Today, I’m going to review one AirPods Max feature.
It isn’t the sound, design, integration with the Apple ecosystem or anything to do with that stupid case. Nope, I’m going to talk about another feature that has impressed me perhaps more than any other.
It bothers me when certain product features don’t get the recognition they deserve. This is particularly the case with Apple products. The ability to tell the time on your iPhone in analogue fashion without opening the Clock app (take a look at the icon), the ease with which you can transfer practically anything via Handoff and the tweak made to the Apple Watch Digital Crown which prevents your wrist from inadvertently lowering or raising the audio volume – all go unnoticed by the vast majority of users.
These are tiny features, but they make a genuine difference to my life. Far more so, in fact, than some of the headline stuff which typically gets top billing in the adverts.
So, today, I’m going to shine the spotlight on an AirPods Max feature which most reviews either skimmed past or barely mentioned (mine included).
The joy of transparency mode
Bear with me. I know this isn’t particularly sexy.
I’d like to confirm once more that AirPods Max sound superb. They are also beautifully designed and constructed; they feel like they should cost £549.
However, you have to scroll a good two-thirds south on Apple’s AirPods Max product page to find one of the most impressive features. It’s called ‘Transparency mode’, and, as Apple explains, this “lets outside sound in so you can interact naturally with your surroundings”.
This isn’t new to AirPods Max; Transparency mode first appeared in the AirPods Pro and is turned on by a long-squeeze (I think that’s the right terminology) of either earbud.
The effect on the AirPods Pro is impressive. It filters in outside sound and enables you to momentarily break away from the world of noise cancellation and be more aware of your surroundings. It’s useful when speaking to people (although, arguably, it’s probably more polite to remove your headphones), and offers peace of mind if you’re in an environment where you’d rather keep your wits about you.
AirPods Max take Transparency mode to the next level. Whether it’s because of the abundance of mics or the higher fidelity audio, I have no idea, but the feature absolutely sings on these cans.
It’s important to note at this juncture that Transparency mode doesn’t simply turn off noise-cancelling and open some sort of valve to enable outside sound to filter in. It (presumably) uses a mic to amplify the sound around you. As a result, it sounds slightly synthesised. It’s hard to describe unless you try it, but with Transparency mode turned on, it’s a bit like you’re listening to a high-fidelity recording of your own life. I love it.
I was blown away the I first tried Transparency mode on AirPods Max. It is markedly better than the same feature on AirPods Pro, and, in fact, makes Transparency mode on the latter practically non-existent when you conduct an A/B test.
What struck me immediately was how clearly I could hear myself talk. And that led to a further realisation.
AirPods Max are unbeatable for calls
Transparency mode on AirPods Max has turned these headphones into the best headset I have for calls.
I’ve never liked using over-the-ear headphones for calls. The fact I can’t hear myself always results in the need to ‘DJ it’ and remove one cup from my ear so that I can monitor my own voice.
I’m aware there are solutions for this with certain headphone brands, but none of them come close to Transparency mode on AirPods Max. It’s as though you’re not wearing the headphones; you can hear your voice in this beautifully amplified tone and hear the other person (or people) perfectly.
In the world we’re now living in, where many of us spend countless hours each week on video calls, this feature deserves more attention. Whenever I use AirPods Max for calls I genuinely enjoy the experience, which, for me, is what great tech is all about.
It’s also a perfect example of where a genuinely great feature gets buried beneath hyperbole. AirPods Max are brilliant headphones, but there are so many alternatives that offer much better bang-for-buck. Therefore, the reviews which focus so wholesomely on the stuff which should be a given at this price point are rather wide of the mark. They’re lazy; of course AirPods Max are going to sound great – they damn should.
I include myself in this; we’re all saying the same thing. What I should have focused on is a longer-term review, because if I did that now for AirPods Max, I’d give far more airtime to features like Transparency mode – it’s a genuine differentiator for these headphones.
So, why do I still use my AirPods Pro for calls?
The inherent problem with AirPods Max
Although I run my own YouTube channel, I’m not the sort of person who likes to draw attention to himself. I’ll happily get involved and play my part in social situations, but I won’t do, wear or say anything to purposefully draw attention to myself.
Unfortunately, AirPods Max always draw attention, and I’m not fond of it.
“Woah, Mark, did you actually buy those really expensive Apple headphones?”
Right from the start, I’ve indicated that I wouldn’t personally buy AirPods Max. I bought the pair that are currently sat on my head for my business. I wanted to review them for my audience and compare them against the other consumer headphones I’ve reviewed previously. I was curious.
But they’re £549, and were one of the few business purchases I’ve made where my finger hovered for quite some time over the ‘check out’ button. AirPods Max remain too expensive unless you’re a die-hard Apple fan or simply have lots of disposable income and a penchant for the latest tech.
This is one of the reasons I only use them at home. I’m not particularly comfortable with people spotting that I’m wearing Apple’s stupidly expensive headphones, and I’m even less comfortable with the idea of them being spotted during calls with clients and business partners.
Is this guy made of money?
This is daft – I know. But I’m being ultra honest with you: I’m a little bit embarrassed to own a pair of AirPods Max, and as a result, their brilliance as a calling headset for video conferencing never gets the attention it deserves.
Ironic, when you consider the theme of this article, eh?