Almost one and a half years ago, Apple released their AirPods equivalent to the Beats by Dre Studio 3, the AirPods Max. I recently got a pair for myself, replacing my Bose NC700s. I’ve been thinking a lot about why these headphones exist, and maybe more importantly if they are worth the $549 price tag?
My first issue with these headphones starts with buying them. All the colors look super nice, and I really wanted the green ones. After feedback from people in the Appleosophy Team, I landed on the “Space Gray” option. This finish looks more like a “Midnight” than a Space Gray to me, with some green-blue tinge to it. Picking the “black” finish was mostly due to grime building up in the ear cups, and you can simply go on longer without exchanging them. Replacement ones could net you back as much as $140 as you have to buy each replacement cup individually — ridiculous!
Buying and maintaining a set of AirPods Pro is much easier, and to be frank, the lack of colored finishes really makes getting and keeping AirPods Pro easy. Replacing a single AirPod if you lost one, or the charging case is simple and doesn’t have the ridiculous price tag the AirPods Max have if you want to maintain them. Replacement cups for the AirPods Max are the same price as the Beats Studio Buds!
Sound-wise, the AirPods Max are great. They easily out-beat my Bose NC700s and my AirPods Pro, but the price is above them as well. Bose’s NC700s cost as little as $329 at the time of writing directly from Bose. The ANC is also better than both of the former, but I feel the sound is being carried by the ANC together with Spatial Audio, you can argue with me on that one. I tried using them without Spatial Audio, and there are certain users that use these without the feature turned on, but with it off the Bose’s are just better. The sound is baseline and boring and doesn’t have that punch that most consumers are after. Listening to Kanye West on these with Spatial Audio off is just boring. And that’s not Ye’s fault.
With that said, there is an argument to make with Spatial Audio. Bose’s NC700s don’t support the feature and neither do any non-Apple headsets, at least on iOS. If you’re out for that 3D soundstage and want to invest in what could be the future, get the AirPods Pro or the Max.
When it comes to the price, you really feel it. The $549 price tag is fair for these headphones if you take everything you get into account: A pair of excellent-sounding headphones that magically connects to all your iDevices, a sleek modern leather sleeve, and a USB-C charging cable. Considering that the leather sleeve would probably cost $200 itself from Apple, $349 is something I would pay for these. That makes them on par with the Bose NC700s as well!
While on the topic of expensive leather sleeves, the “Smart Case” is pretty dumb. The main job is to put the headphones into an Ultra-Low Power Mode, but the headphone’s “Ear Detection” doesn’t work half the time, draining the battery if they are resting atop my head or around my neck… It would have also been nice to see MagSafe built into the Smart Case so that I could “effortlessly charge my AirPods Max” as Apple would have put it themselves. Fortunately, there are options for better cases if you’re in the market to splurge even more money after you just got a $200 leather glove.
If you’re in the market for new headphones, I wouldn’t recommend these. Not unless you’re in the ecosystem and have the means to buy it, it simply isn’t for everyone. Lack-luster sound with Spatial Audio turned off just doesn’t do it for most consumers, and I would just recommend AirPods Pro or some older Bose headphones instead.
Tested these bad boys out for a week. Love them, but hate the price… the case is so stupid I just hate the name "Smart Case", to me it's nothing but a leather condom 🤷♂️ pic.twitter.com/Kc6S73Lufh
— thomas jensen (@TH0JENSEN) March 28, 2022