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New Music Friday 12/18/20
AirPods Max review, Pandora Music Analysts, and new music
Switching around some of the sections. New songs and albums are at the bottom this week.
Review: AirPods Max
TL;DR - AirPods Max are great headphones. They sound detailed and full. The features and controls are well thought out and implemented. The comfort is hit or miss. It’s the biggest flaw for me personally.
The Max comfort is better than a lot of other headphones, but I prefer the comfort of Sony’s 1000MX4. Weight is not a direct issue but likely tied to why I can wear the MX4 longer at any one time and feel better than with the Max. The price is pure hype. Once you’re spending more than $300 on wireless, NC headphones it’s all hype though. So, in actuality, the price is irrelevant for anyone seriously considering.
Read on for a full review.
Apple released AirPods Max and they are great — except for the price. The $549 price is causing a lot of people to hit pause and blink in shock. As I discuss the headphones, I think the price will make sense along the way. There is an explanation for the price. It’s simply because Apple can charge it.
AirPods Max includes an extraordinary level of materials and craftsmanship. A level that warrants its price — if you squint hard enough. The price also anchors a high end that allows Apple to produce other personal audio devices at a lower price point in the future. The price reasoning is a little circular in this regard.
Spoiler alert, AirPods Max is a product that will never be worth the money. They might be some of the best consumer-level headphones ever released, and yet, it’s hard to say the price is justified. The price serves as a deterrent. If you have a hard time stomaching $350 for headphones then the Max wasn’t for you regardless. If you’re seriously considering the AirPods Max you love music and price always comes secondary to a great music product.
Hardware / Comfort
The materials and construction are premium all around. The details that stick out are the button types and placement, as well as raising and lowering the headband. The Digital Crown for volume is neat because it’s easy to use.
These headphones do have a heft to them, but as a standalone line item, the weight isn’t concerning. The problem is that likely the weight is tied to long term comfort. I found myself continually readjusting their position on my head. My head is rarely level while working on my laptop and the weight is likely a factor contributing to their ever-so-slight movements.
In direct comparison, the Sony 1000MX4 are not specifically more comfortable in one specific way. It has different fabric-y materials, but those are not overly more comfortable. The difference is that the MX4 is lighter and stays put better. There is less force and pressure around my ears which helps for listening more than an hour at a time.
Comfort is very personal though and there are not any flaws or deal breakers in the AirPods Max comfort, hardware, or design.
Sound / Listening
How interested are you in active listening? Do you ever sit with a vinyl record and just listen? Do you dawn a pair of headphones and close your eyes and soak in the melodies? Or are you more interested in headphones to keep other sounds out?
If you’ve ever sat any actively listened, you’ll appreciate the Max’s wide soundstage that allows music to breathe. It’s a fairly neutral sounding playing field that’s presented so bass isn’t exaggerated and highs aren’t piercing. But, that said, they aren’t flat or untouched. They have some liveliness to them. Most importantly, the mids are alive and well. Bass addicts may feel tinges of disappointment, but everyone else should be thrilled with the sound.
As for specifics, Haim’s “Summer Girl” is an example of a song that has a lot going on with its recording. It’s easy to miss some of the production details listening on speakers in your living room or lower-end headphones. AirPods Max exposes some of these little surprises. Directly comparing the 1000MX4 on this song, Sony’s headphones present a lot of the details but feels much more claustrophobic. It’s the difference between attending a live concert in a bedroom and attending one at a 100-person cafe.
Using the Max for shows and movies is great if you’re watching on an iPhone or iPad. The spatial audio feature is compelling. Sound is engulfing and helps you feel what you’re watching more.
If you’re hung up on the price of the AirPods Max, you really have to consider whether that level of listening interests you. For music (or audio) lovers, the cost may hurt, but they’ll do a lot in the name of experiencing their favorite music in an intimate way.
The sound quality is absolutely at the top of the line for consumer-grade headphones. Having transparency mode, ear detection, frictionless pairing on Apple devices, and great microphones for phone calls or video calls is all nice and, frankly, expected. Comfort will vary from person to person, but these are set up to be as universal as possible. The mesh headband alleviates pressure and the padding on the cups is forgiving enough.
What all this means is that AirPods Max are premium over-the-ear headphones that deliver on their promise. A huge asterisk is that these never promised to be affordable — and they are not.
People willing and able to pay for AirPods Max will get a wonderful audio experience. Those unable or unwilling have other options and shouldn’t feel worse about those choices.
My guess is that eventually, Apple’s AirPod line of headphones and earbuds will span four slots: general earbuds, pro noise-canceling earbuds, general headphones, and these current pro headphones.
If general headphones came in at $349, that would be $100 more than the AirPods Pro and $200 less than the AirPods Max. There’s a clear price slot for those to sit.
More people looking for crisp, premium sound would feel less reservation. At that point, Sony and Bose should feel a lot more pressure from Apple. Until there’s a second pair of Apple over-the-ear headphones, you’ll have to decide if the Max is worth it to you.
Great Good Fine Ok - “Last Christmas”
HOKO - “This Is Gonna Be Our Year”
Haim - “3 AM” (Toro y Moi Remix)
Pure Bathing Culture - Hats
Maggie Rogers - Notes From The Archive
Hams Zimmer - Wonder Woman 1984 (Original score)
Paul McCartney - McCartney III
Tycho - Weather Remixes