AirPods Max

Apple's $549 over-ear headphones.

By MacRumors Staff
AirPods Max

Should You Buy AirPods Max?

Introduced in December 2020, the AirPods Max have now been in Apple's product lineup for three years now, but the company does not release new AirPods models on a regular basis. Since there hasn't been more than one AirPods Max launch, it is difficult to suss out Apple's upgrade cycle, but rumors suggest that there will be a new model in 2024 with a USB-C port.

airpods max reaons 3

Because an AirPods Max refresh is several months away and no major new features are planned, now is still an okay time to buy AirPods Max depending on your circumstances. Those who like to have the latest technology will want to wait for an update. Apple is planning to add a USB-C port for charging and new color options, but no other changes are rumored.

With a $549 price tag, AirPods Max are much more expensive than its direct competitors. For example, the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, which both offer a similar feature set to the AirPods Max, cost $349 and $379 respectively.

Nevertheless, it's important to note that the H1 chips inside the AirPods Max offer a seamless and fully integrated pairing and device-switching experience for iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV users, which competitors have been unable to match. This means that when used with Apple devices, AirPods Max seem to be the best option for over-ear headphones when it comes to its feature set.

If you feel that AirPods Max are too expensive or you simply do not need over-ear headphones, but you would still like Apple's seamless pairing and device-switching experience, standard AirPods or Beats headphones are also a viable option, with prices starting from as little as $69 for Beats Flex. Similarly, some of the AirPods Max features, such as Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode, are available with the AirPods Pro for $249, and there are also the Beats Studio Pro over-ear headphones for $349.

To get MacRumors readers the best prices on the AirPods Max, we have a dedicated AirPods Max deals guide that highlights the best sales each month.

AirPods Max Overview

Apple in December 2020 surprised us with the AirPods Max, the long-rumored high-end over-ear headphones that had been in development for at least two years.

AirPods Max are the first Apple-branded over-ear headphones that Apple has designed. There have been similar over-ear headphones sold under the Beats brand, but the AirPods Max join the AirPods and AirPods Pro as an Apple audio accessory.

The AirPods Max feature oval-shaped ear cups with a U-shaped, inverted knit mesh headband and knit mesh ear cushions. The design of the headband allows it to evenly distribute weight and reduce on-head pressure, plus it has adjustable arms to fit a range of head sizes.

Ear cups attach to the headband through what Apple calls a "revolutionary mechanism" meant to balance and distribute pressure, and each ear cushion has been designed with acoustically engineered memory foam to create a seal for immersive sound.

Ear cushions attach to ear cups magnetically and are interchangeable, with Apple selling ear cushions on a standalone basis. AirPods Max come in five colors: silver, space gray, blue, pink, and green, all with matching ear cups.

At the top of one of the AirPods Max ear cups, there's an Apple Watch-inspired Digital Crown that provides precise volume controls and gestures for playing/pausing audio, skipping tracks, answering/ending phone calls, and activating Siri.

To provide excellent sound quality, the AirPods Max are equipped with a 40mm Apple-designed dynamic driver. Apple says the AirPods Max deliver deep bass, accurate mid-ranges, and crisp, clean high-frequency extensions. With a dual neodymium ring magnet motor, AirPods Max maintain a harmonic distortion of less than 1 percent across the audible range, even at max volume.

Like the AirPods, the AirPods Max are equipped with two Apple H1 chips that provide high quality sound thanks to the 10 cores that power computational audio capabilities.

AirPods Max feature Active Noise Cancellation technology and the same Transparency mode, Adaptive EQ, and spatial audio features that were in the original AirPods Pro.

Active Noise Cancellation works through three outward-facing microphones on each ear cup that detect environmental noise, along with a microphone inside each ear cup to monitor the sound reaching the listener's ear. Apple's software adapts the noise cancellation to the environment in real-time.

airpods pro max in silver

Transparency mode allows outside sounds to still be heard even with ANC turned on, while Adaptive EQ adjusts the sound to the fit and seal of the ear cushions by measuring the sound signal and adjusting it in real-time. Spatial audio uses dynamic head tracking to place sounds anywhere in space for an immersive, theater-like experience.

apple airpods max listening experience

All of the devices in the AirPods family feature automatic device swapping on any device where the user is signed into their iCloud account, along with quick pairing, Siri access, and audio sharing. AirPods Max have optical sensors to detect when they're on a user's head.

When put on, AirPods Max can play audio, and when removed, the action pauses the AirPods audio. The aforementioned microphones allow for clear phone calls and ensure that Siri hears user commands even when music is playing.

AirPods Max have a battery that lasts for up to 20 hours for listening to music, talking on the phone, or watching movies with Active Noise Cancellation enabled and the volume set to 50 percent. For charging, Apple provides a Smart Case made out of a soft material that puts AirPods Max in an ultralow-power state to preserve battery charge when not in use. AirPods Max charge using Lightning, and a five-minute charge provides 1.5 hours of listening time.

Apple sells AirPods Max for $549, and at least iOS 14.3, iPadOS 14.3, macOS Big Sur 11.1, watchOS 7.2, and tvOS 14.3 are required to use the headphones.

Apple regularly updates the software that runs on the AirPods. The current firmware is version 5E135, released in May 2023.

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How to Buy

AirPods Max can be purchased from the online Apple Store or third-party retailers like Amazon.

From late January 2021, Apple began selling AirPods Max ear cushions on a standalone basis, providing a way for people to get replacement cushions. The AirPods Max ear cushions are priced at $69 and come in red, green, sky blue, black, and silver.

AppleCare+ is available for AirPods Max for $59, with the coverage including two incidents of accidental damage every two months, subject to a $29 service fee. Out-of-warranty battery service is priced at $79.

First Impression

Hands-on first impressions of the AirPods Max were published ahead of the release of the new headphones, and for the most part, initial thoughts from members of the media were positive. Sound was described as "crisp and bright" with little distortion even at max volume, and the AirPods Max are "more than good enough to compete with other high-end headphones."

Some reviewers found the AirPods Max to offer superior noise cancellation compared to other headphones with ANC, including the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and the Sony WH-1000XM4.

Most reviewers pointed out the weight, as the AirPods Max are heavier than most other headphone options. The mesh headband is said to reduce some of the pressure, but they might feel large on people with small heads. The ear cups, though, have good airflow and didn't feel sweaty or hot.

Additional hands-on opinions on the AirPods Max can be found in our full review roundup and we also have first impressions from actual Apple customers.


Apple designed the AirPods Max with oval-shaped brushed aluminum ear cups attached to a retro-style U-shaped curved "canopy" with telescoping arms for size adjustment purposes. There are mesh ear cups that Apple says are made from an acoustic fabric that better conducts sound.

airpods max pink

The headband curves upward and is made from a breathable knit mesh material between a stainless steel frame that Apple says distributes the weight of the headphones across the head to make them more comfortable. The frame is covered by a soft-touch material.

airpods max mesh headband

The AirPods Max headband can be removed with a standard SIM card ejector tool, which suggests that interchangeable headbands could be possible in the future, and it also facilitates easy headband repairs. At the current time, Apple does not sell headbands. There's also a small Lightning-like connector inside that allows the headband to connect each ear cup together.

Apple says that the AirPods Max design allows for an "uncompromising fit" that creates an "optimal acoustic seal" for many head shapes. Each ear cup rotates independently on the frame to balance pressure, and the mesh material and memory foam internals of the ear cushions are meant to offer pillow-like softness.

airpods max ear cushion

Apple sells AirPods Max in five colors: silver, space gray, sky blue, pink, and green. Color-wise, the shades that Apple chose are similar to those used for the 2020 iPad Air, and each color has a matching color for the ear cushions and the headband.

airpods max colors

The AirPods Max ear cushions attach to the ear cups magnetically, and they are interchangeable. Apple sells standalone ear cushions for $69 per pair, allowing for different color mixes.

AirPods mix and max hero

AirPods Max are significantly heavier than many noise cancelling headphone sets from other manufacturers, weighing in at 13.6 ounces or 384.8 grams. Comparatively, Sony's WH-1000MX4 headphones weigh 8.96 ounces and the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 II weigh 10.93 ounces.

airpods max ear cup

AirPods Max are not waterproof or water-resistant, and Apple warns customers not to get moisture in any of the openings.

Digital Crown and Button

Like the Apple Watch, the AirPods Max have a Digital Crown to provide physical controls. The Digital Crown can be used to turn the volume up or down, skip between tracks, answer phone calls, and activate Siri through both rotating and pressing gestures.

airpods max digital crown and button

The button next to the Digital Crown allows Active Noise Cancellation to be controlled, switching between ANC and Transparency mode.

Turning the Digital Crown controls volume, pressing once answers a call or plays/pauses a song, pressing twice skips forward one track, pressing three times skips back one track, and pressing and holding activates Siri.

airpods max headband

LED Light

AirPods Max have an LED light on the bottom of the right ear cup, which can be used to determine charge level when pressing the power button while the AirPods Max are charging. At above 95 percent, the light is green, at below 95 percent charge, it's amber. Pressing the button on the AirPods Max when the headphones are not charging shows a green light if there's more than 15 percent battery life remaining, while it shows an amber light if there's less than 15 percent charge.

Smart Case

Apple ships AirPods Max with a soft Smart Case that wraps around the ear cups but that does not provide protection for the headband. The case is designed to put the AirPods Max into an ultra low power state that preserves battery life, utilizing magnets.

airpods max in case

The default case is not particularly protective, but third-party manufacturers have started coming out with AirPods Max cases that are more traditional and offer more protection.

Sound Quality

The AirPods Max pair high-fidelity audio with Active Noise Cancellation for what Apple describes as an "unparalleled listening experience."

There's a custom-built driver inside the AirPods Max that produces ultra-low distortion sound across the audible range. Apple promises rich bass, accurate mids, and crisp, clean highs, even at the highest volumes.

airpods max on head

The driver is equipped with a dual-neodymium ring magnet motor that's modeled after the drivers in high-end floor-standing speakers. The magnet motor is designed to minimize total harmonic distortion, which is how the AirPods Max deliver the clearest possible sound.

Spatial Audio

In June 2021, Apple added Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos to Apple Music, allowing AirPods Max owners to listen to specially designed Spatial Audio tracks.

iPhone Hi Fi Apple Music Feature

Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos is designed to provide an immersive, multi-dimensional audio experience that allows artists to mix music in a way that makes it sound like the notes are coming from all around you.

Spatial audio applies directional audio filters and subtly adjusts the frequencies that each ear receives to place sounds virtually anywhere in space for an immersive listening experience. The feature uses sensors in the AirPods Max along with sensors in the iPhone or iPad to track the motion of a person's head as well as the position of their device, comparing the motion data and remapping the sound field so that it stays anchored to the device even as the head moves.

Apple Music automatically plays Dolby Atmos tracks on all AirPods and Beats headphones with an H1 or W1 chip, as will the built-in speakers of the newest iPhones, iPads, and Macs, plus the HomePod.

Record labels adds new Dolby Atmos tracks to Apple Music on a regular basis, and Apple offers a curated selection of Dolby Atmos playlists. There are already thousands of Spatial Audio songs available across a wide range of genres.

Spatial Audio also works with the Apple TV app and third-party apps, providing a movie theater listening experience on the AirPods Max.

Apple Music Lossless Audio

There's also a new lossless audio feature for Apple Music, but this is not compatible with the AirPods Max or any Bluetooth headphones.

H1 Chip Features

There are two Apple-designed H1 chips in the AirPods Max, and this is the same chip that Apple used in prior products like the first-generation AirPods Pro. Apple added one H1 chip to each ear cup, and the 10 audio cores provide computational audio capabilities that provide all of the magic Apple's headphones are known for.

airpods max in black

Apple's computational audio enhances Active Noise Cancellation, allows for Transparency mode, enables hands-free Hey Siri functionality, allows for quick paring and devices switching, adapts sound to the fit of the headphones on the head, and more.

Active Noise Cancellation

As with the AirPods Pro and some Beats headphones, the AirPods Max feature Active Noise Cancellation capabilities. There are a total of six outward-facing microphones to detect noise in the environment, and two inward-facing microphones that measure what the wearer hears.

Combined with Apple's software, the microphones allow the AirPods Max to determine and mitigate the outside noise level while fine-tuning the audio that's playing.

These microphones power Active Noise Cancellation. Two of these microphones and one additional microphone also make sure Siri can be heard for voice commands even with music playing and that voice calls are clear even when it's windy.

Transparency Mode

Transparency mode can be activated for users who are worried about Active Noise Cancellation drowning out the sounds in the environment, which is useful when it's important to hear what's going on.

Transparency mode turns down the Active Noise Cancellation so AirPods Max owners can listen for traffic, hear flight announcements, and more, without having to turn off their audio. On AirPods Max, Transparency mode can be activated by pressing on the noise control button that's at the top of the headphones.

With iOS 16.1, Apple added Adaptive Transparency to the AirPods Max – a feature that was initially exclusive to the first-generation AirPods Pro. Adaptive Transparency is designed to allow the AirPods to block out loud sounds, such loud speakers at a concert, sirens, construction work, without blocking out all noise.

Adaptive EQ

Adaptive EQ provides better sound quality by tuning the music that's playing to the individual fit and seal of the headphones on the head. The inward-facing microphones in the AirPods Max measure what you hear and then adjust the frequencies of the music for a rich, consistent experience.


AirPods Max support always-on Hey Siri functionality so to change the music you're listening to or to ask Siri a question, Siri activates with the "Hey Siri" wake phrase.

Pairing, Switching, and Sharing

Like other AirPods, AirPods Max connect automatically to other Apple devices with one-tap setup and pairing capabilities. Connecting AirPods Max to an iPhone or iPad, for example, is as simple as holding the headphones near the device and then tapping the Connect button.

airpods max pairing

There are also quick device swapping capabilities that let users quickly and easily switch use AirPods Max on any device they're signed into with their Apple ID.

Automatic device switching lets the AirPods Max automatically switch between iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch as the devices are used, with no need to access Bluetooth controls to swap devices.

Audio on iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV can be shared with two sets of AirPods, and this feature also applies to the AirPods Max.

Other Sensors

Sensors in the AirPods Max allow them to determine when they're on the head, so when the headphones are removed, audio pauses, and when placed back on the head, audio resumes. Pausing the music can also be done by lifting up an ear cup.

airpods max in blue

Each ear cup includes an optical sensor, position sensor, case detection sensor, and an accelerometer. There's also a gyroscope in the left ear cup.

There is no U1 Ultra Wideband chip in the AirPods Max, even though this chip was included in the iPhone 12, iPhone 13, Apple Watch Series 6, Apple Watch Series 7, and the HomePod mini. The U1 chip offers better spatial awareness than Bluetooth, precisely calculating the time that it takes for radio waves to pass between two devices.

Battery Life

The AirPods Max battery lasts for up to 20 hours of listening to music, watching movies, or talking on the phone with both Active Noise Cancellation and spatial audio enabled. Apple's testing was conducted with the volume at 50 percent.

The headphones charge with a Lightning cable, and a five-minute charge provides 1.5 hours of listening time. It takes approximately two hours for the AirPods Max to charge to full. The AirPods Max has no power button, with Apple instead relying on different power modes to preserve battery life.

When AirPods Max are removed but not placed into a Smart Case, they go into a "low power mode" after five minutes. When untouched, they remain in this state for 72 hours. After the 72 hour period, the headphones enter into an "ultra" low power mode that disables Bluetooth and Find My location to further retain charge.

When the AirPods Max are put into the Smart Case when not in use, they go into low power mode immediately to preserve battery. After 18 hours in the Smart Case, the AirPods Max go into the ultra low power mode that turns off Bluetooth and Find My Location. This means that the AirPods Max go into the same "low power mode" in and out of the case, and the case is not strictly necessary for power saving for those who prefer not to use it.

Find My

AirPods Max can be tracked in the Find My app, and with iOS 15, can be located using Apple's Find My Network.

This integration lets the AirPods Max be located even when they're out of Bluetooth range by pinging the Apple devices of people located near them, so you can locate a lost set of AirPods much further away.

AirPods Max How Tos

Software and Device Requirements

Using the AirPods Max to their fullest capabilities requires macOS Big Sur 11.1 or later, iOS 14.3 or later, iPadOS 14.3 or later, watchOS 7.2 or later, or tvOS 14.3 or later.

AirPods Max are compatible with the iPhone 6s and original iPhone SE and later, the iPad mini 4 and iPad Air 2 and later, Apple Watch Series 1 models and later, and the Apple TV 4K.

As for the Mac, the AirPods Max work with machines dating back to 2012, and the AirPods Max also pair with any device that supports Bluetooth 5.0, though most features require an Apple device.

What's Next for AirPods Max

Apple will introduce a new version of the AirPods Max in 2024, according to Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. Apple will add a USB-C charging port instead of a Lightning port and there will be new colors, but no other notable features are expected.

An updated version of the AirPods Max could will likely adopt features that have come to the AirPods Pro 2 and other Apple devices, such as a USB-C port, Conversation Boost, Bluetooth 5.3, a new U2 chip for Precision Finding, and the newer H2 chip. The H2 chip would enable 2x improved Active Noise Cancellation, Adaptive Transparency Mode for cutting down on loud environmental noise, and improved sound quality.

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AirPods 2 with Charging Case (2019)
AirPods 3 with Lightning Charging Case
AirPods 3 with MagSafe Charging Case
AirPods Max - Green
AirPods Max - Pink
AirPods Max - Silver
AirPods Max - Sky Blue
AirPods Max - Space Gray
AirPods Pro 2 with Lightning & MagSafe (2022)
AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C & MagSafe (2023)

AirPods Max Timeline

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