Apple AirPods Max Review

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The perfect headphones for Apple devotees
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The Apple AirPods Max are the most hotly-anticipated headphones of 2020, having been the subject of rumor and speculation for two years.

As the first Apple over-ear headphones, expectations were high, especially considering the success of the Apple AirPods and the AirPods Pro, which have quickly become the most easily-recognizable wireless earbuds available today.

Since 2018, we’ve heard rumors that the AirPods Max would be the most advanced headphones ever to be released, with speculation that they would come with futuristic features like air gestures that wouldn’t require you to touch the headphones at all to control them.

If the AirPods Max had come with those game-changing specs, their $549 / £549 / AU$899 price tag may have been justified – unfortunately that’s not the case.

In reality, the Apple AirPods Max are more ordinary than many expected; albeit with extraordinary audio quality and brilliant quality of life features for those already devoted to the Apple ecosystem.

Let’s take a look at the positives first; the best thing about the AirPods Max is their sound, which is nothing short of outstanding. They can easily compete with the Sony WH-1000XM4 in this regard, with a wide, immersive soundstage and carefully balanced profile, with crisp trebles, smooth mids, and powerful bass frequencies.

With high levels of detail and clarity, the AirPods Max reveal elements in your favorite songs that you may not have noticed before – and that’s the mark of a pair of really fantastic-sounding headphones.

The active noise cancellation is also class-leading, sitting shoulder to shoulder with the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 – and the Transparency mode is undeniably handy when you need to quickly tap into your surroundings.

The design, although divisive, is another win for Apple. With large, flat earcups crafted from hunks of stainless steel, the AirPods Max look unmistakably ‘Apple’, focussing on simplicity and functionality.

They feel premium, more so than the Sony WH-1000XM4, which are largely made from plastic, though that stainless steel build does mean the AirPods Max are rather heavy. Apple has included a mesh headband that’s designed to reduce the pressure on your head during use, but there’s no escaping their density; if you’re particularly sensitive to on-head pressure, the AirPods Max may not be the right headphones for you.

Saying that, we did find them comfortable enough during our tests, and we appreciate the use of physical controls as opposed to the voguish swipe controls that most wireless headphones seem to favor these days. We particularly liked the reprisal of the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown, which allows you to precisely adjust the volume and easily control your music playback.

That’s the thing about the AirPods Max, and Apple products in general: they just work. Pairing is incredibly easy, we didn’t experience any annoying connection dropouts, and Apple has eschewed technology like swipe controls that it doesn’t deem good enough for its products for the sake of keeping up with the competition.

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