AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods Max: which one to choose?
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AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods Max: which one to choose?

After years of rumors and speculation, Apple's AirPods Pro 2 are finally on sale, and we think they're one of the best noise-cancelling true wireless on the market.

Like the rest of Apple's headphone lineup, they're best for iOS users, but with Apple now offering true wireless and full-size over-ear options, there's a choice for the type of earphone to search.

So should you be looking for true wireless, or are ears better suited. Let's find out which headphones you should get in the AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods Max.

Price

The AirPods Max have an RRP of $549 / £549 / €629 / CA$699 / AU$899, but you can get them cheaper if you look online. On Amazon UK they cost around £469.

The AirPods Pro 2 have an RRP of $249 / £249 / €299 / CA$329 / AUS$399. Since they only went on sale in September 2022, they did not receive any discounts.

It's an easy win for the AirPods Pro 2 if you can call it a "win". Both are expensive in their respective fields, so you'll pay a premium for Apple products no matter how you look at them.

Design

Apple's AirPods Max are fashionable headphones. Headband canopy design distributes weight across the head; the ear cups are oval-shaped to help relieve pressure around the ears to prevent discomfort, and there are no touch controls – there's an Apple Watch-inspired digital crown to operate the volume, reading, taking calls and activating Siri. On the left ear cup is the noise control button to switch between noise cancellation and transparency mode.

The headphones don't fold up or collapse in on themselves, so they're not particularly portable unlike the AirPods Pro 2. There's the Smart Case for carrying the headphones but it doesn't offer much protection and , frankly, looks very silly. The headphones are available in a range of colors with red, blue, silver, green, black and pink options.

Apple AirPods Max Detachable Earpiece

The AirPods Pro 2 only come in one color, which is white, which makes them more likely to attract dirt. Aside from the lack of personality in terms of color, the biggest advantage of the AirPods Pro 2 is their size. Compact and equipped with a small charging case that can slip into a pocket, it offers more practicality, especially compared to the Smart Case.

They come with a wider selection of ear tips, including an XS option for smaller ears. The design is similar to the original AirPods Pro, but now comes with new rod sensor controls for volume, although we didn't find them too intuitive to use. They're IPX4-rated — AirPods Max don't have IP resistance — and that allows them to be used in wetter, wetter conditions without damage.

Comparing full-size headphones to true wireless isn't exactly fair game, but the difference may come down to the AirPods Pro 2 being more convenient to have on you. If you don't want to lug a pair of earbuds around in your bag, consider the AirPods Pro 2 as the most suitable option.

Features

When it comes to features, there are very few differences between the two headsets. As is the case with recent headphones from Apple, the features are most the same for all premium options.

Both have noise cancellation and both describe their ANC modes as adaptive. This means they use microphones to detect external noise and automatically adjust performance in response. The slight difference is with the transparency mode.

On the AirPods Pro 2, the mode is adaptive, reacting to sounds to prevent loud noises from being a distraction. On the Max, the transparency cannot be adjusted manually and does not update automatically. It's the same level of transparency wherever you go.

Battery life is six hours per bud for true wireless and 30 hours overall with the charging case. The AirPods Max only reached around 20 hours, so the AirPods Pro 2 have the edge in this context.

The wireless headphones also support wireless charging and fast charging, while the full-size headphones seem to support neither. Instead, Apple claims that the earbuds preserve their battery when placed in the Smart Case. A nice feature of the AirPods Pro 2 MagSafe Charging Case is that it has a speaker to alert the wearer to its location if it has been misplaced.

AirPods Pro 2 on the desk

Both support Spatial Audio, which works with 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos soundtracks by placing sounds "virtually" in the sound field for a 3D effect. Head tracking is used to keep the listener centered in the soundstage even when turning their head.

Spatial Audio is an iOS-specific feature, as are Auto-Switching, Audio Sharing, and Siri Voice Control, but the AirPods Pro 2 are the first to feature the more advanced H2 processor, while the AirPods Max have the now more advanced H1. ancient. It's hard to gauge the difference in performance between these two headphones, but it seems to have helped advance the noise-canceling performance over the original AirPods Pro model.

In our reviews, we rated the noise canceling performance of both headphones to be excellent, and again, it depends on which type of headphones you prefer. The AirPods Max will offer better noise cancellation simply because of their design, but they lack the stamina of the AirPods Pro 2. This may depend not only on the quality of the noise cancellation, but also on how long you can use it.

Sound

We described the sound quality of the AirPods Max as a more balanced and versatile performance. They don't quite go to the same richness as the true cordless model. The tonal balance helps them sound great across a wide range of music genres, and there's plenty of bass for the headphones to summon. The mids are clear and refined while the highs avoid sounding harsh, making it a great all-around sound when it comes to music.

AirPods Pro tip close-up

The performance of the AirPods Pro 2 is an improvement over the original. The clarity of the vocals is better and the separation of these vocals from the instrumentation around them seems to be much more defined and detailed. The bass is well managed, finding an acceptable balance without attacking the mids, while the treble avoids harshness. The headphones deliver a warm sound, which some may prefer.

Neither supports Apple Lossless audio through its ALAC format as only AAC is included, so there's no Hi-Res Audio support with either earphone.

Verdict

There is no absolute winner in the sense that one helmet is remarkably better than the other. There is however enough differentiation just through earphone design that will imply which one is preferred.

The design of the AirPods Pro 2 makes them the most practical option, especially for mixed use like listening to music or using in the gym. If that's what you typically use with your headphones, then those are the ones to take a closer look at.

If you want better noise cancellation, the AirPods Max wins because their over-ear design offers more protection. They also seem to be the more balanced sound of the two headphones, offering something close to an audiophile experience. Price will also factor into the argument, because what you describe as particularly affordable is also not affordable, whether you're looking for true wireless or on-ear.

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