Classical musicians review AirPods Max

Posted:
in General Discussion
Sometimes forgotten in consumer headphone reviews are the folks that make music to be heard through them. We've asked three professional musicians for their impressions of the AirPods Max as they listen to their favorite classical works.


Musicians from the Imperial Symphony Orchestra


Reviews of Apple's AirPods Max headphones have been largely positive, both from audiophiles and tech reviewers alike. While their sound and noise cancellation features rank high among headphones in their price range, we wanted to investigate if orchestral musicians would confirm their quality.

AppleInsider partnered with the Imperial Symphony, a professional orchestra found in Lakeland, Florida to interview three of their musicians and get their impressions of the AirPods Max. Joining us in the video is Whitney Robles, Principal Flute of the orchestra, Lorenzo Sanchez on Viola, and Jennifer Stahl -- Principal Oboe.

Each musician chose two of their favorite classical pieces to listen on Apple's headphones. Whitney Robles chose "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" by Claude Debussy and "The Planets Suite: Jupiter" by Gustav Holst.





After listening to these works, Whitney commented that she was able to hear individual instruments, even to the point of hearing each entrance. From low instruments and brass to the highest sound in the orchestra, the piccolo, she was able to hear every detail and articulation.

Lorenzo Sanchez chose a string quartet by composer Dmitri Shostakovich and a symphony by William Grant Still. Sanchez described the sound as "very clean" and was even able to pick out the viola part distinctly.

When comparing them to his Sony WH-1000XM4 he prefers the sound adjustment options the Sony offers like EQ, but says the clarity of individual instruments comes through on the AirPods Max.

Having performed in the Imperial Symphony for 30 years, Jennifer Stahl has plenty of live performance experience. As she listened to "Fanfare for the Common Man" by Aaron Copland, Stahl claimed it sounded as though she were "in the middle of the stage" with musicians "sitting right next to her".

In their closing thoughts, each described how using AirPods Max may change their listening habits. Whitney Robles claimed that she would have kids listen to orchestral works using these to pick out specific instruments. Given that many orchestras are still unable to perform in-person, these headphones provide a "live performance" feel when listening.

Jennifer Stahl, while initially surprised at their cost, says they're worth it. She listens to music often at home, but if she had the AirPods Max Stahl says she would listen more often and find greater enjoyment.

Our thanks to the Imperial Symphony Orchestra and its musicians for collaborating on this classical musician take of the AirPods Max. You can read the full AppleInsider review here and find the latest price guides on our site.

You can also listen to the classical works used in this video on Apple Music:



Stay on top of all Apple news right from your HomePod. Say, "Hey, Siri, play AppleInsider," and you'll get latest AppleInsider Podcast. Or ask your HomePod mini for "AppleInsider Daily" instead and you'll hear a fast update direct from our news team. And, if you're interested in Apple-centric home automation, say "Hey, Siri, play HomeKit Insider," and you'll be listening to our newest specialized podcast in moments.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 19
    Fred257Fred257 Posts: 81member
    Excellent and informative article 
    JapheyDAalsethJWSCwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 19
    rcfarcfa Posts: 1,074member
    Kind of pointless article. The question isn’t if these headphones can do the job, at their price, they better can.

    The question is, how do they rank vs. top performing headphones, and, no, e.g. BOSE isn’t among them.

    The question is: how much fidelity is lost to wireless convenience, active noise cancellation, etc. and how much realism is gained by head tracking.

    What are the pros, cons, trade-offs, the unique features, the me-too features, etc.

    Listening to a single set of headphones in isolation is pretty much meaningless. Maybe you should leave tests like these to the folks who have tested audio gear for years and know what they are doing…
    mobirdbaconstangchemengin1entropysmuthuk_vanalingambeowulfschmidtapplguy
  • Reply 3 of 19
    neilmneilm Posts: 899member
    rcfa said:
    Listening to a single set of headphones in isolation is pretty much meaningless. Maybe you should leave tests like these to the folks who have tested audio gear for years and know what they are doing…
    You were doing sort of OK until that last sentence. You're actually discounting the opinion of professional musicians about how reproduced music sounds! What you're advocating is called "listening to the equipment."

    A classical musician I once knew told me that, within reason, she didn't care too much about the sound reproduction quality. It's the music and the performance that she listens to. 
    edited March 17 rundhvidCloudTalkinjdb8167roundaboutnowbyronl
  • Reply 4 of 19
    davgregdavgreg Posts: 874member
    I will keep my Bowers and Wilkins.
    mobirdchemengin1
  • Reply 5 of 19
    prokipprokip Posts: 171member
    Forget all the techno claptrap and mambo jumbo.

    I have headphones costing many thousands of $$.  I currently have eight different head sets.

    AirPods Max are THE best set of cans for sound quality and clarity that I have ever had. And I’ve been listening to music on quality headphones for over 30 years!
    foregoneconclusionAppleishboboliciousrmusikantowjony0watto_cobraurahara
  • Reply 6 of 19
    fred1fred1 Posts: 828member
    Excellent video, Stephen. Thank you. I love seeing experts giving their opinions. Be ready when Apple wants to buy this video!


    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 19
    rcfa said: The question is: how much fidelity is lost to wireless convenience, active noise cancellation, etc. and how much realism is gained by head tracking.
    Per ANC, you have the option to choose the 'Off' mode, which means the AirPods Max will function like a non-ANC set of headphones and have no additional sound or processing beyond the audio file that you're listening to. 
    JWSCwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 19
    prokip said:
    Forget all the techno claptrap and mambo jumbo.

    I have headphones costing many thousands of $$.  I currently have eight different head sets.

    AirPods Max are THE best set of cans for sound quality and clarity that I have ever had. And I’ve been listening to music on quality headphones for over 30 years!
    That is a promising claim...  Any further qualification much appreciated...
    jony0
  • Reply 9 of 19
    charlesncharlesn Posts: 173member
    prokip said:
    Forget all the techno claptrap and mambo jumbo.

    I have headphones costing many thousands of $$.  I currently have eight different head sets.

    AirPods Max are THE best set of cans for sound quality and clarity that I have ever had. And I’ve been listening to music on quality headphones for over 30 years!
    I have APM and like them a lot. But to claim that APM--or any bluetooth 'phones--sound better or even comparable to megabuck wired headphones playing back full resolution, uncompressed music through a high-quality audio system is... well, that claim is incredulous enough to leave it where it is. Compressed bluetooth audio is fine for what it is... and is actually the best I've heard it through APM... until you listen to it through the kind of headphones you describe, or speakers of similar quality, which will instantly reveal the inferiority of bluetooth audio vs full resolution playback. 
    baconstangjeffharrischemengin1entropysmuthuk_vanalingamurahara
  • Reply 10 of 19
    AppleishAppleish Posts: 365member
    rcfa said:
    Kind of pointless article. The question isn’t if these headphones can do the job, at their price, they better can.

    The question is, how do they rank vs. top performing headphones, and, no, e.g. BOSE isn’t among them.

    The question is: how much fidelity is lost to wireless convenience, active noise cancellation, etc. and how much realism is gained by head tracking.

    What are the pros, cons, trade-offs, the unique features, the me-too features, etc.

    Listening to a single set of headphones in isolation is pretty much meaningless. Maybe you should leave tests like these to the folks who have tested audio gear for years and know what they are doing…
    You're right. We should dismiss these one off observations by talented musicians listening to their bread and butter. How dare this article compare itself to full, broad, detailed analysis by experts who have used hundreds of cans over dozens of years.

    Oh, wait. It didn't. 
    fred1FileMakerFellertenthousandthings
  • Reply 11 of 19
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 828member
    rcfa said:
    Kind of pointless article. The question isn’t if these headphones can do the job, at their price, they better can.

    The question is, how do they rank vs. top performing headphones, and, no, e.g. BOSE isn’t among them.

    The question is: how much fidelity is lost to wireless convenience, active noise cancellation, etc. and how much realism is gained by head tracking.

    What are the pros, cons, trade-offs, the unique features, the me-too features, etc.

    Listening to a single set of headphones in isolation is pretty much meaningless. Maybe you should leave tests like these to the folks who have tested audio gear for years and know what they are doing…
    Those are YOUR questions, and while fair, they’ve already been asked and answered here and elsewhere many times since the release. I agree with Fred257…this was an excellent and informative article. 
    edited March 17 watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 19
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 1,711member
    As Pirsig said in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance “Quality is what you like”. That said, the opinion of someone who listens and performs the music in question carries more weight with me than any self described audiophile with their theoretical reasoning. These people know what the music sounds like because they have been there in the middle of it.  This was a very informative article. Thank you. 
    edited March 17 GG1jony0FileMakerFeller
  • Reply 13 of 19
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    rcfa said:
    Kind of pointless article. The question isn’t if these headphones can do the job, at their price, they better can.

    The question is, how do they rank vs. top performing headphones, and, no, e.g. BOSE isn’t among them.

    The question is: how much fidelity is lost to wireless convenience, active noise cancellation, etc. and how much realism is gained by head tracking.

    What are the pros, cons, trade-offs, the unique features, the me-too features, etc.

    Listening to a single set of headphones in isolation is pretty much meaningless. Maybe you should leave tests like these to the folks who have tested audio gear for years and know what they are doing…
    Listen to the opinion of classically-trained professional musicians

    or

    random nobody on a rumour forum. 

    Mmmm. What to do … 🤔
    edited March 17 DAalsethJWSCGG1neo-techjony0watto_cobrauraharaFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 14 of 19
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 1,007member
    charlesn said:
    prokip said:
    Forget all the techno claptrap and mambo jumbo.

    I have headphones costing many thousands of $$.  I currently have eight different head sets.

    AirPods Max are THE best set of cans for sound quality and clarity that I have ever had. And I’ve been listening to music on quality headphones for over 30 years!
    I have APM and like them a lot. But to claim that APM--or any bluetooth 'phones--sound better or even comparable to megabuck wired headphones playing back full resolution, uncompressed music through a high-quality audio system is... well, that claim is incredulous enough to leave it where it is. Compressed bluetooth audio is fine for what it is... and is actually the best I've heard it through APM... until you listen to it through the kind of headphones you describe, or speakers of similar quality, which will instantly reveal the inferiority of bluetooth audio vs full resolution playback. 
    When you say “compressed Bluetooth audio” what do you mean by that?  In the acoustic world compression has a specific meaning and refers to compression of the dynamic range.  Wireless Bluetooth transmission does not do that nor does Apple’s codec.
    DAalsethjony0watto_cobraurahara
  • Reply 15 of 19
    jdb8167jdb8167 Posts: 620member
    Slightly off topic since I don't own AirPods Max but I just listened to several of the tracks with my AirPods Pro and then again with a pair of wired Sennheiser HD 380 Pro closed over the ear headphones. Normally I listen to music casually without doing any critical assessment of the sound. I'm happy with any reasonable quality but actually trying to hear a difference between the APP and Sennheiser was easy. A night and day difference. I was quite surprised at the detail available with the Sennheiser headphones that was just muddy or missing from the AirPods Pro.

    I don't think this will change my listening habits but I'm pretty surprised that I could hear such a difference. I don't have any intention of buying AirPods Max but now I wonder how they compare.
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 16 of 19
    charlesn said:

    I have APM and like them a lot. But to claim that APM--or any bluetooth 'phones--sound better or even comparable to megabuck wired headphones playing back full resolution, uncompressed music through a high-quality audio system is... well, that claim is incredulous enough to leave it where it is. Compressed bluetooth audio is fine for what it is... and is actually the best I've heard it through APM... until you listen to it through the kind of headphones you describe, or speakers of similar quality, which will instantly reveal the inferiority of bluetooth audio vs full resolution playback. 
    Recent Apple devices send an unmodified AAC stream from Apple Music to the AirPods Max. And properly encoded AAC (i.e. follows Apple’s Mastered for iTunes guidelines) is - perceptually, to nearly every living person - indistinguishable from a CD. (And the jury is pretty much out on 96/24 uncompressed encoding. Only the most highly trained listeners can consistently pass a double blind test between the two.) 

    The point is, encoding is not really contributing in a meaningful way to whatever minor weaknesses the AirPods Max has. I own a pair, and my only gripe with them is the slightly overdone high frequency lift they have above 8kHz. (Which isn’t an issue for most acoustic music, but it is for most pop music.) Other than that, they are without a doubt the best wireless headphones I’ve ever used. Having tried many. They hold their own with any closed back headphones out there, wired or not. (I personally prefer open-back headphones for critical listening.)

    Anybody who can’t enjoy music on the AirPods Max doesn’t really like music, at least as much as they love gear (i.e. Audiophiles, the sorriest bunch of malcontents on the planet.) 

    (For what it’s worth, I work in pro audio as a recording and mix engineer. Audio fidelity is my bread and butter.)
    roundaboutnowjony0AppleZulutenthousandthings
  • Reply 17 of 19
    Based on what they experienced, I am curious to know if any of those musicians would be willing to pony up $549 ($779 CDN) for a pair.
  • Reply 18 of 19
    jgutherjguther Posts: 97member
    I have a lot of respect for these classical musicians and their way to approach technology.

    Unfortunately, I am limited to the more technical approach of a life-long audiophile. For almost fourty years, my daily drivers have been various sets of Stax open back electrostatic headphones with their dedicated amps. Each set cost me a lot more than the Airpods Pro Max.

    Because my wife liked the looks of the blue Airpods Pro Max, I order her a set, engraved with her name. She lets me borrow it, so I had a chance to do a long and detailed comparison (high-end equipment, audiophile recordings that I've heard many times, equal volume, etc.). This is my personal opinion:

    - the Stax do not sound better than the Airpods Pro Max
    - the Airpods Pro Max do not sound better than the Stax
    - the Airpods sound more pleasing, easier to listen to, substantially thicker bass
    - the Stax sound lighter, fresher, more dry in the bass, but make me tired of listening sooner
    - the amount of detail is very similar
    - distortions and noise are equally low to nonexistent on both
    - I prefer the open cans of the Stax
    - I prefer the wireless connection and easier handliing of the Airpods Pro Max
    - both are comfortable earphones
    - the higher weight of the Airpods Pro Max is not a problem, but heat is

    Not bad for a $600 headphone!


    jony0
  • Reply 19 of 19
    byronlbyronl Posts: 148member
    prokip said:
    Forget all the techno claptrap and mambo jumbo.

    I have headphones costing many thousands of $$.  I currently have eight different head sets.

    AirPods Max are THE best set of cans for sound quality and clarity that I have ever had. And I’ve been listening to music on quality headphones for over 30 years!
    u got headphones costing THOUSANDS and the airpods max sound better??? wow!!
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