Review: AirPods Max have become as important for music to me now as the iPod in the 2000s

AirPods Max weren’t an instant purchase for me when they showed up online last December, but I talked myself into giving them a shot when they showed up in stores a week later. Eight months later, I can’t stop recommending them to anyone who can stomach the $549 price tag (or find a deal).

My validation for the purchase was heavily weighted by my role as a writer and podcast host for 9to5Mac, yet it was my appreciation for music that convinced me to close my eyes and click the buy button.

There are so many better ways to spend $589 (after tax) than on a single pair of headphones. Already owning and loving AirPods Pro really made me iffy about the purchase. Inventory was still severely limited in February, so I offloaded them at cost before an expensive move.

But as the proverb goes: if you love something, set it free; if it comes back, it is yours. I really missed how music sounded on AirPods Max compared to AirPods Pro. Six weeks later, I closed my eyes once more and replaced my AirPods Max with a new pair. I think I’ve used them for at least an hour every day since buying this set.

AirPods Max deal

Everyone’s experience varies, but this is mine. AirPods Max feel as important to me right now as the iPod did in the 2000s. AirPods Pro earbuds are my go-to solution in plenty of situations where wearing headphones wouldn’t be appropriate or possible, but AirPods Max raises the ceiling for me of how audio should sound. Factor in the Apple sauce to create a convenient user experience (wireless, solid connection, new features through software), and I’m totally sold these days.

I’m 30 and counting, but I vividly recall distinguishing different instrument tracks in music for the first time when I was 15. I could listen to one song five times and focus on a different track each time. This also happens to be when I realized the bass guitar is as important in rock music as lead and rhythm guitars.

AirPods Max recreate that experience for me again. I’ve gotten so accustomed to the quality of Apple’s white earbud variety that AirPods Max make me realize there are tracks in songs I didn’t pick up on before. Most recently, I’ve been revisiting songs from the late 2000s and picking up on background vocals and other tracks that weren’t as distinct before. This experience is what makes AirPods Max feel worth it, even if they are so freaking expensive. “You only have to buy once,” I keep telling myself…

Music isn’t the only special experience created with AirPods Max for me. Watching a movie or TV show on Apple TV or iPad Pro with AirPods Max is a fantastic experience. I have a Dolby Atmos sound system, but often enough, it’s more immersive to take in a movie with AirPods Max when I’m watching on my own. The noise cancellation and transparency features are also seriously effective for keeping my head on while single parenting my 4- and 8-year-old kids.

The $550 price is still the biggest hurdle to overcome with AirPods Max at this point, but I’m beyond the point of seeing the value in the purchase for me. Criticisms at launch like the lack of wireless charging or a USB-C port go away once you find your charging rhythm (especially if that’s daily).

The weird case situation was remedied through firmware, and in reality, mine just lives in the top of my closet. My AirPods Max have their own pocket in my backpack for safekeeping.

I’m only slightly miffed that there’s no compatibility with Apple Music’s hi-res lossless audio quality, but that’s the nature of wireless headphones anyway. I’m still saving exploring the world of DACs and reference headphones for another time.

If you’re on the fence over AirPods Max but could imagine a similar use case as mine, I highly recommend closing your eyes and pressing the buy button, too.

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