Hey friends – hope you’re well!
So, over two years ago, Apple released their first over-ear headphones, and they were a hit – they were sold out for months after launch, despite being panned for their high price tag, lack of lossless audio at launch, and questionable Smart Case.
However, a lot has changed since its initial release, and the AirPods Max has even improved over time with significant software upgrades.
So here’s my long-term review of the AirPods Max, and we’ll see if they’re still worth the premium price tag of $549, compare them to the newer AirPods Pro 2, and if you’re looking for headphones – if there are better alternatives, or if we should just wait for the AirPods Max 2.
Things I Dislike
Let’s start with what I didn’t like about the AirPods Max – and there are a few.
The most obvious and obvious dislike is its price, which has remained relatively constant over the years. At $549, these are a very premium product and, in fact, one of the most expensive headphones on the market, which I understand is a big turn-off for some people. Although I believe the price is justified to some extent, and it does provide a premium listening experience, the price is simply too high for most people.
At this price, you’d think a 3.5mm to lightning adapter would be included – essential for those who want the best audio quality and want to use these on the plane. But no, they’re a separate $35 purchase – but it’s a must-have for travellers or audiophiles. I’m hoping to see this included, as well as the switch to USB-C for the AirPods Max 2.
I also disliked the Smart Case so much on the first day that I went out and purchased a third-party case. I mean, the thing barely provides adequate protection for such expensive headphones, and I can’t believe there’s no physical on/off button on the headphones in this day and age, and instead, you have to use the case to power down your headphones.
Picking these up, they’re usually dead unless I charge them every other day – so the lack of an on/off button is still one of my biggest complaints about them.
This leather case I purchased from Woolnut is a traditional lay-flat case with a magnetic tab in between the headphones to activate low-power mode. I’ve travelled with these a lot in the last year, and they’re just so much better overall.
Lossless audio is not supported here because Apple only uses standard AAC codec over Bluetooth, but to be fair, hearing true lossless audio from any wireless headphones is still not possible.
Software Updates & Improvements
But here’s where I commend Apple: their consistent software updates to improve the performance and audio quality of the AirPods Max since their launch.
With the release of iOS14 came Spatial Audio, which is incredible on the AirPods Max – it provides an impressive surround sound experience based on your head’s real-time orientation.
Then, iOS16 introduced the new LC3 Bluetooth Codec, which meant improved audio quality for the AirPods Max as well as lower latency and longer battery life. I discovered that the updates addressed the issues that had arisen due to distortion and connectivity issues.
Two other noteworthy updates since its release that make these headphones even better are a new transparency mode called Conversation Boost, which enhances the audio of conversations while in Transparency mode for clearer conversation, and Automatic Switching, which allows for easier switching between devices in the Apple ecosystem.
Where this headphone still shines brightest is in its incredible audio quality – it’s still the one to beat even after two years. They produce a rich, impressive sound with deep bass and razor-sharp highs.
I’ve been listening to Spotify at the maximum sound quality and Apple Music’s Hi-Res Lossless quality for months now, and it sounds fantastic, even with AAC over Bluetooth, especially with all of the software updates over the years.
Plugging it in with the 3.5mm adapter enhanced the experience, and it’s truly as good as it gets. It sounds as close to true lossless as possible, to the point where I doubt you’d be able to tell the difference unless you have trained ears. So I don’t think the lack of lossless audio is an issue for me.
The active noise cancellation is also outstanding; it does an excellent job of blocking out external noise that I almost forgot about the plane’s hum on flights until I stopped using them.
But here’s my take: while the Max’s noise cancellation is unrivaled, the newer AirPods Pro 2 and their noise cancellation ability come surprisingly close to the Max for less than half the price.
They’re honestly just as good for most situations for me, such as going to the gym, sitting in a cafe, or working at home, thanks to their new H2 chip and great in-ear fit. I’m not sure if I’m the only one who thinks the AirPods Pro 2’s noise cancellation is comparable to that of the AirPods Max.
Design & Build Quality
Even after two years, you can’t deny its iconic design and exceptional aluminium and mesh build quality.
People still tell me that these headphones look really premium and high quality, and they are.
They look and feel premium, and they’re probably the best-looking headphones I’ve ever used.
If I had to be critical, I’d say they’re on the heavier side, which may cause discomfort during longer listening sessions, but the mesh band has been extremely comfortable and breathable for me.
The memory foam cups covered in mesh have also held up really well, unlike my previous Bose QC35s, which required me to replace the cups literally once a year.
I’ve heard that the mesh or silicone material has deteriorated over time, but in my experience, it’s held up extremely well. That said, I leave it in the case most of the time, and they weren’t purchased on launch day, either.
After countless spins and clicks, the digital crown and noise cancellation button remain responsive and as satisfyingly tactical as ever.
Are They Still Worth It?
So, two years later, at the same price since launch, are the Apple Airpods Max still worth it?
They’re undeniably still a premium pair of headphones that lead the charge – even with companies releasing newer headphones like Sony’s XM5 and Bose 70 series and QC45, but even then, the Airpods Max holds up well. However, as time passes and no successor is found, competing headphones become more appealing.
If its flaws don’t bother you and you’re already in the Apple ecosystem, it’s still a fantastic buy – being able to instantly switch from an iPhone to a Mac and even an Apple TV without repairing is priceless.
So the question here is whether they’re still worth purchasing with the likely successor on the way. If you have the money, I’d say they’re still a good buy, especially since we don’t know when the AirPods Max 2 will be released.
If you’re on a tighter budget, the Airpods Pro 2 give the Max a run for its money with its H2 chip performance, and if you’re not in the Apple ecosystem, the Sony XM5 were an option I seriously considered.
It’s still difficult to swallow the $549 price tag, especially given the subpar case and lack of accessories included, but they’re now frequently on sale. In fact, I bought these from Amazon for $449, which is about $100 off.
Another great option is to buy a used pair from a marketplace like eBay; I’ve seen them go for $200-300.
In any case, you can’t go wrong with a pair of AirPods Max 2 years later, and they’re still as fashionable as ever.
I’ll leave a link to my Apple TV review so you can see if they’re still worth it – they make a great pairing with the Apple Airpods Max.