AirPods Max Review

2021-01-08 by mmackh

TL;DR

Great sounding headphones, needs Balanced Tone - Slight Settings tweak. I made a Spotify Playlist for them.

Background

Ten years ago I purchased JH13s (my review), once regarded as a top-tier custom IEM. As time went on, my ear canal changed, Apple removed the headphone jack and wireless picked up serious steam. I moved from the AirPods to the AirPods Pro. Both unremarkable, except for ease of use. Enter the AirPods Max - the hype was real. Finally an over the ear headphone from Apple with a price point that demanded them to be taken seriously.

First Impressions

Straight out of the UPS truck with metal that felt cold to the touch, the sound was off. No air between the instruments. Recessed mids, small soundstage, very claustrophobic. Would the sound change with burn-in and getting them to room temperature? A little. Disappointing.

What am I missing?

Fueled by curiosity of what others were posting about the APM, I returned to where my journey began - glossing over all the YouTube reviews proclaiming "I'm not an audiophile, but..." - head-fi.org. A post mentioned an Accessibility setting to tune the sound. Hidden deep within the navigation stack of the iOS Settings app, there it was: Balanced Tone. Settings > Accessibility > Audio/Visual > Headphone Accommodations > Balanced Tone

The Sound

Fun. Lush mids, punchy lows. A little brittle on the treble, but detailed overall. Instruments are well separated and airy. A sound signature that is not fatiguing and keeps the listener engaged. Driven straight over Bluetooth by Spotify set to Very High. Here are a collection of tracks that I think make the APM shine: Space - Samite Hit Or Miss - Odetta Jealous Guy - Donny Hathaway Avalon - Roxy Music Aconcagua - Slumberville Isla de Palma - Antonio Flores I've also made a Spotify Playlist with songs spanning many genres, languages and styles, but having one thing in common: they sound great on the APM.

Verdict

How much is too much for good headphones? Will they be wired? Driven by an amp? Do you have a high quality DAC and FLAC source material? The world of high quality audio is expensive and the sky's the limit. For the price, the AirPods are a very good value: great battery life, solid ANC, a transparency mode, terrific build quality and just plain fun sounding.