Tech Savvy: Apple AirPods Max offer worthy alternative for headphones

“The AirPods Max are not without quirks, but in terms of sound, build quality, and features, they are the best noise-canceling headphones I’ve ever tested,” said Parker Hall, a product reviewer with Wired.

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Apple's AirPods Max headphones come in a variety of colors including sky blue, green, silver, and space gray. Contributed / Apple

Purchase paralysis can be a good or a bad thing.

Sometimes when you feel as though you’d like a gadget but you really don’t want to spend money on it, the craving can be remedied by going through the purchase motions, adding the items to the virtual cart and forgetting about it. The abandoned item maybe eventually loses its luster and you wonder why you needed it in the first place. Other gadgets are more helpful.

Things I’ve never regretted picking up were external keyboards, especially a split ergonomic keyboard that works with PCs and Macs. I can’t imagine working with a single monitor (I need three really to make it work well). And external drives — terabytes can be picked up for nominal costs these days — provide lots of options for backups and storage, making up for not buying the biggest memory option with a laptop. Besides my iPhone, the other best tech device I use daily is my Apple Watch.

This year, I’ve been looking at a good over-the-ear headphone with a microphone. I’ve tried a couple of inexpensive versions in recent years, one with a microphone and one without, spending less than $30 on each. They both worked — to a point. The one with a microphone I picked up for virtual meetings is hit and miss with its Bluetooth connection to the laptop making it hard to depend on to work when needed.


The Digital Crown provides precise volume control and the ability to play or pause audio, skip tracks, answer or end phone calls, and activate Siri. The noise control button easily switches between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode. Contributed / Apple

There are tons of earbuds that have more reliable connections but I’m not a fan of earbuds that fit inside the ear. For me, they are uncomfortable or don’t fit securely. So when Apple announced it was making over-the-ear headphones, I was already sold on the idea. I held off on getting a headphone with a positional microphone (sometimes the ones I hear on other people in meetings make them sound like Darth Vader’s brother’s breathing) and I put in extra work hours and combined those dollars with birthday money to cover the extraordinary cost of the Apple AirPods Max over-the-ear headphones. And I’m almost ready to pull the trigger. But I wanted to leave them in the virtual shopping cart in my mind a few months more to be sure I really wanted to make that purchase.

There are a lot of positives for the AirPods Max headphones, with this list from Apple.

  • Automatically switches between iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

  • Automatic pairing with all the devices signed in to a user’s iCloud account, including iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV.

  • Is Siri capable to use voice control to play music, take phone calls, control the volume, get directions and read incoming messages as they arrive with Announce Messages with Siri.

  • Ability to play high-fidelity music, make phone calls, listen to movies or podcasts, take part in virtual meetings.

  • Audio play pauses when the headphones are removed or the user lifts one ear cup.

  • Beam-forming microphones block out ambient noise and focus on the user’s voice.

  • Battery life up to 20 hours.

  • Active noise cancellation, with tech reviewers universally marking the AirPods Max as the highest quality in this category amid rivals from Bose and Sony.

  • Spatial audio meaning it acts as surround-sound speakers bringing a theater-like listening experience that moves with the wearer. With tvOS 15 update, this feature will also now be an option for those using the Apple streaming device Apple TV.

  • The Digital Crown, inspired by Apple Watch, offers precise volume control and the ability to play or pause audio, skip tracks, answer or end phone calls, and activate Siri.

  • Comes in multiple colors, space gray, silver, green, sky blue and pink. Pieces can be mixed and matched as well by buying the ear cups of different colors.

  • Ordering from Apple means the ability to add free personal engraving, although there are now deals to lower the price when buying from other options like Best Buy or Amazon.

  • Other positives from reviewers across the tech spectrum include the comfort and quality build of the AirPods Max.

AirPods Max feature a breathable knit mesh canopy, distributing weight to reduce on-head pressure. Contributed / Apple

“The AirPods Max are not without quirks, but in terms of sound, build quality, and features, they are the best noise-canceling headphones I’ve ever tested,” Parker Hall, a product reviewer with Wired, wrote in a review. “It’s annoying for those of us with shallow pockets and partially compatible Android devices to admit, but Apple has once again proved its point: When you’ve got the best product, you can charge what you want for it.”

Negatives include the cost at about $500, although top-end headphones from Bose and Sony can be in the $350-400 range as well. Other negatives include the protective case, which is universally panned, the inability to turn the headphones off at will and the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack for more universal use. It does have a Lightning connector.

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One drawback is that it is not water resistant or sweat proof, but it’s not really set up to be a workout headphone, although it would work perfectly for walking and can go from noise canceling (perfect for a work, commute or travel setting) to transparency to allow for important street sounds when walking.

There is a rumor that Apple will make a sport version that will be less expensive as well and fit into that active workout lifestyle and I was tempted to wait for that but all the experts and Apple trackers believe that is still a long wait from being an option.

“Let's take a look at the positives first; the best thing about the AirPods Max is their sound, which is nothing short of outstanding,” TechRadar reported. “They can easily compete with the Sony WH-1000XM4 in this regard, with a wide, immersive soundstage and carefully balanced profile, with crisp trebles, smooth mids, and powerful bass frequencies.

“With high levels of detail and clarity, the AirPods Max reveal elements in your favorite songs that you may not have noticed before – and that's the mark of a pair of really fantastic-sounding headphones.

AirPods Max creates a wireless over-ear design with high-fidelity audio, active noise cancellation, spatial audio, and more. Contributed / Apple

“The active noise cancellation is also class-leading, sitting shoulder to shoulder with the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 – and the Transparency mode is undeniably handy when you need to quickly tap into your surroundings.”

“Objectively, however, the AirPods Max is a spectacular pair of headphones,” SoundGuys reported in a review. “I appreciate the smart features like auto-pause and the transparency mode are super practical. It also sounds great, is well-built, and has solid battery life. However, this doesn’t exist in a vacuum , and to get the most out of it, you need to commit to the Apple ecosystem.”


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“The AirPods Max, like any $550 accessory, are obviously not for everyone. But despite their exorbitant price tag (and a few small quirks), the build quality, ease of use, and astonishing fidelity they offer make them worthy of the cost,” Hall wrote for Wired. “Unlike other Apple products, these are objectively the best in their category. Somewhere in the ether, Steve Jobs is probably jamming out with pride.”

So now, as these headphones go from the virtual shopping cart to an actual order, the last remaining question is whether to pick sky blue or pink.

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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