After true wireless headphones, Apple is entering the wireless headphone market with the AirPods Max. Successful bet ? This is what we will see in our full test.
Apple is never far away when it comes to music. After iTunes, iPod, HomePod and AirPods, the Apple brand is entering the Bluetooth headset market with the AirPods Max. Offered at a significant price (629 euros), it comes with its share of promises. But are they really required and does this justify its high price? The answer in this test.
This test was carried out with a helmet purchased by the editorial staff.
AirPods Max datasheet
Note that if Apple refers to its headphones in the plural (LES AirPods Max), in reference to both headphones, we will use the singular in this test, because we are talking about the finished product as a whole.
A premium design helmet
The first point justifying, at least in part, the price of the AirPods Max is its design and more particularly the choice of materials used. While many nomadic headsets are constructed primarily from plastic to reduce weight, the AirPods Max sports a beautiful metallic dress.
Its headphones are made of anodized aluminum while the headband structure is made of stainless steel with a mesh headband (or “mesh”) designed to distribute the weight and allow the scalp to breathe. Particular care has also been taken in certain details, such as the hinge of the ear cups which allows them to pivot or tilt, or the system for adjusting the size of the headband which slides the telescopic branches to a fine and smooth adaptation.
In use, it is particularly pleasant for a millimeter adjustment and the resistance that the arm opposes suggests that the helmet will not become loose over time. On the other hand, to correctly adjust the size of the temples when the helmet is on your head, you will probably need both hands where other helmets allow you to do it with only three fingers, while holding your smartphone with the other hand. .
Compared to plastic, aluminum looks better and gives a much more premium impression, but it also has some drawbacks that cannot be avoided. First of all, the scratch resistance. If you wear rings, you will need to be extra careful to avoid marking it too quickly. Within days, small marks appeared on our test model where the two headphones collide when both folded up.
Then touch it. This is very personal, but the feeling of cold may seem unpleasant during handling.
Finally, and you would certainly expect it, the weight. With its 385 grams, it is much heavier than its competitors (around 250 grams). Strangely, it doesn’t feel as much as you might think. Although bald, I never felt any discomfort on the top of my head from the weight and my necks, already badly damaged by years of repeated crackling, never suffered on prolonged listening. You can feel a slight tension when you raise or lower your head, but nothing that is particularly unpleasant.
AirPods Max tends to slip a bit
But let’s go back for a moment to the headband and its mesh fabric which, according to Apple, allows the helmet to be perfectly balanced on the head. If this principle works well, it also seems fragile. The net does not come off with a bit of force on it, but you quickly see that the edges relax and risk loosening after a while. All it takes is one loose stitch for the rest to follow. This is also the least well protected part since the supplied cover only covers the ear cups, but I will come back to this point later.
Having a small head, I note however that the AirPods Max has a tendency to slip a bit and does not support headbang sessions that are a bit too violent.
Despite this metal structure, note that the AirPods Max is very flexible and can twist in all directions. On the other hand, it does not fall back. Too bad for those who would like to reduce the space it can take up when placed on a desk. This is not its only drawback, since it does not have a jack port and requires, to be wired, to buy a separate cable.
The button and the crown
For use, Apple has chosen to integrate two physical buttons. A very traditional one that controls active noise reduction (discussed a little later) and a multifunction “Digital Crown” similar to that of the Apple Watch, but bigger. Clicking on it pauses or resumes playback, two clicks to go to the next music and three to the previous one. It can also turn to manage the volume, with the ability to change the direction in iPhone settings.
We will appreciate the choice here to integrate physical buttons and not touch controls, which sometimes struggle to respond on the Sony WH-1000xM4 . All is not rosy, however.
First of all, their placement on top of the right atrium means that it is often pressed inadvertently when repositioning the headset. Also, the two buttons are very close to the temple and turning the crown with two fingers is not very practical. However, you quickly get used to placing your hand on the earpiece to turn the dial with your fingertip.
Moreover, this one is not serrated and turns a little too easily for fine adjustment. The slight sound feedback for each notch, however, helps to better understand the different levels, but it is very light, to the point of being completely inaudible during use.
The click on the crown is also quite straightforward, which sometimes makes the double and triple clicks a bit tedious. However, changing lanes is always easier with a tactile surface.
Comfort of use
In addition to the weight already mentioned, the comfort of use of the AirPods Max has really been designed for long-term listening. The memory foam cushions perfectly encompass the ear and sit gently on the head. Even with glasses or helix piercings, no pain occurs during long listening.
Their fabric structure is also very airy and keeps cooler than the faux leather upholstery usually found in the competition. Enough to make the use appreciable even in high summer by avoiding ending up with ears reddened by heat and pressure. The rubbing of this tissue on the skull (or on the finger when trying to adjust the volume) is otherwise a little unpleasant and tends to make you cringe.
The bearings were designed to be changed in a jiffy. Attached to the rest of the helmet by magnets, they are very easy to remove. Too easily even. If you are carrying the AirPods Max in a bag without its protective cover, the odds are that you will need to recover at least one of the pads at the bottom of your luggage. And that is of course the best case: the one where you can recover the lost part. In the event that you accidentally lose a pad, you will have to go back to the cash register to buy a pair for 79 euros.
Around the neck
If you’re the type of person who keeps your headphones around your neck all day long when you’re not using them, the AirPods Max might not be the headset for you. Unless you really mess it up to enlarge the size of its headband, the AirPods Max is very large and gets in the way under the chin as soon as you want to turn your head.
Also, the headphones cannot turn fully inward. So you’ll either have to turn it over or point the headphones outwards, but that’s not at all pleasant, especially as the cold metal part is in contact with the skin. This is also a great way to inadvertently pop one of the pads. In other words, we strongly recommend that you store the AirPods Max in its case.
The AirPods Max storage case
The AirPods Max comes with a “Smart Case”, a smart case that allows you to put the headphones to sleep using magnets. And the least that can be said is that this case has already spilled a lot of ink from its presentation.
Some have already awarded it the prize for the worst product ever created by Apple (a company which nevertheless invented the mouse that recharges from below). And we can’t really contradict them on this point…
This case is designed in one piece of flexible plastic with a soft coating on the inside to prevent scratching the helmet, but at first glance it is easy to spot major flaws: the lack of protection on the helmet. the headband of the helmet, the most fragile part, and large openings allowing dust and other objects and liquids to pass through which could slip into a battered bag.
We could also cite the fact that the flap of this cover is larger than the hoop at its minimum size, which therefore necessitates folding it or pressing a little harder on it, and that the magnets lack force and that it is not rare to do it two or three times to properly close it.
In short, all aesthetic notion aside, we will leave you to your own judgment on this point, this shell is neither practical nor effective in its primary function (protecting the helmet). The failure is total.
The Magic of AirPods
As with AirPods and AirPods Pro, AirPods Max is perfectly integrated into the Apple ecosystem and aims above all for simplicity. So, just press the single button next to an iPhone, iPad or Mac for a pop-up to open on the latter, offering to pair the two devices. It’s childishly simple.
It is then possible to set some features from the source settings. You can thus choose the button cycle (noise reduction and transparency by default, you can add the deactivation of noise reduction), define the direction of the crown or activate or deactivate the spatial audio and the automatic equalizer in depending on the morphology of the ears.
Forget the idea of an equalizer though. Apple sound, you like it the way it is or you don’t buy it.
However, battery management is less sophisticated than with wireless headphones. On these, you can easily find out the remaining battery life of each earpiece and the case by opening it near the iPhone. For AirPods Max, it is mandatory to add a large “Batteries” widget to have an accurate percentage.
The lack of an ON / OFF button is also as practical as it is confusing. The AirPods Max is designed to sit when not in use. If you keep it around your neck (therefore moving), its gyroscope and accelerometers will not allow it to go to sleep. When not in use, be sure to store it in its case or put it down so that it goes to sleep after 5 minutes.
To activate or not, the AirPods Max relies on the two proximity sensors contained in its pads (one in each of them). Most builders only fit one, and after several days of use, I still can’t say what I prefer. This is obviously a matter of preference, but I confess to having railed on the sensitivity of these sensors which have more than once paused my listening during a simple repositioning of the headphones or an ear scratching. fast. Furthermore, the recovery is not automatic once you have left the headphones aside for more than a few seconds. After a checkout for example, you will have to restart the manual playback of your audio file.
Efficient noise reduction and dazzling Transparent mode
The AirPods Max is equipped with 6 outward-facing microphones which, like most mobile headsets today, can reduce ambient noise or transfer it to the user’s ears. On this point, Apple has learned from AirPods Pro and offers high-end performance.
At this level, the AirPods Max’s passive isolation already gives it a – weak, but existing – edge over its competition. The first test we submitted to the AirPods Max was that of an airplane engine noise (passed on speakers due to the health situation). This is redundant monochord noise that is muffled, but easily erased for a noise reduction system. Against the Sony WH-1000xM4, the AirPods Max is more efficient and manages to completely annihilate the sound where its competitor lets out a slight hiss at equal volume.
More difficult: in the metro. It is a living space in which we find muffled noises (the rolling of the oar), sharper and more direct noises (the pressure of opening the doors or the warning bell), but also an ambient hubbub mixed with discussions and sometimes with children’s cries. Once again, the AirPods Max shows its superiority here and reduces noise more than its opponent, who is considered one of the best in its class.
Even without music, most disturbances are absorbed effectively, although there are still some occasional peaks, especially in the high tones of a child’s cry, for example. To date, this is arguably the best active noise canceling you can find in consumer headphones.
The transparency mode
In one click, we switch from this active noise reduction to transparency mode which sends the user outside noise and therefore allows you to hold a conversation without removing your headset (hell with politeness) or eavesdropping on a conversation. mine to listen to music.
And even more than noise reduction, this transparency mode is just dazzling. Once activated, you will almost forget that you are wearing a helmet. Understand by this that there is neither breath nor mute effect that is found on many helmets offering such a feature. Best of all, the sounds are crisp, intelligible, distortion-free, and even slightly emphasized. As such, the AirPods Max could almost act as a hearing aid, and having a conversation with headphones on your ears is oddly enjoyable.
Excellent sound quality
Now let’s take a look at the most important part of headphones: the quality of the sound. For the pure technical part, Apple has integrated 40mm transducers (a rather traditional size), a motor with two neodymium magnetic rings to limit distortion (again, this is something quite common) and Bluetooth transfer works thanks to the only codecs implemented by Apple in the iPhone, namely SBC and AAC.
So when Apple promises Hi-Fi, you shouldn’t expect this quality in Bluetooth. At least not natively, since these codecs compress the stream in a destructive way. Apple’s secret weapon will therefore rather be played out in terms of electronics and its H1 chip, which processes the sound signal within the headset itself before it is broadcast in our ears. A bit like a system of upscaling on a television or DLSS for video games, it is this chip which will take care of extrapolating the missing data to transcribe them as faithfully as possible . Is this Hi-Fi? No, not strictly speaking. Is it good ? Yes.
First of all about the volume: AirPods Max is able to push the song to the top without a hitch. It is also a bit dangerous given the sensitivity of the crown, which allows it to show decibels very quickly, despite the risk to your ears. There is also a slight sound leak, regardless of the volume, which will allow your neighbors on public transport to guess the music you are listening to.
Despite this, even at full volume, the distortions are quite low and the sound is quite listenable. For the good of my eardrums, the rest of this speech will concern a volume more suitable for long-term listening (between 60 and 75%).
Here we find a sound signature close to that of the AirPods Pro, namely something generally well adjusted and less marked in the bass than at Sony for example. Across the frequency spectrum, however, AirPods Max is tuned very sparingly to allow plenty of detail in both bass and treble. These are also extremely clear and well transcribed. A very pleasant feeling of detail emerges with instruments that stand out perfectly from each other, even on poor quality sources.
The audio processing is really impressive and allows you to enjoy both rap and metal very focused on the bass as well as jazz or classical where highs and mids are predominant. This very good feeling is valid for music, but also for more vocal content, such as videos or podcasts since (all) the mediums are perfectly transcribed.
Note that the fact that the AirPods Max relies heavily on the electronics of its H1 chip prevents it from functioning in passive mode. If you run out of battery then you won’t be able to use it at all.
As with the AirPods Pro, the AirPods Max offers sound spatialization for compatible content (on compatible devices). Among the compatible applications, we can mention Apple TV +, Netflix (with a UHD subscription) or even Disney + .
You can thus enjoy a rather impressive Dolby Atmos, 5.1 or 7.1 sound allowing a true immersion in the content and a feeling of displacement in the scene when you move your head.
While the effect adds depth to the sound, it does sometimes create a strange feeling at times. On the film USS Greyhound The Battle of the Atlantic (on Apple TV +), for example, I noticed field / reverse-shot effects with an inverted audio rendering (the character on the left speaking in the right ear and the one on the right in the left ear). It’s a little unsettling.
Apart from these occasional hiccups, which are rather rare according to my tests, the feeling is truly immersive for action films.
A clean sound, slightly compressed by the external reduction
For calls, the AirPods Max instructs its microphones to reduce ambient noise, not only for the user, who still benefits from ambient noise reduction (most competitors turn it off during calls), but also for the correspondent.
In a quiet environment, the sound is very clear, both listening and streaming, and conversations are perfectly audible and pleasant. When switching to a lively environment, you can sometimes hear a change of “scene” before the ambient noise is erased (in just under a second), causing a slight compression of the voice in the process.
The voice nevertheless remains very clear and well put forward compared to the ambient noises and even if they remain a little distinct in the background, the discussions remain perfectly understandable and limpid.
AirPods Max on Android and Windows 10
Perfectly designed for users of the Apple ecosystem, the AirPods Max can also be used on other devices and doesn’t require you to remain captive in this galaxy of products. It is therefore possible to pair it with an Android smartphone or a Windows 10 PC by keeping the button pressed for a few seconds.
When connected, AirPods Max provides the same sound quality and noise reduction, all handled directly in the headphones. It is therefore perfectly usable. The button and crown are also functional, except for the long press on the crown which remains linked to Siri and cannot be used with Cortana or Google Assistant. We cannot rule out that a third-party app may one day manage this.
On the other hand, we also lose a certain number of intelligent functionalities. Strangely, we realize, for example, that proximity detection no longer works. If you remove the headset, it will continue to play your music. This is problematic for a headset that does not have an ON / OFF button and that goes to sleep by itself after 5 minutes of inactivity.
Another annoying point is that the AirPods Max’s battery level is not shared with a device from another brand. On an Android or a Windows PC, you will therefore not be able to see its battery level. Again, it’s embarrassing knowing there’s nothing on the helmet to tell.
Multipoint cannot also be used with non-Apple devices since it is managed by the user’s iCloud account. It is therefore not even possible to use multipoint with an iPhone and a MacBook associated with different accounts. Unless you are fully equipped in the bitten apple, this feature will therefore be unnecessary.
A battery… in the standard
As far as the battery is concerned, Apple announces an autonomy of 20 hours using active noise reduction (RBA) and spatial audio, which we could effectively confirm on continuous listening with audio at maximum and the RBA (for 20:40 to be exact). In fact, without pushing the sound all the way and on traditional sources without spatial audio, you can even enjoy it for longer, over a period of almost 24 hours. It’s a little less than a Sony WH-1000xM4 or a Bose Headphones 700, but still within the overall average for wireless headphones.
For recharging, count 13% recovered in 15 minutes, or several hours of listening. Within 1 hour, the AirPods Max recovered 72% of the battery, then the pace slows down and it takes a total of 2h15 for a full charge.
No mains adapter is included in the box. Our recharges were carried out with an Apple 10 W block.
Where can I buy the AirPods Max?
The AirPods Max has been available since early December for 629 euros in gray, silver, worm, blue and pink. You can buy a pair of pads for 79 euros and a Lightning to mini-jack cable for 39 euros.
Not only can be found on Apple’s website , but also at various online merchants.