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Apple AirPods Max review: Stunning sound with superb active noise cancellation

Expectations were bound to be high with the AirPods Max being Apple's first-ever over-the-ear wireless headphone, which it lives up to. But the hefty price tag might be a deterrent, even for some Apple fans

twitter-logoNidhi Singal | January 24, 2021 | Updated 00:27 IST
Apple AirPods Max review: Stunning sound with superb active noise cancellation

Price: Rs 59,900

Colours: Space Gray, Silver, Sky Blue, Green, Pink

In the box: AirPods Max, Smart Case, Lightning to USB-C Cable

Be it smartphone, tablet, portable music player or earbud, Apple has a history of redefining the product category it enters. Expectations were bound to be high with the AirPods Max being Apple's first-ever over-the-ear wireless headphone, which it lives up to. But the hefty price tag might be a deterrent for some Apple fans too.

Apple has a fine eye for design and the AirPods Max proves it. The over-the-ear headphone is one of the best looking in the market. It's a combination of stainless steel frame, anodised aluminium cups, soft-touch fabric and knit mesh. The metal headband with breathable mesh fabric is wide, helping balance the heavy weight of the headphone, without putting much pressure on the head.

The headband and the aluminium earcups are connected through telescopic arms that requires some effort to extend but stays put. These large aluminium cups feel super-premium, the finish is similar to that on MacBooks, and have magnetically attached acoustic memory foam ear cushions.

Unlike most of the over-the-ear headphones supporting touch controls, Apple opted for physical buttons that are rather nice and convenient to use. The circular dial came in handy to control volume just by rotating, and pressing it worked for answering calls, disconnecting, playing or pausing music and even switching between tracks. The second dedicated button helped in quickly switching between active noise cancellation and transparency mode.

Easy to pair, Apple AirPods Max lives up to the expectations. Sound output is loud and clear. I used AirPods Max with different genres of music, with tracks like 'Something Just Like This' by The Chainsmokers & Coldplay, 'Clint Eastwood' by Gorillaz, 'Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain' by Willie Nelson, 'Afreen Afreen' by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and many more. Overall, the sound was well balanced, with clear and pronounced vocals. Across tracks, the bass was deep, definitive. Even the highs were well balanced, didn't distract or hurt ears. There wasn't any distortion at higher levels.

AirPods Max sounds superb. There's no doubt about that. But it was the spatial audio that takes it a notch higher. I watched 'The Morning Show' on Apple TV+ with the spatial audio turned on. The experience switched instantly from the sound coming from the headphones to all around, a theatre-like experience. But spatial audio is not yet supported by other apps such as Prime Video or YouTube. And even Apple TV+ has very limited content that supports it. With Netflix rumoured to be working on this, hopefully there would be more one can enjoy.

On top of all of this are active noise cancellation (ANC) and transparency mode. An increasing number of headphones come with ANC but the one on AirPods Max outshines them all. Just wearing the Max cuts a bit of background noise and turning ANC on shuts it completely. Of the total nine microphones onboard, eight are being put to use for ANC. This is simply superb as it creates a zone with no disturbances, completely cutting out the surrounding noises. Other than listening to music and streaming videos, I often used it to answer calls and attend virtual briefings. At times, while filing articles and reviews (including this one), I just had the headphone with ANC on (minus music) to increase concentration and keep surrounding distractions at the bay. When I needed to be aware of the surroundings, the transparency mode would let the sound in.

Be it the build quality or performance, there aren't any major faults. However, there are a few nays as well. Believe it or not, even though comfortable to wear, the Max feels heavy (after all they weight 385 grams) and I started to feel the heft after a couple of hours of continuous usage, especially while moving my head a little. I even experienced slight condensation inside the earcups after prolonged usage.

Also, the AirPods Max smart case seems to be a bit off as it protects the earcups but leaves the headband exposed. While I found the AirPods Max convenient to carry within the house, I am not sure if I will carry it like this when I step out or travel. And one has to live with the case as the AirPods Max goes into ultra-low-power mode to save battery only when placed in the case. Even though I got close to 16 hours of music playback, streaming videos and answering calls, I won't mind getting extra few minutes. Lightning port makes it convenient to charge it using iPhone's cable. But to use it as a wired headphone when out of charge, you will have to invest in the Lightning to 3.5mm audio cable that costs additional Rs 3,500.

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