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AirPods Pro 2 vs AirPods Max: which should you get?

After years of rumours 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 range, they’re best for iOS users but with Apple now offering true wireless and full-sized over headphone options, there’s a choice for which type of headphone to go after.

So, should you go after the true wireless, or are the over-ears a better match. 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 for cheaper if you look around online. On Amazon UK they’re about £469.

The AirPods Pro 2 have an RRP of $249 / £249 / €299 / CA$329 / AUS$399. As they only went on sale in September 2022, they haven’t been subjected to 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 be paying a premium for Apple’s products whichever way you look at it.

Design

Apple’s AirPods Max are headphones slash fashion statement. The canopy design of the headband distributes weight across the head; the earcups are oval in shape to help ease the pressure around the ears to avoid discomfort, and there are no touch controls – there’s an Apple Watch-inspired Digital Crown for operating volume, playback, taking calls and activating Siri. On the left earcup is the Noise Control button for switching between noise cancelling and the transparency mode.

The headphones don’t fold up and collapse into themselves so they’re not especially portable unlike the AirPods Pro 2. There is the Smart Case for transporting the headphones but it doesn’t offer much protection and, quite frankly, looks very silly. The headphones come in a range of colours with red, blue, silver, green, black and pink the options.

Apple AirPods Max detachable earcup

The AirPods Pro 2 only come in one colour, which is white, and that does make them more susceptible to attracting dirt. Lack of personality in terms of colour aside, the biggest advantage the AirPods Pro 2 have is their size. Compact and with a small charging case that can slide into a pocket, it offers more convenience, 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 does now come with a new stem sensor controls for volume, although we didn’t find they were too intuitive to use. They’re rated IPX4 – the AirPods Max don’t have IP resistance – and that allows to be used in sweatier and wetter conditions without damage.

Comparing a full-sized headphone to a true wireless isn’t really fair game, but the difference can be summed up in that the AirPods Pro 2 are more convenient to have on your person. If you don’t want to be lugging a pair of over-ears in your bag, consider the AirPods Pro 2 as the more suitable option.

Features

When it comes to features there’s very little that’s different between either headphones. As is the case with Apple’s recent headphones, features are mostly the same across the premium options.

Both have noise cancelling, and both describe their ANC modes as being adaptive. That means they use microphones to sense external noise and automatically adjust the performance in response. The slight difference is with the transparency mode.

On the AirPods Pro 2 the mode is adaptive, reacting to sounds to avoid loud noises being a distraction. On the Max the transparency can’t be manually adjusted, nor does it automatically update itself. It’s the same level of transparency wherever you go.

Battery life is six hours per bud for the true wireless and 30 hours in general with the charging case. The AirPods Max only hit around 20 hours, so the AirPods Pro 2 has the advantage in that context.

The wireless earbuds also support wireless charging and fast charging while the full-sized headphone appear to support neither. Instead Apple claims the headphones preserve their battery when placed in the Smart Case. A neat feature of the AirPods Pro 2’s MagSafe charging case is that it has a speaker for alerting the wearer of its location if it’s been misplaced.

AirPods Pro 2 on desk

Both have support for Spatial Audio, which works with 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos soundtracks by placing sounds ‘virtually’ within the soundfield for a 3D effect. Head-tracking is employed to keep the listener in the centre of the soundstage even when turning their heads.

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 whereas the AirPods Max has the now older H1. The difference in performance is tricky to gauge between these two headphones, but it does seem as if it’s helped advance the noise cancelling performance over the original AirPods Pro model.

In our reviews we rated the noise cancelling performance of both headphones to be excellent, and again it depends on which type of headphone you prefer. The AirPods Max will offer better noise cancelling simply because of its design but it lacks the stamina of the AirPods Pro 2. It may come down to not just how good the noise cancelling is, but for how long you can use it for.

Sound

We described the sound quality of the AirPods Max as more of a balanced and versatile performance. They’re not going for quite the same richness as the true wireless model. The tonal balance helps them to sound great across a wide range of musical genres, and there’s plenty of bass the headphones can summon. The midrange is clear and refined while treble avoids sounding harsh, and that makes for excellent all-round sound where music is concerned.

AirPods Pro ear-tip close up

The performance of the AirPods Pro 2 is an improvement over the original. Clarity of vocals is better, and the separation of those vocals from the instrumentation around them appears to be much better defined and detailed. Bass is well managed, finding an acceptable balance without mugging the midrange, while treble notes avoid harshness. The headphones offer a sound that has warmth to it, which some may prefer.

Neither support Apple Lossless audio through its ALAC format as only AAC is included, so there isn’t any support for Hi-Res audio with either headphone.

Verdict

There isn’t an outright winner in the sense that one headphone is remarkably better than the other. There is, however, enough differentiation just through the design of the headphones that will imply which one is preferred.

The AirPods Pro 2 design makes them the more convenient option, especially for mixed use like listening to music or use at the gym. If that’s what you generally use your headphones, then they’re the one to take a closer look at.

If you want better noise cancellation then the AirPods Max win because their over-ear design offers more protection. They also appear to be the more balanced sounding of the two headphones, offering something close to an audiophile experience. Price will factor into the argument, too, as neither are what you’d describe as particularly affordable regardless of whether you’re after a true wireless or over-ear.

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