AirPods Max reviews roundup: luxury sound, premium fit, but that price tag

Apple managed to launch yet another product before the end of 2020, offering up its AirPods Max for those who want a pair of over-ear headphones.

While rumors had painted a pretty clear picture of what the AirPods Max would be –premium, over-ear, not cheap– the end result is close, but not exact. After all, the AirPods Max are high-end headphones that sit over the are, rather than on the ear. But things veer off course a bit when it comes to the price tag. While initial reports had suggested the price would start at $349, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

The AirPods Max are set at $549, a couple hundred dollars more than some of the best truly wireless over-ear headphones on the market right now. But for that price you get a luxurious soundscape, a premium design, metal construction — and a really bad “smart” case.

Reviews for the AirPods Max went up recently, so we put together a quick roundup of some of the voices out there letting us know what they think of Apple’s new over-ear, premium headphones.

So let’s get to it.

The reviews are in for Apple’s AirPods Max

The Verge

The general consensus across the board is that the AirPods Max sound great. As one would expect they would, considering the price tag. Indeed, The Verge‘s Chris Welch says that Apple’s new headphones sound great, with “terrific, balanced sound quality”. What’s more, the noise cancellation on these headphones are fantastic, with the company’s Transparency mode also a standout feature for the expensive headphones.

That said, the AirPods Max will make sense for certain people who can immediately find a reason they’re “worth it.” The comfort and feel are top notch, they sound wonderful, the noise cancellation is up there with the very best, and they offer unique features like spatial audio that you really can’t get elsewhere. At least, not quite like this. So it’s worth breaking down some reasons why the AirPods Max could be worth buying if you’ve got the disposable cash.

There are some cons, though. First and foremost is the smart case, which is basically panned across every review for Apple’s AirPods Max. The worst part of the smart case is that it basically offers no protection for the expensive headphones.

But now we come to the cons, and far and away the worst thing about the AirPods Max is their case. If you can call it that, which I consider generous. Look, putting aside all the memes about it looking like a handbag or bra, it’s a failure on every level at functionality, and I don’t know what Apple was thinking. It makes the AirPods Max easy to recognize at a distance — maybe that was the main goal — but in terms of doing case things, it’s a joke that offers virtually no protection for your $550 headphones.

And here’s Welch’s video review for the AirPods Max:

Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone‘s Brandt Ranj says Apple does a great job of bringing the standout features from the AirPods Pro into a larger form factor with the AirPods Max, while making it an overall better-sounding product. The publication notes that setting up the AirPods Max is quick and easy, thanks to the Apple ecosystem.

Despite the heavy weight and metal construction, the AirPods Max fit well and are comfortable to use.

Its headband frame is made out of stainless steel, which smoothly glides if you need to adjust the headphones’ size to fit your head. This is a big upgrade over headphones with a thin, flimsy metal band, or plastic one that clicks into place. Simply put, AirPods Max look nice, which they should given their price.

But it’s in the sound quality that the AirPods Max really stand out, according to Rolling Stone:

The company squeezed an impressive amount of audio performance from standard AirPods, but it’s clear the it could do a lot more with larger headphones. AirPods Max are the best pair of wireless headphones we’ve tested because of a mix of custom hardware and software Apple developed, and no other headphones can replicate.

But it’s the smart case for the AirPods Max that ultimately drag things down a bit, simply because Apple requires owners to use it to preserve battery life:

The AirPods Max are thoughtfully designed inside and out, but the case Apple includes with them is anything but. It only covers the headphones’ ear cups, leaving the band completely exposed. It looks awkward on its own, and things don’t get better when you put AirPods Max inside.

This case shouldn’t be worth discussing in depth, but putting them inside is the only way to trigger the headphones’ ultra-low power mode. If you take them off normally, the headphones will remain on and connected for several hours before entering this state.

At the end of the day, though, Rolling Stone says the AirPods Max are probably worth the money for those who aren’t shy about forking over $549 for headphones. The company refined the experience from AirPods and AirPods Pro, improved it where it could be improved upon, and created yet another product for the Apple fans out there to enjoy.

Apple worked out the kinks with its earbuds, and brought the best features (and more) to AirPods Max. The ability to just pick up the headphones, have them instantly pair to my device, and start listening without hitting a single button made the experience of using them superior to other wireless headphones.


CNET‘s David Carnoy isn’t shy about the hefty price tag for the AirPods Max, but notes that the price is a hurdle for each individual to approach differently. Because ultimately, according to the publication’s review, the AirPods Max offer up some of the best audio quality in over-ear headphones, the noise cancelling is impressive, and they are comfortable (if not heavy).

Are they worth $549? Ultimately, that’s going to be up to you to determine. All I can do is describe my experience using them and let you know that they’re excellent (though not perfect) headphones, with top-notch sound, rock-solid wireless connectivity and noise canceling that’s arguably a touch better than what you find on competing models at the high end.

The sound quality is certainly there:

Apple’s intention with the AirPods Max is to serve up a “high-end” audio experience or at least an approximation of one. The problem, of course, is serious audiophiles tend not to bother with wireless Bluetooth headphones or noise-canceling headphones. Bluetooth streaming has gotten better and better over the years and noise canceling doesn’t impact the sound nearly as much as it once did. But to get the most accurate, pure sound, which is what high-end headphones are all ultimately about, wired headphones coupled with a properly amplified source that plays lossless audio is going to get you to the real promised land.

And, despite that smart case, the AirPods Max stand out in a crowded market:

But if you are looking for a high-end experience, the AirPods Max deliver one. Say what you will about the price, at least they’re different, and stand out in a very crowded field of wireless headphones.

The video reviews

While there aren’t many actual video reviews quite yet, we decided to put up a couple for now, just in case you didn’t want to go through a bunch of text. So here’s Dave Lee, MKBHD, and Flossy Carter giving their opinions about the new AirPods Max.

(We’ll update with more video reviews when they crop up.)

Dave Lee

Marques Brownlee (MKBHD)

Flossy Carter

Did you pick up a pair of AirPods Max? If so, have you been trying them out last night and today? How are you liking them so far?