Back at the beginning of December, Apple launched its first own-branded over-ear headphones. And, as is sometimes the case, there was a discussion that launched right around the same time: are the new headphones worth the cost?
I saw a lot of people on social media saying they couldn’t possibly be. Priced at $549, the AirPods Max are significantly more expensive than what appeared, at the time, to be the primary competition from Sony, Microsoft, and others. And it’s hard to argue with the entrenched favorites in the headphones market, because those devices have earned their praise over the years.
But Apple came out swinging, and the reviews showed that the company wasn’t just making another pair of headphones.
Apple went a little crazy with the design of the AirPods Max. The magnetically-attached ear cushions, for one, already make the headphones stand out in a crowded field. But it’s the metal design that’s not too heavy (for most people) or the fact it doesn’t pinch that much (for most people), thanks to the headband. It’s not hard to rationalize that Apple could have priced the headphones where they are now just for the design alone.
The good news is that the AirPods Max also sound great. Some have said they’re better than the leaders in the space, while others say Sony’s or Microsoft’s over-ear headphones might sound a tad better in some instances. But the reality is that’s subjective, and some folks won’t agree with others in this regard. But one thing was pretty universally praised: Apple’s Active Noise Cancellation. Another feather in the AirPods Max’s cap.
I’ve tried the competition. I’ve had Sony’s WH-1000XM4 headphones and I liked them well enough. The sound profile wasn’t exactly to my liking, and Sony had me digging through an app a bit more than I liked. So I went over to Microsoft’s Surface Headphones 2, because I really liked the first pair so much. I still have those headphones and, up until I picked up the AirPods Max, I thought they’d be my favorite for quite some time.
As others have pointed out, the comparisons are tough when it comes to these headphones. Apple’s design easily bests the competition, at least as far as the details are concerned. The overall aesthetics of the headphones? Well, you might simply prefer the look of Sony’s, or Bose’s, or Microsoft’s over-ear headphones and there’s obviously nothing wrong with that at all. I wasn’t a huge fan of the AirPods Max when I saw them in pictures, either, but having them in person does help quite a bit.
And while I can say that I prefer the design, the looks, and the sound profile –and especially the ANC– of the AirPods Max compared to the Surface Headphones 2, I ultimately returned Apple’s offering. Because while I did like those elements more, it wasn’t so much more that I felt I could justify the price point. The Surface Headphones 2 are solid headphones. They get the job done, sound great, and have solid ANC in their own right. They’re comfortable, too.
Oh, and they don’t come with a terrible case.
I only picked up the AirPods Max because I told myself on launch day that, if by some chance there was a pair available at one of my local Apple Stores by the end of the day, I’d go down and get it. Sure enough, I lucked out. But, for me, I couldn’t balance the price tag with what I thought I was getting out of the headphones.
But, I’m curious. If you’ve purchased the AirPods Max and tried them out for yourself, what do you think? Do you believe the headphones are worth the price tag? Did you keep your AirPods Max, or did you return them in favor of another pair of over-ear headphones? If so, which brand are you sticking with?