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This article was published on December 23, 2021

Apple’s AirPods Max are a year old — and the case is still atrocious

What have we done to deserve this?

Apple’s AirPods Max are a year old — and the case is still atrocious
Callum Booth
Story by

Callum Booth

Editor of Plugged by TNW

Callum is an Englishman in Amsterdam, but not in the way you're thinking. He's the Editor of Plugged, TNW's consumer tech vertical. He w Callum is an Englishman in Amsterdam, but not in the way you're thinking. He's the Editor of Plugged, TNW's consumer tech vertical. He writes about gear, gadgets, and apps — with a particular focus on Apple — and also makes the occasional odd video. Basically, he's halfway between an abrasive gadget nerd and thinky art boy.

How time flies. It feels like last week when Apple announced the AirPods Max, its first proper pair of over-ear headphones.

At the time, the launch SEEMED momentous. People were shocked/appalled/excited about the headphones and Apple‘s aspirations, but a year later? There’s an overwhelming sense of “meh” around the devices.

Much of this, I’m sure, is down to the inherent flaws in the AirPods Max. I’ve written about this extensively in the past, but I’ll sum up the major issues with them again:

  • No proper lossless support
  • No 3.5mm audio cable
  • No power button
  • Simply acceptable battery life
  • Minimal Android support
  • Too expensive

On their own, none of these are a dealbreaker. The positives of the AirPods Max roughly balance much of the above out.

But there is one element of the over-ear headphones I can’t excuse: the case.

Apple AirPods Max case
Why, Mr. Tim Apple, why?

There’s much to praise the AirPods Max for. I love how they feel, I love how they sound,  and I love how strong the noise-cancelling is — but after I’d written about the headphones, I slowly stopped using them.

And it’s all because of the case.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, sound isn’t the most important aspect of the headphones you use every day — that’d be flexibility.

I’m not saying that sound quality isn’t utterly vital, more that a pair of daily driver over-ears must thrive across a variety of different uses. The best not only make listening to music magnificent, but also have high-quality noise-canceling, are supremely comfortable, and excellent to travel with.

The AirPods Max case hamstrings them.

Because the headphones are so exposed while ‘protected,’ I never take them out of the house. Effectively, I can’t trust they won’t get broken or damaged while they’re in my backpack.

This is totally at odds with something like the Sony WH-1000XM4, my headphones of choice. While the AirPods Max beat them in some instances, they don’t come close to matching overall package. The case has fucked it.

Honestly, I’m surprised that Apple hasn’t released a premium cover that solves this problem (I predicted it would). The only way around this is getting a case for your AirPods Max case — but that’s neither elegant or easy.

And it’s also stupid.

AirPods Max case third party
My brain is bleeding.

While are there some rumors that Apple’s silence around these issues is a sign it will discontinue the AirPods Max, I believe the company is just biding its time before releasing the second generation of the device.

Now, I don’t expect these headphones to break Apple’s historical actions. That means we won’t see a 3.5mm jack, Android support, or a physical power button. I also wouldn’t hold your breath for a lower price — unless the company releases a “lite” version.

But I think the next AirPods Max generation will include lossless support, improve the battery life, and (potentially) allow a wired connection using USB-C or Lightning. This is in line with how the company operates.

Above all though, Apple must update the case so it evolves beyond being a bit of lingerie and can actually, you know, work like a fucking case.

Without this change, the AirPods Max will remain a luxury, a flawed side-player, rather than the domineering force they could so easily be. Until then, the case remains an atrocious blight on what’s otherwise and excellent product.

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