After the success of the AirPods earbuds, Apple is taking it a step further. The iPhone manufacturer now also has over-ear headphones ready, including noise canceling and an extravagant look. The price of the AirPods Max is also striking. But can the headphones convince in the test?
Almost 600 euros is a lot of money for headphones. Outside of the audiophile niche, there are hardly any manufacturers who charge such prices. Apple is confident enough to enter the wireless over-ear headphone market at this price level. But how do the AirPods Max perform in the test?
The headphones only borrow their name from the white plugs that have captured the ears of many iPhone users over the past four years. Appearance and functionality are fundamentally different. Because the Airpods Max are not in the ears, but sit on the ears with their two large aluminum shells.
Headphones with interesting functions
In terms of functionality, the new large model is closest to the AirPods Pro: Noise suppression, a transparency mode that allows you to let in some ambient noise, 3D audio for films. Like all AirPods, the Max headphones are linked to the user’s account and can therefore be used practically seamlessly with all of their Apple devices via Bluetooth.
Apple also emphasizes that all elements of a headphone were considered during development. The two ear shells – like the case of the MacBooks – are milled from one piece of aluminum. On the one hand, the material is intended to provide additional stability and durability. On the other hand, the shell shields ambient noise. The ear pads are interchangeable and are held in place with magnets.
The bracket looks unusual: Instead of the leather upholstery that is common in this price range, Apple decided on a stainless steel bracket with attached mesh. This is supposed to evenly distribute the pressure on the head – and, according to the company, is robust enough to last for many years.
AirPods Max in the test: the handling
The manufacturer was inspired by the Apple Watch for the controls: There is a button and a rotary control. With the button, users can switch between noise cancellation and transparency mode. By turning the “digital crown”, which is slightly larger than the Apple Watch, you can adjust the volume. At the same time, it works like the center button on any Apple earphone: it can stop, continue, jump back and forth, but also accept calls and activate Siri.
In the test of the AirPods Max, the turning wheel for adjusting the volume turned out to be a pleasantly intuitive operating method. It’s placed on the top of the right earcup. And the index finger finds its way automatically to the small wheel and also to the neighboring transparency switch.
Each ear cup has three microphones on the outside and one on the inside. The latter measures the sound in order to adapt it to the current position of the headphones – or to whether the user is wearing glasses or piercings in their ears. The microphones on the outside measure the ambient noise for noise suppression through counter-sound waves, which have to be constantly recalculated.
AirPods Max score in the test with their precise sound
Loudspeaker drivers developed in-house with a diameter of four centimeters and neodymium ring magnets ensure a balanced sound. They should reproduce the music without distortion even at high volume. First of all, that’s classic headphone acoustics. But Apple goes one step further with what the company calls “computational audio” – sound calculated by the computer. The headphones, like the in-ear AirPods, have an H1 chip with ten computing cores on each side.
The sound of the AirPods Max was detailed, clear and precise in the test. You can hear the nuances of individual instruments across the musical genres. Strictly speaking, Apple has been selling over-ear headphones since Beats bought it. However, the AirPods Max have nothing in common with their rather bass-heavy sound.
In conjunction with the H1 chip, the headphones can produce all-round sound like in the cinema. Apple’s algorithms can currently work with source material with 5.1 and 7.1 sound tracks (5 or 7 channels plus subwoofer) as well as the more modern Dolby Atmos. Apple can benefit from the fact that headphones and playback device come from a single source.
Motion sensors ensure that the noises stay in the right position in relation to the screen, even if you turn your head. This function is currently only available for use with iPhone and iPad. In general, the new iOS 14.3 must be installed on the respective mobile device for the computational audio to work. The battery life of the AirPods Max is specified by Apple as 20 hours despite the demanding computing tasks. Even five minutes of charging should bring one and a half hours of playback.
With their aluminum shells and stainless steel bracket, the AirPods Max are heavier than many of the competition. They weigh around 385 grams. For comparison: The top model H95 from Bang & Olufsen weighs 323 grams and the Bose 700 has 250 grams.
Instead of a large cover, the included “Smart Case” only protects the Max’s ear shells, but not its headband. However, it contains magnets that send the headphones into an energy-saving deep sleep. This is important because there is no switch-off button – the headphones should always be able to start playing as soon as you put them on.
Apple has adapted the colors available for the AirPods Max to the current color palette of the iPhones and iPads: silver, gray, green, blue and pink. As a Bluetooth alternative, there is no classic jack plug socket, but only a Lightning connection like on the iPhone.
Apple sells an adapter from Lightning to jack socket – for example for connecting in a plane – separately for 38 euros. In addition to the Smart Case, the AirPods Max comes with a Lightning charging cable at a price of almost 600 euros. Apple charges 77 euros for a pair of replacement ear pads.