Apple AirPods Max review: Noise-cancelling over-ear headphones with maximum comfort

Apple AirPods Max review: Noise-cancelling over-ear headphones with maximum comfort

A clear winner

Text: Janice Sim

We've witnessed many showstopping releases in the tech realm last year — in spite of national crises and a looming disease. And honestly, we can't complain. If there's anything that has kept us marginally sane in 2020, it had to be technology and its midas advances. The last sweetener of last year's events came down to Apple's highly anticipated release of its AirPods Max. The US giant's first ever over-the-ear headphones. *Cue the heavy breathing.

Undeniably, we knew the gadget would top the ranks, visually. In Apple fashion, the AirPods Max yields a stainless steel body and gleaming aluminium earcups (easily spotted from a distance) synonymous with their MacBooks. Of course, with the superior makings installed — and boy we haven't even gone into specifics yet — this huge upgrade from the AirPods Pro commands a hefty price tag of $849.

An ambitious number, when you consider the other competitors in the market, who have been long-running in the over-ear headphones game. So we broke ours in, and here's our verdict.

The weight of the headphones will probably be of a concern to many. It's by far, the heaviest one — coming in at 385 grams. But you'll forget about the weight in your hands or tote right after slipping it on. The load is somehow eased upon wearing, a feature that we found a pleasant surprise. Credit probably goes to the mesh canopy band that sits on your head — made from breathable knit mesh, which distributes weight to reduce pressure when in use. Ear cushions? Invested properly — with a custom-design mesh textile that is pillowy and soft to the touch.

AirPods Max ear cushions

In the past, we've suffered sore numbness on our dainty lobes after tuning in for just under an hour, but the Apple AirPods Max obliterated that aftermath. Not to mention, the clever band mechanism prevents any hair from getting caught in the crossfire. What we typically dreaded from noise-cancelling headphones had to be the weird nausea caused by the pressure built up from the ear cups. Apple's attempt and decision in materials have safely dissolved that discomfort. Thanks to the mesh cushions, your ears can actually breathe better — instead of feeling clammy after a short walk under the sun. Circling back to the start of this point, what started out as the heaviest headphones turned out to be the most comfortable pair we've carried around so far. Imagine that.

Our sample playlist:

Back Again - flor
Blue World - Mac Miller 
Hey Ma - Bon Iver
Rushing Back - Flume feat. Vera Blue
Runaway - Kanye West
Stay Lost - Cabu Remix - Joe Hertz

Of course, the auditory experience comes as a close second of our favourite features from the AirPods Max. The sound is crisp, clear, not overtly overloaded on the bass like the others we've tested before. There's real merit in its clarity and a brilliant noise-cancelling feature that now stands as one of the best ones we've witnessed. Within, the Apple H1 Chip does a fine job at using computational audio to deliver a immersive listening experience. 15 minutes into Mission Impossible and we're instantly impressed. Hands down, a leg up from the AirPods Pro.

AirPods Max

Speaking of which, an update from its predecessor's case. The AirPods Max comes snugly buddled up in a Smart Case, which performs a similar function, but instead of charging, it preserves the headphones' battery life when not in use. One minor gripe does come down to the inability of powering off our headphones. There is no 'Off' button. The only time it's really put to rest will only be when it's all out of juice.

AirPods Max

In continuity, you'll find the Digital Crown (as seen on the Apple Watch) on this headphone set. A single press will pause the music, as would the removal of the headphones (a nifty function we've long appreciated from the AirPods). Other functions are pretty user-friendly, like switching between noise-cancelling and transparency mode with another button.

AirPods Max

Other formidable traits of the Apple DNA are incorporated, like Siri, which does a swell job at reading out your texts. A default function we can't help but relish in, especially with the voice assistant butchering every possible slang or colloquial term coined by our inner circle. We too, loved voicing out our replies (especially while engaging in an arvo snack) without having to touch our phones. Siri can swiftly reply on your behalf — just make sure you're in a private room, lest you attract an unwanted audience eavesdropping on your deepest darkest WhatsApp conversations. Naked to layman's eye, this device also holds eight microphones — some to detect noise and others to measure what you're hearing. But an important one to note has to be the beamforming ones, that helps isolate your voice while on a call. Perfect for on-the-go meetings and spontaneous calls, where even wind noise clutter won't stand a chance.

Get yours here.