The AirPods Max are the best sounding headphones I’ve ever owned. They are spacious, super-crisp and allow you to hear so much detail in every recording.

Listening to music via the AirPod Max is the closest I’ve ever felt to each detail of instrumentation and mixes. This feeling is compounded when you listen to Apple Music’s Spatial Audio too, which I reviewed here. The noise cancellation is incredible too, and will match any of its rivals.

However, a review of headphones which considers sound quality alone can be unhelpful. The general public are not audiophiles, and what sounds best to one person may not to another, so the purpose of this review is to answer the question “is it worth it?” for those who aren’t audiophiles.

Is it worth it?

If you can’t tell the difference between the sound of a $500 pair of headphones and the AirPods Max ($899), then the real question is, what are you paying the extra $400 for to rock out with a set of AirPod Max rather than a cheaper competitor?

I can answer that dilemma with three key differentiators that set AirPods Max apart—and which aren’t sound quality related. Digest these benefits below, and then you’ll be able to  decide if they’re worth an extra $400 for yourself.

1. Design

Yes, of course they are beautiful. And I’m rocking the “pink” ones (I personally think they look red).

Love Tech?

Get the latest Tech news, features, updates and giveaways straight to your inbox Learn more

AirPods max pink

However design is more than just aesthetics, it’s also about user experience, quality and texture. By all three measures AirPod Max are the best headphones on the market.

From a user experience point of view, the ability to change volume, pause and pay, and flick through noise cancelling and transparent mode is super intuitive and easy. Every other pair of over-ear headphones I have owned make doing simple tasks like that a little fidgety. I always find myself having to remember what buttons do what function, or even where the buttons are. The AirPod Max can be controlled on instinct, this is a massively underrated feature.

The quality and texture of the headphones feel incredible too. Made from stainless steel with super comfortable steel and mesh headband, the AirPods Max feel both expensive to touch and incredibly comfortable to wear.

2. Technology

On the hardware front, Apple has placed H1 chips in each ear-cup. These processors analyse information coming in from eight microphones to not only block outside noise but also tailor the sound in real-time to the fit and seal around your ears.

From a software point of view, experiencing the Dynamic Head Tracking is a brand new technology. Dynamic Head Tracking works by fixing where the audio sounds like it’s coming from, regardless of where you are within that soundscape.

For example, if you are hearing vocals coming from in front of you and you turn your head to the right, the vocals will now sound like they’re coming from your left earphone. If you turn your head to the left, it will sound like it’s coming from your right earphone.

With the detail and clarity you get from the AirPods Max, laying this Dynamic Head Tracking technology on-top makes you feel like you are truly in the studio with the band you’re listening to.

3. Connectivity

Hello Apple ecosystem.

If you have an iPhone or other Apple devices, you won’t get a better more seamless connection with any other non-Apple competing product. Pairing is easy, and there are no annoying connection dropouts.

So what is the con?

AirPods max case
AirPods Max in pink

The case is annoying if you carry your headphones around day to day.

The case does make sense if you carry a bag with you as you can just leave it in there when you’re using the headphones, but there is no way to power down the AirPods Max headphones off without either putting them in the case or placing them down somewhere they won’t be moved. If you just leave the headphones around your neck all day like I prefer to do, they’ll always remain on, so that’s pretty annoying.

However in Apple’s defence the battery life of the AirPods Max is 20 hours, so you wouldn’t run out of battery even if you left the headphones on all day, I suppose the idea of keeping the device on all day just takes some getting use to.

Verdict: Is AirPods max worth it?

The AirPods Max are the best wireless consumer over-ear headphones you can buy – and not by a small margin. Is it worth the $899 price tag or the extra $400 on its equivalent competitors? I think so.

The design, technology and connectivity differentiators alone make it worth the price difference for me, and if you are someone who really cares about the sound quality too – there’s no other match in the market.

Worth it.

Get unlimited access to the coverage that shapes our culture.
to Rolling Stone magazine
to Rolling Stone magazine