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Apple AirPods Max review

Apple Bluetooth headphones review

Headphones are great for listening to audio at home or on the go, but not all are created equal and some offer low-quality sound. You might be used to Apple’s compact in-ear AirPods, but with the AirPods Max, Apple has given us over-ear headphones for a more immersive listening experience. 

According to Apple, these headphones offer high-fidelity audio and effective active noise cancellation. They're supposed to be comfortable to wear and effortless to set up with seamless switching between devices. We wanted to know if the Apple AirPods Max lived up to these claims, so we tried them out in the real world. This is what we discovered.

Testing the Apple AirPods Max

To discover how products truly perform day-to-day, we have a group of testers who try them out in their homes. This lets us better gauge how convenient they are to use over time and find any frustrating quirks that might not be apparent in a brief lab test.

For this article, our tester used these headphones for two weeks, trying out all their features. They had owned AirPods and AirPods Pro before trying out AirPods Max, giving them an insight into how they compare. 

What are the Apple AirPods Max?

AirPods Max are over-ear wireless headphones. They have a sturdy aluminum body with mesh ear cups and padding in the headpiece to prevent overheating when you wear them. These Bluetooth headphones come in five colors: space gray, silver, pink, green and sky blue. 

Apple AirPods Max price and where to buy

The full list price is $549, but you can buy them for around $480 at Amazon

How to use Apple AirPods Max

These over-ear headphones are simple to use, but before starting, you need to pair them with your phone, laptop, tablet or another compatible device. 

How you do this depends on your device and operating system. If you have an Apple device, it should detect them automatically. Then, you can follow the pairing instructions on the screen. For other devices, you might have to go to Bluetooth settings to start the process and you may need to press and hold the noise control button if your device doesn't find them automatically. 

Once paired, they'll automatically play any audio of your choice. You can pause, play and adjust volume from your device, but they have a two-button interface on the ear cups to control some functions. We found these easier to use than the buttonless gesture controls found on AirPods and AirPods Pro, as well as some other over-ear headphones. 

Although these are wireless headphones, you have the option to use a cable if you want to listen to music from a stereo or other device that isn't Bluetooth-compatible. 

Apple AirPods Max benefits

Great sound quality overall

On the whole, audio sounds great on AirPods Max. All types of audio, from music to podcasts to phone calls, sound crisp, clear and balanced. 

Impressive noise cancellation

We tested out the noise cancellation by wearing the headphones and having others try to talk to us to get our attention, and by talking to people while they tried wearing the headphones. The results were impressive. If you didn't know differently, you'd never know someone was talking to you. They're also great at canceling out ambient sounds like traffic noise. 

Spatial audio

This feature is designed to give the illusion of space in an audio recording. We found it highly effective, especially compared to the spatial audio offered by other AirPods. 

Seamless device switching

Once you've paired your AirPods Max to one compatible device, they'll automatically switch to any other compatible device without needing to pair them again. This handy feature works well, but it's only an option with Apple devices running iOS 14.3 or later, iPadOS 14.3 or later or macOS Big Sur 11.1. 

Durable with a premium feel

The aluminum body of these headphones is durable and has a premium feel compared to plastic headphones. Although we didn't do any stress testing, they feel like they can stand up to wear and tear. 

Transparency mode

The transparency mode lets you turn off noise cancellation so you can hear your surroundings better at times when this is important — for instance, when you need to hear the doorbell or cross busy roads. 

Breathable ear cups

We found the mesh ear cup pleasantly breathable compared to the leather and faux leather ear cups found on most other over-ear headphones. 

Excellent battery life

The AirPods Max have a battery life of roughly 20 hours. That's 20 hours of play time, so if you only listen to a couple of hours of audio on them a day, they could last several days without needing a charge. 

Apple AirPods Max drawbacks

Bass could be better

While we were quite pleased with the audio quality, we found that the bass wasn't as deep as other headphones. You can adjust this using the equalizer settings, which improves the listening experience, and it may not even matter to many users, depending on the type of audio they tend to listen to.

Transparency mode needs improvement

We like the fact the transparency mode exists, but the microphone picks up too much white noise while it's picking up the sounds around you. This causes a noticeable drop in sound quality, which is frustrating and led us to avoid using transparency mode unless absolutely essential. 

Poor case design

The case doesn't protect the headphones all that much, so it's not great for anyone who might habitually chuck their headphones into a full backpack when not in use. 

Somewhat heavy

We found them slightly heavy, but we understand it's the tradeoff for sturdy, durable headphones. 

Should you get the Apple AirPods Max?

These were easily some of the best headphones we have ever used. They hold a charge for days at a time, the on/off detection is far greater than the AirPods and AirPods Pro, and the simple noise-cancellation/transparency combined with the on-ear volume control makes them a perfect set to wear without needing your phone nearby. 

Consider other products

Sony WH-1000XM4 Headphones

With impressive sound quality and excellent noise-cancelling properties, these headphones are a great buy for serious audiophiles. Sold by Amazon

Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700

With 11 levels of active noise cancellation, you can listen to audio in peace. Their sound is crisp and balances with rich, deep bass. Sold by Amazon

Sennheiser HD 650 Headphones

The open back design gives you dynamic audio with an exceptional soundstage, but the degree of sound leaking means they're best suited to home or studio use. Sold by Amazon


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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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