AirPods Max handson roundup: ‘Crisp and bright’ sound, comfortable design help justify $549 price

AirPods Max officially launched this week and initial hands-on coverage is now out giving us a first look at the first premium over-ear headphones with Apple branding. It looks like sound quality is solid overall, they’re “super comfortable” with a great, sturdy build quality, and the Digital Crown offers a familiar physical control experience for Apple users.

We’ve got a number of initial reviews for AirPods Max and overall it’s mostly praise for the new headphones, but with a few questions and concerns over things like the strange case Apple has included here, the weight of the headphones, lack of accessories, and how they stack up against the competition.

Here’s how The Verge describes the sound quality:

Sound-wise, I’ve had fun listening to the AirPods Max for a few hours — they’re crisp and bright, with a pleasingly wider soundstage than my Sony headphones, and no distortion at all, even at max volume. We’ll have a full review of these soon, including tests of spatial audio and Apple’s claim of Atmos surround sound support, so stay tuned for that. But for now, rest assured the AirPods Max sound more than good enough to compete with other high-end headphones.

CNBC highlighted how comfortable they are, the high-end finishes, and appreciating the Digital Crown for physical control:

I wore the AirPods Max for several hours Wednesday and they felt super comfortable. There’s a breathable mesh band on the top that felt light on my head and didn’t get sweaty or hot. I also love the ear cups, which are spacious and fit around my ears instead of sitting on them.

There are a lot of high-end touches, like aluminum cups and a steel frame, instead of plastic parts you might find in competing headsets. I also dig the Digital Crown that Apple brought over from the Apple Watch. It feels solid and turns easily to adjust the volume. A lot of competing high-end headphones use touch controls for volume, which isn’t as accurate as a physical control.

CNET says the noise-cancellation on AirPods Max is top-notch and the microphone setup is impressive:

On top of that, their noise-canceling is arguably the best I’ve experienced, slightly edging out the noise-canceling on both Sony’s WH-1000XM4 and Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (I haven’t yet compared them closely to Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds, which offer the best noise-canceling for true-wireless earphones). They don’t completely silence the world around you, but I was out on the streets of New York, and they did a bang-up job muffling noise — I could barely hear the traffic around me. Finally, they work quite well as headset for making calls and are particularly good at reducing wind noise. Also worth noting: When you’re in headset mode, you can hear your voice in the headphones so you can modulate your voice and not end up shouting. Their similar in that regard to the AirPods Pro.

TechCrunch highlights how sturdy and beautiful AirPod Max are:

First, they’re gorgeous. The earcups are beautiful. The band is incredibly sturdy. The netting feels like a high-end piece of furniture. The stems are insane, with a precision pull out mechanism that acts like a hand-crafted car piston.

However, there is a downside to that…

There is a tradeoff here that I feel I must mention even in this early review, though: These things are heavy. If you do not like heavy headphones, do not buy the AirPod Max. They are intense, definitely demand being listened to while sitting essentially straight up or leaning back (if you’re actively walking around the house picking up kid’s clothes and toys from the floor, for instance, they tend to want to shift forward from their own weight). These clock in at 386g — over 100g heavier than a pair of Beats over ears. If you have very high end headphones, you may be expecting this kind of weight, most people I think will not be. More on this as I keep using them and trying out adjustments.

Pretty much all of the early reviews mention how weird the AirPods Max case is and that’s it doesn’t offer much functionality. The Verge also notes that they have a funny smell, like a “funky riff on a new-car smell.” But says that they’re told “it will fade away over time.”

And as we previously covered, Apple isn’t including a charger or things like a 3.5mm to Lightning adapter/cable.

Another interesting tidbit is there is no power button, AirPods Max automatically wake and sleep. What looks like the power button is for noise cancellation mode control.

Check out more great coverage from MKBHD, UrAvgConsumer, iJustine, and more below:

Top image via UrAvgConsumer

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