Apple AirPods Max Wireless Headphones Review

Tested using Methodology v1.4
Reviewed Jan 07, 2021 at 09:29 am
Apple AirPods Max Wireless Picture
7.0
Mixed Usage
7.1
Neutral Sound
7.8
Commute/Travel
6.9
Sports/Fitness
7.0
Office
5.6
Wireless Gaming
5.4
Wired Gaming
6.6
Phone Calls
Type Over-ear
Enclosure Closed-Back
Wireless Yes
Noise Cancelling Yes
Mic Yes
Transducer Dynamic

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 good build quality, they're quite heavy, which can make them feel uncomfortable over time. The carrying case doesn't really 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.

Our Verdict

7.0 Mixed Usage

The Apple AirPods Max are decent for mixed use. They have an outstanding ANC feature that can significantly reduce the sound of bus and plane engines, as well as ambient chatter. Their 21-hour battery life should also last you through a couple of workdays. That said, they have a slightly warm sound profile with an underemphasized treble range, which may be less than ideal for neutral sound. The headband can also move around on your head while working out, and they have high latency on PCs, so they aren't suitable for gaming.

Pros
  • Outstanding noise cancelling.
  • Good build quality.
Cons
  • Heavy, bulky design which can be fatiguing to wear.
  • Audio cable not included.
7.1 Neutral Sound

The Apple AirPods Max are decent 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 as well as a slightly overemphasized bass-range that 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.

Pros
  • Good build quality.
Cons
  • Heavy, bulky design which can be fatiguing to wear.
7.8 Commute/Travel

The Apple AirPods Max are very 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 quite heavy and some users may find them fatiguing to wear over time. Their carrying case doesn't protect the headphones from a lot of damage either as they only cover the ear cups and leave the headband exposed.

Pros
  • Outstanding noise cancelling.
  • Good build quality.
Cons
  • Heavy, bulky design which can be fatiguing to wear.
6.9 Sports/Fitness

The Apple AirPods Max are okay 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, they don't have an IP rating for water resistance, either. Luckily, their wireless design makes it difficult for something to snag on the headphones and pull them off your head.

Pros
  • Good build quality.
Cons
  • Heavy, bulky design which can be fatiguing to wear.
7.0 Office

The Apple AirPods Max are decent for office use. They block out a lot of 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 quite heavy due to their build, and some people may find them fatiguing to wear for several hours at a time due.

Pros
  • Outstanding noise cancelling.
  • Good build quality.
Cons
  • Heavy, bulky design which can be fatiguing to wear.
  • No NFC or multi-device pairing.
5.6 Wireless Gaming

The Apple AirPods Max aren't compatible with PS4 or Xbox One. While you can use them with Bluetooth-enabled PCs, their latency is likely too high to be suitable for gaming.

5.4 Wired Gaming

While the Apple AirPods Max can be used wired, you need to purchase a Lightning to AUX cable separately.

6.6 Phone Calls

The Apple AirPods Max are fair for phone calls. They use an integrated mic, which ensures your voice is understandable, although it sounds a bit muffled and thin. It also struggles to separate speech 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.

Pros
  • Outstanding noise cancelling.
  • Good build quality.
Cons
  • Heavy, bulky design which can be fatiguing to wear.
  • Mic struggles to separate your voice from background noise.
  • 7.0 Mixed Usage
  • 7.1 Neutral Sound
  • 7.8 Commute/Travel
  • 6.9 Sports/Fitness
  • 7.0 Office
  • 5.6 Wireless Gaming
  • 5.4 Wired Gaming
  • 6.6 Phone Calls
  1. Update 1/11/2021: We've raised the score of the Build Quality test. We've also updated the Test Settings and App Support test boxes.

Test Results

perceptual testing image
Design
Design
Style

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.

7.0
Design
Comfort
Weight 0.85 lbs
Clamping Force
1.2 lbs

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.

7.9
Design
Controls
OS Compatibility
iOS
Ease Of Use Great
Feedback Good
Call/Music Control Yes
Volume Control Yes
Microphone Control No
Channel Mixing
No
Noise Cancelling Control On/Off
Talk-Through
On/Off
Additional Controls Voice Assistant

The Apple AirPods Max have a very good control scheme. Since there are only two buttons, it's very easy to use. There's an ANC/Ambient/Off button that controls the ANC. You can also press and hold this button to enter pairing mode. There's also the 'Digital Crown', which is found on the top of the left ear cup, which controls volume when turned. If you press it once, you can play/pause and answer calls. Double pressing it skips the track forward while triple pressing it skips the track backward. You can also press and hold it to activate Siri. There are audible beeps to let you know when you're connected or disconnected and the Digital Crown makes clicks when adjusting the volume. Unfortunately, there isn't any audible feedback when pressing the crown. There's no power on/off button either, which some users may find frustrating.

5.4
Design
Portability
L 7.8 "
W 7.6 "
H 3.3 "
Volume 200.6 Cu. Inches
Transmitter Required No

The Apple AirPods Max have disappointing 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.

6.0
Design
Case
Type Soft case
L 7.8 "
W 8.6 "
H 1.7 "
Volume 114 Cu. Inches

The Apple AirPods Max have a just mediocre 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 the headband can be used as a carrying handle. There are magnets near the inside of the case that automatically put the headphones into a low-power sleep mode.

8.0
Design
Build Quality

Update 01/11/2020: 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 to be the weak point, especially as they act as the carrying handle, and lowered their score in this category to better reflect this detail. We previously judged this too harshly and have adjusted the score to better reflect the premium feeling.

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 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. This 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 aluminum ear cup design. This material is a poor insulator and it traps heat from your ears, creating condensation. It should also be noted that they don't have an IP rating for dust or water resistance, as Apple hasn't had them IP-evaluated.

6.5
Design
Stability

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.

Design
Headshots 1
Design
Headshots 2
Design
Top
Design
In The Box

  • Apple AirPods Max
  • USB-C to Lightning charging cable
  • Carrying case
  • User guide

Sound
Sound
Sound Profile
Bass Amount
1.3 db
Treble Amount
-1.97 db

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.

7.1
Sound
Frequency Response Consistency
Avg. Std. Deviation
0.6 dB

The Apple AirPods Max have a satisfactory frequency response consistency. Some users may experience inconsistent bass and treble delivery, as it can vary depending on the headphones' fit, seal, and positioning. You may also experience a drop in bass if you have thick hair or glasses.

Sound
Raw Frequency Response
8.8
Sound
Bass Accuracy
Std. Err.
1.63 dB
Low-Frequency Extension
16.34 Hz
Low-Bass
2.17 dB
Mid-Bass
0.93 dB
High-Bass
1.65 dB

The bass accuracy of the Apple AirPods Max is excellent. There's a small bump in the low-bass, which results in a bit more thump and rumble in your mix. The mid-bass is quite neutral with a touch of extra punch and body. There's also a little bit of overemphasis in the high-bass range, adding boom that shouldn't be too overwhelming.

9.4
Sound
Mid Accuracy
Std. Err.
0.83 dB
Low-Mid
0.29 dB
Mid-Mid
0.27 dB
High-Mid
-0.29 dB

The mid accuracy is outstanding. The range is very even and neutral, resulting in clear, present, and detailed vocals and lead instruments.

5.8
Sound
Treble Accuracy
Std. Err.
5.65 dB
Low-Treble
-5.16 dB
Mid-Treble
-0.47 dB
High-Treble
-2.95 dB

The treble accuracy of the Apple AirPods Max 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.

7.3
Sound
Peaks/Dips
Peaks
1.54 db
Dips
1.96 db

The peaks and dips performance Apple AirPods Max is decent. There's a peak in the low-bass, which adds thump and rumble. 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.

7.7
Sound
Imaging
Weighted Group Delay
0.12
Weighted Amplitude Mismatch
2.33
Weighted Frequency Mismatch
2.86
Weighted Phase Mismatch
2.91

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. Note that 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. This feature can't be turned off unless ANC or Ambient mode are turned off 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.

4.0
Sound
Passive Soundstage
PRTF Accuracy (Std. Dev.)
4.28 dB
PRTF Size (Avg.)
6.81 dB
PRTF Distance
5.22 dB
Openness
1.0
Acoustic Space Excitation
3.3

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.

2.9
Sound
Virtual Soundstage
Head Modeling
No
Speaker Modeling
On/Off
Room Ambience
No
Head Tracking
On/Off
Virtual Surround
Spatial Audio

Update 01/11/2020: We originally reported that these headphones didn't have a head tracking feature. However, you can turn this feature on and off through the Spatial Audio feature.

They 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.

7.6
Sound
Weighted Harmonic Distortion
WHD @ 90
0.337
WHD @ 100
0.125

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.

Sound
Test Settings
Firmware
3B71
Power
On
Connection
Bluetooth 5.0
Codec
SBC, 16-bit, 48kHz
EQ
Adaptive EQ
ANC
On
Tip/Pad
Default
Microphone
Integrated

Update 01/11/2020: After user feedback, we have retested the frequency response using AAC codec. We first tested them by placing them on our Head Acoustics HMS and using or PC with SBC codec, 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.

Isolation
9.0
Isolation
Noise Isolation
Isolation Audio
Overall Attenuation
-26.39 dB
Bass
-19.92 dB
Mid
-27.41 dB
Treble
-32.62 dB

The noise isolation performance of the Apple AirPods Max is superb. Thanks to their ANC, they can cut down a lot of background noise from the low rumble of bus or plane engines to ambient chatter. They also reduce a lot of high-pitched noise like the hum of an AC unit.

7.1
Isolation
Leakage
Leakage Audio
Overall Leakage @ 1ft
38.88 dB

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.

Microphone
Microphone
Microphone Style
Integrated
Yes
In-Line
No
Boom
No
Detachable Boom
No

These headphones have an integrated mic.

6.6
Microphone
Recording Quality
Recorded Speech
LFE
273.0 Hz
FR Std. Dev.
2.77 dB
HFE
3466.89 Hz
Weighted THD
3.025
Gain
15.85 dB

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.

5.9
Microphone
Noise Handling
Speech + Pink Noise
Speech + Subway Noise
SpNR
9.61 dB

The noise handling of the Apple AirPods Max's microphone is subpar. It struggles to separate your voice from ambient noise around you, even in only moderately loud environments.

Active Features
8.3
Active Features
Battery
Battery Type
Rechargable
Continuous Battery Life
21.6 hrs
Additional Charges
0.0
Total Battery Life
21.6 hrs
Charge Time
1.5 hrs
Power-Saving Feature
Standby mode
Audio While Charging
Yes
Passive Playback
No
Charging Port Lightning

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.

6.0
Active Features
App Support
App Name iOS Interface
iOS Yes
Android No
macOS Yes
Windows No
Equalizer
No
ANC Control
On/Off
Mic Control No
Room Effects
No
Playback Control
No
Button Mapping No
Surround Support
Yes

Update 01/11/2020: We originally reported that these headphones don't offer any sound enhancement features. However, 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 won't be able to 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 scoring of this box hasn't changed.

They don't really 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 also reconfigure the Digital Crown wheel to adjust the volume by going up and down or down and up. You can also turn the Spatial Audio feature on or off. You can also access the same controls on macOS via your headphones' Bluetooth settings.

Connectivity
7.2
Connectivity
Bluetooth
Bluetooth Version
5.0+H1 chip
Multi-Device Pairing
No
NFC Pairing
No
Line Of Sight Range
328 ft
PC Latency (SBC)
174 ms
PC Latency (aptX)
N/A
PC Latency (aptX HD)
N/A
PC Latency (aptX-LL)
N/A
iOS Latency
55 ms
Android Latency
86 ms

The Apple AirPods Max have decent Bluetooth connectivity. While they don't support multi-device or NFC pairing, they use an H1 chip which allows you to seamlessly pair with other Apple devices. They also have low latency on iOS and Android. Their latency on PC is a bit high, though, which may not be suitable for streaming video or playing video games. That said, some apps and devices compensate for audio latency differently, so your experience may vary.

0
Connectivity
Non-Bluetooth Wireless
Non-BT Line Of Sight Range
N/A
Non-BT Latency
N/A

These headphones are Bluetooth-only.

0
Connectivity
Wired
Analog Audio
No
USB Audio
No
Detachable No
Length N/A
Connection No Wired Option
Analog/USB Audio Latency
N/A

Right out-of-the-box, they can't be used 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.

Connectivity
PC / PS4 Compatibility
PC/PS4 Analog
No
PC/PS4 Wired USB
No
PC/PS4 Non-BT Wireless
No

These headphones can only be used on Bluetooth-compatible PCs. If you want to use them wired, Apple advertises that you have to purchase a Lightning to AUX cable separately.

Connectivity
Xbox One Compatibility
Xbox One Analog
No
Xbox One Wired USB
No
Xbox One Non-BT Wireless
No

These headphones aren't compatible out-of-the-box with the Xbox One. If you want to use them wired, Apple advertises that have to purchase a Lightning to AUX cable separately.

0
Connectivity
Base/Dock
Type
No Base/Dock
USB Input
No
Line In
No
Line Out
No
Optical Input
No
RCA Input
No
Dock Charging
No
Power Supply
No Base/Dock

These headphones don't come with a base or dock.

Differences Between Sizes And Variants

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 of the color variants 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.

Compared To Other Headphones

The Apple AirPods Max are high-end headphones with a premium design. Their noise canceling feature is outstanding and rivals other popular headphones with ANC such as the Bose QuietComfort 35 II/QC35 II Wireless 2018 or the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless, which are among our 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. For more headphones, check out our recommendations for the best headphones for music and the best over-ear headphones.

Bose QuietComfort 35 II/QC35 II Wireless 2018

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.

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless

The Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless are better headphones than the Apple AirPods Max Wireless. The Sony are more comfortable, feel better-built, 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.

Beats Solo Pro Wireless

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 have great build qualities, the Apple are more comfortable, have a virtual surround feature, and can block out more ambient noise. They also have a standby feature to help conserve battery life when not in use and exhibit lower audio latency on iOS and Android. However, the Beats have a better-balanced sound profile and their fit is more stable.

Apple AirPods Pro Truly Wireless

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.

Bose 700 Headphones Wireless

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 and offer an outstanding ANC feature, the Bose are more comfortable, feel better-built, 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.

Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless

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.

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