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AirPods Pro 2 vs. AirPods Max: Which one should you buy?

October 25, 2023
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There are three different models of Apple AirPods, and there are more factors to take into account than just price when picking between the higher-end $249 (£249, AU$399) AirPods Pro and the $549 (£549, AU$899) AirPods Max. To begin with, one is a set of in-ear wireless earbuds, while the other is an over-ear, closed-back wireless headphone. They obviously have different physical characteristics, yet they actually share more things than you might imagine. Both have spatial audio, active noise cancellation, and a transparency option to let in ambient noise. In order to help you choose which pair of AirPods is the best investment for you, I’ve been using both of them for several months.

The first decision: earbuds vs. headphones

The first decision: earbuds vs. headphones

Given that they are in-ear wireless earbuds, the AirPods Pro are significantly smaller and lighter than the AirPods Max. The AirPods Pro have replaceable tips, so you can alter how closely they fit in your ears. Although I’ve switched out the standard silicone tips for third-party foam tips since they tend to stay in my ears better when I’m moving around or exercising, I find them comfortable to wear throughout the day.

The AirPods Max have telescopic arms that can stretch and compress to fit your head shape and cups that can rotate to fit your ears comfortably. Each cup is surrounded by foam padding that helps with sound isolation and has a mesh headband to help spread the weight evenly across your head. However, the AirPods Max weighs 13.6 ounces (384 grams), which is significantly more than many other noise-cancelling headphones I’ve used. This is due in part to their design of aluminum and stainless steel. I discovered that I could only wear them for an hour or two before I needed to take a break for my head.

Because the AirPods Pro are IPX4-rated, which means they can survive sweat and mild rain splashes, you may use them in all kinds of weather or while exercising. Since the AirPods Max lacks an IP certification, I wouldn’t recommend using them in any scenario where they might get wet.

Each of the AirPods models includes a carrying case, either a soft case for the AirPods Max or a hard plastic case for the AirPods Pro, which can store a second charge. Unfortunately, the AirPods Max case offers little additional protection for the headphones or capacity for charging. You may wirelessly charge the AirPods Pro case or power both devices via Lightning.

How does the Apple AirPods Pro 2 compare to the AirPods Max in terms of usability?

How does the Apple AirPods Pro 2 compare to the AirPods Max in terms of usability?

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) retains the glossy white earphones with a rounded rectangular casing from the first iteration. Since the case contains a speaker, Find My AirPods can be used to find it if it disappears. The new USB-C version of the AirPods Pro is IP54-rated, making them resistant to dust and water splashes. In addition to the customary small, medium, and large ear tip sizes, the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) now includes a pair of extra-small ear tips.

The Apple AirPods Max, in contrast, are a pair of over-ear headphones that are very dissimilar from the AirPods Pro. The 386-gram weight of the headset is dispersed evenly across your head via a mesh canopy headband. The rounded, rectangular design of the metal headphones is reminiscent of the AirPods Pro charging case. The headphones are available in four colors instead of Apple’s in-ears: silver, space grey, sky blue, pink, and green.

You receive a smart case, but it doesn’t do anything to safeguard the headset. The AirPods Max are instead forced into low-power mode by the Smart Case. The AirPods Max enters low-power mode after 72 hours of inactivity when used without the Smart Case. Since the AirPods Max are not IP-rated, you should avoid taking them outside in the rain or spilling any liquids on them.

Apple AirPods Max vs. AirPods Pro 2: Controls

Apple AirPods Max vs. AirPods Pro 2: Controls

Forced and swiping motions on the earbud’s stem are used to operate the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation). On an iOS or iPad device, the Settings app allows you to remap a few of the controls.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) control:

INPUT (stems)             ACTION             
One press             Play/pause/answer call             
Two presses             Next track             
Three presses             Previous track             
Press and hold             Toggle ANC/Adaptive Transparency modes             
Swipe up/down             Increase/decrease volume             
“Hey Siri”             Receive messages, adjust the volume, ask for directions, manage the playback, and more.             

The right ear cup has a digital crown button for adjusting the Apple AirPods Max’s volume and playback, as well as a noise-canceling button to switch between the ANC and transparency modes. Touch controls are not supported by the AirPods Max.

Apple AirPods Max controls:

Action             Media controls             Call controls             
Noise control button             Toggle ANC and Transparency mode             ✘             
Headset: remove/wear             Auto-pause/play             ✘             
Digital Crown: rotate             Adjust volume             ✘             
Digital Crown: one press             Play/pause             Answer/end calls; answer incoming calls and put current calls on hold             
Digital Crown: two presses             Skip track             Reject incoming calls; answer incoming calls and end the current call             
Digital Crown: three presses             Previous track             ✘             
Digital Crown: hold             ✘             Reject the second incoming call             
Customizable controls?             Yes, ANC toggle only             No             

Apple AirPods Pro 2 vs. AirPods Max: Software

Apple AirPods Max vs. AirPods Pro 2: Software

Both the Apple AirPods Max and the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) have extremely similar software settings. To access software options and personalization, both require the iOS or iPadOS Settings app, which is unavailable to Android users.

Both the Apple AirPods Max and the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) provide capabilities including individualized spatial audio, control customization, firmware upgrades, noise reduction, and Find My AirPods, which are available in the Settings app.

The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) has a more modern Find My AirPods setup since the case now has a speaker that plays a sound to assist you in locating it, and the ultra-wideband U1 chip enables accuracy tracking. The significant variations between the two models are as follows. You must divulge your location in order to do this, which is not ideal for those who value their privacy.

The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) goes a step further with adaptive transparency powered by the H2 processor, while both sets of AirPods have a transparent mode that transmits outside noise through the headset. Unpredictable, loud noises don’t sound as loud and piercing through the second-generation AirPods Pro when you enable this feature as they might with the AirPods Max or prior AirPods models.

Sound quality and noise cancellation are clear wins for AirPods Max.

Sound quality and noise cancellation are clear wins for AirPods Max.

That the AirPods Max sound superior to the AirPods Pro is hardly a surprise. I’ve listened to music from a wide range of genres on several apps, but I keep going back to the AirPods Max. They have better definitions throughout the entire frequency range and a greater bottom response. The sound is best characterized as clean, in my opinion. I’ve never observed any muddiness or distortion, not even at louder volumes.

Although the AirPods Pro also has superb audio quality, the AirPods Max has a more dynamic and engaging sound. If you’re switching between activities like playing music, making calls, or listening to a podcast, this actually works to your advantage. Although you can adjust the equalizer independently in various music apps, such as Spotify and Apple Music, both AirPods include an adaptive equalizer that alters the sound dynamically.

There is no denying that the AirPods Max offers better noise cancellation. I tested the Max and Pro with a noisy overhead fan set-up, with the headphones almost entirely blocking out the background noise. Despite this, the AirPods Pro is not as good as the AirPods Max, despite having outstanding noise-canceling capabilities and being the only pair I used on an aircraft prior to the pandemic. 

When you want to allow some outside sound in so you can be aware of your surroundings, Apple’s transparency mode is superb on both devices and offers a natural listening experience.

In the video on this page, microphone samples from both AirPods models may be heard.

Conclusion

Apple offers three AirPods models: AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, and AirPods Pro 2. The AirPods Pro is smaller and lighter, with interchangeable tips for a customizable fit. The AirPods Max features telescopic arms, cups, foam padding, and a mesh headband for a comfortable fit. They weigh 13.6 ounces (384 grams) and are IPX4-rated, making them suitable for various weather conditions. Both models come with a case, either a hard plastic case for the AirPods Pro or a soft case for the AirPods Max. The AirPods Max case doesn’t hold an additional charge or provide much-added protection.

The AirPods Pro 2 is similar to the previous generation, featuring glossy white-stemmed earbuds and a rounded rectangular case. It comes in four colors and comes with a smart case that forces the AirPods Max into low-power mode. However, the AirPods Max are not IP-rated, making them unsafe to use in rain or spill liquids. Both AirPods models come with a case for charging via Lightning or wirelessly charging the AirPods Pro case.

The Apple AirPods Max and AirPods Pro 2 are two earbud models that offer different features and software options. The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) uses squeezing and swiping gestures on the stem of the earbud, while the AirPods Max features a digital crown button for controlling volume and playback and a noise-canceling button that switches between transparency and ANC settings both included. Both models use the iOS or iPadOS Settings app for software options and customization, making them inaccessible to Android users.

The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) has a more updated Find My AirPods setup, an ultra-wideband U1 chip for precision tracking, and adaptive transparency powered by the H2 chip for less loud noises. The AirPods Max offer better sound quality and noise cancellation, with a stronger bass response and excellent definition across all frequencies. The AirPods Pro is less dynamic and exciting to listen to, but it works to its advantage when jumping between different genres of music.

FAQS

Is buying AirPods Max worth it?

The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and the Sony WH-1000XM4 are two other headphones featuring ANC, although some reviewers claimed that the AirPods Max offer superior noise cancellation. The weight of the AirPods Max, which is heavier than most other headphone alternatives, was generally brought up in reviews.

Which is the best AirPod to buy?

Of the four current AirPod models, the AirPods Pro 2 is the one that may be recommended as the simplest. This is due to the fact that they are quite comfortable to wear, suit practically all ear types, and have all of the greatest and most recent features that Apple has to offer in headphones.

Should I use AirPods Max for the gym?

Wearing AirPods Max during physical activity is riskier than I initially anticipated, according to my colleague Kate Kozuch, because water damage is not covered by warranty. So, if you perspire a lot, that could leave you vulnerable to a bigger issue, which Apple would claim is not their issue.

Is the Sony 1000XM5 better than the AirPods Max?

The AirPods Max outperforms the WH-1000XM5 in terms of call quality while having a longer battery life. Choose Sony’s headphones if you want the most battery life possible. The WH-1000XM5’s battery life rating is 30 hours, which is a full 10 hours more than the AirPods Max’s 20-hour guarantee.