avatarMark Ellis


I Used AirPods Max Exclusively for a Month

These are my findings

Image courtesy of author

I get to review a lot of headphones, but there’s one pair that has always fascinated me more than most.

They stick out like a sore thumb. They remain one of the most expensive pair of consumer noise-cancelling headphones you can buy — even though they’re over three years old. They don’t have a proper case. You can’t turn them off. They’re the most overdue for an update of any Apple product.

However, AirPods Max also sit within what is, in my humble opinion, the best tech ecosystem on the planet. And that makes them even more interesting to use as daily drivers.

The problem I’ve always had is that, as noted, I’m always trying new cans. My experience with these headphones is, therefore, quite unlike any regular consumer. I never get to stick with the same pair for extended periods.

With that in mind, I decided to use AirPods Max exclusively for a month. And the results were fascinating.

AirPods Max ‘people’

I travelled to New York last summer and beyond the constant wide-eyed delight of finally visiting a city that had forever been on my bucket list, there was something else that caught my eye: the sheer number of people using AirPods Max.

This was new to a guy who lives in the British county of Warwickshire. We have a relatively large population over here, yet, before the NYC trip, AirPods Max were a rare sight. The same went for the capital: spotting someone wearing AirPods Max in London was about as common as finding a vacant table in a branch of Pret A Manger.

In New York, every block I walked contained countless AirPods Max wearers. They were everywhere.

When I returned to England, I noticed more over here, too. Most notably, in London (I was starting to spend more time there on business, which might account for this), but there were also a bunch more people at my local gym who were proudly wearing the expensive aluminium cans.

Something had changed. Decent deals by third-party retailers? Possibly. Whatever it was, this gave the AirPods Max an invigorated sense of purpose — and I wanted in, again.

So began my month-long journey of using them full-time.

AirPods Max full-time: the good stuff

One of my biggest complaints about AirPods Max was the inability to turn them off and the subsequent degraded stand-by time (an essential element of any wireless noise-cancelling headphones).

I’m ready to eat my words because this issue has been fixed. There has, clearly, been a firmware update somewhere along the way which has addressed the stand-by battery drain. The absence of a power button on AirPods Max is now entirely justified and they last as long as any other pair of noise-cancellers to which I have access.

Let’s talk about the case. I spent most of 2021 throwing that thing around my studio. It became a skit in any video I made about AirPods Max.

I still think it is utterly daft and fails to offer any meaningful protection for the headphones.


Hold onto your trousers.

It didn’t annoy me during this month-long testing period. If anything, it proved rather convenient when it came to quickly slipping the AirPods Max in and out of their housing.

I’d go as far as to say that AirPods Max are the fastest and most convenient headphones to use because of the aforementioned lack of a power button and that silly case. What’s more, despite throwing them into my bag without a care in the world, my AirPods Max are showing zero signs of damage.

This brings me to my next point. A little while ago, I made a video suggesting that Apple should reduce the quality of materials used in the next iteration of AirPods Max. Lots of people — ok, most people — have disagreed with me on this point. It’s what makes AirPods Max AirPods Max, they have told me. They’re right — and it means these headphones are impressively robust compared to their plastic competitors.

AirPods Max have a lot of stuff going for them. They have the best volume knob in the headphone market. Known as the Digital Crown, this sits atop the right-hand ear cup and is a joy to use for adjusting the volume and interacting with play controls. The fact AirPods Max have no touch-sensitive buttons is both entirely unexpected and wonderful.

The auto-switching between Apple devices has also, clearly, been seriously refined over the last three years. It works seamlessly practically every time, and it’s just one of the many benefits of residing in the Apple ecosystem.

I can’t end this list of positives without mentioning transparency mode, which remains the best on the market. It makes AirPods Max a joy to use for calls.

There’s a lot of good stuff about using AirPods Max full-time. But it’s not all roses.

AirPods Max full-time: the bad stuff

AirPods Max are really heavy. I’d forgotten just how heavy they are, in fact — and it’s something I never touched on during my original review. I think the reason I’ve had this revelation now is because I’ve used so many headphones since 2020, and most of them — in fact, all of them — are considerably lighter than AirPods Max.

They’re not heavy enough to introduce fatigue after long listening sessions (at least, in my experience) but they are heavy enough to be far more noticeable than any other pair of noise-cancelling headphones on the market. Which will understandably bother some owners.

The presence of Lightning is annoying. Beyond peripherals like the Magic Keyboard, AirPods Max are now the only Apple device I own which require this form of connection for juicing. If anything reveals their age, it’s this.

The case is stupid. Sure, I gave it a pat on the back earlier, but that was a reluctant pat that was laced with sympathy. The speed with which you can unearth AirPods Max from their slumber is countered by the case’s horrible material, daft looks, and the very real threat of causing damage to your expensive purchase (no matter how seemingly scratch-resistant that aluminium is).

It should, at the very least, be a charging case; that would have made it far less the laughing stock. And, yes, I know it places the headphones into a low-power mode which aids the battery life.

On the subject of battery life, I dearly wish that AirPods Max informed you of their remaining battery life when you place them on your head. Bose headphones and earbuds do this, and it is brilliantly useful.

One of the most surprising downsides of wearing AirPods Max full-time is that I’ve spotted how poorly the canopy fares over time.

If you’re unaware, this is the mesh material that rests on the top of your head. It’s unique, but that might be for a reason; over time, it appears to loosen and become far less supportive. When you consider that I’ve only used AirPods Max lightly until now, that’s rather concerning.

Conclusion: should you buy AirPods Max in 2024?

My list of negative stuff about AirPods Max is far less voluminous than I thought it would be. I’ll be honest — I thought I was going to detest my forced month-long excursion with Apple’s headphones.

I didn’t. They were convenient, fun to use, and rarely got on my nerves.

I’ve not spoken about sound or noise cancelling quality above, but that’s because they remain perfectly serviceable in both regards. They’re not the best on the market in either area, but that’s fine — they get everything else just about right, and the Apple ecosystem gets AirPods Max out of any potential trouble.

Should you buy AirPods Max in 2024? If you can find a decent deal — yes. I wouldn’t pay full whack for them, but there’s no harm in dropping some decent money on a pair if they’re significantly discounted. That’s why I think I’ve spotted more AirPods Max out in the wild.

Rumours suggest we’re going to see AirPods Max 2 later this year, but they also suggest that the update is mild — USB-C charging and new colours. That’s disappointing, but it also gives further credence to the idea that now really is a good time to buy Apple’s fascinating noise-cancelling cans.

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Originally published at https://markellisreviews.com on January 15, 2024.

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