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Home >Technology >Tech Reviews >Apple AirPods Max review: Ticks all boxes, except one

In India, when you think high-end headphones you’re usually thinking of brands like Sony, Bose and perhaps Sennheiser. Apple may have doubled its market share in iPhones recently, but the headphones market may be a different game altogether. At Rs. 59,900, these aren’t just “high-end" headphones, they’re a luxury. Period. Popular audio buying website, HeadphoneZone.in, doesn’t even have a filter that fits this price category.

So, if you’re asking whether the Apple Airpods Max are better than Sony’s 1000XM4 or Bose’ Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the answer is a resounding no. And that’s simply because of the price. After all, Sony and Bose’s best cost about half of what the Airpods Max do and the difference in audio quality is tough to discern, even for the most trained and discerning listeners.

The Apple Airpods Max have great audio quality and there’s a lot of tech inside to keep you interested too. The audio is rich, it’s warm when you need it to be and piercing when the music so demands. All rounded is a good way to define it. But even so, for India’s bass lovers this may not always be the right fit. The Airpods Max produce ample and tight bass, but if you prefer head thumping bass, these aren’t the headphones for you. Personally, we felt the Airpods Max better at high frequencies, sometimes even fatiguing at high volume levels.

It’s worth noting though that Apple’s H1 chip runs on this device, enabling what the company calls “computational audio". The headphones are supposed to adjust the equaliser based on your surroundings, using the H1 chip and the nine microphones built into the Airpods Max. This, we suspect, is why the audio sometimes sounds fatiguing when there are too many high tones in the music. We never found this happening when in quiet home conditions, and often when we were outdoors amidst lots of traffic.

The H1 chip also has a big drawback. It doesn’t support Qualcomm’s aptX or Sony’s LDAC codecs (the Airpods Max supports only AAC), two essential tools for playing the best audio modern Android phones can. Sony and Bose’s competing options support these, as do much cheaper headphones out there. While the Airpods Max do work with Android devices, this alone would take it out of contention for an Android phone owner (there are other reasons too, but we’ll get to that).

Other than its design, what differentiates the Apple Airpods Max from the Sony WH-1000XM4, or the Bose NC 700 is spatial audio support. This is the headphone version of surround sound and a feature that’s almost exclusive to luxury headphones right now. It’s useful for watching movies and video that provide 5.1 channel audio support, something that’s quite common on Netflix today, but it’s still mostly a futuristic technology, still waiting for the audio industry to adopt it. Even so, enabling spatial audio seems to provide better soundstage than others, and the Airpods Max are better at soundstage than the Bose or Sony without it too.

You get a better sense of where the sound of an instrument is coming for and movies sound better too. That said, spatial audio is also reserved for iPhones and won’t work for Android users.

Other than spatial audio, the Airpods Max stands out in terms of design. Luxury headphones have to have unique designs, and this looks and feels like no other. The breathable ear cups are comfortable, and even though the Airpods Max are heavier than usual for over the ear headphones, the headband’s mesh-like canopy does a great job of balancing it on your head. The headphones can be tiresome over extended periods but works fine for an hour or so fine. And they’re obviously not meant to be taken to the gym.

Should you buy it?

The answer to that question really isn’t simple. The Airpods Max are excellent and affordability is the only box they don’t tick. Having said that, the Airpods Max lies in a market of its own as far as India is concerned, and in that market, it’s definitely worth considering. It's best for iPhone users and few of us can afford an iPhone AND an Airpods Max, even on monthly instalments. If you do happen to fit that criteria though, sure buy this.

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