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Apple AirPods Max review: Brilliant & slick headphones – if you can afford them

APPLE'S AirPods Max are a big buy at £549/$549 – but are they any good?

We've tested them for a month, and have put together a handy buyer's guide and our ultimate AirPods Max review to go with it.

Read on for all the details on AirPods Max, or scroll down for our full review

Apple AirPods Max release date, price and what are they?

Unlike the old earbud design, AirPods Max sit over your ears like premium headphones.

And they've got premium features like hi-fi audio, adaptive equalising, active noise-cancellation, and "spatial" audio.

Like previous AirPods, they'll likely be a hit with Apple fans – and will be high on Christmas lists.

But they don't come cheap, starting at a lofty £549.

That's far higher than the regular AirPods (£159) and AirPods Pro (£249).

Of course, that's no surprise given that these are over-ear headphones, which typically command far higher pricing.

The AirPods Max sold out within hours after Apple announced the headphones on December 8. The company began shipping the gadget on December 15.

"AirPods are the most popular headphones in the world, beloved for their effortless setup, incredible sound quality and iconic design," said Apple's Greg Joswiak.

"With AirPods Max, we are bringing that magical AirPods experience to a stunning over-ear design with high-fidelity audio."

Apple AirPods Max design and comfort

The new AirPods have a slick design that tries to justify their high pricing.

You get cushioned ear cups that attach to the headband with a new system that lets them pivot to your head contours.

And they're designed to create a seal with your ear for immersive sound.

There's an Apple Watch-style Digital Crown on the side for volume control – as well as playing, pausing, skipping tracks, answering and ending phones calls, and for activating Siri.

The headband frame is built from stainless steel, and should fit most head shapes and sizes.

Its arms telescope too, so even the most big-headed audiophiles needn't worry.

There are five colour options available: Silver, Space Grey, Sky Blue, Pink, and Green.

You can also store them in the bundled Smart Case that puts the headphones in an ultra-low power state to preserve battery life when not in use.

Following December's launch, Apple fans on social media joked that the case's unusual design made it look like a bra.

Apple AirPods Max audio and features

Apple has fitted the AirPods Max with a 40mm custom driver for "rich, deep bass, accurate mid-ranges, and crisp, clean high-frequency extension".

Most headphone makers will offer up similar claims, so we'll need to wait for a review model to see if the AirPods Max are up to snuff.

There's a custom dual neodymium ring-magnet motor for minimising distortion.

And each cup has an Apple H1 chip built in for delivering the best-quality audio at any given time – using computational trickery.

Adaptive EQ adjusts the sound to fit the seal of your ear cushions in real-time.

Active Noise Cancellation detects environment noise using microphones, with internal microphones listening for sound making its way through the cups too.

And the headphones then account for that with "reverse" noise, to cancel the din out.

There's a Transparency Mode (just like on AirPods Pro) that lets you listen to music, while letting in environmental sound. Great if you're waiting for a train announcement, or the like.

And there's also a feature called Spatial Audio that tracks your head to place sound virtually anywhere in a space.

It means you can get theatre-like audio for content recorded in 5.1, 7.1 or Dolby Atmos.

You also get all the usual AirPods Max features, like head detection to play or pause music when a cup is lifted – and Siri integration too.

There's automatic pairing with Apple devices signed into your iCloud account, and setup is a single tap.

Apple AirPods Max battery life – how long do they last?

Battery life is always unique to the user, so take Apple's claims with a pinch of salt.

But Apple says you'll get around 20 hours of hi-fi audio, talk time or movie playback listening per charge.

That's with Active Noise Cancellation and Spatial Audio enabled.

It's an impressive claim, and battery life will likely grow even longer without these turned on.

Apple AirPods Max REVIEW

The AirPods Max are brilliant. Of course they are: they cost £549.

That’s far more than most people would ever spend on a pair of headphones.

Even many music fans would balk at paying more than £200 or £300 for premium cans.

But with that high price, Apple has had the freedom to create a seriously slick product.

They sound amazing (I’d argue even better than the price belies), and they look swish too.

Very high-end headphones can cost well over £1,000, and the AirPods Max will get you close to that in terms of audio.

Thankfully, the price is in reach for many normal humans – though most won’t be interested in a pair of headphones this expensive.

And for those people, there are regular AirPods, or some of the cheaper Beats by Dre models.

But if you care about music and you want a very good pair of headphones, you’re not going wrong with the AirPods Max.

Music sounds brilliant with it: if you’ve never used high-end cans before, you’ll be amazed.

You’ll find yourself noticing parts of a song you’ve never heard before.

These musical flairs add huge depth to your favourite tracks, and does them more justice – because it’s how the artist intended them to be heard.

The headphones are accurate in the bass, the mids and the treble even at low and high volumes.

You get a rich and warm sound that’s great even when you’re just watching a bit of Netflix.

They’re also very comfortable to wear for long periods of time.

I wear glasses so usually over- or on-ear headphones become a bit of a pain with prolonged use.

But I’ve worn the AirPods Max for several hours with no issue.

I’ve seen mixed opinions about whether they’re better than rival headphones at a similar price range.

But honestly, these sound brilliant for £549.

You get all the simplicity and ease of AirPods generally, including pairing in seconds and automatic pausing.

Apple AirPods Max – supported devices

Here's what you'll need to use AirPods Max...

I was amazed as I was watching TV on my iPad, only to open a video on my iPhone for the AirPods Max audio to instantly switch.

They’re also the best-looking headphones on the market in my opinion, though your own tastes may differ.

Even if you’re considering buying a rival pair of cans, it’s worth remembering the Apple factor.

When the original AirPods launched, they were mocked for looking silly.

They’re now an iconic gadget beloved by teens, geeks, celebs and professionals.

The AirPods Max will follow suit: soon they’ll be a must-have gadget for those who can afford to spend a little more.

They already sold out for the 2020 holidays. Expect to see these high on Christmas lists in 2021 too.

It’s a shame Apple couldn’t get the price down closer to £350, but that may come with time.

In any case, if you’re a music fan with money to burn, you can’t go wrong with the AirPods Max.

The Sun says: An exceptional pair of headphones that – despite a fair price – will be out of reach for most. If you can afford AirPods Max however, then you’ll be in audiophile bliss. ★★★★★

Apple reveal the new intelligent wireless Airpods that intuitively connect

All prices in this article were correct at the time of writing, but may have since changed. Always do your own research before making any purchase.

In other news, Apple could be working on new foldable iPhones.

Read our guide to 5G here.

And find out if 5G is in your area.

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