AirPods Max headphones sound great. For almost the price of the iPhone 11, anything less would be a major failure.
Apple’s entry into the fast-growing category of in-ear noise canceling headphones was inevitable, and the end result meets the company’s usual high standards. Tested in the US and Japan, in a wide range of music genres, use cases and related devices, the AirPods Max proved to be above the level of a typical pair of headphones of $ 300 (approximately Rs 22,200) in this class. But they did not quite justify the price of $ 549 (approximately Rs 40,500) due to some mistakes and imperfections.
If you are an iPhone or iPad user, pairing will be no problem. But when Mac models and devices outside of Apple’s ecosystem come into conflict, things can get frustrating. In our tests, use with a Mac sometimes led to problems with phone calls and distorted sound. For users in Windows PC and Android ecosystems, switching between devices requires manual input each time.
Apple is keeping pace with noise removal leaders like Sony’s $ 280 (approximately $ 20,700) WH-1000XM4, without threatening to pick them up. Where the company is clearly ahead is the transparency mode that provides mostly natural sound on occasions when you want to hear the world around you without taking off your headphones.
The AirPods Max, built around a sturdy steel frame and aluminum ear cups, are some of the heaviest headphones in their category, but their weight distribution is no problem in our tests. The mesh headband helps to avoid the build-up of any pressure on the top of the head over long periods of use – although this is also a matter of durability, as it appears susceptible to dirt shrinkage or tearing and is not user-replaceable like magnetic ear pads. Apple’s decision not to offer a case that protects more than just ear cups is a combination.
Like cordless battery-powered headphones, this expensive device will only last as long as its closed battery system lasts – a problem that plagues owners of ordinary AirPods. Therefore, even though Apple may call this an audiophile headset for a new era of wireless music, it can’t promise the same long lifespan as wired alternatives like the Audeza, Sennheiser or Grado Labs.
The companies that Apple faces the most direct challenge with AirPods Max are like Bowers & Wilkins, Bang & Olufsen A / S and Master & Dynamic, brands that combine fashion and luxury with their technology offering.
There, AirPods Max are already winners, in part because of Apple’s brand, their distinctive design and the exclusivity that comes with the high price and early shortage. As will be seen in these, it will be a fashion statement, which is likely to attract more than a few influencers to do Apple’s promotional work for free.
But the company that launched several innovations with the iPhone and iPad seems to be missing a true feature to differentiate itself with these new headphones. Apple doesn’t do anything deeply unique on this occasion, relying more on top quality and software features such as Spatial Audio (home cinema-like surround sound) and fast pairing that have helped popularize AirPods in the ears.
AirPods Max really bring sound quality that makes them comfortable to listen to regardless of the type of music. They are far ahead of any other Apple personal audio product. And only a handful of those selected in their category, such as Shure’s $ 349 noise cancellation (roughly $ 25,800) Aonic 50, can come close to their sound.
That sound quality is added, however, by a series of intermittent errors when used with the latest generation Mac based on Intel. AirPods Max would sometimes distort sounds and not adjust the volume through the built-in controls in the headphones. The sound would also sometimes not pass when making and receiving calls from a Mac, and the sound would be transmitted to the laptop speakers. These issues require restarting your Mac or tampering with settings to fix it.
Apple does not put a power button on these headphones, asking users to trust it to automatically manage power management. It also has an auto-detect function that turns off playback when the headphones are removed. But when playing from Mac’s built-in Music app, that auto-pause feature would sometimes fail when you remove the headphones. The problem does not occur with the iPhone or iPad. This is a problem that could affect battery life because music can stream from the Mac without the user being aware. Apple said it was investigating these issues.
For those outside of Apple’s ecosystem, rivals like the Jabrina $ 449 (approximately RR 31,200) Evolve2 85 can maintain permanent connections with multiple devices and create a simpler experience like Apple. But to be fair, all of Apple’s audio products follow the same manual: they work best when paired with iPhones and iPads.
The case that comes with the AirPods Max is thin and lacks real protection. It’s disappointing when even the most basic AirPods come in hard-shell protective cases, and cheaper rival headphones have soothing covers. Apple claimed that the minimal design makes it easier to hold and store the headphones – which is true, but does nothing to protect the headband.
Apple says that the case has a “smart” element (powered by magnets) that puts the headphones in extremely low power mode when not in use, but we found that the headphones consume little battery when they don’t play music and are left on the table on theirs. At least one independent accessory maker, Waterfield Designs, has promised to recreate that feature with a firmer AirPods Max case, but it’s unclear whether Apple will open that feature to third parties.
The battery life, whether it emits sound from Apple equipment or Android and Windows devices, was enough to go through the whole day and more music, calls, movies and video games. It is noticeable that Apple’s headphones have practically no delays in playback via Bluetooth 5, which makes them sustainable for gaming. Apple states 20 hours between charges, in line with other high-end headphones, and also offers a Lightning charging connector – which makes sense because most users are likely to have an iPhone, although this will be a nuisance to other consumers.
Since the first AirPods were launched in 2016, users have complained that earbud batteries typically last up to two years before they need to be replaced. Given the sealed design of the AirPods Max, this is likely to be a problem on the road as well. Apple says it can replace the AirPods Max battery for $ 79 (approximately $ 5,800) or at no extra cost if you take the AppleCare + $ 59 option (approximately Rs 4,300).
To control the headphones, Apple relies on three main methods: software on connected devices, Siri voice control and a minimal set of settings with its digital crown. Siri on AirPods Max is the same experience you’ll find on any other Apple device, and the microphones generally work well helping a virtual assistant understand your commands. The performance of the microphone from the AirPods Max is good without distinction.
AirPods Max aren’t the first headphones to offer replaceable ear pads, but, like Apple’s other products lately, the magnetic system is intuitive and the pads will be easy to replace for about $ 70 (approximately Rs 5,200) when packaged in it eventually wears out.
AirPods Max follows Apple’s famous manual book. They start with a distinctive design and performance that outperforms rivals, but at a higher price. In sound, it’s a formula that failed with the original HomePod, a home speaker that sounded better than the competition at first, but lacked a main differentiator.
Along with the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, unique advantages like the company’s own processors have helped Apple devices stand out. The original AirPods also became a hit due to their ease of use, discreet casing and completely wireless design. But with AirPods Max, Apple lacks a major differentiator outside of its brand.
A high price is expected from a company that isn’t afraid to allow customers to specify iMac desktops at $ 5,000 (roughly $ 3.7) and more, and early demand suggests this doesn’t prove to be a deterrent for customers resting and Apple’s loyalty base users.
Apple is already wrestling with several days of delays in fulfilling new orders for AirPods Max and all indications are that it will continue to sell every pair it makes for a while. The question, once the initial excitement of the news subsides, will be how quickly the company will try to resolve software issues and how willing it will be to cut the price to expand the AirPods Max market.
© 2020 Bloomberg LP
Is the MacBook Air M1 the laptop beast you’ve always wanted? We talked about this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or RSS, download an episode, or simply press the play button below.