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Apple AirPods Max Review (Noise Cancelling Headphone)

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Apple AirPods Max wireless Bluetooth noise cancelling headphone. It is on kind loan from a member. The retail cost is US $549 but I see it on Amazon for $479 including Prime shipping.

I am used to shocking good looks in Apple products but this one with dual kidney shape did not do it for me:

Apple Airpods Max Review Bluetooth Headphone.jpg


The mesh band was stylish though as was the design of the woven pads. What I absolutely loved was the rotary volume control. Shame on all others that make you deal with gestures and such with coarse volume adjustment to boot. I also liked the solid, tactile button for noise cancelling. Alas, that button is way overloaded, requiring you to decode Morse code light at the other end to figure out what you are doing with it. Why not voice feedback? Anyway, you get the job done.

Noise cancelling works well but has that "suction" effect to the max. It literally feels like there is a vacuum cleaner inside this thing at times! Didn't notice it during use though, only when I put it on.

There is adaptive EQ for seal. Pull the cups away a bit and you can instantly hear it boosting the bass. This made measurements a bit tricky but I got through it.

The headphone is a bit on the heavy side:

Apple Airpods max weight.png


The cups are deep at 30 mm which is nice. The cups are oval with dimensions of 60x43 (heightxdepth).

The hinge pressure is pretty high and combined with the texture of the pads, I feel them on my face.

Back to the unboxing experience, I found the magnetic "bra," I mean soft wrapper a bit odd looking. And the fact that it is the only way to force it into deep sleep a bit odd. Why not add yet another mode to the darn NC button to do that on demand? I know, Apple knows best.

Note: The measurements you are about to see are made using a standardized Gras 45C. Headphone measurements by definition are approximate and variable so don't be surprised if other measurements even if performed with the same fixtures as mine, differ in end results. Protocols vary such as headband pressure and averaging (which I don't do). As you will see, I confirm the approximate accuracy of the measurements using Equalization and listening tests. Ultimately headphone measurements are less exact than speakers mostly in bass and above a few kilohertz so keep that in mind as you read these tests. If you think you have an exact idea of a headphone performance, you are likely wrong!

Fitment on the fixture was somewhat challenging as eluded to earlier. Bass response would have ringing in it depending on how you fitted the headphone. Having to stream content to it over Bluetooth made this fair bit more work than testing wired headphones. Frequency response was the same with or without noise cancelling unlike any other NC headphone I have tested.

Apple AirPods Max Measurements
As usual we start with the headphone frequency response as comparison to our preference curve:

Apple Airpods Max Frequency Response Measurements.png


That is a first: full compliance with our reference curve all the way to 1 kHz but then the wheels fall off. Why so little amplitude there? This is going to create a dull headphone with little spatial qualities.

Apple Airpods Max Relative Frequency Response Measurements.png


So bad news on frequency response but check this distortion graph out:

Apple Airpods Max Relative THD Distortion Response Measurements.png


Distortion was so low that I provide a zoomed version. Distortion at 94 dBSPL is so low that it is polluted now with some noise causing the wiggliness.

Apple Airpods Max THD Distortion Response Measurements.png


So we have plenty of headroom to EQ. BTW, the max volume as about 113 dBSPL. It would not go any higher which is fine.

Apple AirPods Max Listening Tests and Equalization
My main listening station is a Windows desktop. I have not used Bluetooth in it and when I turned it on, it was quite flakey due to lack of external antenna. So I dragged an external no-name bluetooth transmitter. That worked but volume was very low. The volume control on AirPods was no longer active either. I switched to a Fiio BT transmitter which has its own volume control. That gave me a bit more gain but still nothing like what I could get out of my Android phone. Speaking of Android phone, my Roon player repeatedly hung when playing tracks to AirPods Max. This seemed to be related to high sample rate/bit depth content. Reducing everything to 16 bits, 44.1 kHz helped but not completely.

I used some digital gain to get reasonable volume so that I could develop my EQ and arrived at this simple two filter setup:

Apple Airpod Max Equalization EQ Parametric.png


The sound opened up and clarity much improved. Spatial qualities went from nothing to good. I listened for a few tracks and then turned off the EQ. Man, it sounded like someone had turned off the tweeter and maybe even the midrange on a speaker! It was far more drastic going from EQ on to off, making you realize how bad the stock tuning really is.

Conclusions
Apple with more R&D and manufacturing resources than any headphone company gets a few things really right such as extra low distortion and excellent bass response. Alas, they either listened to Beats people, marketing or who knows who to through out all that energy in the 1 to 7 kHz. Don't they know our ears naturally amplify that region for a reason? What book did they read that said you want to have flat response there? I am amazed how many online reviewers said this thing sounds great. Really? What is your reference? The old wired home phones?

Without EQ, the Apple AirPods is one terrible sounding headphone. As much as I like bass, I hate it without balancing high frequencies. I paid for the full spectrum of the music I consume, not just the bass. So please give it all to me. With EQ, the sound becomes very good prompting me to recommend it such. How good, I can't quite tell because I can't get enough volume on Windows. It can range from good to great.

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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Have 30 pounds of cucumbers from the garden to can and here I am testing headphones! Talk about priorities.....

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
 

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respice finem

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Pure speculation: Maybe the low treble response is due to "taming" driver resonances / lowering THD? Since these are supposed to be used with Apple gear, they will be recognized and may be automatically EQed then by the source device.
 

sweetchaos

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To import this PEQ profile into 'Equalizer APO', use:
Preamp: -8.5 dB
Filter 1: ON PK Fc 2000 Hz Gain 5.0 dB Q 2.0
Filter 2: ON PK Fc 4011 Hz Gain 8.0 dB Q 2.0
Otherwise, see my PEQ guide.
..................................................................................................................
For those who don't have PEQ-capable app, and want to use GEQs instead:
See my GEQ guide for 10-band, 31-band, and 127-band GEQ profiles.
 
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Doodski

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Hmmz the $69.00 USD earcups are magnetic & pop right off when pulling on them. For changing them out. Here's some pics to get a reference on the size of them.
201210084621-1-airpods-max-first-impressions-cnn-underscored.jpg

5ffb7a6fd184b30018aadf9b

apple-airpods-max.png.webp
 

acbarn

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JohnYang1997

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I've seen drastically different measurements from this headphones. I have not tried one yet.
Crinacle with GRAS measured identical response. On B&K 4128c it's a different story.
So this time it's not only the test equipment itself is different but also the headphones are dynamically eqing on the fly according to the pinna.
 
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respice finem

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I've seen drastically different measurements from this headphones. I have not tried one yet.
Crinacle with GRAS measured identical response. On B&K 4128c it's a different story.
So this time it's not only the test equipment itself is different but also the headphones are dynamically eqing on the fly according to the pinna.
This seems to mean, FR measurement on those is simply not possible with today's methods?
 

GaryH

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I think I will stick with my Bose N700 which sound decent without eq. I use them primarily with iPhone and Spotify. Any simple tips for eq on this setup?

There's no system-wide parametric equalizer software available on iOS, so you'd have to use a hardware one such as that in the Qudelix 5K.
 

Music1969

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Don't they know our ears naturally amplify that region for a reason?

It's going to sound like I'm being pedantic here but i'm genuinely still trying to learn.

But if you say we naturally amplify this region, then that is a reason to make it flat?

I'm aware that research says we are most sensitive in this region and I'm aware that the Harman preference curve has a boost in this region.

It looks closer to the shape of equal- loudness contour curves than Harman target.

And also, is it possible Apple internally has done a lot of resarch on preference curves, with bigger sample size than Harman did?

Not trying to 'stir the pot' here - genuine questions. Because since this has hardcore engineering (see distortion) and DSP, the curve we see is exactly what they wanted - so the questions are why.

cc: @Sean Olive
 
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amirm

amirm

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But if you say we naturally amplify this region, then that is a reason to make it flat?
You hear it flat post amplification. To get "flat" here they had to pull it down to counteract the gain that the artificial pinna (ear) on the measurement fixture provides.
 
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amirm

amirm

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And also, is it possible Apple internally has done a lot of resarch on preference curves, with bigger sample size than Harman did?
Doubt it. Likely they were following the "more bass the better" crowd....
 

Music1969

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So this time it's not only the test equipment itself is different but also the headphones are dynamically eqing on the fly according to the pinna.

From Googling it seems turning OFF noise cancelling and transparency mode disables "Adaptive EQ".

If that's correct, then measurements should be done this way.
 

Music1969

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There is adaptive EQ for seal. Pull the cups away a bit and you can instantly hear it boosting the bass. This made measurements a bit tricky but I got through it.

Any chance you can re-run just the frequency response, with noise cancelling and transparency modes OFF?
 
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amirm

amirm

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Any chance you can re-run just the frequency response, with noise cancelling and transparency modes OFF?
I did and noted in the review that it makes no difference. This was noise cancelling on and off. Did not play with transparency mode. I just packed the thing so I prefer to not dig it back up. Measurements are also a pain due to streaming bluetooth method.
 
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