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Apple made waves when it announced AirPods Max, its first pair of over-ear headphones, via an update to its website earlier this week. The headphones, which cost $549 and will be released on December 15th, are available for preorder on Apple’s site, Best Buy, and B&H. They’re designed to carry some of the momentum from Apple’s earbuds, which have been extremely successful since the first generation was released in 2018.
I’ve had the opportunity to test AirPods Max for about 24 hours, which was enough time to get a solid first impression. I’m not ready to write a full review, but you can find my five biggest takeaways below.
1. The AirPods Max Sound Really, Really Good
I’ve only had them for about 24 hours, but the music, podcasts, TV shows, and YouTube videos I’ve checked out sounded excellent. The mark of good audio equipment is the ability to hear every piece of a song with great clarity, and that’s true here.
The piano at the intro of Prom Theme, by Fountains of Wayne, immediately snaps into focus. The bass in Selena Gomez’s Rare booms, but never overwhelms the headphones or creates distortion. The applause on Bill Evans’ Live at Town Hall live album was so detailed that it felt close to actually being there. I still have a lot of listening to do before I give a final verdict on the AirPods Max, but the early signs are very encouraging.
2. They’re Surprisingly Comfortable for Their Size
The cups fully cover my ears, and the memory-foam-like material feels incredibly soft. They create a nice seal to optimize audio performance, but don’t make my ears sweat during long listening sessions.
The middle of the headband is made out of a weaved-mesh material that bends perfectly to fit the curvature of my head. Over-ear headphones typically have to balance the amount of headband padding with bulkiness and weight, but Apple’s solution is a lot better.
3. The “Smart” Features From Apple’s Earbuds Translate Well to AirPods Max
AirPods Max support features like spatial audio, which creates a surround-sound-like effect when you watch movies and TV shows that support it. Watching these videos is a lot more immersive with over-ear headphones, and the subtle effect of the sound changing if you turn your head to the right or left is a lot more prominent. The headphones will automatically turn on and pair with your Apple device (iPhone, iPad, Mac) when you put them on.
They’ll pause what you’re listening to or watching when you take them off your head, and resume when you put them back on. Switching between sources (an iPhone and Mac, say) takes seconds, and an audio prompt will play to signify the switch. All of these features were present in earbud-style AirPods, but it’s still impressive to see them transfer to over-ear headphones so seamlessly.
4. Active Noise Cancellation Is Extremely Responsive
The AirPods Max supports both active noise cancellation, which uses microphones to block outside sounds from reaching your ears, and a transparency mode that filters some external noises into your ears to keep you aware of your surroundings. You can switch between modes (or turn them off entirely) by pressing a dedicated button on the right ear cup.
I haven’t put the headphones through any strenuous tests yet, but the ANC feature on AirPods Max does a great job at minimizing ambient room noise (think heater or fan) significantly. Switching between these settings on AirPods Pro requires grabbing a stem, which can be awkward if you’re walking around, and tough to master at first. Putting these settings a button push away seems like a good move.
5. The Case Feels a Little Awkward
The AirPods Max come with a carrying case, which covers both the ear cups, and puts the headphones in an ultra-low power state. The case feels nice, and the magnetic latch will keep the headphones in place, but it only covers half the headphones. This design keeps AirPods Max accessible at all times, but won’t protect the headband from getting scuffed in a bag, or dented if the headphones are accidentally dropped. Time will tell if the case feels like a good fit for the headphones, but it definitely stands out now.