Apple has come to be known for doing things its own way. But part of what makes it quite so successful – a desire to do things differently – conversely also turns out to be one of its biggest downfalls. And no product illustrates this better than perhaps its flagship headphone. Read our Apple AirPods Max Review.
Though it supports Bluetooth, the AirPods Max does so using the archaic AAC lossy compressed codec, which results in music quality that doesn’t even match CD. Most other rivals in the £ ballpark almost certainly offer aptX HD (hi-res 24-bit wireless transmission). Quite why Apple has made such a glaring omission probably has more to do with the tech being owned by Qualcomm – one of its biggest rivals – than a desire to do things differently. Regardless, it means the AirPods Max is effectively fighting with one arm tied behind its back. Further compounding the issue is that Apple’s flagship cans can’t play back the lossless audio provided by its own Music streaming service. Embarrassing doesn’t come close…
From the pristinely machined single-piece anodised aluminium earcups to the stainless-steel headband, this is, however, a beautifully manufactured product. Where others go for touch controls, the AirPods Max has a simple button for switching between noise-cancelling modes and a volume dial inspired by the digital ‘crown’ on Apple’s watches. Those users that are sick of awkwardly swiping, tapping and gesturing to control their headphones will love this addition.
The earcups are home to Apple’s own 40mm drivers and H1 processors and are covered in deep, comfortable memory foam padding, but the design is a bit Marmite. The finishes available include Pink, Sky Blue, Green, Silver or Space Grey – all of which are equally divisive. Bundled accessories include a Lightning-to-USB-C charging cable and a pretty ineffective plastic cover.
Before we get started, let’s put a popular myth to bed: the AirPods Max works well with non-Apple products. So if you think just because you’re not an iPhone user this isn’t for you, think again. The sonic attributes – limited though they are by AAC – are superb. Kicking off with Nightmares On Wax’s Up To Us, I am able to pick out fine details like breathing from the vocalist that I’ve never heard before. The level of clarity and vitality is impressive, gifting the performance authenticity that’s rare at this price.
Switching to the more subtle world of Aldous Harding’s Ennui, the delivery is stunning. The parping of saxophone and plonking of piano are distinct from one another in the soundstage while Harding’s vocals stand dead centre. The instruments sound precise yet organic with a believable tone and subtle texture that is completely convincing with the striking of the keys and the degradation of the notes as they fade adding new levels of nuance to the performance.
Noise-cancellation modes work well and are on a par with rivals costing around the same. There’s a very slight flattening of dynamics that means Future Sound Of London’s Smoking Japanese Babe loses some of its low-level punch, while treble is pushed further up in the mix. The results are by no means terrible, but given the choice it’s better to turn ANC off if you don’t require it.
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The main problem with the AirPods Max is not so much it doesn’t work well with non-Apple products – it does – it’s the absence of aptX and the sonic limitations of AAC. Otherwise it is comfortable, beautifully designed and the claimed 20-hour battery feels conservative. The sonic performance is on the whole deeply impressive. Get the aptX issue sorted, and Apple will be onto a winner
|PRODUCT||Apple AirPods Max|
|TYPE||Wireless Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones|
Bluetooth 5 with AAC
Active noise-cancellation, with ‘transparency’ mode
An impressive performance that’s severely hamstrung by the limitations of AAC
- Crisp, clear performance
- deep fulsome bass
- impressive fine details
- poor case
- lack of aptX HD
Best Apple AirPods Max prices in the US ?
Best Apple AirPods Max prices in the UK ?
|Product Name||Apple - AirPods Max - Pink|
|Data della release||15/12/2020|
|Wireless Networking||Bluetooth 5.0|