AirPods Max: 6 things to know before you buy

AirPods Max
(Image credit: Apple)

The AirPods Max, Apple’s first over-ear, active noise-cancelling headphones, have arrived. And you may be thinking: should I buy them?

Early AirPods Max reviews are mostly positive, and we’ll have our own review online soon, but don’t rush to add these headphones to your cart just yet — there are some very important details that you’ll need to know first.

AirPods Max price: How much does it cost?

The AirPods Max’s price is probably the single most important thing to consider: they’re $549. That’s right, these headphones are $200 to $300 more expensive than their closest noise-cancelling rivals, like the Bose 700 or Sony WH-1000XM4.

You do get quite a lot for your money, including a luxurious metal design, the same Spatial Audio and Adaptive EQ features of the AirPods Pro and memory foam earcup cushions, but you should know right away that there are great-sounding alternatives available for a lot less money.

Do the AirPods Max have noise cancelling?

AirPods Max

(Image credit: Apple)

Yes. In fact, active noise cancellation is proving to be one of the best features on the AirPods Max, with numerous reviewers praising its quality and effectiveness as being on the same level or even better with the best in the industry. The headphones use a six outward-facing microphones to detect noise in your environment, as well as two inward-facing microphones to measure what you’re hearing.

In addition, each earcup has its own H1 chip with 10 audio cores. Apple's computational audio helps block outside noise while also adapting the audio to the fit and seal of the ear cushions.

The AirPods Max also features Transparency mode, which lets in some outside noise to help you hear your surroundings better – which can be useful if you’re crossing a busy street or inside a small store. A dedicated button on top of the left earcup toggles between full ANC, Transparency mode and having both switched off, which you can also select to save battery.

Can I use the AirPods Max with Android?

Yes and no. The AirPods Max were designed specifically to pair with iOS devices like the iPhone 12 or the new iPad, and some features will only work when the headphones stay within the Apple ecosystem – specifically Siri, the Spatial Audio feature (which emulates a surround sound effect) and the fast connect feature.

Nonetheless, the AirPods Max are still a pair of Bluetooth headphones, and will be able to connect to and play music over Android devices or Windows laptops – complete with active noise cancelling. Connecting is just a little bit more complicated, as you need to hold down the noise control button (the same one that toggles AND and Transparency mode) to make the AirPods Max discoverable, then look for them in your device’s Bluetooth settings menu.

Can I use the AirPods Max with a wired connection?

Airpods Max

(Image credit: Apple)

Sadly, you can’t listen to the AirPods Pro over a cable, at least not straight out of the box. Rather shockingly for a $549 pair of headphones, there’s no 3.5mm jack on the AirPods Max themselves, and the only cable you get – a Lightning-to-USB-C cable – is for charging only.

This might not worry you if you were only going to pair your AirPods Max with a recent iPhone, all of which famously lack headphone jacks, but it also means that you can’t plug in to laptops or listen with the AirPods Max on an in-flight entertainment system. Unless, that is, you buy the separate Lightning-to 3.5mm cable. Be warned, though, that this costs $35, which should raise eyebrows almost as high as the cost of the headphones it was made for.

Are the AirPods Max waterproof?

No, and this time there’s no optional extra to remedy that. Unlike the IPX4-rated AirPods Pro, you’ll need to be very careful taking the AirPods Max out in the rain, or wearing during a workout as they’re not sweatproof either.

It’s worth noting that the included Smart Case also offers limited protection from the elements, as it leaves the AirPods Max headband and the top of each earcup exposed.

How long is the AirPods Max's battery life?

AirPods Max

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple rates the AirPods Max for 20 hours of listening time, a figure that reviewers have backed up. That’s lower than some of its rivals, but in fairness, that’s 20 hours with all the bells and whistles – including noise cancelling and Spatial Audio – switched on. They’re quick to recharge too, regaining 1.5 hours of listening from a 5 minute charge.

One quirk about the AirPods Max battery is that it never really powers off – the headphones lack a power button and stay on to speed up the Bluetooth pairing process. You can slip them into the Smart Case to activate a battery-saving low power mode, but if you want to replicate the effect without the case, Emergent Technology on YouTube found a way to trick the AirPods Max into entering low power mode with some common fridge magnets.

James Archer

James is currently Hardware Editor at Rock Paper Shotgun, but before that was Audio Editor at Tom’s Guide, where he covered headphones, speakers, soundbars and anything else that intentionally makes noise. A PC enthusiast, he also wrote computing and gaming news for TG, usually relating to how hard it is to find graphics card stock.