AirPods Max
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tkddans

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Tune in for a headphone critic discussion about the APM. Happening now!

EDIT: Notes on discussion...

Crinacle:
Also has a full review here... Crinacle Written APM Review
- APM tuned great, especially considering expecting old beats level of bass. Technicality is in the middle of the grand scheme of things
- Ultimate problem is price of $550; not competitive. Closest competition is Sony and Bose, but double.
- DSP is the future; even speakers have DSP now. I don't think there should be a stigma around it. I understand you can't use DSP to solve all problems, but at the same time not everything needs to be fixed from the housing itself. Sometimes you an adjust EQ to fix better than you would with [hardware]
- I don't think the adaptive EQ succeeds completely; there will be a break in seal [and other problems to overcome]
- I don't think it's that blunted. I've definitely heard more blunted. I've found the Drop Panda's more blunted. In terms of the AirPods Max, it is not very detailed, but at the same time I wouldn't call it detailess.
- Resolution of the mid would be the weakest point. The treble would be second. The vocals [....] where I would expect the breathiness, it is...a lot of the detail still don't pop up. This is already giving it an already good benchmark. Let's say you give it an orchestral track, I wouldn't say it falls apart, but it definitely struggles - especially if you put it up against the HD 560 S. Next to the AirPods max, it's not even a competition.
- I would put the sony at the bottom for technicality
- Bose would be an interesting comparison. Maybe it would be on the same level (the 700); the APM are much better tuned though than the 700
- I would still prefer the APM because I'm a sub bass boy
- I think none of them are worth their price
- I took a one hour bus ride, with the APM, I was just done. I never wanted to use them again. They're heavy. The mesh hand band is not very grippy. It slides along my head. It's even worse because they're so heavy. I had to readjust the headphones constantly. Even the tiniest move of my neck caused a break seal.
- My concern [with ANC] is more that if you are in a loud environment, the ANC starts to fritz out. It's something I would expect for $100 ANC, but for $550, I can't forgive it. [...] At the end of my bus ride, I said never again.
- The ANC for low attenuation is good, but it is inconsistent
- [with spatial audio] I finally hear a surround sound. It sounds like it comes from the back..when you move your head..
- [speaking of the question regarding market positioning] You would have die-hard fans who would say the products are best in the industry because it is Apple. You see this with iPhone, MacBook, iMac, Mac Pro, the Apple TV. Literally anything Apple has done. There will be diehard fans.
- Most our gripes are with the price. If they were APP price, you know, $250, there is so much about the APM that are so similar - with the way it connects with the apple device. They both have ANC and connect to iOS. That's their similarities and that's where it ends. For $300, you can't argue it. The APP, I will argue, are better sounding in more regards. it doesn't present anything different that can justify the price. That's the biggest problem I have of it.
- The main thing people are busting my balls over, is that I bashed the imaging performance. The main defense for [it actually being true] is because apple said so, because [marketing]
- They sound like a closed back headphone.
- DMS said the soundstage and imaging are actually pretty bad?

Headphone Show:
- In any review, there's bound to be comparisons
- I'm in inclined to agree with [Crinacle's] opinion on tuning
- Acoustic challenges with these headphones are being solved with electronics [DSP]. You can tell this is happening with these as well.
- The adaptive EQ feature makes it so, regardless of the coupling, you will get a response targeted
- In my opinion, this tuning is in some ways essential for this kind of device. Especially for the bass, it was a requirement to make it fit, not just for the audience, but for this device. The upward kind of tilt for the sub-base is kind of essential. Linear sound with low res headphones is boring. Linear sound with high technicality is great. I think they nailed it with the tuning. Close enough, especially with the vocals.
- One of the things I notice the more I listen...you've often described headphones lack of detail or technical capability as blunted, and I'm going to shamelessly steal this description. That's the best description yet for these headphones. I wonder if this is due in part due to the computation or artificial dampening used to get the response for these headphones.
- For me it's not surprising (in response to Crinacle comparing to 560 S), considering the features it comes with.
- For instrument separation [...] thats the biggest weakness in the APM; the tuning is ok
- For technicality, I put it above the qc35
- The sony is garbage
- The upper mids on the Bose 700 are real weird; but the benefit is that it has ear gain more than the Max
- There's a gentle downward slope on the bass; that's the smartest thing they did; that's the way to do it
- That's what's so ridiculous about the xm4. You can use the EQ with the app [...] it's great that it retains the profile among devices, but the downside is that you can't reduce the bass shelf around 200-300 hz. That is the biggest bummer with the xm4
- As you're saying, if sound quality is your priority, none of these are your thing
- As far as use case is concerned, I'm confused, apart from [apple users]. It's not really that comfortable. On long plane rides, I don't know if I would be able to have them for that long.
- The thing that doesnt make much sense for me is that the ANC isn't consistent. When I go outside and walk around and change the environment, it's almost like there's a catch up. It has to catch up with the environment. I don't know if it's a firmware update or...
- For low hums like airplanes, I don't know why I wouldn't use IEM's. I love the APP.
- I think for the amount of stuff that attenuates in the right conditions, I think it competes for the best ANC out there; but I would put it behind the Bose 700 [for all situations]
- This is a deal for watching movies on a plane, but who is doing that now [referencing corona and no one traveling]
- What do you think about spatial audio? [talking to Crinacle]
- It turned movies into binaural audio, for me.
- [Speaking to Crinacle] One of the things I liked about your review is that you evaluated it as a headphones device [as opposed to just an apple user or tech rich device].
- What do you think about the idea of the way this product is positioned in the market for people who may not be knoweldgabel about the high end stuff?
- There's nothing for the prosumer that [makes these worth it]; there are other headphones better for the prosumer, even within the Apple ecosystem. It's not really better than anything else that are way less expensive.
- I am disappointed...with this price tag and the fact that this is an Apple device, there was a hope that this would take steps toward wired closed back. I was thinking "ok they knocked it out of the park with the APP. What can they do with over ear headphones at a higher price point? [...] Can they do what no other ANC has been able to do?" I think the answer to that is no.
- When evaluating something like this for its merits and [trying not to be unbiased], you're bound to still have the staunch defenders on something. You said it was pretty good right? You gave it a B- right? That's not that bad.
- I'm not bothered by the soundstage, but it's not the greatest thing ever.
- The vocal range preset is the most balanced. If apple says the balanced preset is the most balanced, they are wrong.
- There is something MKHD said that really bothered me; he said for people streaming from Spotify, something like the APM is capping out what the streaming services can offer in terms of bitrate and all that stuff. That's just false. I don't like the suggestion that we are limited by the streaming services, so something like [the APM is fine, because it maxes out at what the streaming offers]; 320 is not the bottleneck he made it seem. Now there's all these people who think there's not all that distance between what I listen to and the high end stuff "so why would I care."
- Recording quality often is more important than the difference between 256 and 320.
- When you measure it on the rig, the clamp force [interacts with] the seal [...] and the results. They won't be representative of the clamp force and results of the head. For that reason, I found it nearly impossible to measure the presets.
- It's not clear if the presets apply to all media playback.

Tyler Manuel:
- If [DSP is done for you]
- I’m actually very excited to try the Max... the AirPods Pro are pretty awesome but kill my ears after an hour
- Spatial audio is pretty amazing from what I’ve heard
- Yea [I love the APP too]
- I have the AirPod Pros, I think Resolve would pick the Bose 700 or XM4 maybe? Crin not sure but probably an IEM with good isolation
 
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ubs28

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They definitely don’t seem like wireless 800’s. But they aren’t so surprisingly far off for my ears, to obtaining the joy high end offers. Depending on taste many people will prefer them over some high end offerings.

But then again, there are headphones classified as midfi, according to a price of $200-600 or so, that listeners think sound more enjoyable than the hifi options - according to price.
Not suprisingly far off the HD800S? Do you work for Apple by any chance or do you listen to the HD 800S from a potato?

The soundstage is twice the size, the speed and details is an other level. The APM sounds muddy, cloudy and claustrophobic next to the HD 800S and this with crappy music quality (to make it fair as the APM does not support high resolution audio).

If you like the APM more than the HD 800S, fair play and enjoy as much as you can. But the APM is not close at all.
 
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tkddans

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Not suprisingly far off the HD800S? Do you work for Apple by any chance or do you listen to the HD 800S from a potato?

The soundstage is twice the size, the speed and details is an other level. The APM sounds muddy, cloudy and claustrophobic next to the HD 800S and this with crappy music quality (to make it fair as the APM does not support high resolution audio).

If you like the APM more than the HD 800S, fair play and enjoy as much as you can. But the APM is not close at all.
I'm writing up a comparison between the two now. Will post after this YouTube live discussion is finished. Sorry to be confusing in my descriptions. I made the mistake of saying loose qualitative terms like "not far off." My account of "not far" may be very far for some. More details to come in my review, that get more specific and how much I DO prefer the 800 S in many respects.
 
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ubs28

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I'm writing up a comparison between the two now. Will post after this YouTube live discussion is finished. Sorry to be confusing in my descriptions. I made the mistake of saying loose qualitative terms like "not far off." My account of "not far" may be very far for some. More details to come in my review, that get more specific and how much I DO prefer the 800 S in many respects.
I do not need to watch your review because I have the APM right here with the HD 800 S too.

I do wonder what you think about the Bose NC 700 though. Because the Bose NC 700 with EQ adjustments in the app sounds much much closer to the APM then the APM is to the HD 800S.

Anyway, everybody is entitled to their own opinion so I will respect that. But I do have some good laughs though.

Enjoy the APM I’d say and sell your HD 800S I guess.
 
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kdphan

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It’s interesting how upset people get over other people’s opinion.

everyone is entitled to their opinion.

relax y’all.

my opinion: no, they do not punch at levels of HD800, Focal Clear, anything around $1k that needs an amp/dac. But, I think it’s great for $550 with what I use it for, which is ANC, spatial audio and moving around my desk w/o wires. Sound quality happens to be also great on them.
 
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It’s interesting how upset people get over other people’s opinion.

everyone is entitled to their opinion.

relax y’all.

my opinion: no, they do not punch at levels of HD800, Focal Clear, anything around $1k that needs an amp/dac. But, I think it’s great for $550 with what I use it for, which is ANC, spatial audio and moving around my desk w/o wires. Sound quality happens to be also great on them.
Well said, I read way many comments here. Normally if I read someone comment that sounds angry toward other's opinions that opposites to his. Next time I would skip reading comments from that members. It is not worthy to spend time anymore.
 
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ubs28

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Head-fi is really 1 big comedy show into the next one. If you have the feeling that I am angry, then please block me then as I have no control over how you feel about what I say.

Thanks for the entertainment though, I did not expect to have even more big laughs coming back here.

Anyway, I am done here as this thread is useless as there are more interesting discussions elsewhere about the APM.
 
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MICHAELSD

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It’s all about perspective. I’ve heard some reviews complain about the price, while I’ve also heard reviewers accustomed to $1,000+ headphones like the Focal Utopia say that they “only cost $549.”

The general consensus is that AirPods Max is not necessarily overpriced for the level of build and sound quality, but decidedly uncompetitive at a price point that’s almost double its closest competition.

I still believe the price target Apple has to hit is $349 to break into the broader consumer market. If AirPods Max had been priced at $349-$399 to start then I think it would have a much greater impact on Bose and Sony.

One example of a recent Apple product that I feel was priced right is HomePod Mini. I’m still slightly in disbelief that I was able to purchase a full-fledged Apple product, complete with a USB-C cable and 20w charger, for less than $100. I ordered it day one without even thinking about it and immediately upon unboxing it became one of my favorite Apple products in a while, and I probably would have done the same with AirPods Max.

I’ve heard that initial stock for AirPods Max was possibly at around 10,000 units, which explains why it’s sold out for weeks. If this was a product manufactured on the scale of other Apple products then that wouldn’t be the case at this price point.
 
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It’s all about perspective. I’ve heard some reviews complain about the price, while I’ve also heard reviewers accustomed to $1,000+ headphones like the Focal Utopia say that they “only cost $549.”

The general consensus is that AirPods Max is not necessarily overpriced for the level of build and sound quality, but decidedly uncompetitive at a price point that’s almost double its closest competition.

I still believe the price target Apple has to hit is $349 to break into the broader consumer market. If AirPods Max had been priced at $349-$399 to start then I think it would have a much greater impact on Bose and Sony.

One example of a recent Apple product that I feel was priced right is HomePod Mini. I’m still slightly in disbelief that I was able to purchase a full-fledged Apple product, complete with a USB-C cable and 20w charger, for less than $100. I ordered it day one without even thinking about it and immediately upon unboxing it became one of my favorite Apple products in a while, and I probably would have done the same with AirPods Max.

I’ve heard that initial stock for AirPods Max was possibly at around 10,000 units, which explains why it’s sold out for weeks. If this was a product manufactured on the scale of other Apple products then that wouldn’t be the case at this price point.
The AirPods max offer features that neither the Bose nor Sony offer with better build quality, materials, and even sound. They also improve upon some of the features of the Sony and Bose offerings. I don’t get why people feel like it should have been priced at the MSRP offered by the Sony and lower than that of the Bose. To be frank, if they were priced at 400, they’d be an absolute steal IMO. Personally, I feel like if you wanted to match the value that Sony has in their offering, a listing at 450 would be fair. While I agree that 550 is a little steep for them, it’s not as absurd as many people put it out to be.

To hit the 350-400 price range, Apple could switch to plastic housings, maybe use aluminum instead of stainless for the headband, and get something with lower sound quality and you’d be competitive with the Sony and Bose whilst remaining in that price range. They could still do this.

I’ve no clue what the initial stock of the Max is, no one really does; there isn’t a good way to get any estimate on it either. We actually don’t know what kind of scale this was manufactured at.
 
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I am pretty certain that I would enjoy the AirPod Max's pretty well. Really poor sounding headphones don't exist anymore, at a certain price point the least and that would be 100 USD
As an example: even though my Momentum M2s are my least favorite, with a small soundstage and little instrument separation, I can still enjoy them. The heart and soul of the music is a constant. No matter how much better a pair is in technical sense, it will not make the music sound fundamentally different.
It is all about choices. I could have quit buying headphones a long time ago and just be perfectly satisfied with one single pair for the time it lasts.
The AirPod Max as a jack of all trades pair could be the ultimate headphone for a lot of people. A pleasing, easy-going well balanced sound (most agree on this), well built, the battery is replaceable, the ear pads are replaceable, there will be firmware updates. 550 USD isn't that expensive when you take everything in consideration: it is a luxury product with premium materials, they do everything pretty well and sound decent overall and it seems they are built to last.
I'd say just get a pair, don't compare and enjoy.
That said, I am not gonna buy them though :)
 
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The AirPods max offer features that neither the Bose nor Sony offer with better build quality, materials, and even sound. They also improve upon some of the features of the Sony and Bose offerings. I don’t get why people feel like it should have been priced at the MSRP offered by the Sony and lower than that of the Bose. To be frank, if they were priced at 400, they’d be an absolute steal IMO. Personally, I feel like if you wanted to match the value that Sony has in their offering, a listing at 450 would be fair. While I agree that 550 is a little steep for them, it’s not as absurd as many people put it out to be.

To hit the 350-400 price range, Apple could switch to plastic housings, maybe use aluminum instead of stainless for the headband, and get something with lower sound quality and you’d be competitive with the Sony and Bose whilst remaining in that price range. They could still do this.

I’ve no clue what the initial stock of the Max is, no one really does; there isn’t a good way to get any estimate on it either. We actually don’t know what kind of scale this was manufactured at.
To offer all of those benefits/features with a competitive $349 price would have made AirPods Max the industry leader right out of the gate. That would have been the game-changer that the market needed.

At $549 Apple is establishing a new category of ultra-premium ANC headphones that may or may not take off. As it has with smartphones and other products it’s possible the rest of the industry will follow suit and $549 will be the new standard price point for similar offerings from other brands.

Time will tell, but I do still believe they will need to offer a lower-priced model for AirPods Max to take off the way the rest of the AirPods line has. I would predict that the main differentiator will be material quality and that the drivers/sound quality will remain the same.
 
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It’s all about perspective. I’ve heard some reviews complain about the price, while I’ve also heard reviewers accustomed to $1,000+ headphones like the Focal Utopia say that they “only cost $549.”
Exactly. I personally don't have any issue with the negative feedback some are giving, it's their opinion. BUT, what doesn't make sense, and I believe another poster said this, why are people on here bashing them WHEN THEY HAVEN'T EVEN TRIED THEM. To me that's just childish. It's like you're wanting the headphones to fail and for what? There are many headphones I haven't tried, the K361BT, anything from JBL, the MSR7, 1AM2, Focal Utopia, and the list goes on. It's like me going over to a Focal Utopia forum and bashing the price and posting every negative review I can find. What's the end game? If someone listens to the Max and say they sound comparable to the HD800S, that's their right and their ears. Who are you to tell them they're crazy? They have listened to both and formed their own opinion. It's much more credible than someone who hasn't even heard the Max.

I personally feel the Max sounds better than every other Wireless ANC headphone I've heard. My former favorites were the Dali iO-6, Shure Aonic 50, and B&O H95. Based on the price of those and the features that the Max bring to the table, I feel the price is reasonable. Do I think these compete with the Sennheiser HD800S when properly amped? No. But I definitely understand and can see why some would say that. The Max are shockingly good to my ears for a Wireless ANC headphone. Combine that with the convenience of wireless, build quality, seamless integration with all my Apple devices, and for my head and ears, comfort, and for me they're more fun and intriguing to use than the HD800S. I guess I'm crazy :rolling_eyes:
 
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HD 800 S vs APM vs APP
Click here for a link to a comparison of the AirPods Max to AKG K361 and Drop + THX Panda

First off, let me say how stupid this sounds. I know. But I'm doing it anyway for pure curiosity and sharing with you all my impressions of the two side by side. Track for track. Follow along with your favorite headphones if you like!


Setup for HD 800 S:
AMP:
Schiit Magni; boost switch turned on in back. Volume knob at around 75% of max.
DAC: Schiit Modi
Cable: Default that came with headphones
Source: Apple Music on iMac, with Music App volume at around 90% max

Setup for AirPods Max and APP:
Source:
Apple Music on iPhone 12 Pro Max, with Music app


Track 1 - Bauklotze
Album:
Attack on Titan (Original Soundtrack)
Artist: Hiroyuki Sawano
File info: Apple Music AAC; 256 kbps bit rate; 44.100 kHz sample rate; "low profile" complexity (I don't know what that means); stereo channels
What we get from this track: Female vocals, with instruments ranging from electric guitar, to drums, to strings.

As the first track, I'll probably have more notes...

Notes on the HD 800 S:
- Less bass. But here, that's a good thing. The fainter sounds of the instruments have a chance to come out more easily as I listen to the track.
- Better separation. To my ear, I can make out the different instruments more easily. This may again be due in part to the overriding bass that can occur in the APM relative to the other frequencies.
- Returning to the 800 S after the APM, starting the track over, immediately the small wooden clapping (not sure what instrument that is; sorry I'm not a musician or expert) becomes clearer. This is enjoyable to hear so clearly without bass being present to fill the space. But you do miss out on that bass character.
- The lighter drum (snare?) sounds crisp. It pops on the 800 S in a delightful way.

Notes on the AirPods Max:
- More bass. As stated, this may interfere with my ability to more easily pull detail from other instruments in the track. However, this bass does give a subjectively enjoyable thump to the track that the HD 800 S does not. Going back and forth, one could miss the bass when they move to the 800 S.
- As you move from the 800 S to the APM, you may miss the clearer separation of instruments. Though the detail can be discerned, it IS there in the APM, it isn't as readily available. There's less ease to the APM compared to the 800 S in delivering these details. There is less spaciousness in the sound, in the soundstage I suppose.
- Returning to the APM and restarting the track, looking for those wooden clapping noises and the drum...they are still there without focusing too much actually. But again, what's getting in the way is the bass presence. The vocals also appear less separated from the noise of instruments and bass. However, the vocals are still very clear and there. It all just sounds like they compete a little bit more for your attention. Again...is this the bass mainly overriding the rest, blending the soundscape a bit too much?
- Vocals do sing beautifully to me.
- Returning to the APM after trying the 800 S and APP back to back, and suddenly it has what neither have - bass! It can feel bloated at first impression when you're used to the other two headphones, but they also bring the fun and relaxation that only bass brings.
- Compared to the APP, the vocals are a lot more under control and a lot less harsh compared to the APP for female vocals during high notes.
- Nearing the end of this track test, compared to the HD 800 S, the APM clearly has has a smaller soundstage. Nonetheless, it's great to still hear the instruments all present.

Notes on the AirPods Max with accessibility turned on to "Balanced: Slight":
- The overall quality seems worse in some respects due to the compression. But it's a tradeoff situation. The bass calms down enough for the other instruments to be more apparent. I like that. But the bass region was also a good thing, in its own right, when accessibility was turned off.
- On initial impression, the relaxed sound of the out of box APM signature is lost a bit. There does seem to be a bit of a crude harshness to my ear. But man, sound testing is messed up. You listen repeatedly to anything and you start to get irritated. It's time to move to another track for my sanity.

Notes on the AirPods Pro
- Immediately, I notice the bass is far less compared to the APM.
- The vocals are far more up front compared to the rest of the track
- The signature is just generally much brighter than the APM. This could be subjectively better to many people. It certainly gives me an appreciation too of the song I don't get with the APM. This is a tuning difference more than an overall preference.
- Going from the APM relaxed listening with more bass and lower mids, the APP by comparison can feel a bit jarring - at least listening back to back. Bright is fun in its own right here, I do find myself missing the relaxed and and fuller impression of the APM.
- Being on the brighter side compared to the APM, I try on the HD 800 S...wow the HD 800 S obviously outshines the APP. It softens the overly high treble of the APP and lets the mids and lower end come out in greater balance. Dynamics on the HD 800's outperform. Interestingly though...the APP still retain a kind of punchy fun that the HD 800's don't have. Apple seems to know how to maintain "fun," albeit with less technical proficiency in soundstage or neutral balance
- After listening to the HD 800 S, the APP can feel a bit jarring to move to, in a bad way. Listening for a couple minutes longer on the same track, it can feel tiring with the accentuated female vocals on the track, without much in the lower end to mellow the sound out enough.


Track 2 - Bass & Drum Intro
Album:
Live
Artist: Nils Lofgren Band
File info: Apple Music AAC; 256 kbps bit rate; 44.100 kHz sample rate; "low profile" complexity (I don't know what that means); stereo channels
What we get from this track: Guitar and drums

Notes on the HD 800 S:
- As usual, clarity is king here. Audience cheering, clapping, is all very clear and feels more as if you are there.
- Guitar kicks in and sounds truer to life, from lower notes to high. Plucks of the string are clean.
- The dynamic between the drums and guitar are clear and separate. Am I missing accurate bass though? The bass drum seems maybe too clean? I'm not a drummer and haven't listened to live enough to be sure. The 800's sound almost perfect to me in authenticity, except for maybe that low end being lacking.

Notes on the APM:
- Cheering, clapping sound good. Not as crystal clear as HD 800's.
- Guitar strings immediately carry tones of bass with them where the HD 800's had entirely not. Plucks feel more rounded at the edges, with a hefty thump to them. Deep bass notes of the guitar are extremely satisfying to my ear here.
- The drums coming in sound rich as well, albeit probably not as accurate overall. The track almost feigns a more real life performance more than the HD 800, simply because of the very satisfying bass and punchy lower mids. Very fun! In this sense, I prefer listening with the APM here. Very subjective.

Notes on the APP:
- Audience and cheers are clear. Closer to 800's attempt at things perhaps? Maybe not. Very short moment, hard to tell where they stand in this kind of testing.
- Guitar strings immediately do not carry the bass and punch on each pluck compared to the APM.
- Drums are there, but with neither the accuracy of the 800's nor as much of the punchy fun of the APM


Track 3 - Killing Time
Album:
Legend of the Black Shawarma
Artist: Infected Mushroom
File info: Apple Music AAC; 256 kbps bit rate; 44.100 kHz sample rate; "low profile" complexity (I don't know what that means); stereo channels
What we get from this track: Electronic. Wide range of frequencies. Male vocals.

Notes on the HD 800 S:
- Benchmark to measure the others against. Clarity as always. Clear separation of sounds, real or synthetic. Beautiful granular detail maintained of digital sounds. Listening fatigue may be setting in though, be it testing or too much HD 800's?

Notes on the APM:
- Detail seems present, but the bass here serves to recess the other sounds a bit.
- Digital sounds still appear clear
- Vocals are a APM strength it seems
- Overall, the track may be described as more "fun"; punchy and fills the listening experience, for good and bad, with bass presence

Notes on the APP:
- Details are not as clean compared to either the APM or HD 800's (listen for the crinkly digital sound effect that occurs at the start and at other moments in the track)
- Tries to have fun, but the punchiness and treble doesn't save it from having too little bass response; if anything, the listening experience is not as relaxing as the APM with its bass, or as the HD 800 S with its neutrality and generally clean response
- Increasingly, the APP come off as trying to push a loud mid/treble to compensate for a lack of balance, fun, and clarity of the compared products


Track 4 - The Xith Commandment
Album:
Feels So Good
Artist: Chuck Mangione
File info: Apple Music AAC; 256 kbps bit rate; 44.100 kHz sample rate; "low profile" complexity (I don't know what that means); stereo channels
What we get from this track: Guitar, drums, bongos, wind instrument. Jazz. Great recording with great instrument separation possible and well mastered balance dynamics between them. Stereo channels are utilized to shift sound from one ear to another at times.

Notes on the HD 800 S:
- Again, the reference here for clarity and separation. Stereo dynamics play beautifully as instruments shift from one ear to another and as instruments compliment one another. The balance of the instruments are as such that nothing overly competes over another.
- Listening does begin to fatigue

Notes on the APM:
- Separation isn't as clear to my ear
- Dynamics aren't as evenly balanced between the instruments. Lower frequency guitar strings take prominence over bongos.
- Volume has to be maxed out on phone to be enjoyable, but does just barely make it to where I want it.
- Horn comes in clearly enough to be appreciated, along with other sounds.
- Stereo isn't as delightful here as with the HD 800 S. Sound stage does not feel as wide, therefor.
- No fatigue is experienced though, and I can still say I had fun on this track, yet again.

Notes on the APP:
- Immediately I wondered if the headphones were in wrong. Or, if they weren't in each ear equally. The sound in the left ear felt distant or asymmetrical in some way. I realized the fit was fine and that the stereo mastering of the track simply didn't jive as well with the APP as with the APM or 800 S.
- Though attempting to have a lower frequency response more apparent than the 800 S, it felt lackluster. Instruments seemed less clear to me as well, compared to the APM.
- Somehow the left ear just continue to feel awkwardly separate from the right.
- Horns kick in, as most things seem now on APP, to sound decent but nothing special. Immediately, upon switching back to the APM at the same moment in the track, the horns and other instruments were far more pleasing, more clear, and punchier yet not as harsh as the APP. Switching back over to the 800 S at this moment of the track led me to hear an almost sibilant, fatiguing signature from everything. Strange how I hadn't thought this of the 800 S, but getting used to the APM has me missing the relaxed APM playback! But boy, do the instruments in the 800 play nicely with one another and separate very well.

Notes on the AirPods Max with accessibility turned on to "Balanced: Slight":
- Because this mode makes soft sounds louder, the background noise lifts up and you hear a fuzzy white noise the entire time. Switching off this mode, I do notice it was there all along, but the white noise becomes more apparent with the balanced mode turned on. I suspect this will be more or less of an issue depending on the recording.
- This track is already so clean and well mastered in my opinion, that the lifting of quieter sounds doesn't necessarily do much to improve the listening. It isn't worth the white noise effect that balanced accessibility sometimes pushes up.
- To my ear, the "balanced" difference is so marginal for this track, if it can even be noticed. The quietest sounds intended to be heard were already heard without this compression feature enabled.
- In fact, to me, the balanced mode turns this song into something quite irritating. Not good here. The strengths of the APM making music relaxed and fun goes away if you do this here.


Track 5 - Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 1: 3. Allegro vivace
Album:
Rachmaninov: Piano Nos. 1 & 2
Artist: Krystian Zimmerman, Boston Symphony Orchestra & Seiji Ozawa
File info: Apple Music AAC; 256 kbps bit rate; 44.100 kHz sample rate; "low profile" complexity (I don't know what that means); stereo channels
What we get from this track: Classical. Full orchestral performance. Piano, wind, strings. Dynamic range of volume. Variety of moments where different portions of the orchestra shines.

Notes on the HD 800 S:
- Without any trickery, these sound almost perfectly tuned for classical. Instruments are strikingly clear. Soundstage is wonderfully open for headphones. Piano is delightful and comes off as authentic. Every instrument, strings, wind, delightful to listen to.
- The booming feel of a live orchestra isn't immediately apparent. But everything is so clean! As I switch over to the APM, I wonder, "will they present bass in a more pleasing way?"

Notes on the APM:
- BOOM! Presence. Though not as delightful, elegantly clean and well polished as the 800 S, the lower frequencies make their presence apparent.
- Piano, like most instruments here, are not as, well, pretty; nonetheless, I find myself enjoying the APM very well here in a way the 800 S does not. Some instruments are more recessed than I would prefer, still, especially after listening to the 800 S.

Notes on the APP:
- Brighter than the APM. I'm really starting to think people who say the APM and APP sound "the same" are full of s**t. I'm so sorry to say. But really...really? You may say they sound the same in "quality" to you, but they don't sound the same in frequency response.
- Piano doesn't make itself present to the listener in a more pleasing way to me than the APM.
- Compared to the APM, the strings or any instrument really doesn't sound as true to life, or as easy to listen to.
- The beautiful clarity of the 800 S, the relaxed and boomy feel of the APM, are neither present in any way on the APP. The APP are only decent, but do not feel great to me particularly. Where I could see myself preferring the 800 S at home for classical, I would not see myself choosing the APP over the APM when traveling. APP would stay in my pocket for maybe...only when I walk around and don't have my APM with me.

Notes on the AirPods Max with accessibility turned on to "Balanced: Slight":
- This so far, to me, is where the APM have best sounded using this mode.
- Though it is due to compression trickery, bringing up the softer sounds, this benefits the experience of trying to make this live orchestra sound real. This is as close to the 800 S as you can get in the impression of clarity and authentic live experience.
- At around 0:56, when wind instruments start, and at 1:02 when strings take over momentarily, there is a beautiful open feel to the sound (to my ear).
- The softer sounds being lifted really benefit the soundstage suddenly being perceived as being more open. Again, I know it's a trick of compression, but regardless...the end result is an impression of a much brighter, open, big performance in your ears.
- Though a matter of taste, I actually like hearing the breathing, the littlest attack and recession of the instruments...it comes out more with balanced mode turned on.
- Turning off the balanced mode with a flick of the switch takes away the open feel of the orchestra, and replaces it with a warm and relaxed listen. Win-win
- Going back to the HD 800 S at around 3:55 in the track, I find of course the clear beauty returns. It's spacious without even trying and with no tricks. But, interestingly, you do not hear those soft noises with the granular detail you do with the APM. I actually prefer the APM in a way here, but can definitely see how to more "objective" judging the 800 S is a clear winner.


Track 6 - One Step
Album:
This is the Warning
Artist: Dead Letter Circus
File info: Apple Music AAC; 256 kbps bit rate; 44.100 kHz sample rate; "low profile" complexity (I don't know what that means); stereo channels
What we get from this track: Rock. Dynamic range of soft to soaring male vocals. Intense drumming and guitar. Contrasting moments of calm to intense.

Notes on the HD 800 S:
- Clarity, but no "oomph" Nothing different especially to say here before going back and forth with other headphones. Vocals appear at center stage and yet evenly handled next to drums and guitar. Still...not much presence underneath. Everything is simply clear, without bass to support it.

Notes on the APM:
- Instantly, song start with strong bass presence. Almost too much at first?
- Initial bass notes recede back to let drums and vocals come front and center. Delightful song, and a relaxing and strong tuning to support its style.
- Altogether, though not as separated and clear as the 800 S, the song's deep and savory rock spirit shines a bit more here with the heavier thump of lower frequencies coming from drums and guitar.

Notes on the APP:
- Interestingly enough, may approach again a compromise between the hefty thump of the APM with the clarity of the 800 S.
- Has to be pumped up to hear the same detail as either the APM or 800 S, but loses fidelity as done
- the APP beginning to sound 'cheap' compared to the performance of either the APM or 800 S.
- Has a different signature, but is it worth the loss in quality if you have the APM or 800 S handy? No, unless you prefer it enough. All very subjective.

Notes on the AirPods Max with accessibility turned on to "Balanced: Slight":
- Doesn't seem to change enough of the track to make a major note here. It does brighten it up somewhat, but not necessarily worth it. Slightly more sibilant to my ears actually. Worth it to me? Not for this track and genre perhaps.


Track 7 - Dark Horse
Album:
PRISM (Deluxe Version)
Artist: Katy Perry
File info: Apple Digital Master (the only one on this list!) Apple Music AAC; 256 kbps bit rate; 44.100 kHz sample rate; "low profile" complexity (I don't know what that means); stereo channels
What we get from this track: Pop. Female vocals. Mainstream commercial mastering, may be a good reference.

Notes on the HD 800 S:
- This may be my favorite track with these headphones so far. This track's bass is mastered so damn high. Higher than my taste wants really. It's nice to hear the bass settled down to the point of being clear here, but not overwhelming as it is with other drivers (headphones or speaker)
- Female vocals are a bit tiring with the 800 S.
- The digital noise in this song is pretty clean and enjoyable from an audiophile standpoint, with these headphones. There is a clapping sound, that's nice, crystal clear too.

Notes on the APM:
- Damn this song has so much bass. Calm down Katy and her mixers! My god! Still, despite it being so much, the bass is so relaxing and not muddied on the APM, that it doesn't tire me like I would expect. Just annoying. Ok it's tiring after too long. Trying now to focus on other things in the song...
- Female vocals are less fatiguing, but eventually does tire me out.
- Listening fatigue is real during comparisons. Oy vay

Notes on the APP:
- Oddly enough, the least fatiguing of the bunch. Not as much sibilance somehow as the others.
- Bass is still way too much, and at high volumes seems distorted. In fact, is the whole spectrum of frequencies somewhat distorted? It certainly doesn't sound as cleanly produced as the APM or 800 S, yet again.

Notes on the AirPods Max with accessibility turned on to "Balanced: Slight":
- Ow, my ears. The sibilance. I can't. Not this far into testing and fatigue.


Conclusion
I'm done. Where's my whiskey?
Ok, seriously here's what I think overall...

HD 800 S
Worth the price if you like what it has to offer at $1600. Clarity, dynamics, separation, soundstage, other fancy audio words...it's great at these things objectively. So clean, downright beautiful with certain music. When I'm not tired of comparison tests, the 800 S makes me smile when I put them on. I often find myself bobbing my head up and down in pleasure at what I'm hearing.

AirPods Max - Out of Box Tuning
From fresh to wary comparison listening, these are surprisingly relaxing and fun to listen to. They excel in rock and other music where the lower frequencies are so core to the strong spirit of the genre. Metal, rock, pop, electronic. (EDIT: I want to add that acoustics were preferred on the APM. See "Bass & Drum Intro" for notes). Just great and I would personally prefer them over the 800 S in some situations as mentioned. Does that mean they are worth $1600 too? Damn if I know. Are the HD 800 S worth $1600 when you realize other headphones can actually be preferable in certain genres and situations? Damn if I know! What is this audio world? What is up and down? WHO AM I?!

All I can say is that I genuinely would pick up the APM over the 800 S for some music now. The experience is just preferable to me, personally, for some music. You may totally not care for the differences in the APM enough to make up for the lack in qualities found in hifi headphones like the 800 S, but the APM is fun. Oh, and did I mention that I have a Beats Solo 3 (got it on discount in 2017 with my iMac purchase)? It's utter garbage in fidelity. The return on APM as a purchase from apple is fantastic.

AirPods Max - Balanced Tuning
I actually didn't find many situations where I preferred this setting turned on, with the exception of classical. On the particular classical track tested, I actually preferred the APM over the 800 S in certain respects, though the 800 S are apparently better objectively in soundstage I suppose - and without any compression trickery that brings less than desirable qualities of noise into the playback.

AirPods Pro
Who...thinks...this...sounds the same as the APM? I can't even....the ***?
It's certainly different and has a totally different signature to me, or at least perceives that way due to some factor my laymen ears cannot articulate. Is it the difference of IEM vs over ears? Is it the larger driver? Is it the space the sound has to travel between an over ear and the ear, compared to the in-your-ear delivery of the inner ear headphone? Or, is the signature simply different on a frequency response graph?

Altogether, the APP just didn't sound as "clean" to my ears.

For whatever the technical reasons, or mix of reasons, the APP were never my preferred choice over either the APM or the HD 800 S. This would sound like a "no duh" conclusion for the price difference alone, but critical reviewers have been saying they don't hear the difference between the APM and APP, even saying they prefer the APP sound.

Final thoughts
At the end of the day, just buy what you like to hear. Sometimes a cheaper headphone sounds better to you for some media/music/genres/wtvr. Sometimes or most of the time for you it's only the expensive setup. For me, I'm delighted that for my ear I prefer the APM in a few genres and that they give me a lot of fun and practical use cases the 800 S couldn't. The 800 S does not have portability or rich deep frequency presence like the APM do. I've already enjoyed getting up from my desk to walk around my place in ways I couldn't ever do while wired. I can listen in privacy while other people do their own thing around, and I can do this when I leave home as well. The thought of having an enjoyable, even preferred audio experience for some genres/media while traveling...is fantastic.

I will be getting a Drop Panda and AKG K361 in the mail in the coming week or two and will compare those to the APM next. I will keep only one of the three after that comparison. If I can't return the APM, and I end up preferring the sound qualities of the Panda or AKG, then I'll let my wife take the APM off my hands. I actually caught her trying them last night for several hours. First she watched a movie and then leaned back in the chair with her eyes closed, listening to her favorite music for an hour - I even needed to remind her of the time. She normally goes to bed early. This alone was something to me that a non-audiophile would be able to pick up these headphones, genuinely enjoy them without any presumption of critical knowledge, and stay up past their bedtime to keep going.

If you guys try to listen to any of the tracks I've tested, and have similar gear (800 S and APM), and feel differently, please feel free to reply with your own experience!
 
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Gweeds

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To offer all of those benefits/features with a competitive $349 price would have made AirPods Max the industry leader right out of the gate. That would have been the game-changer that the market needed.

At $549 Apple is establishing a new category of ultra-premium ANC headphones that may or may not take off. As it has with smartphones and other products it’s possible the rest of the industry will follow suit and $549 will be the new standard price point for similar offerings from other brands.

Time will tell, but I do still believe they will need to offer a lower-priced model for AirPods Max to take off the way the rest of the AirPods line has. I would predict that the main differentiator will be material quality and that the drivers/sound quality will remain the same.
AirPods Pro are what, $249 over there? What makes you think they’d ever have priced these at $349?

I’d argue that the APP pricing almost guaranteed we’d see this sort of pricing for the APM. Bear in mind the original AirPods were significantly cheaper and then the higher tier added. It would be very unlike Apple to charge less for the same performance.
 
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