AirPods Max: It's complicated

A lot has been said about the AirPods Max. Especially about the price. Can 600€ for a pair of headphones ever be justified? I don't know. Two months in, and I still don't have an answer. So I won't even try to reply to that question. Let me talk about my experience instead.

The AirPods Max are a gorgeous piece of hardware. From the moment you open up the box, you are in awe at what Apple has done here. The materials of the ear cups, the headband, the telescope arms — this is "Designed in California "at its finest. If you care about design, you care about the AirPods Max.

But these choices come at a cost. No, still not talking about the price. The weight. These things are heavy. You have read and heard this before. But you have to hold them to understand how heavy they are. Comparing them to my Bose QC35, I feel like I could train my biceps by lifting them. This has the unfortunate side-effect that my QC35 now feel cheap.

Are they uncomfortable, though? Does the weight bother me? No, not really. Bear in mind that I mostly wear them sitting or standing at my desk. I don't go walking around with these, as I generally don't walk around wearing headphones at all. And if I want to, I tend to default to my AirPods Pro due to their size. Not everyone has to see that I'm wearing headphones.

Since I don't move that much, the weight doesn't bother me. The telescoping arms and the headbands do a fantastic job at mitigating the 380 grams. The mesh-headbands wraps around my head nicely, and it doesn't matter if I'm wearing my hair open or tied up in a bun. Due to the way the QC35 are built, I continuously get hair stuck in the joints. It's not a pleasant experience yanking out hair every time you take your headphones off.

And a little side-note on that headband. According to iFixit, and I have tested it, you can easily disconnect them using nothing but a sim-tray tool. Does that mean we'll ever get replacement headbands? Maybe different looking ones? Probably not.

If you own an Apple Watch, the controls on the Max will feel very familiar. These are the same buttons: Turn the digital crown to change volume and press to pause and play music. The button toggles between noise-cancelling-mode and transparency-mode. The crown is a joy to use and such a better experience than having to click up and down buttons to change the volume.

Talking about the two "noise-modes ": They are fantastic. These are the best noise-cancelling headphones I've used so far. A company is currently tearing up the street outside of my apartment, and while wearing these, I can't hear any noise. It's deafening without. This doesn't mean the QC35 struggle, but they are objectively worse.

Transparency-mode has me surprised every single time. I go hours without taking them off, and if my girlfriend, whose desk in our office is right next to mine, talks to me, I only have to pause music and toggle the modes. Do I hear better with transparency-mode than without wearing headphones at all? What?!

It's a clear advantage for a company if you control the whole stack, from hardware to software. Connecting the AirPods Max to any Apple-device is a great experience. If you own any Apple-wearable, be it headphones or an Apple Watch, you know what I am talking about. All you need to do is to hold them close to a device, and iOS or macOS does its magic. This never gets old.

Now, not everything is great in connection-land. With iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur Apple introduced the handoff-feature. Meaning, when you listen to music on a Mac and someone calls you on your iPhone, they automatically connect to the phone. And this works flawlessly for Facetime- or audio-calls.

But don't ever use another device if you are connected to a call on Microsoft Teams for Mac. An iPhone or iPad will always have priority. It'll randomly connect to whatever other device it can find as soon as there's an audio-source, and Teams will switch to the built-in microphone and speakers.

I have yet to figure out if this is on Microsoft or Apple. But since Teams is a piece of shit-software, I have my theories.

The Max are, well, AirPods. They have all the features people love about AirPods: Hold the crown and talk to Siri. Take them off, and the music stops. Put them back on, and the music starts. They have nine microphones for that fantastic noise-cancelling I mentioned before. They pair to all your Apple-devices instantly the moment you put them into use the first time. They have Spatial Audio, still a gimmick, sure, but a damn impressive one.

If you know AirPods, you know these.

Now to the big one: the audio-quality. I am in no place to talk about this. I have no idea about music, I am not an audiophile, and I honestly don't care. I listen to music on Spotify — and while I recently did a test, to see if I can hear a difference between lossy quality and lossless music —, I don't give a shit about high-fidelity.

Do the AirPods Max sound great? Do they sound 600€-good? I don't know what 600€ sound like. Maybe something else sounds better at 500€.

Look, these live in the same category as Bose's QC35, Sony's MDR-1000X, or Microsoft's Surface headphones, as they are wireless ANC-headphones. And yet the Max cost twice the price.

For one, this is probably due to the used materials and all the typical AirPods-shenanigans I have mentioned before. And, come on, it's Apple. We all pay a premium.

But do they sound better compared to the rest? To my untrained ears, they do. These are the best sounding headphones I own, no questions asked. But I can't say if it's worth double the price. Bluetooth only gets you so far. But I like them.

By the way, the Max are not the only expensive wireless ANC-headphones out there. Maybe these are a better direct comparison. But I don't own them.

Unfortunately, no device is ever perfect, no matter how great it might be. This also counts for the AirPods Max, despite their high price.

During my two-months usage, I've encountered a few irks and quirks that bothered me:

The battery life is all over the place. I don't know if I have a faulty unit or some software-issue, but my Max can't hold a charge overnight. And from other reviews, I know this to be a non-issue.

I charge them in the mornings and use them throughout the day. In the evening, they are around 70%. And yet, when I wake up, they are at approximately 20% in the mornings. It's only recently that I did a factory-reset which seems to have fixed the issue? I still have to dig deeper. Fortunately, these have fast charging.

The AirPods Max have no headphone-jack of any sort or size. But you can still run them wired. That is if you own the correct cable. And if you want to get it from Apple, it'll cost you a whooping 40€. How they still get away with this is beyond me. And how I still keep buying the stuff is beyond me, too. There probably is a less expensive alternative on Amazon.

What is annoying, however, is that you can't use the headphones wired while charging. It uses the same Lightning-port. And you want to use the headphones wired if you work with an audio- or video-editing tool. A wireless connection will always have a delay, which will make professional work impossible.

And yes, I have to mention the case. It's ridiculous. You saw the memes. It looks like a bra. Or a purse. It shouldn't exist. There are no excuses. Get something else if you want to protect your pair. And burn this one in some ritualistic ceremony.

So many words to finally get to this conclusion. Do I recommend them? Well… it's complicated.

These are the best headphones I've ever owned, and I absolutely love them. I don't regret getting them, it's a joy to wear them, and they were well worth the wait, which up to this day can be several weeks long depending on the colour you get.

And yet I don't know if I can recommend them. They are incredibly expensive. For that price, you can get your whole family AirPods.

But if you have the budget, you are in the Apple ecosystem, and you are the type of person who'd get the Stainless Steel Apple Watch over the aluminium one, these are for you.

For everyone else? Eeeh ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.