The Apple AirPods Max are Apple’s very first noise cancelling headphones released in December 2020 that come with Apple’s very own 40mm dynamic drivers that provide high-fidelity audio performance. The AirPods Max are Apple’s first foray into making headphones and they come with several features such as the Apple H1 chip and adaptive EQ with noise cancelling. This makes the AirPods Max headphones a serious contender in the noise cancelling headphone market against the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones or the Bose 700 headphones which deliver really solid active noise cancellation. Compared with these headphones, the AirPods Max delivers some of the best noise cancellation we have heard and is able to block up to 95% of ambient background sounds and can effectively block out surrounding conversational voices. It also comes with a transparency mode which is very useful for hearing your surroundings, especially if you do outdoor runs with these headphones.
Some of the new and improved features that we liked about the Apple AirPods Max are the spatial audio which provides theater-like surround sound, as well as the Apple H1 chip which makes this headphone great for pairing with iPhone devices for higher quality music streaming. Compared to the Sony WH-1000XM5s which we tested, the Apple AirPods are very comfortable and come with a knit-mesh canopy and memory foam ear cushions which provide a really comfortable listening experience. They also come with a built-in battery that provides up to 20 hours of listening time on a single charge, and support fast charging where a 5 mins charge provides up to 1.5 hours of listening time.
We were extremely impressed by the sound performance of the Apple AirPods Max, and they sound even better than the Sony WH-1000XM5s or the Sennheiser Momentum 4 wireless headphones, which are all newer models released in 2023. The audio quality is crystal clear, and you can hear the highs, mids and lows and everything in between with pristine clarity. Vocal performances sounded spectacularly clear with really nice separation and soundstage, while the midranges feel present and very well-defined. These headphones feel almost as airy as the Sennheiser HD 800s and provide really good soundstage and vocals. We also found that these headphones sound really good with the active noise cancellation switched on – this makes you feel as though you are sitting in a real life concert hall when listening to classical and instrumental music pieces. We really liked the fact that these headphones can pick up subtleties in the music such as the plucking of guitar strings and the stroking of piano keys, or the breathing of the vocalist which makes it superb for audio enjoyment.
How good is the bass?
The Apple AirPods Max have decent bass performance, but not the kind of booming bass that you would expect from the Sony WH-1000XM5s, for example, or the Skullcandy Crusher ANC 2 headphones. The bass on the Apple Airpods Max feels tight and controlled, and really punches deep at the right time when the bass is required – it stays where it should be as bass and does not muddy into the midrange frequencies. It’s not the booming kind of bass that you would expect from the Skullcandy Crusher ANC but feels controlled with a level of depth and quality that you would expect from an audiophile-level headphone. One of the things that we really liked is the ability to go into the Accessibility Settings for the headphone and set your listening profile or adjust the EQ settings according to your preferences, which is a very convenient option if you need to customize your sound.
If were to describe the bass of the Apple AirPods Max, we would say that the bass is tight, controlled and punches deep where it needs to be. It does not muddy into the upper midrange frequencies and stays where it should be as bass – they are great for audiophile listening and can really bring out the subtle bass notes in vocals and instruments, such as the stroke of the piano and the sound of drums.
The overall sound signature of the Apple AirPods Max is open with really good medium bass at lower volume levels and they get increasingly punchy and full-bodied at higher volume levels. The bass is not overwhelming like the Skullcandy Crusher ANC 2 headphones and they add depth to the music without any distortion at higher volume levels.
What are the key features of the Airpod Max?
The Apple AirPods Max comes with a new adaptive EQ feature that adjusts the sound performance to the fit and seal of the ear cushions in real time by adjusting the low to midrange frequencies. This technology allows you to hear the audio performance naturally depending on your ear fit, and we found that it does help to level out the soundstage and ensure that the music comes across as detailed and pristine. Vocal performances sounded really crisp and very clear on the AirPods Max, while classic rock and EDM sounded nice and punchy with a good amount of bass and decent sub-bass performance. Having said that, we did find that the adaptive EQ feature was not always helpful especially if you are using your own Apple sound profiles with preset EQ settings – it just makes the music sound less EQed than before. If you want to make full use of the adaptive EQ feature, we recommend not setting up any EQ profile so that you get the cleanest settings possible.
One of the features that we liked is the spatial audio performance with dynamic head tracking which delivers an immersive theater-like sound experience if your movies are available in 5.1, 7.1 or Dolby Atmos – it also tracks your head motion as well as your source device and remaps the sound so that it feels as realistic and anchored as possible.
We really liked the noise cancelling capabilities of the Apple AirPods Max. Despite the fact that the Apple model was released in 2020, they are still comparable with Sony’s WH-1000XM5 released in 2023. The Apple AirPods Max provide really good noise cancellation and can effectively block up to 90% of ambient background sounds which is only slightly less effective than the WH-1000XM5. While the WH-1000XM5 edges out the Apple AirPods Max in terms of noise cancelling ability during our tests, we felt that the difference was pretty minimal and the marginal gains that you get with the WH-1000XM5 are substantial enough to sway against getting the AirPods Max headphones in 2023.
Furthermore, the Apple AirPods Max comes with several intelligent features that are not present in the latest Sony noise cancelling headphones, such as the ability to detect a user’s head with optical and positional sensors and automatically pauses or mute when you take off the headphones. The call quality that you get on the AirPods Max headphones is also superb.
Finally, the build quality on the AirPods Max headphones is simply outstanding, and they still outshine even the Sony WH-1000XM5 or Sennheiser Momentum 4 with their sleek build quality and ultra-comfortable design. The earcups are made from a sleek stainless steel frame and they come with very comfortable ear cushions with acoustic memory foam to provide an effective seal over your ears. These headphones feel exceptionally solid and well designed. The earcups are also made from a rubberized polycarbonate and a padded mesh fabric that are held in together by magnets, making them very easy to replace if you need to chage your earpads or want to swap for a different color. We also liked the fact that the headband is also replaceable if you want a different color down the line.
The Apple AirPods Max are compatible straight out of the box with Apple Watch and MacBook devices, and you can instantly stream music to the headphones just by using Bluetooth. The controls are very intuitive and easy to use, and the entire headphone feels like a solid piece of engineering.
Will Apple release the Apple AirPods Max 2 anytime soon?
Based on our estimates, the Apple AirPods Max 2 will not be released until the last quarter of 2024 or even until 2025, and Apple has not officially confirmed a release date yet. If you want to get the Apple AirPods Max within the next few months, you will not be missing out as the AirPods Max 2 are very unlikely to be released in 2023 or through mid-2024.
Is the Apple AirPods Max still worth it in 2023?
The Verdict? The Apple AirPods Max are absolutely still worth it in 2023 and they deliver some of the best sound performance we have heard from a pair of headphones that are approaching audiophile-grade clarity and depth in terms of bass and soundstage. These headphones deliver exceptionally crisp and clear audio performance, and are able to handle just about any music genre that you throw at including EDM, rock, jazz, hip-hop and classical – they all sounded well-balanced, clean and very nice. The soundstage feels wide and spacious, and you get a good deal of separation and volume output with these headphones that really brings out the subtle details in the music. We thoroughly enjoyed listening to our favorite soundtracks including Tony Bennett’s “Fly me to the moon” where you can really appreciate the difference in sound quality between the AirPods Max and other headphones – the sound, the timbre ranges and bass feels just right and nicely balanced. You can also hear details in the music that you might not have heard before, and the spaciousness that you get with these headphones is phenomenal.