No, we do not normally do first cuts or first impressions for headphones. But then, seldom have headphones attracted the kind of attention that the AIrPods Max. Within hours of the release of Apple’s first over-ear headphones, the Internet was deluged with admiration, outrage, and kidney jokes. And these have persisted. So here we are with our initial take of the most talked-about headphones since…well, honestly, we cannot remember the last time a pair of over-ear headphones got this kind of attention.

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Think Different? LOOK different also!

And well, they will attract attention with their appearance too. The AirPods Max first off look nothing like AirPods. No, they are not tiny, white, or dainty. These are hefty, metallic cups that are slightly rectangular in shape (stepping away from the generally round and oval shapes seen in the segment) with smooth rounded sides, that are attached to a shiny stainless steel frame with a thin mesh on the band connecting both of them. Frankly, these are the most distinct pair of headphones we have seen this side of something from the likes of V-Moda with its distinct metallic plates. We got the pink variant and well, it was definitely designed to cover heads as well as turn them.

The AirPods Max are a big pair of headphones, with large metal earcups. The cups are made of “anodized aluminum” and will easily totally cover most ears, with the special fabric mesh inside them adding a lot of passive noise cancellation (isolation) to the much-talked-about active noise cancellation (ANC). The cups incidentally are magnetically attached to the frame, so you can literally just “pull” them off and reattach them – no tools needed.

Heavy metal looks with super comfortable feels

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The inner part of the cups have R and L written on them to let you know which goes on which ear, and on top of the right cup are a metal dial (crown) similar to the one on the Apple Watch, allowing you to control volume as well as carry out operations like skipping tracks, play, pause and handle calls. Next to it, on the other side of the band connecting the cups is a noise cancellation button that lets you switch from ANC to transparency mode. The crown is remarkable in that it rotates smoothly but with just the right amount of friction to let you get an idea of levels and is also easy to press down on. It does seem a little tiny, though, but it certainly is a welcome change from the touch and button confusion we have seen on other headphones. And yes, like the Jabra 85h, there is no power button on these – you just twist them inwards (flatten them out) to put them to sleep (there is no switch off). The lower part of the right cup also has the lightning connector – no, even Apple’s headphones do not have a 3.5 mm audio jack – which allows you to connect the headphones to a power source via a USB Type C port for charging!

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The band running between the two cups is made of very shiny stainless steel and in the middle, designed to rest right on top of your head is a band with a mesh “canopy” in the middle. The cups are connected to the band through what Apple terms “telescoping arms” that allow the cups to rotate. The entire headset weighs about 400 grams, which makes it on the heavier side, and comfortably above the 250-260 gram range of the Sony WH-1000 XM4 and the Bose 700. Add to that the weight of the smart case (yes, yes, more about it later), which is about 130 grams, and the entire package weighs about half a kilogram.

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But here’s the charm – the AirPods Max do not FEEL heavy. They are very comfortable to wear and the pressure seems just right, tight enough to keep them on your ears but never too right to be painful. They do look very very distinct and perhaps are the most striking headphones we have used for a while in terms of appearance – very handsome and extremely premium with a subtle shine coming off those earcups and the hinges. These replace the Bose 700 as the most premium looking headphones we have used.

Big headset, small case…even if it is a smart case!

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They are definitely bulky, though, and a key concern for us in the coming days is going to be the tendency of those aluminum cups to pick up scratches, and that fabric canopy getting dirty.

The case – here it comes – is not really of much help here, as the canopy protrudes from it, making the whole unit look like a small carry bag, with the canopy being the handle. We really foresee that canopy getting very muddy and smudged if we end up carrying it in the case. The case, incidentally, is very divisive in terms of design – many have said that the case looks like sports lingerie, others have called it very impractical, and yet…my mum (all of 76) actually liked it, calling it simple and very clever. And while the Smart Case does preserve battery, we are however going to recommend getting more comprehensive coverage for these headphones, even as we hope that Apple comes up with a more substantial solution.

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For, at Rs 59,900, the AirPods Max will need a fair amount of protection. Their design is striking and distinct, and they are incredibly comfortable to wear, but the truckload of electronics inside those cups (gyroscopes, microphones, the works) means that they will need special care. It also means that they are designed to deliver very high-quality sound with the ease of use that has now become an Apple tradition of sorts.

The big question is whether they deliver the sort of performance that justifies that very stiff price tag and just how far ahead are they (if they are, indeed) of the current mainstream premium favorites from Bose, Sennheiser, and Sony, and also if they can give the likes of Bang and Olufsen and Bower and Wilkins a few nightmares in that super-premium audio segment.

They look great. But are they a “sound” investment?

Stay tuned for our review.

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