Apple AirPods Max vs. Apple AirPods Pro

Whether you’re an Apple enthusiast or you’re looking to get your hands on the best wearable audio you can find, Apple earbuds and headphones will surely not disappoint. The Apple AirPods Max are the company’s first true over-the-ear headphones, bringing features like active noise cancellation, adaptive EQ, and powered by one Apple H1 headphone chip per cup. While the AirPods Max will draw a lot of comparisons to over-the-ear noise cancelers from Sony and Bose, Apple fans may want to know how they stack up against Apple’s flagship earbuds, the AirPods Pro.

Design

Apple AirPods Max
Apple

The AirPods Max are available in silver, space gray, sky blue, pink, and green. A cushioned and flexible headband (with a wingspan of 6.64 inches) rests atop your head, with a padded stainless steel framing for each cup. Telescopic arms on both sides of the headphones will allow you to adjust for an ideal fit. An included Smart Case that preserves battery when the AirPods Max are in an ultra-low-power-state.

The AirPods Pro are wireless earbuds with extended stems and three different silicone tip options to best fit your ears. Only available in white, the earbuds are powered by Apple’s H1 chip. A sleek wireless charging case comes standard with every new pack of buds, giving you up to an additional 24 hours of backup power.

We’re calling this one a draw. In terms of design, it all depends on whether you’re looking for a set of premium on-ear headphones or compact earbuds. Both products look great and come with reasonable charging options. While the AirPods Max come in more colors, you won’t find a better option for portability than the AirPods Pro.

Winner: Tie

Controls and battery life

AirPods Pro
Dan Baker / Digital Trends

For voice commands and phone calls, the AirPods Max use nine onboard microphones, eight of which are paired with active noise cancellation and Apple’s computational audio to tamp down on environmental noise. Touch controls are mapped to the Max’s digital crown. Users turn the crown for volume control, press once to play/pause or answer a call, tap twice to skip a track, tap three times to rewind, and press and hold for Siri.

General battery life for the AirPods Max is around 20 hours, with five minutes of charging providing around 1.5 hours of additional listening. Neither sweatproof nor waterproof, the Max may not be the best gym or jog option out there.

For the AirPods Pro, adaptive touch controls are mapped to each stem. Squeeze once to play/pause or answer a call, twice to skip forward, three times to skip back, and squeeze and hold to switch between noise cancellation and transparency. To cue Siri, say “Hey, Siri” and then follow up with your voice command. Dual beamforming microphones and an inward-facing mic are standard, with dual optical sensors onboard as well. The AirPods Pro are also IPX4-rated for sweat and weather protection, so they’re a good bet for commuting on a rainy day.

A sleek charge case is packaged with the buds that’ll net you up to 24 hours of playtime and 18 hours of talk time. You’ll get about 4.5 hours of listening time with noise cancellation and transparency mode disabled, and up to 3.5 hours of talk time on a single charge. Five minutes in the charging case will grant you an extra hour of listening time.

In terms of ease of use and versatility, we’re giving a point to the AirPods Pro. The bite-sized buds are a cinch to store and charge, and the IPX4 resistance keeps them operating smoothly during your next gym session.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Sound quality

Apple AirPods Max
Apple

Apple promises that the AirPods Max deliver “rich, deep bass, accurate mid-range, and crisp, clean high-frequency extension.” Early reports on sound quality claim the headphones are a powerful opponent to brands like Sony and Bose. Early reviewers praise their big, balanced highs, mids, and lows.

As far as the AirPods Pro are concerned, the wireless earbuds offer exquisite detail, rounded and punchy bass, and well balanced and articulate mids and highs. The AirPods Pro can easily stand toe to toe with other elite earbud offerings, including the Sony WF-1000XM3 and the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2.

Both the AirPods Max and AirPods Pro also feature active noise cancellation and an ambient noise feature called transparency. In terms of noise cancellation, the AirPods Max employ eight microphones to filter in and cancel out environmental sound. The AirPods Pro use just two, but in our review, we found they performed right up there with the best-in-class Sonys.

For transparency mode, both the Max and Pro will allow in passive environmental sound, keeping you aware of oncoming hazards like traffic and passersby. Both products also utilize Apple’s Spatial Audio tech. Introduced with iOS 14, the feature works in 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos, beaming audio around the headphones/earbuds for ultra-realistic sound-staging. When a helicopter flies overhead, it’ll sound like the chopper is right above you.

We haven’t yet had a chance to test the AirPods Max, so we’ll abstain from declaring a victor here until we can listen for ourselves.

Winner: Check back soon

Price and warranty

The AirPods Max officially went on sale on December 15 for a rather high price point of $549. While there are some definite material advantages, such as the stainless steel cup design and the flexible headband canopy, we’re hoping for more than just a solid design for headphones prices as high as a new gaming console. In terms of the warranty, you can purchase two years of AppleCare+ for $59. This gives you two years of added tech support for your Max, along with accidental damage protection.

The AirPods Pro are available for $249. Additional AppleCare+ coverage is available for only $29 for two years of tech support and accidental damage coverage.

We’re giving this category to the AirPods Pro, purely based on overall value. The AirPods Max are priced considerably higher than rival headphones, which may be hard to swallow for some consumers.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Conclusion

We here at Digital Trends are already big fans of the AirPods Pro. While it’s tough to jump for the massive $549 sticker, the AirPods Max promise some amazing audio features, ergonomic and form-fitting design, and noise cancellation that may be a step above what you’d get with the AirPods Pro.

That being said, until we can weigh in more on AirPods Max sound quality, we’re going to continue to recommend the bulletproof AirPods Pro. We called them “shockingly good” in June, and we still stand by that.

Once we’ve had more time with the AirPods Max, we’ll be sure to report back with updates on our listening experience and overall experience with Apple’s first-ever on-ear headphones.

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