Apple’s ₹59,900 AirPods Max headphones: A treat for fans

Mala Bhargava | Updated on January 18, 2021

Apple AirPods Max   -  via Apple website

If you can handle the price and tolerate the case, there’s exciting sound, solid noise cancellation and a unique look

Who else could do this but Apple. And get away with it too. Headphones so expensive they would make your head spin. And twice the price of the industry favourite, Sony WH-1000M4. But despite the weird case they come in and the ₹59,900 price tag, the AirPods Max are flying off the shelves. Let’s see what’s what with these headphones.

Apple has the AirPods, the now plain stem-based true wireless earphones that everyone laughed at when they first appeared. Then they have the AirPods Pro on which noise cancellation and smart features added to the rather good sound. Forgetting their amusement, everyone else brazenly copied the design and it became quite common to see these little stems sticking out of peoples’ ears. And now there’s the third product: over-the-ears full headphones that look like nothing else.

Let’s get past the case, the like of which definitely hasn’t been tried before. There’s no getting around the fact that it looks like a cross between a purse and a certain undergarment for women. Those who swear by Apple’s design capabilities stare at it in disbelief. It’s a holder in a soft rubbery material and when the headphones are in, their headband becomes the handle with which you would carry it around. Parts of the headphones are exposed even then; so the functional aspect of the design of this case is also a bit questionable. A further strange thing is that the headphones don’t have a power button and it’s only when they go into the case that they drop to low power mode, doing so in a stepped fashion. By not using the case, the headphones will be slowly losing battery though not by huge amounts. As a user, you would just have to be well aware of where the headphones are and what their battery status is. The battery is supposed to last 20 hours, but of course, it depends on how you listen to them. A quick 5-minute charge will give you over an hour of further listening.

If the case looks weird, the headphones themselves look really interesting. And a new type of cool. The shape of the ear-cups is unusual and not totally rounded or oval but a little squared off, and they’re in an aluminium finish that looks silken and smoothly polished. They are instantly recognisable as the Apple AirPods Max. The headphones come in several colours including an orange-pink, pale green, sky blue, silver and space grey.

The headband and the cushioning on the ear-cans is covered with a mesh like material. The headband, because of this, doesn’t ever press down into the centre of your head. But the ear-cans are actually heavy — more so than any other headphones I’ve ever tried. Incredibly the weight distribution is such that you can actually wear them for several hours at a time. If you move too much, you may just realise their weight again, so you’ll have to find your own personal equation with these. You have to position them properly or the heavy cups will press against your earlobe which they should actually enclose. One thing I noticed straight off is that the cans tended to squash my hair up. If you’re concerned about your hairdo, you’ll have to watch it there.

A problem that has recently been reported for these headphones is that the ear-cups draw from body heat — the cushioning does get warm rather fast — and cause condensation fluid on the inside. The cushioning part can actually be pulled off because it’s fitted magnetically — and cleverly — so they can be changed or cleaned, etc.

After that all, let’s get to how they sound. Well, they happen to sound very good indeed. Personally, I really like their sound profile very much. They feel to me satisfyingly head-filling without being overwhelming and overpowering. The sound is full and exciting with a beautiful bass and lively mids. I might have liked the higher frequencies to be adjustable to be more prominent, but Apple has tuned these headphones to sound a certain way and that’s how they’re going to sound unless you use third-party software to tinker with it. I’ve been listening to various genres of music for the past few weeks with the AirPods Max and have thoroughly enjoyed Blues, Rock, EDM and Jazz. As for Western Classical — it sounds just grand and quite as if the orchestra were right there, if you close your eyes. Purists may find the piano sounding deep or even the tabla in Indian classical music sounding that way, but I found it hard to quarrel with. Movies sound great as well. These headphones have spatial audio when the music has been recorded for it and can seem to surround you and move with your head. I did actually find the AirPods Max sounding a bit better than the Sony WH-1000XM4, but not by very leaps or anything.

You can close yourself in with the exciting sound of these headphones also because of the excellent active noise cancellation. I’m listening to music as I write this — to concentrate better — and I can’t actually hear myself type. I can’t tell if my blower heater is on or not. I can’t hear the normally annoying sounds from the lane below. If I absolutely have to, all I need to do is press a button on top of the right ear-cup and ambient sound comes into prominence in a way that is quite unique. Having a conversation then is no problem. A second press and you’re back to the music. Phone calls

Apple hasn’t given in to the trend of having touch controls on the ear-cans. There’s only one other control on the right ear-cup and that’s a rotating crown like the one on the Apple Watch. This handles the volume up and down. There’s no other buttons or areas to tap and swipe. There’s always Siri, of course, and you can get her by just calling out, actually.

Although there’s surprisingly no Apple logo anywhere on these headphones, they get along with the ecosystem as if they always belonged, connecting automatically to whichever Apple product you happen to be using. It does work with Android devices as well, but the smart features would then be lost; so it isn’t a good idea to buy them specifically for Android devices.

Before you know it, the AirPods Max, despite the lack of an Apple logo and the very non Apple-like case, will become a coveted Apple product. Indeed, pandemic or otherwise, they have!

Price: ₹59,900

Pros: Amazing sound, quite comfortable despite weight, solid build quality, seamless connect on ecosystem, great noise cancellation and transparency mode, slick crown control, spatial audio feature, very good for movies, lots of colour options

Cons: Very expensive, embarrassingly ugly carry case, a question mark over a condensation problem, heavy, no extras in package, ear-cups don’t articulate, mesh covering on cups and band could get damaged if pierced by mistake

Published on January 18, 2021

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