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  • - These are the new AirPods Max from Apple.

  • And by now you probably know that they cost $550.

  • So your first reaction might be, sticker shock.

  • What business does Apple have

  • making headphones that are so expensive?

  • Well, it turns out there are actually a lot of headphones,

  • even wireless ones, at this price and beyond.

  • But Apple has plenty of competition to worry about,

  • for less money, much less.

  • And so this isn't a review where I'm gonna tell you

  • that the AirPods Max are the best headphones

  • for most people, because quite frankly, they're not.

  • If all you want is a good and reliable set

  • of noise canceling headphones, save your money

  • and stick with something like Sony's 1000XM4s

  • or the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700,

  • which both cost at least $200 less.

  • That said the AirPods Max will make sense

  • for very specific people.

  • Their design is top-notch.

  • They sound awesome and they have features like spatial audio

  • that you really can't get anywhere else,

  • at least not quite like this.

  • So let's dig into some reasons for and against

  • the Apple AirPods Max.

  • (gentle music)

  • First up is fit and finish.

  • And if there's one area that backs up

  • that premium price tag,

  • it's the build quality that Apple has pulled off.

  • The AirPods Max have a stainless steel headband

  • that's wrapped in this nice, soft material.

  • And a knit, mesh canopy on top,

  • does a good job of keeping all the weight,

  • and I'll get to that later, off the top of your head.

  • The rotating aluminum ear cups are attached

  • by these cool telescoping steel stems

  • that take a bit of effort to extend,

  • but do a great job of staying in place

  • wherever you leave them.

  • The ear cushions are made from acoustic memory foam,

  • with a nice, breathable mesh layer on the outside,

  • that's really comfortable.

  • They attach magnetically,

  • come off easily when you want them to,

  • and popping them back into place is really satisfying.

  • (snaps)

  • There are only two buttons on the AirPods Max.

  • There's the digital crown,

  • a much larger version than what you might be familiar with

  • from the Apple watch, and a button that switches between

  • noise-canceling and transparency modes.

  • I've really come to like the crown

  • for controlling volume and playback.

  • You don't get the false inputs or missed swipes

  • that can often happen with touch gestures.

  • There is one very strange part to all this, though.

  • The AirPods Max, don't have a power button.

  • They turn on when you put them on your head

  • and when you take 'em off, they go to sleep.

  • Put them in the case and they go into an even deeper,

  • ultra-low power state.

  • Now I've left them out overnight with no case at all

  • and they barely lost any battery,

  • but I still wish Apple had been less Apple-like

  • and just put a power button somewhere for simplicity sake.

  • There are a lot of random cutouts for mics and sensors

  • all around the AirPods Max.

  • And behind those ear cushions are powerful,

  • custom designed, 40 millimeter drivers.

  • It all comes together in a package

  • that feels sturdy, sturdy, sturdy.

  • But I would steer clear of the silver color

  • and go for something like space gray, or blue.

  • These white ear cushions are already looking

  • a little worse for the wear,

  • after only a few days of wearing them.

  • Of course, Apple sells replacements

  • and different colors for $69 a pair.

  • The second pro for the AirPods Max is sound quality.

  • Folks, these headphones sound delightful.

  • Apple has struck a mix between the highs, mids and lows.

  • And there's a broader soundstage here

  • than I get from my Sony's or the Bose cans.

  • Now the base isn't gonna rattle your skull,

  • but there's always enough to make whatever song is playing,

  • shine just the way it's supposed to.

  • Apple uses computational audio with the H1 chips

  • in each ear cup and the many built-in microphones,

  • to constantly measure what you're hearing

  • from the headphones, and it adjusts EQ

  • to account for how they fit on your head

  • and seal against your ears.

  • The company says it aims for a faithful reproduction

  • of your music, but these are still tuned in a way

  • that's geared toward casual listening.

  • I would never call them neutral or flat.

  • If I had to pick two words to describe the AirPods Max,

  • I would say tight and refined.

  • There's always just enough bass

  • and the treble never sounds harsh.

  • But a lot of you probably want to know

  • whether the AirPods Max sounds so much better,

  • as to justify their high price,

  • and there's no great answer.

  • It comes down to preference.

  • If you're a nitpicky about audio,

  • you'll notice how great these sound,

  • but those Sony's are popular for a reason.

  • And one of those is booming bass,

  • where they can still beat out the AirPods Max.

  • Other noise canceling headphones,

  • like the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3,

  • also give these a run for their money.

  • Just like the regular AirPods,

  • these AirPods Max work great for voice calls.

  • So we put 'em through our usual set of microphone tests.

  • So let's start the mic test

  • with the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700.

  • These are often on sale, especially during the holidays,

  • but they usually go for around $350.

  • All right, next up are the Sony WH-1000XM4s.

  • These also usually sell for around 350,

  • but over the holidays, they've been on sale

  • for as low as 270, so they're a great deal

  • and have really good noise cancellation.

  • Third up, are the Microsoft Surface Headphones 2.

  • These sell for around 250,

  • so less expensive than the Sony and the Bose.

  • And they have those style controls that we really love.

  • Next up, are the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3.

  • These sell for around $350.

  • So pretty pricey, but they sound amazing.

  • And finally, we come to the AirPods Max.

  • Now, just so you know we've been doing

  • all these microphone tests to my iPhone,

  • through the Voice Memos app.

  • So this is as good as these mics

  • will ever possibly sound.

  • Third in the pros column, is noise cancellation.

  • The AirPods Max are neck-in-neck with both Sony and Bose,

  • with how effectively they can quiet the outside world.

  • They might even be better, but it's very close.

  • They aced my tests at the coffee shop, on the subway,

  • and just walking around Manhattan for a day.

  • When you do need to hear what's happening around you,

  • transparency mode sounds just as natural here,

  • almost like you're not wearing headphones at all,

  • as with the AirPods Pro.

  • The fourth reason to consider these expensive headphones,

  • is spatial audio.

  • Just like the AirPods Pro, the AirPods Max,

  • can give you an immersive, surround sound experience,

  • on an iPhone or iPad when you're watching movies

  • with supported apps like Apple TV, Disney+, and HBO Max.

  • Since those devices have positional awareness

  • from their built-in sensors,

  • they send that data back to the headphone,

  • so the sound is always right in front of you,

  • even if you turn your head side-to-side.

  • Now, special audio can't quite match

  • a full Dolby Atmos 7.1 surround system.

  • I mean, how could it?

  • But once everybody starts traveling again,

  • people are gonna love this feature.

  • I just really wish it worked with the Apple TV,

  • so you could make for your TVs crummy speakers,

  • or just watch a movie in bed

  • with your partner sleeping beside you.

  • But for now, the Apple TV doesn't do spatial audio,

  • just iPhone and iPad.

  • The last big plus is that the AirPods Max are just easy.

  • Like the regular AirPods, they pair to your phone,

  • just by being held close together.

  • And now they can automatically switch between an iPhone,

  • iPad and Mac, depending on what device

  • you're using at that moment, without you doing anything.

  • If I'm paying $550 for headphones,

  • I damn sure want that level of convenience.

  • That said, the Sony, Bose and many other headphones

  • let you pair with the two devices at the same time.

  • So that might be enough flexibility for you.

  • Especially if not every device you own is made by Apple.

  • And now we come to the cons and first up is this case.

  • If you can call it that, I think it's being generous.

  • Look, this is a failure on every level

  • and I don't know what Apple was thinking.

  • Yeah, it makes the AirPods Max

  • easy to recognized at a distance, maybe that was the point.

  • But in terms of doing case things, it's a joke

  • that offers nearly no protection for your big investment.

  • I wouldn't feel good about throwing this into a packed bag.

  • The ear cups could get easily scratched

  • and something could poke through that mesh canopy.

  • not to mention, the case quickly gets filthy.

  • The situation is bad enough

  • that it brings down the entire product.

  • Everyone else gets this right and it's baffling to me

  • that Apple could get it so wrong.

  • I'd expect to see many third-party cases

  • for the AirPods Max, very soon.

  • Second con, no 3.5 millimeter jack.

  • The AirPods Max only have a lightning connector.

  • So if you want higher quality, wired audio,

  • or to plug them in on a plane,

  • you've got to get this $35 cable.

  • I can live without the 3.5 millimeter jack,

  • but to not include the cable in the box, at this price,

  • that's just rude.

  • Also it's worth mentioning that there is no passive mode

  • on the AirPods Max.

  • And what that means is when they run out of battery,

  • they just stop working, even if you're wired.

  • Speaking of battery,

  • you get 20 hours with all the features turned on,

  • like noise cancellation, which is good,

  • but about 10 hours less than Sony.

  • Another downside is wait,

  • I said earlier that the mesh canopy does a good job

  • of distributing the heft of the AirPods Max.

  • They're not uncomfortable,

  • but you always know that they're on.

  • And if you move your head a lot,

  • sometimes they shipped out a place from their own weight.

  • These are definitely a leisure headphones

  • meant for the couch, or for sitting at your desk.

  • And eventually they will be great travel headphones,

  • but they're not at all the kind of headphones

  • you take running, or to the gym.

  • (gentle music)

  • The last reason to avoid the AirPods Max, for now,

  • is unrealized potential.

  • And what I mean by that is,

  • most people are gonna be streaming Apple Music,

  • or Spotify through these things.

  • And that means you're limited

  • to the same compressed 256 kilobits per second AAC files

  • we've been listening to for years,

  • in the case of Apple Music that is.

  • Apple still doesn't offer a lossless tier.

  • And I have to ask, if not now, when?

  • I can plug it into my iPhone with a cable

  • and get higher quality music from Amazon Music HD, or Tidal,

  • than I can from Apple, itself.

  • Meanwhile, Sony's headphones have LDAC,

  • a codec that can wirelessly stream at near CD quality.

  • So Apple is falling behind here.

  • Now you can make all the arguments you want

  • about how it doesn't matter,

  • or how no one can actually hear the difference,

  • but when we're talking about $550 headphones,