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AirPods Max Review vs AirPods Pro: Worth the $450 Premium?

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Apple surprised us a couple of weeks ago with one last holiday product announcement: AirPods Max wireless headphones.

These headphones come with a classic Apple price tag of $779 in Canada. We’ve been using AirPods Max for just under a week—here is our quick review.

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AirPods Max Review Haiku

Heavy on my head
Sounds great but not mind-blowing
Far too expensive

AirPods Max Unboxing

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When you receive your AirPods Max, be sure to put down the box cutter and use the pull tab on the cardboard box, which opens up your prize inside. Below is the retail box for AirPods Max in Space Grey:

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…the back of the box shows the Smart Case for AirPods Max, also known as one of the most expensive ‘bras’ you can buy:

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Top shot of the box with AirPods Max name shown:

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Once you open the box, you’ll start to question what else you could have purchased for $872.48 CAD after tax:

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Apple is slowly moving away from plastics for the environment. Your AirPods Max are lined with a wax paper covering the Smart Case:

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No Apple stickers are included with AirPods Max and all you get is a Lightning to USB-C cable. No AC adapter or 3.5mm headphone jack to Lightning cable is included (you’ll need to pay Apple $45 for that privilege). All thanks to ‘courage’:

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Thick cardboard cutouts help protect AirPods Max ear cushions during transport:

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The aluminum build of the sides of AirPods Max are cold to the touch. These headphones charge via a Lightning port on the bottom of the right headphone, also where an LED indicator is as well. There is no on/off button on AirPods Max and I’m okay with that (ain’t nobody got time to turn AirPods Max on and off for $779). You just slap them on your head and they connect–it’s too easy:

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While the first leaks of AirPods Max (dubbed AirPods Studio) looked silly, this final design does grow on you over time. The build quality of these headphones are excellent. Very premium fit and finish that may be worthy of $779 CAD:

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Apple cleverly stitches “L” (left) and “R” (right) into the ear cups of AirPods Max to let you know which side is which. But to make it easy, just remember the Digital Crown and Noise Control button is on the right ear cup.

Also, it’s worth noting the ear cups hit make contact with each other when they’re not in the Smart Case. Over time, this may lead to scratches?

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Apple has opted to use mesh fabric for the top band of AirPods Max, which allows for heat dissipation from the top of your head. These headphones are very comfortable resting on top of your head–you barely feel them:

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AirPods Max can be adjusted for height through its stainless steel arms that can retract up and down. They aren’t loose and your adjustments stay put:

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Look at the size of that Digital Crown, borrowed from Apple Watch. Turning this adjusts volume up and down (there’s audio feedback as you scroll), while pressing the button will play or pause your content. It’s pretty clever and makes volume adjustment a breeze.

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AirPods Max ear cups are held in place with magnets. They are easy to remove but won’t fall out on their own. You can take a look at the design details underneath the ear cup, with holes resembling the layout of apps on the Apple Watch home screen:

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The ear cups are made from memory foam, plastic and mesh. Replacement ear cups are $85 CAD for a set. Yikes.

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As for the AirPods Max Smart Case, it’s a very minimalistic design. There’s a cut out to let you charge your headphones while they are in the case, which also acts as an on/off ‘button’. You need to retract the stainless steel arms for the Lightning port to line up properly. Apple should have made the cut out 1cm wider.

The case doesn’t offer much protection but just keep your AirPods Max together and looking ‘cool’. Exposed is the mesh canopy and parts of the exterior of the ear cups. But the open concept may also let your memory foam ear cups air out and have any sweat evaporate.

When inside the case, your AirPods Max will immediately enter a low power state. Consider the case the only ‘power’ button you’ll see:

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The Smart Case doesn’t feel cheap and is well made. I’m okay with this slim design. For travellers, this will be a welcome addition to your carry on. There’s nothing worse than dealing with a huge zippered hard case from your headphones taking up space in your carry on.

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The Smart Case has a felt lining and its only job is to put your AirPods Max into a low power state, while providing minimal protection to your ear cups.

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The case itself can be folded in many ways and again, travellers will enjoy the slim footprint (of course it’ll cost ya):

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Setting Up AirPods Max

You set up AirPods Max just like you would any set of AirPods and this alone is worth $779 to some folks. Just hold them next to your iPhone and follow the on-screen instructions. You’ll see cool animations and also a quick tutorial on how to use the Noise Control button. It’s all very simple.

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Listening to AirPods Max for the First Time

After reading and seeing a few first initial impressions of AirPods Max, people were very impressed with Apple’s new headphones, so it was hard not heading in with some expectations. So after firing up some music, I wasn’t blown away at first, but the longer I wore the headphones as the days went by, everything started to sound better.

I’m not a headphone tester by any means, but I know what sounds good to me. AirPods Max brings full wide sound with good highs, mids and lows. There’s ample bass that is not overpowering and listening to music is enjoyable with these headphones. You just want to bounce your head with tracks.

Testing out tracks such as the beginning of Cocteau by Ottmar Liebert was trippy, while listening to various Hans Zimmer tracks (I’m Not a Hero; Leave No Man Behind), AirPods Max brings out the fine details of the instrumentals. Others such as More Than Words by Extreme sounded good, while the intro of Top Gun Anthem will bring chills down the spine of any Maverick fanboy. MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch Thisat thirty frickin’ years old–never sounded so good (#hammerpants).

T.I. and Jay-Z’s Swagga Like Us is bangin’ with AirPods Max, as is the bass and piano separation in Tha Crossroads by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. 2pac has never sounded so angry in Hit ‘Em Up. #aintnobodydownwithbadboy.

There’s no distortion at max volume with AirPods Max. Everything just sounds good and balances out at full blast.

Also, the virtual barber shop is worth listening to with your AirPods Max to experience the wide sound stage:

Watching movies with spatial audio in the Apple TV app and Disney+ was a treat. However, it’s an absolute travesty spatial audio is not supported on Apple TV 4K (or M1 Macs). Your $800+ headphones don’t get the maximum benefit when watching on your TV. It’s not terrible by any means, but you feel like something’s missing. Spatial audio with AirPods Pro and AirPods Max is for iPhone and iPad only.

What’s also odd is the iPhone 7 with A10 Fusion supports spatial audio, but the 2017 iPad Pro (2nd gen) with A10X does not. Maybe because the iPhone 7 supports Bluetooth Low Energy and the iPad Pro (2nd gen) does not?

Active Noise Cancellation is better on AirPods Max versus AirPods Pro, but not far off. You get the benefit of ear cups with these headphones. And yes, you do feel some pressure in your ears from ANC.

To pause audio quickly, all you have to do is lift up one ear cup and sound will stop. Put the ear cup down and music or your movie will start playing again. So easy and it also works with Apple TV.

AirPods Max Fit and Comfort

These headphones are comfortable. The ear cushions don’t get as hot as other headphones I’ve tried in the past, but your ears can still get hot. If you’ve ever experienced the warm, clammy feeling from a memory foam bed, it’s the same feeling on your ears. I also found my skin to be itchy after long periods of use. As for the mesh canopy on top of your head, you barely even notice it’s there.

But one downside is the fact AirPods Max are heavy. Cock your head back too fast with these headphones on and you can give yourself some whiplash. Tilt your head forward or backwards and they will move and slide out of position because of the weight.

AirPods Max Battery Life

Apple says battery life is rated at 20 hours. Ours came charged to 60% and it took us two days to drain the battery with light to moderate usage. When we got to 1% battery left, AirPods Max were able to last nearly three more hours.

Apple says if you lay your AirPods Max down and they’re stationary, the following will happen:

  • After 5 minutes: low power mode will preserve battery charge.
  • After 72 hours out of the Smart Case: AirPods Max enters ultralow power mode, turns off Bluetooth and Find My
  • Inside the Smart Case: enters low power mode immediately; after 18 hours, ultralow power mode turns off Bluetooth and Find My

Good luck finding your AirPods Max if you misplace them in your Smart Case for a day.

As for our own battery drain experience with AirPods Max? Here’s what we noticed from our notes:

  • Listening to music or movies with ANC: 4-5% battery drain per hour
  • Laying idle on a desk (no Smart Case): 0.5-1% battery drain per hour
  • Laying idle overnight in Smart Case after a full 100% charge: 0.5% battery drain per hour

Yeah, so I’m not too worried about battery drain without the Smart Case. It’s not a big deal. Apple says with a 5-minute charge you can get 1.5 hours of listening time with AirPods Max.

AirPods Max versus AirPods Pro?

Is it worth spending $450 more for AirPods Max, versus the $329 price tag of Apple’s AirPods Pro? The answer is no. AirPods Pro are excellent on their own for earphones. Obviously bass does not compare to AirPods Max, nor the mid-range, but comparing both I found AirPods Pro to hold their own, just a few notches down from AirPods Max. AirPods Pro cannot handle max volumes as good as AirPods Max.

I have some Sony XM4s (were on sale for $349 on Amazon but now sold out) on the way to compare against AirPods Max, as I only have AirPods Pro here to compare them to. Once I get my hands on the popular Sony headphones, I’ll be able to make a better judgment against AirPods Max.

These aren’t the best headphones I’ve ever tried, because I haven’t tested other high-end headphones. But for the average person that isn’t a self-proclaimed audiophile, I do like how they sound.

Conclusion: Expensive Apple Headphones That People Will Buy Regardless

AirPods Max are great headphones with build quality we expect from a premium Apple product. They sound great, but are heavy and expensive. Honestly, what else could you buy for $779 CAD? That’s more than a new iPhone SE, PlayStation 5 or whatever else you want to spend your hard-earned cash on.

Expect celebrities, pro athletes, ‘influencers’ and more to start ‘flexing’ hard with AirPods Max soon. It will be the whole first generation AirPods scenario all over again, but this time with hilarious Smart Case bra memes.

For people who want AirPods features for simplicity and ease of use, easy device switching, packed into headphones that sound excellent, AirPods Max are calling your name. They would make the perfect home theatre headphones if Apple TV 4K supported spatial audio, but that doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon (we’ll probably have to buy the next Apple TV, am I right?!).

Despite the price of $779 CAD plus tax, AirPods Max might end up on sale at up to 20% off in one year’s time, like we’re seeing with AirPods Pro ($264 on Amazon.ca; save 20%). Other Beats headphones have also seen discounts over time, too.

If you want AirPods Max, you already have them. For those adding them to a wish list, your best bet is to wait until they go on sale, or for a Sport Chek deal (discounted gift cards + bonus Canadian Tire Money days), as these headphones slowly make their way to authorized Apple resellers.

Apple.ca is showing AirPods Max as delivering in 12-14 weeks, but Best Buy and The Source have some limited stock online.

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