Michael Simon, MacWorld:
But at $549, it’s hard to look at the AirPods Pro Max as anything other than a missed opportunity. We knew they wouldn’t come cheap, but AirPods Max are hundreds more than their closest competitor and are arriving pretty late to the game bringing features we’ve seen and heard before. They feature the same Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency mode, and spatial audio that’s available on the AirPods Pro, along with the H1 chip, the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown, and the iPad Air’s colors.
This is such a bad take on AirPods Max from MacWorld. In consumer electronics, competition is all about context. Thus, it’s important to specify exactly what the competitor is when saying, “AirPods Max are hundreds more than their closest competitor” – and this is exactly what Michael Simon does not do. Later on in the article, Simon mentions a few other models including the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700, Sony WH-1000XM3, and the Beats Studio 3. However, it’s not clear if these three models are, in fact, the “closest competitor[s]”.
Let’s say they are. I don’t agree that these three models are direct competitors to AirPods Max. Yes, they all allow you to listen to music, but that’s like saying a bicycle is competitive with a car because they both let you get from Point A to Point B. The truth is Apple’s AirPods line is so far ahead of and has more potential than the competition because the internal hardware is fully programmable. In the context of AirPods Max, the way the drivers are used can be tuned and upgraded over time with new features developed by a world-class computational audio team. This is something that a competitor to AirPods Max needs, and none of the aformentioned models have this.
One more thing, being “pretty late to the game” has been a core part of Apple’s strategy for the past two decades. Apple was late to the game with smartphones (iPhone), tablets (iPad), wearables (Apple Watch), custom silicon for Macs (Apple Silicon), and now – wireless over-the-ear headphones (AirPods Max).
Let’s see if history repeats itself.
Later on, Simon comments on the drivers in AirPods Max.
As far as the sound goes, the AirPods Max feature “a 40-mm Apple-designed dynamic driver that provides rich, deep bass, accurate mid-ranges, and crisp, clean high-frequency extension so every note can be heard.” That sounds nice and likely will sound nice, but a 40mm driver isn’t all that uncommon in high-fi headphones. For example, Sony’s high-rated WH-1000XM3 Wireless Noise-Canceling headphpnes feature 1.57-inch drivers, which convert to 39.878mm, while the Beats Studio 3 have a 50mm driver.
Saying that a 40mm driver “isn’t all that uncommon in high-fi headphones” completely misses the point of what Apple is as a company. Apple has never been about numbers and specifications, and that’s obvious when you consider they don’t even advertise CPU clock speeds on the new M1 Macs anymore.
Apple has always been about engineering to maximize the efficiency of hardware within strict design constraints. So, it doesn’t matter if Apple is using a 40mm driver “while the Beats Studio 3 have a 50mm driver” – this specification is completely irrelevant because what’s important is how Apple uses the drivers, and not how large the drivers are. Another example of this is how Apple approaches its iPhone cameras. Plenty of other phones and digital cameras have much larger sensors, but iPhone still manages to win thanks to Apple’s industry-leading integration of computational photography. The sensor in iPhone is akin to the drivers in AirPods Max. Size only matters to a certain extent. The engineering execution and hardware-software integration is much, much more important.
You’re also not getting an equalizer to let you tweak the bass and treble to your liking. The AirPods Max has the same Adaptive EQ as the AirPods Pro that “adjust the sound to the fit and seal of the ear cushions by measuring the sound signal delivered to a user and adjusting the low and mid-frequencies in real time” but true audiophiles who would spend $549 on a pair of headphones will want to customize the sound.
So, in order to be a “true audiophile”, you have to want to customize the sound of your headphones? That’s completely absurd! I consider myself an audiophile, and I have a large headphone collection that I should probably sell to pay off my student loans to prove it. Guess what? I’ve never thought about customizing the sound signature of my headphones.
With that said, there are certainly people out there who enjoying customizing their audio equipment, but to use the term “true audiophile” as a qualifier for wouldn’t buy AirPods Max is insane. I’m very excited to listen to AirPods Max, and I paid $549 to do so. If that makes me a fake audiophile, so be it.
This take on audiophiles also misses the “on-the-go” use case. I can’t tell you how long I’ve been looking for a headphone that offers really good sound quality with native iOS integration. Until AirPods Max, the closest product that fits this criteria is AirPods Pro – so that’s what I’ve been using. I’m certain that AirPods Max will sound even better than AirPods Pro, and I can’t wait to experience a bump in sound quality when I’m going about my day walking around Tokyo – this is how audiophiles behave in the real world.
When deciding what or who a product is for, it’s silly to paint yourself into a corner with statements that suggest audiophiles won’t buy AirPods Max because they want to customize the sound. Audiophiles, like everyone else, are complex human beings. They’re capable of more than just sitting around the house customizing the sound signature of their audio equipment. Audiophiles have day jobs, audiophiles ride the subway, and some audiophiles even prioritize convenience over absolute sound quality in certain situations. I know, what a shocker! Long story short, I do think that AirPods Max are a very tempting purchase for audiophiles because they offer an excellent level of sound quality plus the convenience of a native iOS-integrated product.
I don’t care how good they sound, they’re priced too high.
Sorry, but this makes no sense whatsoever.