So you want Apple AirPods, and you want noise canceling AirPods, but you don’t particularly care one way or another about the price or even whether they’re in-ear or over-the ear. If they’re AirPods Pro or AirPods Max.
Or maybe… you think the Max are a lot of cash but you’ve also got — you know it — full on FOMO and YOLO so you’re thinking of giving them a go.
Well, either way, do I have the video for you. Just drop kick that subscribe button and bell or I’ll remove the headphone jack, again, and then let’s do this.
Price is going to be one of the biggest and quickest qualifiers for anyone trying to decide between the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.
See, the in-ear AirPods Pro, which came out just over a year ago, will run you $249 US, or $41.50 a month for 6 months on installments. And yeah, you’re not remembering wrong — those were considered on the expensive side at launch. And still to this day. TBH.
The over-the-ear AirPods Max, which just came out now, will run you $549 US, or $91.50 a month for 6 months on installments. Which, you bet your Xbox are absolutely being considered expensive at launch.
And yes, they’re very different, and I’ll go over all of those differences in a hot take minute, but if you want Apple AirPods and you need noise cancelling AirPods, but you can’t or simply won’t spend dime-one more than $250 to get them, let alone twice that much…
Your only current option is the AirPods Pro.
The other big difference between the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max is, literally, big-ness.
The in-ear AirPods Pro are… in-ear, and that means they’re small, really small, small enough to fit in your ears. That have silicon tips, small buds, and a stem that’s shorter and more angled than the originals… and that’s it. They’re truly wireless, which means there’s not even a cable between the two AirPods — just the two pods.
Which is great because that makes them really light, really low profile, and depending how well they stay stuck in your ears, pretty good on the go. Also light. 0.19 ounces light. But, if they fall out, or you leave them out, they’re small enough that you just might lose track of them.
The over-the-ear AirPods… over the ear, and that means they’re bigger, much bigger, big enough to fit around your ears in a way that’s traditionally gotten them called cans. These cans are anodized aluminum on the outside and memory foam and acoustically transparent weave on the inside. There’s no stem but there is a steel band, coated in soft-touch material, and a knit canopy that bridges the them over your head.
So, they’re heavier — much heavier — 13.6 ounces heavier — so while they might not fall out, they might shift around, and while it’s much harder to lose track of them, you’ll never feel like you’re not wearing them. You’ll know by the weight and the encumbrance.
And, honestly, they’re just such different classes of devices, almost innies and outies, you really just have to decide if tiny buds or big cans are look and experience you want.
Up until now, Apple’s AirPods came in every color you could ever want. As long as that color was white. White AirPods, white AirPods 2, white AirPods Pro.
Now, with AirPods Max, Apple has finally — finally — added some color to our audio worlds.
You can get them in silver, black, green, blue, and pink. And, get this, the aluminum cup colors match the new iPad Air colors, and the material canopy covers match the new iPhone 12 colors.
So, they’re two-tone, but if you have either that iPad or that iPhone, or both, you can match one or both of them… if you want to.
So, if all you want is white, not even any silver, just white, you have the AirPods Pro.
If you want some color for your life, and ears, then you’ll need to go with the AirPods Max.
With the AirPods Pro, you get basic sweat and water resistance. IPX4. Which just means keep them out of the dust and dirt and if they get drizzled on or you workout with them, dry them off asap and they’ll probably be ok.
Also, if you lose or damage one of the clip-on tips, you can get a set of single-size replacements from Apple for $8. If you lose or damage a whole pod or the charging case, those replacements will run you $89 or $99 respectively. If the battery flakes out on you, it’s a free service with AppleCare or $49 for either pod or the case without.
The AirPods Max offer no as in zero sweat or water resistance. IPX nothing. Which means you need to do everything you can to keep from getting them dirty or wet, and not wear them in the rain or while sweating heavily.
If you lose or damage one of the magnetically connected cups, you can get a single-side replacement for $69. For the battery, it’s free with AppleCare, or $79 without.
So, with the AirPods Pro, you get a little better protection, an individual fixes are cheaper but those little parts can add up.
With AirPods Max, you get no protection, and while fixes are more expensive, there are slightly fewer parts to fix.
The audio features are broadly very similar between the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max.
Both have active noise cancellation with transparency mode, so you can muffle out sound or just let through the important stuff like conversation or traffic.
Both have adaptive EQ so they can hear what you’re hearing and adjust the audio to fit… the fit.
And both have spatial audio with dynamic head tracking, which means they can take in everything from stereo to surround sound to Atmos and build a sound stage around you, then keep that sound stage relative to how you move your head or the iPhone or iPad you’re watching on.
The AirPods Pro have custom high-excursion drivers and dynamic range amplifiers, to help you get the most out of those tiny, tiny pods.
The AirPods Max have custom dynamic drivers with dual-neodymium ring magnet’s to fill those cups as crisply and cleanly as possible.
And they both rely on Apple H1 systems-in-package, basically 10-core headphone chipsets, to handle all the processing for… all of it. Which is just freaky silicon.
So, in other words, they’re almost computationally identical.
For mics, the Pros have dual, beamforming microphones so you can talk as cleanly and clearly as possible, and an inward facing mic for the noise and EQ detection.
The Max have a whopping eight microphones for Active Noise Cancellation. Two of those also handle voice pickup for beam-forming, and there’s a ninth mic that just handles wind noise cancellation.
Yeah, serious escalation in hardware for a roughly similar result in audio out.
Sensors isn’t usually something you think about for headsets but it’s something Apple has been leaning on heavily for AirPods.
In the Max, you have optical and positional sensors in each cup, which detect if you take them off or just pull one cup aside, so it can pause and play automatically. Also, accelerometers in both cups and a gyroscope in the left cup, which does things like sleep to save battery if they’re just sitting on a table or something. Also for the spatial audio.
In the Pro, you’ve got dual optical sensors for the same type of on-off detection, as well as an accelerometer for the same stuff as the Max, but also a second one specifically for speech detection. Plus, a force sensor for the pinch controls.
So, no big differences there either, just what’s appropriate to both pods.
With all this computational audio power, you’re going to want a ton of control, right? Well, you’ll get what Apple gives you.
Meaning, with the AirPods Pro, you can click the stem to play, pause, or answer a call, click twice to skip back, or thrice to skip forward. That’s right, I said thrice. You can also press and hold to switch from noise cancellation to transparency and back. For everything else, you have to use Siri or your iPhone, iPad, or other Apple device.
With the AirPods Max, you have the Digital Crown, just like on the Apple Watch. You can turn it for volume, click once to play, pause, or answer a call, click twice to skip forward or thrice to skip back. You can also press and hold for Siri, if you don’t want to say the hey, because… there’s a second, dedicated button to switch between noise cancellation and transparency. For everything else, though, it’s still Siri or your device.
The AirPods Pro connect over Bluetooth. With Apple devices, the H1 chip kicks in to handle everything from set up to the audio stream as quickly, conveniently, and consistently as the technology allows. It basically makes Bluetooth the best that it can be, even if that best is still constrained by it still being Bluetooth.
For other devices, like Android or Windows, you get plain vanilla Bluetooth.
The AirPods Max have the same Bluetooth strengths and limits, on Apple devices and for Android and Windows. But you can also get an optional Lightning to 3.5mm headphone cable and plug them into any other audio source with an AUX port. You can’t listen passively. Your AirPods Max have to be powered. But you can listen.
So, if you want a hardline into the matrix, you’ll need to go Max.
Both the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max charge over Lightning cable. Well, the Pro via their charging case and the Max directly. That cable is USB-C on the back end, so you’ll need a computer with a USB-C port or a sold-separately USB-C to AC adapter to get your charge on.
For the Pros, five minutes of charging will get you one hour of use.
For the Max, five minutes of charging will get you an hour and half of use.
Each of the Pro pods can go 4 1/2 hours per charge with noise canceling on, and the case can hold 24 hours of charge. If you’re listening to mono audio, like a podcast, you can double the duration by using one pod at a time.
The Max don’t have a charging case, just a wrap that puts them into a deep power-saving sleep, so what charge they carry is what charge you go, and since the right and left are connected, you can’t double dip either. It’s 20 hours max on a full, fresh charge.
So, if maximum battery life is what you want, it’s actually the Pros and their case that’ll give it to you.
So, if you want light, almost intangible Apple AirPods that are low key but pack a big computational punch, can be recharged or swapped all day and then some, but only come in white, you want the AirPods Pro.
If you want classical cans with an all-new computational power, that are much higher profile but will engulf you in sound stage, and finally come in actual colors, then you want the AirPods Pro.