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
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.
- Read our iPhone 13 review
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.
Can AirPods Max be wired?
They can, but there are a couple of things to know.
Firstly, Apple doesn't include an audio cable in the box. So if you want to listen wired from an audio source (a phone with a headphone jack maybe, or an in-flight entertainment system), you'll need to shell out an extra £35 ($35, AU$55) on the Lightning-to-3.5mm cable (opens in new tab). In our opinion, that's a massive oversight on Apple's part.
Second, the AirPods Max will only work cabled if they have some battery power left. That's different to most other pairs of wireless headphones, which usually bypass the electronics and therefore work when plugged in even if the battery is kaput.
Can AirPods Max play lossless?
If you're buying the AirPods Max expecting lossless support, you'll be sorely disappointed – which just shows why you should do your research before you buy. When you're paying this much for a pair of headphones – a lot more than rivals like the Sony WH-1000XM4 – you might expect them to be able to handle hi-res audio. Especially given that the Apple Music service now supports it. But lossless is conspicuous by its absence.
In fact, it came top of out list of what we'd like to see from the AirPods Max 2. Let's hope Apple is listening.
Does the AirPods Max work with Android phones?
They do, 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 Android users will be paying a lot of money for a pair of premium headphones without being able to fully take advantage of their feature set. 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.
Can AirPods Max connect to PS5/Xbox?
The PS5 and Xbox Series X/S don't natively support the AirPods Max, but you can connect them wirelessly using compatible Bluetooth adapters. Just plug the adapter into your console and pair the AirPods Max with it the way you would a phone.
How to use the Digital Crown on the AirPods Max
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 skip forward, while three skip 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.
How to use Audio Sharing with 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
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 and AirPods 3). 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 to create a more immersive soundfield that is optimised to your position. 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 3 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
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 to 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.
What's in the AirPods Max box?
In the box, you will find the AirPods Max themselves, the Smart Case (which puts them into low power mode when stored inside), a Lightning to USB‑C Cable and documentation.
What charger do you use for AirPods Max?
The AirPods Max charge via USB-C. Apple supplies a Lightning-to-USB-C cable in the box, but not a wall charger. Apple’s 20W model will set you back £19 ($19, AU$29) (opens in new tab) but will ensure you can take advantage of fast charging for the AirPods Max (a five-minute charge gets you an hour and a half of listening with noise-cancelling switched on).
When will AirPods Max 2 launch?
If we knew that, we would be shouting it from the rooftops. Unfortunately, it's a well-guarded secret, as are all Apple launches. The original AirPods Max launched in December 2020, nearly a year and a half ago. Sounds like time for an update to us... and here are 9 features we'd like to see on the AirPods Max 2 headphones.
Rest assured we'll bring you all the credible leak and rumours as soon as they arrive.
Are AirPods Max waterproof?
The short answer is no, they are not. They aren't even water- or sweat-resistant, so while you can use them for exercise, we wouldn’t recommend it. 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.
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. You wouldn't go running in your best suit or dress, after all.
Are AirPods Max worth it?
Now you're asking. It all depends really. They are a fantastic offering, which is why they currently sit atop our list of best over-ear headphones. But are they really worth almost twice the price of an also excellent model from Sony or Bose?
If you're an Apple fan who listens a lot and has lots of disposable income, then yes, the AirPods Max are a great buy. If your budget doesn't stretch, you don't think you'll use them all that much, or you're not locked into the Apple ecosystem, you'll be better served elsewhere.
AirPods Max vs Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Bose 700: which are better?
Want a cheaper alternative? Here are the best noise-cancelling headphones around
Our pick of the best AirPods deals on the internet
It is free and allows you to measure your hearing and then in accessibility you can select Audiogram in order to get a customised sound profile.
YMMV but it worked wonders for me