Apple AirPods Max review

Should you still buy the Apple AirPods Max headphones? We've worn them for over a year — read our full long-term review to find out.

Apple AirPods Max ontop of their case on a grey desk
(Image: © Lloyd Coombes)

Live Science Verdict

The AirPods Max offer great sound, but a high price and some interesting design choices stop them short of greatness.


  • +

    Excellent noise cancellation

  • +


  • +

    Unique design


  • -

    Lightning charging

  • -

    No power button

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We'll clear it up right from the off — the AirPods Max are little to no good to you if you're looking for the best running headphones. They're big and pretty bulky, and a bit of sweat will likely have you looking for a repair shop.

However, as a pair of all-purpose headphones, though, they're one of our favorite ways to listen to music — but they're not perfect. They offer a fantastic soundstage full of dynamic treble, mids, and plenty of bass — ideal for just about any music genre — and they're supercharged by Apple's Spatial Audio.


Smart enabled/compatibility: Bluetooth

Waterproof: No

Battery life: 20 hours

Charging time: Two hours for full charge

Noise-canceling: Yes

Includes: Apple AirPods Max, Smart Case, Lightning to USB-C cable 

That said, they're not exactly easily portable, with a unique design that doesn't really fold up for travel and lacks a power button. Instead, you get an unusual case that doesn't appear to offer much protection but puts them in a low-power mode.

If you're an Apple device-toting audiophile, however, they're well worth a look — particularly if you're looking for a reason to keep that Lightning cable handy now the iPhone 15 (USB-C port) lineup is here.

Apple AirPods Max: Functionality

As if the name 'AirPods' wasn't a clue, the functionality here is pretty much the same as on any of Apple's wireless earbuds. With no charging case, though, they'll pair as soon as you turn the cups to face each other, and it's quick enough that they're pretty much ready to go as soon as the headphones are on your head.

They pair to every Apple device linked to your Apple ID, too, and Apple's auto-switching has improved — meaning they'll connect to your iPhone, Mac, Apple Watch, or iPad. There are fewer and fewer instances of the wrong device being connected.

We're less keen on the Lightning port for charging, though — it's a minor complaint, but with Apple being all-in on USB-C now (finally), it's annoying to have to keep hold of the Lightning cable.

Apple AirPods Max: Set-up and design

AirPods were once mocked for their 'toothbrush head' design, but over time, they've become instantly recognizable — with plenty of imitators now on the market. The same can certainly be said of the AirPods Max, which are easy to spot in a crowd despite their minimalist look.

Each side is pretty blank on the outside, with a detachable inner earcup with a nice, breathable feel. The stainless steel adds a touch of class, but also a fair amount of weight — the AirPods Max weighs in at 385 g.

Thankfully, the headband does an excellent job of distributing the weight so it doesn't feel like it's pushing down on your head at any point, and it makes it comfier than you'd think over long periods. We had expected the mesh of the headband to wear down over time, but we're pleased to report that it remains in excellent condition, even after being thrown in a bag fairly regularly for the past year or so.

The AirPods Max case being held up in front of a computer desk with mouse and keyboard in the background

The supplied case doesn't offer much protection, it just puts the AirPods Max in to a low power state. (Image credit: Lloyd Coombes)

I'm less keen on the case, though. In fact, calling it a 'case' is probably overstating what it is. There's nothing really protecting your headphones; the case just puts the AirPods Max into a low-power mode.

That's important because the AirPods Max don't have a power button, meaning you can't turn them off. We think that is a bizarre omission, and while we don't mind it for the most part (we generally have them hooked up to a cable when they're not in use), it's more frustrating when you're heading out for a long journey and know that your 100% charge is being eaten away at, even when you're not using them.

Still, the setup is simple, with the same 'card' that pops up for pairing when you open them for the first time. It takes literal seconds to be up and running.

Our unit is the Space Gray colorway, but you'll find green, silver, sky blue, and pink versions are available.

Apple AirPods Max: Controls

A close-up showing the minimalist design of the AirPods Max

Despite their minimalist look, the AirPods Max are still easily identifiable in a crowd. (Image credit: Lloyd Coombes)

AirPods Max are unique among Apple's audio options as the only ones with actual, physical buttons. Still, they remain minimal — with two controls of note, both located on the right earcup.

The first, a slim button, triggers noise cancellation mode, alternating between transparency and active noise cancellation.

The second, the Digital Crown, is a little more nuanced. You can pause, play, and skip tracks with varying presses of the button on top while rotating it will adjust the volume with a very pleasing, almost iPod clickwheel-like, audio feedback.

Apple AirPods Max: Fit

The author wearing the Apple AirPods Max in a computer gaming chair

The author wearing the Apple AirPods Max at home. (Image credit: Lloyd Coombes)

We've already mentioned the AirPods Max not feeling heavy (despite their weight), and they definitely sidestep the awkward feeling of your head being squeezed that Apple's Beats headphones historically suffered from.

They're a snug fit, but the breathable mesh makes them comfortable. Your mileage may vary, but the adjustable arms offer an excellent range of sizes — even for our reviewer who has a self-proclaimed large head. There's minimal audio bleed, too, thanks to the snug fit.

Apple AirPods Max: Sound quality

Here's where the AirPods Max can justify the hefty $599 price tag — the sound quality is excellent. Olivia Rodrigo's SOUR album is a great showcase, full of nuance, harmonies, and dynamism from the backing track, and with a voice capable of great range. It sounds fantastic, even played through Spotify which lacks a lot of the bells & whistles of Apple Music.

Shifting gears to Sleep Token's 'Take Me Back To Eden', everything absolutely sings on the AirPods Max — from the crushing breakdowns, up to piano accompaniment on slower parts. There's nothing I've thrown at the AirPods Max that hasn't sounded, at least,  a very, very good standard.

Switching to podcasts, spoken word is clear and crisp (played through Pocket Casts), making long shows a pleasure to enjoy with the comfy earcups.

A special note for the noise cancelation, too, which remains my favorite reason to carry the AirPods Max with me. Ideal for trains and walks outside, it really comes into its own on a long-haul flight where it can almost entirely remove both engine and passenger noise.

Apple AirPods Max: Performance

Apple AirPods Max dismantled showing the interior and exterior baffles of the headphones on a gray carpet

The mesh of the headband and the padding around the earbuds make the AirPods Max extremely comfortable to wear. (Image credit: Lloyd Coombes)

While Lightning charging will require about two hours to get to a full charge. While it takes some time, that gives you twenty hours to play with — a hefty hour count. You can get around 90 minutes of playback from a five-minute charge, handy.

The most disappointing thing is that the AirPods Max simply aren't as portable as we'd like. The weight can be forgiven for the quality of materials used, but the cups can only spin — there's no real ‘fold' to speak of (something the likes of the Beats Studio 3 offered years ago).

That, coupled with the awkward case, makes them feel like they take up much more room in a backpack than they should need to, which often leads to me wanting to leave them at home in favor of the AirPods Pro.

Apple AirPods Max: User reviews

The AirPods Max sit at a 4.6-star rating on Amazon, suggesting the majority of users (over 14,000 reviews at time of writing) are impressed.

There are some complaints about the lack of a power button, but many users are actually noting just how drastically better the audio quality is compared to other options on the market.

Should you buy the Apple AirPods Max?

If you're not looking for a more lightweight pair of headphones and you're already within the Apple ecosystem, the AirPods Max is an excellent option with fantastic audio quality and noise cancellation.

If the Apple AirPods Max aren't for you:

If you're not keen on the unique quirks of the AirPods Max, consider the wonderful Sony WH-1000XM5 which offers excellent audio quality, excellent noise cancellation and an intuitive app.

If you're an Apple fan and happy with the in-ear bud design, the third-generation Apple AirPods are an affordable option that gives users a long battery life when used with the supplied charging case. The Apple AirPods Pro (generation 2) is also well suited for all-purpose use, offering a multitude of functionality and personalization options, though we'd avoid those if you're looking for something to wear during vigorous exercise.

Apple AirPods Max: How we tested

We've been testing the AirPods Max for over a year now, taking them out for long walks, using them at home while gaming or reading, and testing them on several long-haul flights.

Regarding playback, it's been the audio from The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, bass-heavy rap, a fair amount of pop punk and metal, and some sweeping orchestral soundtracks. Oh, and a fair few podcasts, too.

Lloyd Coombes

Lloyd Coombes freelance tech and fitness writer for Live Science. He's an expert in all things Apple as well as in computer and gaming tech, with previous works published on TopTenReviews,, Dexerto and TechRadar. You'll find him regularly testing the latest MacBook or iPhone, but he spends most of his time writing about video games as Editor in Chief at He also covers board games and virtual reality, just to round out the nerdy pursuits.

With contributions from