The AirPods Max Case Doesn't Suck

Calling AirPods Max a controversial product is an understatement. Many have bashed the $549 price point, and others have complained about their weight. The biggest complaint about AirPods Max, however, is its case. People say it looks funny, and I guess it does, but why does that make it bad? As someone who’s owned a variety of headphones and in-ear monitors (both low-end and high-end), I just don’t understand the level of hostility towards the AirPods Max case. It’s one of the most functional and practical headphone cases I’ve ever used. It provides a decent level of protection for the ear cups, while still allowing you to put AirPods Max in a bag or backpack. It’s refreshing.

The AudioQuest Nighthawk case is the opposite of convenient.

The AudioQuest Nighthawk case is the opposite of convenient. (Source: Head-Fi)

The same can’t be said for many of the headphones of comparable quality. The case that came with my AudioQuest NightHawk headphone is extremely bulky – it’s basically a giant faux-leather box that only fits in my suitcase. The same can be said for my Focal Utopia headphones. The case is gigantic, and doesn’t fit in my camera bag or backpack. So, Apple has done something different with AirPods Max. When it comes to the headphone form factor, there are really only two ways to execute a case – bulky and inconvenient, or slim and convenient. AirPods Max were designed to be a wireless headphone for use on the go. Thus, it only makes sense for its case to be slim and convenient – that way people can actually put it in their bags and backpacks.

I get the sense that many of the people complaining about the AirPods Max case have little to no experience with high-end headphones (make no mistake, AirPods Max are indeed high-end headphones). If you think the AirPods Max case sucks, what would you have done differently in terms of design while maintaining slimness and convenience?

I Bought AirPods Max Off eBay

I did it. I caved and bought a pair of Sky Blue AirPods Max off eBay. I had to pay a 30% markup plus international shipping, but they’ll be arriving in a few days instead of in a few months. The more I read about them, the more I can’t wait to listen to them. Was it a stupid decision to buy them from eBay?

Practically, yes. Emotionally, no.

Stay tuned for more thoughts on AirPods Max over the next few weeks. I plan on doing thorough sound quality comparisons with the headphones below.

  • Sennheiser HD 600
  • Focal Utopia
  • Shure KSE1200
  • AudioQuest NightHawk
  • Shure SE846
  • Sennheiser HD 25

Delivery is scheduled for December 24 – just in time for Christmas.

Hosting on Cloudflare Workers Sites and Vercel

Some people may view this as paranoid (it sort of is I guess), but I host this blog on both Cloudflare Workers Sites and Vercel. The idea was that if Cloudflare Workers ever suffered a service interruption (which it sometimes does), I could quickly point my DNS to Vercel and pretend nothing happened.

Well, it finally happened last night!

A Cloudflare Workers service disruption.

A Cloudflare Workers service disruption.

I initially noticed the problem when a few of my pages started returning 404 errors. Also, my home page kept throwing script execution errors. After confirming the issue was on Cloudflare’s side, I pointed my DNS to Vercel and was back online within a few minutes. After Cloudflare resolved their issues, I updated my DNS configuration again.

Usually, primary-backup configurations like this one is prohibitively expensive for personal blogs – this is especially true for WordPress and other dynamic backends. In my case, hosting my backup Vercel is completely free! I suppose this is another advantage of publishing to a static site.

Apple's Cloud Computing Play →

Amazon Web Services:

Starting today, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Mac instances for macOS are generally available. Built on Apple Mac mini computers, EC2 Mac instances enable customers to run on-demand macOS workloads in the AWS cloud for the first time, extending the flexibility, scalability, and cost benefits of AWS to all Apple developers. With EC2 Mac instances, developers creating apps for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, Apple TV, and Safari can now provision and access macOS environments within minutes, dynamically scale capacity as needed, and benefit from AWS’s pay-as-you-go pricing.

Back in November, Amazon Web Services announced general availability for EC2 Mac instances. This new class of EC2 machines allows developers to run scalable macOS workloads on Amazon’s cloud. Previously, macOS cloud computing was somewhat of a niche service offered by vendors like MacStadium and MacinCloud. Amazon’s EC2 Mac instance is the first example of a top tier cloud computing vendor entering the macOS space.

At the moment, AWS is using Mac minis powered by Intel 8th Generation Core i7 processors. For general consumers, the Mac mini configuration used by AWS comes out to ~$1,999, and Geekbench scores clock in at 1,102 for single-core performance and 5,383 for multi-core performance. By comparison, the new M1 Mac mini has a single-core score of 1,749 and a multi-core score of 7,685 at over half the price of the Intel Core i7 Mac mini.

This is why I’m so bullish on Apple as an investment going into 2021 and beyond. I don’t think Amazon is going to replace its Mac infrastructure in the next 2-3 years, but it’s bound to happen someday. With the hardware switch from Intel to Apple Silicon, it’ll take a few years for the ecosystem to stabilize to a point where mass-scale buy-in from the likes of AWS, and perhaps even GCP and Azure, is feasible – so sticking with Intel Macs makes sense for now.

Another question I have is whether Macs powered by Apple Silicon will be adapted to run Linux workloads in the future as well. In the past, there was really no reason to use Macs for Linux virtual machines. With Apple Silicon’s current performance metrics and its speculative performance trajectory for future M-series chips, it’ll be interesting to see whether vendors will start using Macs for general-purpose Linux computing in addition to macOS workloads.

In either case, I think Apple Silicon’s performance characteristics combined with Intel’s recent struggles gives Apple a prime opportunity to disrupt the cloud computing space with its proprietary silicon. Let’s see what happens.

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The Impact of Apple Silicon Macs on Broadway

In a previous life, I was an electronic music designer working on Broadway shows in New York City. Broadway shows look glamorous and expensive on the outside, but it’s often quite the opposite on the inside – at least for the music department. One of the toughest parts of my job as an electronic music designer was to find the best performance-to-cost ratio for computer rigs powering keyboards, guitars, playback tracks, and more.

Over the past decade, Broadway has replaced large sections of traditional orchestras with synthesizers, playback systems, and electronic drum pads. I’m not in support of that, but that’s a story for another day. The point here is that Broadway’s reliance on computer-driven rigs has increased, while the typical budget required to build high-end stable rigs hasn’t increased at the same rate.

Some shows I’ve worked at set aside a $10,000-$12,000 budget for two keyboard rigs. That sounds like a lot of money at first, but it’s not. For live shows, it’s usually best to have a 1:1 backup in case the main rig fails. That fact alone means you have to design a rig that fits within 50% of the proposed budget. Furthermore, a high-quality keyboard controller alone is $1,500-2,000 – so that means there’s $3,000 left for a computer and everything else.

Due to budget constraints, many shows end up using Mac minis. Historically speaking, the Mac mini’s computing power has been a bottleneck for electronic music designers on Broadway. In a perfect world, we’d all like to use the best-sounding sample libraries for our work, but that was never feasible with the Mac mini. Thus, the compromise was always to reduce sound quality to fit within the Mac mini’s compute constraints.

Apple Silicon changes everything for Broadway electronic music designers. The new M1 Mac mini is capable of running high-end sample libraries and virtual instruments in a stable manner, and it’s only going to get better with M2, M3, and M4-series chips in the future. The performance per dollar characteristics of Apple Silicon machines are going to have a huge impact on Broadway’s sound, and I’m very excited to see, or hear, what happens.