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Apple AirPods Max tips, tricks and features

AirPods Max tips, tricks and features
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple’s first on-ear headphones created quite the storm when they launched back in December 2020. They demand a hefty fee, but as you can read in our Apple AirPods Max review, we feel it’s justifiable. In fact, we went as far as to say “they cross the line from wireless audio into wireless hi-fi.” High praise indeed.

So, if you’re an Apple iPhone or iPad user and have decided to take the plunge on a pair of these premium noise-cancelling headphones, first, congratulations on your new purchase; and second, welcome to our comprehensive AirPods Max guide. 

Below are tips, tricks and advice all aimed at arming you with enough information to make the most of the Max. We cover everything from simple tasks such as pairing and resetting the AirPods Max to taking advantage of built-in technology and features such as Apple’s spatial audio technology.

So, grab your AirPods and we’ll begin.

How to pair the AirPods Max

AirPods Max tips, tricks and features

(Image credit: Apple)

It couldn’t really be any simpler. Just put the AirPods Max next to your iPhone or iPad, tap Connect and that’s it, you’re paired. In fact, you’re automatically paired to all Apple devices in your iCloud account, provided they’re running at least the following software: macOS 11.1, iOS 14.3, iPadOS 14.3, watchOS 7.2, or tvOS 14.3 or later.

How to reset the AirPods Max

If your AirPods Max won't play ball for some reason, there’s a relatively simple way to reset them. Press and hold the noise control button and the Digital Crown. You’ll see the LED flash amber.

Alternatively, you can go down the route of resetting them via your iCloud account. Hold down the buttons mentioned above, but do it for 15 seconds, until the LED flashes amber and white. Then you can go through the full process of pairing to your Mac, iPhone or iPad.

Will the AirPods Max work with Android phones?

They will, but they really are aimed at people who primarily use iOS devices. A number of the features such as Spatial audio and quick-pairing work only with iPhones and iPads, so you’ll be paying a lot of money for a pair of premium headphones with a limited feature set. In reality, in that case, you’d be better off looking at a pair of Sony WH-1000XM4 or Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, both of which are cheaper options.

How to use the Digital Crown on the AirPods Max

AirPods Max tips, tricks and features

(Image credit: Apple)

One of the neat features of the Max is how Apple has taken the Digital Crown from the Apple Watch and built it into the AirPods Max as the main controller. Turn to adjust the volume, press once to play/pause or answer a call. Two presses skips forward, while three skips back. Press and hold the Digital Crown to summon Siri. When it comes to controlling volume, you can even switch the way the Digital Crown is used, and rotate it front to back or back to front, depending on what feels the most natural.

What is Audio Sharing? How do you use it on the AirPods Max?

You can share one audio stream from an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Apple TV 4K (or HD) between two sets of AirPods. Just move the second pair close to the device you’re using. This feature works with the iPhone 8 or later and iPod touch 7th-gen with the latest version of iOS; the iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2nd-gen or later); iPad Pro 11-inch; iPad Pro 10.5-inch; iPad (5th-gen or later); iPad Air (3rd- and 4th-gen); iPad mini (5th-gen) with the latest version of iPadOS; and Apple TV with the latest version of tvOS.

How to update the AirPods Max

Unlike some other brands, Apple doesn’t allow you to perform a manual update to its wireless headphones. Instead, you’ll have to leave the headphones to update automatically, which should happen when they’re charging and in close proximity to your iPhone. If you ever want to double-check which firmware version your headphones are running, you can do this by going into the Bluetooth settings on your device, tapping the ‘information’ (i) icon and then scrolling down.

How to use spatial audio with the AirPods Max

AirPods Max tips, tricks and features

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple’s spatial audio technology with dynamic head tracking is one of the most interesting features of the AirPods Max (although the tech is also supported by the AirPods Pro). It uses accelerometers and gyroscopes built into both the Max and your iPhone or iPad to constantly track and compare the motion of your head and your device. Apple’s virtual rendering works with content encoded in 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos.

Head back into the Control Center and you can tap the icon to turn it on or off. You can also go in via AirPods Settings on your device. Go to Settings > Bluetooth and find the AirPods Max. Tap the information icon ‘i’ and you're presented with the option of switching it on and off. You can even get a little demo of the tech by tapping ‘See and Hear How it Works’. You can then switch between stereo and spatial audio to hear the difference. Like what you hear? You can tap Turn On for Supported Videos so any compatible shows are automatically output using the technology.

How to charge the AirPods Max

Unlike the AirPods 2 or AirPods Pro, there’s no wireless charging option for the AirPods Max. They charge via Lightning and you get a Lightning to USB-C cable in the box. 

Apple claims that if you use this with its own 20W charger, a five-minute charge will give you around 1.5 hours of listening time.

How to check battery life on the AirPods Max

AirPods Max tips, tricks and features

(Image credit: Apple)

Remove them from their case in the vicinity of your iPhone or iPad and you'll automatically get a pop-up notification that shows how much charge is remaining. Or, you can summon the same pop-up by holding the AirPods near your iDevice and tapping the noise control button.

A third way is to swipe across to the battery widget on your iOS device you can see the percentage left, which is also displayed as a green ring. The more complete the green ring, the larger the amount of charge left.

Also, when there’s 20 per cent battery life left, you’ll get a notification on your iPhone or iPad. You’ll get a similar notification when it hits 10 per cent and 5 per cent.

How to maximise the AirPods Max's battery life

Apple claims up to 20 hours' listening/talk time and movie playback with noise-cancelling and spatial audio both turned on. Now, headphone battery life can be affected by a number of things, from the type and size of audio file you’re listening to to the volume you’re listening at. As a rule of thumb, the lower the quality of file and the lower the volume, the smaller the amount of power consumed by the headphones.

There are a couple of more specific ways to preserve the AirPods Max battery life and stop it from draining too quickly. If you’re not too fussed about using Apple’s spatial audio processing, you could turn it off completely.

Also, remember to put the AirPods Max back in their carry case when you’re not using them. Doing this tells the headphones immediately to enter a low-power mode that can prolong the battery life. After 18 hours in the case with no activity, they go into an ultra-low-power mode that turns off Bluetooth and their Find My feature. If you don’t put them in their case, and leave the AirPods out, they won’t go into that ultra-low-power mode for 72 hours, by which time you'll have lost a chunk of charge.

How to use the AirPods Max through a wired connection

We know the majority of users will be using their AirPods wirelessly, but what if you want to hook them up to a console controller or in-flight entertainment system? You’ll need to buy Apple’s £35 ($35, AU$55) Lightning-to-3.5mm cable. It’s worth noting, though, that the AirPods Max won't work in passive mode, so if you happen to run out of battery and want to listen to them the wired way, you can’t.

Can you use the AirPods Max for exercise?

There’s nothing to stop you, but we wouldn’t. The headphones are comfy, but you’ll probably want something with a slightly firmer grip and a more durable design for the gym or outdoor exercise. More importantly, though, the AirPods Max aren’t waterproof; nor are they water- or sweat-resistant.

Given their price and design, the Max aren’t really aimed at the exercise market, so you’d be better off consulting our list of the best sports headphones or the best running headphones. Here you’ll find more affordable options, better suited to dealing with a downpour and surviving that killer spin class.


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Andy Madden

Andy is Deputy Editor of What Hi-Fi? and a consumer electronics journalist with nearly 20 years of experience writing news, reviews and features. Over the years he's also contributed to a number of other outlets, including The Sunday Times, the BBC, Stuff, and BA High Life Magazine. Premium wireless earbuds are his passion but he's also keen on car tech and in-car audio systems and can often be found cruising the countryside testing the latest set-ups. In his spare time Andy is a keen golfer and gamer.