AirPods Max first-look roundup: great sound, premium design, but the verdict’s still out

Earlier this week, Apple officially announced its newest product: a pair of premium, high-end over-ear headphones called AirPods Max. And the first-look impressions are rolling in.

These aren’t reviews quite yet. The publications and individuals we’ve highlighted below, either in text or just video, all got their review units just a day ago. Instead, this is just a quick roundup of some of the first-look impressions that are out there on the internet. If you were curious about the AirPods Max, and are interested to see what some people think basically right out of the box, this should help.

Of course, depending on the model of AirPods Max you’re interested in, you’ve probably got some time to consider your purchase. Shipping dates have already slipped until March of next year!

In any event, let’s get to it, shall we?

A first-look roundup for the new AirPods Max

The Verge

The Verge notes that the AirPods Max aren’t as heavy as some had feared, and that, thanks to the design, they’re comfortable to wear. Especially with the ear cushions. However, Nilay Patel does note that the design is noteworthy in that it feels like both a standard Apple-exclusive design, but also some points of interest that don’t feel so Apple, either.

The earcups are not smooth, unbroken surfaces. There are 10 slots of various shapes and sizes cut into the earcup shells. Seven of those are microphones: six used for noise-cancellation and another for voice calls. (There are another two mics inside the earcups.) These slots are not symmetrical; the top of the left earcup has one long slot, one short one, and then three more slots on the bottom along with a long gray plastic antenna line.

All of this is to say: there’s a lot going on visually with the AirPods Max, much more so than you’d expect from a pair of $550 Apple headphones.

The sound quality is right where the headphones should be considering the price point, which is probably the safest bet about these headphones. Patel notes that the soundstage for the headphones are even more impressive than some other headphones Apple is targeting at this price point and with these features.

Patel goes on to say that some elements of the headphones don’t necessarily scream premium, despite the price tag. Even just looking at the headphones in some color options, like the silver model he received for testing, make it look less-than-high-end, basically. But the actual feel of the headphones is certainly premium, thanks to the metals used. And the cushions can be replaced relatively quickly thanks to their magnetic attachment points, but stay in place when in use.

One last thing of note, here at least: they have a distinct smell coming out of the box. I’ll let Patel explain:

They also — I have to say this — have a distinct smell, like a funky riff on new-car smell. I am pretty sure that’s a byproduct of the memory foam earpads rolling off the manufacturing line and straight into a shipping box to my house, and I’m reliably told it will fade away over time.

I would probably not tell you what a pair of $100 headphones smells like. But at $550, I feel compelled to note that the AirPods Max are a multisensory experience out of the box.



CNET points out right out of the gate that the AirPods Max are expensive — which they are! But the publication also says that the headphones sound great, and they are impressed so far.

The first thing you notice when you open their box is that their build quality is like nothing that’s out there in the $300-$400 range. And when you first hear them, well, they do sound impressive, like high-end headphones, with tight bass, natural mids, crisp highs and a wide soundstage — for a closed-back headphone anyway.

When it comes to noise cancellation and making calls, the AirPods Max stand out yet again:

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 of muffling noise — I could barely hear the traffic around me. Finally, they work quite well as a 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. They’re similar in that regard to the AirPods Pro.

The publication notes that the AirPods Max are indeed heavy, but the cushions are comfortable. The build quality is solid and premium, as it should be all things considered. Basically, out of the box, CNET is impressed with Apple’s first over-ear headphones.


As you might expect by now, CNBC says the AirPods Max feature a premium build, and they sound great, too. Over the course of several hours, the publication states the new headphones are comfortable to wear, and the sound quality is right where people should expect when forking over this amount of money:

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.

However, they aren’t small headphones, as noted by the first impressions. Not that they appear to be, but it’s worth a note:

The AirPods Max are also pretty big. One of the reasons I love the AirPods Pro so much is that, back when we could travel, I was able to leave my Bose at home and use the noise-cancellation in the much smaller earbuds. They just slip in my pocket and I can carry them with me wherever I go. The AirPods Max don’t have that convenience. They’re still big enough that you’ll need a bag to carry them around. But they’re perfect at home right now when I’m mostly sitting at my computer most of the day.

But, at the end of the day, CNBC‘s Todd Haselton appears to be just as impressed with the headphones as the others.

The first impressions caught on video

Here’s a quick roundup of the first impressions for the AirPods Max on YouTube:



Marques Brownlee


So, pretty positive across the board. The full reviews will be interesting, especially to see if reviewers actually recommend the headphones for people outside of Apple’s dedicated ecosystem.

Do you plan on getting the AirPods Max?