't connect them with more than one device at a time, they have an H1 chip. This chip allows you to seamlessly pair them with other devices in your Apple ecosystem. If you like to stream videos, their latency on iOS and Android devices is low, so you shouldn't experience a significant audio delay. However, their latency on PC is much higher, which could negatively affect video streaming or gaming. However, some apps and devices compensate for latency differently, so your real-life experience may vary. Unfortunately, these headphones don't support lossless audio via Bluetooth.
Right out-of-the-box, you can't use them wired and only come with a Lightning to USB-C cable for charging your headphones. However, if you want to use them wired, Apple advertises that you can purchase a Lightning to AUX cable separately.
The Apple AirPods Max can wirelessly connect to Bluetooth-enabled PCs. However, you can't connect them in any other way out of the box.
The Apple AirPods Max come in several color variants: 'Space Gray', 'Sky Blue', 'Pink', 'Green', and 'Silver'. We tested the Space Gray variant, and you can see its label here. We expect each color variant to perform similarly to our model.
If you come across another variant, please let us know in the discussions, and we'll update our review.
The Apple AirPods Max are high-end headphones with a premium design. Their noise cancelling feature is outstanding and rivals other popular headphones with ANC like the Bose QuietComfort 35 II/QC35 II Wireless 2018 or the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless, which are among the best noise cancelling headphones that we've tested. They also have a warm sound profile with a touch of extra bass, although it's neutral enough for most audio content. Thanks to their Adaptive EQ, they can adjust their sound based on their fit and seal on your head too. However, they don't turn off, and putting them in their carrying case only puts them into a very low-power mode, which may be frustrating for some users.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless are better headphones than the Apple AirPods Max Wireless. The Sony are more comfortable and offer an even more powerful ANC. While they don't sound as neutral out-of-the-box as the Apple, they have a companion app that offers a lot of customization features, including a graphic EQ and presets. They also come with a 1/8" TRS cable if you want to use them wired.
The Apple AirPods Pro Truly Wireless and the Apple AirPods Max Wireless have different strengths and depending on your preferences, you may prefer one over the other. The AirPods Pro are truly wireless in-ears that are more comfortable, portable, and stable. Their carrying case also holds around five charges, giving you a total battery life of over 30 hours. However, the AirPods Max are over-ear headphones with an even more powerful noise cancelling feature. Their integrated microphone performs better, and they have a continuous battery life of over 21 hours, which is longer than the over five hours provided by their truly wireless counterpart.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II/QC35 II Wireless 2018 are better overall headphones than the Apple AirPods Max Wireless. The Bose are more comfortable, have a better-balanced sound profile, and their active noise cancelling (ANC) performs slightly better overall. They also come with an AUX cable if you want to use a wired connection. However, the Apple charge a bit quicker.
The Apple AirPods Max Wireless and the Beats Solo Pro Wireless have different strengths and depending on your usage, you may prefer one over the other. While both headphones are very well-built, the Apple are more comfortable, have a virtual surround feature, and block out more ambient noise. They also have a standby feature to help conserve battery life when they aren't being used and exhibit lower audio latency on iOS and Android. However, the Beats have a more neutral sound profile and their fit is more stable.
The Bose 700 Headphones Wireless are slightly better headphones for commute and travel than the Apple AirPods Max Wireless. While both over-ears have a similarly warm sound profile, have a great build quality, and offer an outstanding ANC feature, the Bose are more comfortable, and have a better performing integrated mic. You can also control their ANC via their companion app and they can be paired with up to two devices at a time. However, the Apple have lower latency on iOS and Android.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless are better headphones than the Apple AirPods Max Wireless. The Sony are more comfortable, come with a better case, and have a more stable fit. They also have a better noise isolation performance and you can tweak their sound via the graphic EQ found in the Sony | Headphones Connect app. However, the Apple have an H1 chip which makes it easier to seamlessly pair with other Apple products. They also charge up in less time and have a standby mode to help conserve battery life.
The Apple AirPods Max Wireless and the Sony WF-1000XM4 Truly Wireless have different strengths, and you may prefer one over the other. The Apple have a more neutral default sound profile, which some users may prefer, a significantly better noise isolation performance, and a longer continuous battery life. They also have an H1 chip, so you can seamlessly pair them with your other Apple devices. Conversely, the Sony are more comfortable, have a more stable in-ear fit, and you can customize their sound profile using their companion app's graphic EQ and presets.
The Apple AirPods Max Wireless are more versatile headphones than the Drop + THX Panda Wireless. The Apple are better-built, have a more neutral sound profile, which some users may prefer, and an active noise cancelling (ANC) system that can block out a significant amount of ambient noise. They also have an H1 chip so that you can seamlessly pair them with your Apple devices. However, the Drop are more comfortable, and their battery performance is better, too.