Being an Apple fanboy has definitely had its payoffs recently; new CPUs, improved services, new phones, and for this entry – new headphones.
Yes, I picked up the new “AirPods Max”, or as I will call them, MaxPods.
Lots of digital ink has been already been employed by others in reviews of these headphones, and those will probably be more well-rounded write-ups of sound quality and whatnot. For me, this is more about the total package.
My comparison of the MaxPods is against my pair of Audeze LCD-2’s, the source is my 27″ iMac running Apple Music, the room is a standard 12×12 room you would find in any house, and the music is various ALAC “Digital Master” songs from the likes of Rush, Triumph, Queensryche, Pink Floyd, Yes, and other ‘prog’ bands – and a few tracks from the master of high-res mixing himself, Steven Wilson.
This is music I am intimately familiar with and have listened to though all manner of gear for decades.
To begin, the fit, finish, and functionality of the MaxPods is great. These are $500 headphones, and it’s nice to get a product that feels like it’s worth its price tag. My LCD-2’s were About $600, and don’t feel as solid as the MaxPods.
The big difference between these two headphones is isolation; the LCD-2’s are wired, open-backed planar-magnetic speakers designed to be as quick and acoustically transparent as they can be – for under a thousand dollars.
The MaxPods on the other hand are wireless close-backed computational-audio peripherals designed to be as quiet and isolated as possible – for under a thousand dollars.
Where things get a little muddy is that through some serious wizbangery the MaxPods have a similar sound stage to the LCD-2s, and even better resolution – given my source and song selection.
And they’re wireless…
Now there are some things even the pixies in the H1 chips can’t totally compensate for, like wireless latency, but they do a pretty amazing job with that too… If you didn’t know BT5 adds latency and weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t notice it.
BT5 also has a limit on bandwidth, but the MaxPods seem to somehow get around that and I didn’t really notice anything lacking in my audio samples.
In fact, through the MaxPods I was noting things in my audio samples that I’d not heard before… I attribute some of this to just how good the noise cancelling is. I had a window open and a fan running in the room, and they simply vanished when I put on the MaxPods.
The rest is ‘computational audio’, which is basically audio auto-pilot that is making adjustments 200 times a second to give you the best results possible from sub-thousand dollar cans.
Interestingly the end result doesn’t sound processed; it’s natural and nuanced.
The best part of the MaxPod experience though is just how well the MaxPods work within the Apple ecosystem; they ‘just work’ with the iPhone and iMac and the button / knob on the MaxPods are nicely logical and respond crisply even when controlling some device wirelessly.
All in all, if you’re living in the Apple ecosystem and want some comparatively inexpensive headphones that were designed and built to coexist in that ecosystem – the MaxPods are a pretty good investment.