In the test: Apple AirPods Max over-ear headphones with ANC

In the test: Apple AirPods Max

I've been looking at the Apple AirPods Max since it was released because I find over-ear headphones generally more pleasant than the in-ear versions like the AirPods Pro. On the other hand, I like to wear the normal AirPods because they only hang in front of the ear canal and don't have to be inserted into it. However, even that 3rd generation AirPods no active noise cancellation system which again is a good reason for the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.

Where to buy the AirPods Max

The AirPods Max can be bought from the following providers:

Since the AirPods Max are too expensive for me to buy, I rented them from Grover for the test (photos: Sir Apfelot).

Since the AirPods Max are too expensive for me to buy, I rented them from Grover for the test (photos: Sir Apfelot).

AirPods Max - borrowed for the test

The premium Apple headphones are also available in the Apple Store at a premium price of just under 600 EUR. I have to admit that there are no headphones that are worth that much money to me. So that I could still throw an ear at the AirPods Max, I got them borrowed from Grover for three months.

This decision was a good choice, because it allowed me to take a long look at the Apple Overears for just under 50 euros (at that time with a voucher). I think that I will soon be using this option of borrowing equipment for a test more frequently, as you can gain a lot of experience with the products in three months.

But let's get to the actual test report of the AirPods Max.

The Apple AirPods Max are impressively good over-ear headphones with active noise cancellation - but the best I've heard so far.

The Apple AirPods Max are impressively good over-ear headphones with active noise cancellation - but the best I've heard so far.

Design and processing of the AirPods Max

If you look at the workmanship of the headphones, you can't really help but give Apple's over-ear headphones an 1+ with an asterisk. They are made of a lot of metal, neat fabric and little plastic and appear extremely robust. You won't find imprecise gaps or other small annoyances with them. Here Apple has shown again that you can expect a lot for a lot of money.

The design may not be for everyone, but I really like it. I borrowed the blue version and think it's very successful. If I were to actually buy one, I would go for a colored version again - even if I'm usually more of a black-white-gray person.

The case of the AirPods Max may be well thought out in terms of function, but I don't think it's optically successful - and it doesn't protect the headband in any way.

The case of the AirPods Max may be well thought out in terms of function, but I don't think it's optically successful - and it doesn't protect the headband in any way.

Transport bag for the AirPods Max: a figment of ugliness

A transport case is supplied with the headphones, which from my point of view is a stark contrast to the AirPods Max: The bag just looks embarrassing and I didn't even have it on the AirPods Max (but once for the photo!) Because think it's so bad. Apple would have done itself a favor here if they had just stayed with the tried and tested transport boxes that they also use with the Beats headphones.

The operating concept of the AirPods Max

To operate the AirPods Max, Apple has relied on an element that we already know from the Apple Watch, namely the digital crown. However, the crown is significantly larger than that of the watch, so that it can be found and operated “blindly”.

The Digital Crown allows turning and pushing. This way you can change the volume and start and stop playback.

The Digital Crown allows turning and pushing. This way you can change the volume and start and stop playback.

The functions that can be triggered with the Crown and the only button on the headphones have been put together in a list here:

  • digital Crown
    • Turn to adjust the volume
    • Press once to play audio, pause, or answer a call
    • Press twice to skip to the next track
    • Press three times to skip to the previous track
    • Hold down for Siri
  • Sound control button
    • Press to switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode
  • Hey Siri
    • Say “Hey Siri” to play a song, call someone, or get directions
If you have problems with the AirPods Max, a restart sometimes helps. If you want to start from scratch, you can reset it to the factory settings.

If you have problems with the AirPods Max, a restart sometimes helps. If you want to start from scratch, you can reset it to the factory settings.

Restart and factory settings of the AirPods Max

    • Restart: Press and hold the Sound Control button and the Digital Crown until the LED blinks amber.
    • Factory reset: Press and hold the Sound Control button and Digital Crown for 15 seconds until the LED blinks amber and then blinks white.

From my point of view, the handling is excellent. The crown can be found and operated reliably with the fingers and switching to transparency or ANC mode is also possible without restrictions using the button.

The AirPods Max also offer automatic detection of whether they are upside down or not. This sometimes starts for a second if you just put the headphones aside because they somehow detect your hand. In practice, however, this has no effect because playback does not start in the brief moment, but remains paused.

The headband can be adjusted with the pull-out part - what shines here is really solid metal.

The headband can be adjusted with the pull-out part - what shines here is really solid metal.

Technical data of the AirPods Max

Of course, the sluggish technical specifications of the AirPods Max should not be missing. If you don't like to read it, just keep scrolling ...

  • Manufacturer: Apple
  • Model: AirPods Max
  • Colors: silver, space gray, sky blue, pink, green
  • Audio: ANC, 3D audio, transparency mode
  • Sensors:
    • Optical sensor (in each earpiece)
    • Position sensor (in each earpiece)
    • Case detection sensor (in each earpiece)
    • Accelerometer (in each earpiece)
    • Gyro sensor (left earcup)
  • Microphones:
    • Eight microphones for active noise cancellation
      Three microphones for voice capture (two shared with Active Noise Cancellation and an additional microphone)
  • Chip: Apple H1 chip
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
  • Weight: 384,8 g
  • Drums:
    • Up to 20 hours of playback on one charge with Active Noise Cancellation activated or in transparency mode3
    • Up to 20 hours of video playback on one charge with 3D Audio enabled4
    • Up to 20 hours of talk time on one charge5
    • 5 minutes of charging is sufficient for approximately 1,5 hours of playback
  • Scope of delivery: AirPods Max, Smart Case, Lightning to USB ‑ C cable, documentation

The ANC of the AirPods Max - the best so far!

When it comes to active noise cancellation, I can compare the AirPods Max to some other headphones. My reference headphones so far have been the Bose QC35, which in my opinion had the best ANC. With the AirPods Max, however, the QC35 has to give up this title, because the AirPods Max filter noises noticeably better - although the Bose QC35 was already at a high level.

It could be that the shielding by the thick ear cups of the AirPods Max is a bit better and therefore less noise reaches the ear, but the bottom line is that the Bose QC35 does not play on the same level as the AirPods Max.

The auricles are very comfortable and at the same time shield quite well even without ANC. Inside the auricle you can see a dark spot in the photo. This is one of the optical sensors that recognize whether you have put on the headphones.

The auricles are very comfortable and at the same time shield quite well even without ANC. Inside the auricle you can see a dark spot in the photo. This is one of the optical sensors that recognize whether you have put on the headphones.

The sound of the AirPods Max - really MAX!

I'm not an audiophile and when testing headphones I always find it difficult to describe the sound with flowery adjectives that you would otherwise find in audio magazines or whiskey magazines. Nevertheless, when I tried to listen to the AirPods Max, it quickly became clear to me that Apple had created a small sound miracle here.

As for the sound, I already had a couple of decent headphones on. The Bose QC35 isn't that bad Soundcore Life Q30 is also pretty good, but compared to the sound spectrum that the AirPods Max cover, they are rather "satisfactory".

My first aha experience with the AirPods Max was a disaster movie that I watched. Something happened in the film that was accompanied by a very low-frequency rumble from the sound designers and when I was listening I almost had the feeling that I could feel the vibrations in my body - similar to what one is used to from going to the cinema.

The AirPods Max don't overdo it with the bass, but they are just able to bring over very low frequencies, which amazed me a lot.

Otherwise, the sound of the Overears is very pleasantly round and balanced. From my point of view, they are just as useful for movies as they are for classical music or rock or pop music. They sound great and I have to say that I'm a little sorry that I'll have to send them back soon.

A total of 11 microphones are built into the AirPods Max, which are used for noise suppression and for voice recording. Using it for making calls is not a problem.

A total of 11 microphones are built into the AirPods Max, which are used for noise suppression and for voice recording. Using it for making calls is not a problem.

Carrying comfort: heavy, but ok

There have been some complaints from people who said they couldn't wear the AirPods Max all day because they are too heavy. Yes, they are really much heavier than other headphones, but this can be explained by the high-quality materials and the high proportion of metal in the AirPods Max. My Bose QC35s feel like half the weight, but are mostly made of plastic.

Despite this difference, I cannot understand the complaints. Ultimately, I've had the headphones on for several hours a day for many days and never found them uncomfortable. Only when running with mine Treadmill desk sometimes it is too warm for me because they actually insulate quite well and it makes my head too hot if I am still walking while working. But I would call that a luxury problem.

The headband of the AirPods Max are rubberized and very comfortable to wear - this compensates for the heavy weight of the headphones - even if they are worn for hours (Photos: Sir Apfelot).

The headband of the AirPods Max are rubberized and very comfortable to wear - this compensates for the heavy weight of the headphones - even if they are worn for hours (Photos: Sir Apfelot).

My conclusion on the AirPods Max

Let me put it this way: If they cost 300 euros, I wouldn't think twice and buy them right away. They are simply the best headphones I've had so far in terms of sound and noise cancellation.

The convenience that is provided by the automatic switching with the Apple W1 chip is another neat plus point that can only be found with headphones from Apple or Beats (i.e. from Apple!).

The AirPods Max do not use touch-sensitive fields and work with buttons and digital crowns, which are easy to operate - even with wet fingers.

The AirPods Max do not use touch-sensitive fields and work with buttons and digital crowns, which are easy to operate - even with wet fingers.

The automatic switching back and forth between Apple devices such as Mac, iPhone and iPad is extremely pleasant in everyday life and I have sworn to myself not to buy any more headphones without this W1 chip.

However, the AirPods Max are not to be found under 450 euros even at the street price - unless you use used models - and I can't get used to that yet. So far, my financial limit for headphones was around 200 to a maximum of 250 euros. And the AirPods Max are clearly above that.

Despite everything: If money is not an issue, the AirPods Max are the best headphones I've ever had on my ears. I have to admit that I haven't seen any other models over 500 euros on my head, but since the AirPods Max were also extremely praised in the trade press, my assessment cannot be so wrong.

Did you hear the AirPods Max rehearsal? If so, how did you like the headphones? I would be very interested in your opinion - maybe there is also a bit of criticism?

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