This is not a review of Apple’s new AirPod Max headphones

I’ve had Apple’s AirPod Max headphones for less than 24 hours, so there is no way I would attempt to write a review of any sort. But I do have some of those oh so popular these days “first impressions” to share. Mostly on build quality, but I’ll throw a few first listen thoughts at you too.

These are thoughts that I have now that may change or get reinforced as I continue to evaluate them over the next week or so. So consider the below a sort of draft review that I’m publishing my early notes on. A ‘proto review’.

First, they’re gorgeous. The earcups are beautiful. The band is incredibly sturdy. The netting feels like a high-end piece of furniture. The stems are very well done, with a precision pull out mechanism that acts like a precision milled car piston.

The netting, the ear pads, the clever (though now somewhat common) magnetic centering and clasp. The tuck and roll of the earcup covers providing an invisible seam as they attach to the body. The single piece of aluminum each of the ear cups is made of. How high quality is the build here? Like, this shouldn’t ship for $550 high. Judging from materials execution alone, the AirPod Max feels like it should be more expensive if anything.

There is a tradeoff here that I feel I must mention even in this early review, though: These things are heavy. If you do not like heavy headphones, do not buy the AirPod Max. They are intense, definitely demand being listened to while sitting essentially straight up or leaning back (if you’re actively walking around the house picking up kid’s clothes and toys from the floor, for instance, they tend to want to shift forward from their own weight). These clock in at 386g — over 100g heavier than a pair of Beats over ears. If you have very high end headphones, you may be expecting this kind of weight, most people I think will not be. More on this as I keep using them and trying out adjustments.

There is also a distinct dearth of articulation present here. The piston-style extruding earcups are clever and have wow factor, but there is a limited spring back style articulation of the cup itself which means no folding them inward on themselves like the Bose QCII or Sony MX headphones are capable of. Hence that case I guess.

The controls are fine so far, the crown feels almost exactly like an Apple Watch crown, with maybe slightly more tension. The Siri functions work totally fine, either with a long press of the crown or a ‘Hey Siri’. The earcups have precision detection of position so you can pause by simply lifting one cup.

Taking the headphones off and setting them down turns them off, there is no power button. This feels super natural and nicely Apple-ey. Just put them on to use and take them off to stop.

They charge from any power brick though none is included. Apple says that you’ll get 1.5 hours for 5 minutes of charging but there is no overall fast charge. It’s basically two hours with any USB brick no matter the wattage.

The lack of an included 3.5mm cable means that you have to add $35 to the price to get to a place where you’re comparing these with a Bose or Sony option for seat-back systems on planes and general capability. Speaking of travel…

The lack of real folding options on these, the material in the netting and the pretty definitive ‘one way’ these are meant to articulate means that I do not see these being a regular travel companion for me, on initial pass. Oh, and the case is just as ridiculous as it looks. Sorry. The construction here is just as dodgy as the MagSafe Duo. It feels cheap, and like it will dirty easily, not exactly what you want from a ‘travel case’. And it looks like a butt.

The sound is impressive. Don’t worry about this being in the Beats region of a bass-heavy crowd pleaser. Though there is plenty of low end, this is a more nuanced affair, with crisp delivery across the spectrum. I’ve watched movies, listened to music and had phone conversations, all sounded great. The spatial audio feature, for one, is greatly improved by the larger drivers and enclosed environment. Audio panning and positioning from Atmos content is very cleverly done and if you’re watching from an iOS device it really does feel like you’re in a large sound environment with a strong center positioning at the screen. They feel like you’re listening in a room with no headphones on at all, it is really beyond impressive.

Ok, that’s it for now, more as I continue to check them out. Shortly: super high quality, very heavy, sound solid so far.

For those of you interested, I will test latency with a corded setup but I haven’t been able to yet.

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