There are a few decent microphones in my tech pool, but it’s not always convenient to fire up all the gear for a 15-minute video call. In the past months, I have used Airpods Pro for those shorter calls, but the material Apple is using on their in-ear headphones has, over time, made my ears itch and groan in resistance. So I was quite happy when the over-ear Airpods Max were released – not so much because I need another pair of good headphones, but because I was hoping to replace my itchy Airpods Pro.
The mic array of the Airpods Max is technically quite impressive: eight microphones for active noise cancellation, three microphones for voice pickup, two of which are shared with active noise cancellation –all according to Apple’s tech spec sheet. Those specs were the reason I bought them, hoping they can replace my Airpods Pro as a hassle-free, reliable, decent enough headset for quick calls.
And yes, they can!
Below are voice samples, in German and English, for the Airpods Pro, the Airpod Max, and for comparison a Røde Lavalier Mic.
The samples were all recorded using Rogue Amoeba’s excellent Audio Hijack, because to this day Apple’s own app Logic Pro will not recognise the mics in Apple’s own headsets as inputs.
The Røde mic runs through an Evo 4 preamp. I haven’t used any filters, equalizers or noise cancellations filters on any of the recordings (even though Audio Hijack has a few excellent filters that work very well to enhance mic inputs).
The two text samples are a short excerpt from Hannah Arendt’s essay “Die Lüge in der Politik” from 1971 and the first few sentences from Douglas Adams’ “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” – both still and again quite fitting during these days and times.
For the Airpods Max, there are two samples – the first one sounds like a tin can, utterly terrible; whereas the second one sounds quite decent (to my ears, in any case). Turns out it makes a difference which way around you wear them: with the digital crown and button on your right-hand side, you get decent mic performance. At first, I wasn’t able to discover any markers for what is left or right with the Airpods Max – and just put them on the wrong way around.
If you are looking for these markers yourself: they are imprinted in the mesh of the earpads, and also on the case behind the magnetic earpads, so that if you remove them, you can return each pad correctly. Quite obvious once you see it – ups :)
In any case: if you are interested in a full review of the Airpods Max, dive into Marques Brownlee excellent in-depth review.
And yes, the case really is as ugly as everyone says. But still: my ears will have a much easier time from now on, and that is more than good enough for me.