New Music Gear Monday: Apple AirPods Max Headphones

Apple AirPods Max image

I need another set of headphones like I need a hole in the head. I have every popular set of phones you can name from Sony, Sennheiser, Bose, Fostex, and Audio Technica, plus a host of more exotic ones. I have my favorites, but that changes all the time. Needless to say, I have a lot of choices. So why am I so enamored with the new Apple AirPods Max?

If you’re an Apple fan like I am, the AirPods Max are everything you’ve come to expect from the company. Superior industrial design, ease of setup, sleek cool looks, and extreme ease of use are all of what we now assume we’ll get from the company. I have to say that I was somewhat apprehensive about what they’d sound like after the Apple purchased Beats, a company noted more for its successful marketing rather than its product. That said, the sound of the AirPods Max is really true and well-balanced, with none of the hype that we’ve come to expect from even the best headphones. And that’s over Bluetooth as well.


Speaking of Bluetooth, setting up the phones to any Apple device is a snap. Be it computer, iPhone, or iPad, it recognizes the AirPods nearby and asks if you want to connect. Click the button and it’s done. If you want to connect via hardwire, you need a Lightening connector to audio connector (expensive at $35 from Apple). The phones also recharge via the same connection and connector for 20 hours of usage on a full charge, but you can get 1.5 hours from a quick 5 minute charge if you’re short on time. Best of all, the phones automatically go into sleep mode when you put them inside the supplied case (also well-designed) so you never have to worry about turning them off or on.

After that, everything is controlled by just the two controls on the right earpiece. The button selects between Noise Canceling and Transparency mode, and will also act as the pairing control for devices when needed. I’d venture to say that the noise cancelation is the best on the market and certain beats my Sony WX1000XM3’s, which I thought were fantastic when I bought them. The Transparency mode allows you to hear the outside world but in an enhanced form, and some people that are hard of hearing even claim they work as sort of an over-the-ear hearing aid of sorts.

The main control is what Apple calls the Digital Crown, which is a small rotary pot that controls the level when turned, but can be used to pause, skip forward or skip back. It can also be used to summon Siri by pressing and holding while saying the familiar “Hey Siri.”

The Design

The AirPod Max’s are a true marvel of industrial and electronic design. They’re built around a stainless steel frame that easily contorts to your head in a firm yet comfortable way. The headband is made of breathable knit mesh which distributes the weight and reduces head pressure, and the ear cups are made from very comfortable memory foam. The cups are magnetic too, so if you ever have to replace one (which can be a supreme hassle on normal phones), they just slip out and the new ones attach with ease.

There’s a lot going on electronically here too. The Apple-design H1 chip in each cup uses its 10 cores for some extreme computational audio, fed by 6 external microphones and 2 internal. The inward-facing mics measure what you’re hearing (it’s different for everyone depending upon their head shape, cup fit, and ear size), then adjusts the frequency response accordingly. Built-in head tracking also makes the Spatial Audio experience better, but that’s a discussion for another day.

It also works very well with an iPhone. I made a call from my 11 Plus and the person on the other end though I was using the iPhone built-in mic. I then left my phone at the extreme end of my house and walked to the other end maybe a three hundred feet away. No problems with drop outs and crystal clear on both ends.

There’s so much more that I could write, but you can find out much more on Apple’s AirPods Max page. They’re not cheap at $549, but I believe that you get what you pay for, and this is a perfect example. They’re also available in 5 colors – space grey, silver, green, sky blue, and pink.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about a set of headphones before. Does anyone want to buy a used set of Sony noise canceling headphones?

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