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Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) vs Apple AirPods Max

Two very different form factors with similar features.
By
October 11, 2022
The Apple AirPods Max and Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) together on a wooden slab.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys

Now that the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) has been released, you might be thinking about getting a pair. On the other hand, you’ve probably seen the Apple AirPods Max everywhere and know that it’s about as premium as wireless headphones get. If you’re an iPhone user in search of an Apple-specific audio option and can’t choose between the two, we’ve got you covered. We put the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) up against the Apple AirPods Max to see which wireless headset is best for your needs.

Editor’s note: this versus article was published on October 11, 2022, and is the first version of the article. Updates will follow as the market changes.

What’s it like to use the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) compared to the Apple AirPods Max?

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is very similar to the previous generation, still featuring glossy white stemmed earbuds with a rounded rectangular case. The case has a speaker in it, so you can locate it if it gets lost using Find My AirPods. Both the AirPods and the charging case are IPX4 rated, so they can both handle splashes of water without sustaining damage. The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) comes with four ear tip sizes, including the usual small, medium, and large, with the addition of an extra-small pair of ear tips.

The AirPods Max and AirPods Pro (2nd generation) next to each other, with the AirPods Pro out of its case.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys
In-ears or over-ears, the choice is yours.

On the other hand, the Apple AirPods Max is a pair of over-ear headphones, much different from the AirPods Pro. A mesh canopy headband evenly distributes the headset’s 386g weight along your head. The metal headphones feature a rounded rectangular shape, similar to the AirPods Pro charging case. Unlike Apple’s in-ears, the headphones come in four colors: silver, Space Gray, Sky Blue, pink, and green.

You get a Smart Case that doesn’t really protect the headset. Instead, the Smart Case forces the AirPods Max into low power mode. Without the Smart Case, it takes 72 hours of inactivity before the AirPods Max enters low power mode. The AirPods Max is not IP rated, so it’s not safe to take out into the rain or spill any liquids on.

How do you control the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and Apple AirPods Max?

Close-up of the digital crown at the top of the Apple AirPods Max right ear cup.
The digital crown is used for playback controls, volume controls, and accessing Siri, and only Siri.

Controlling the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is done through squeezing and swiping gestures on the stem of the earbud. You can remap some of the controls in the Settings app of an iOS/iPadOS device.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd gen) controls:

INPUT (stems)ACTION
One press
Play/pause/answer call
Two presses
Next track
Three presses
Previous track
Press and hold
Toggle ANC/Adaptive Transparency modes
Swipe up/down
Increase/decrease volume
"Hey Siri"
Change volume, request directions, playback control, receive messages, and more

To control the Apple AirPods Max, there is a digital crown button on the top of the right ear cup for controlling volume and playback, as well as a noise cancelling button to toggle between ANC and transparency modes. The AirPods Max doesn’t support touch controls.

Apple AirPods Max controls:

ActionMedia controlsCall controls
Action
Noise control button
Media controls
Toggle ANC and Transparency mode
Call controls

Action
Headset: remove/wear
Media controls
Auto-pause/play
Call controls

Action
Digital Crown: rotate
Media controls
Adjust volume
Call controls

Action
Digital Crown: one press
Media controls
Play/pause
Call controls
Answer/end call; answer incoming call and put current call on hold
Action
Digital Crown: two presses
Media controls
Skip track
Call controls
Reject incoming call; answer incoming call and end current call
Action
Digital Crown: three presses
Media controls
Previous track
Call controls

Action
Digital Crown: hold
Media controls

Call controls
Reject second incoming call
Action
Customizable controls?
Media controls
Yes, ANC toggle only
Call controls
No

How does the software compare between the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and Apple AirPods Max?

An iPhone 12 mini displays the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) spatial audio modes with the case and a smart watch next to it.
Lily Katz / SoundGuys
The iPhone Settings app and Control Center is where you go to customize the listening experience.

The software options for both the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and the Apple AirPods Max are very similar. Both use the iOS or iPadOS Settings app to access software options and customization, making all of it inaccessible to Android users.

In the Settings app, there are features like personalized Spatial Audio, customization of some of the controls, firmware updates, noise controls, and Find My AirPods available to both the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and the Apple AirPods Max.

The biggest differences between the two is that the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) has a more updated Find My AirPods setup, since the case now has a speaker which makes a sound to help you locate it, and the ultra-wideband U1 chip allows for precision tracking. This does require you to share your location, which isn’t ideal for the privacy-inclined. While both sets of AirPods feature Transparency mode that transmits external noise through the headset, the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) takes it one step further with Adaptive Transparency powered by the H2 chip. When you enable this feature on the second-generation AirPods Pro, unpredictable, loud noises don’t come through as loud and piercing as they might through the AirPods Max or older AirPods models.

How do the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and Apple AirPods Max connect?

The quick-pair pop-up on iOS devices.
Just tapping connect on an iOS device will pair these automatically to every device on your iCloud account.

With the Apple AirPods Pro’s H2 chip and the AirPods Max’s H1 chip, both connect easily to Apple devices. Taking either out of its case and putting it near an Apple device will trigger a screen prompt on your device to connect. The chip integration with Apple devices makes it easy to quickly connect and switch between devices logged into the same iCloud account.

The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) uses Bluetooth 5.3, while the AirPods Max uses Bluetooth 5.0. Both only support the AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs, which is great for Apple users, but that means there’s no reliable high-quality Bluetooth audio option for Android users (unsurprisingly). You can listen to the AirPods Max over a wired connection using a Lightning cable with an adapter to plug it into a 3.5mm port.

Pairing the AirPods Pro or AirPods Max to a non-Apple device is pretty simple, comparable to pairing any other Bluetooth device.

To pair the AirPods Pro to a non-Apple device,

  1. Make sure Bluetooth is turned on on your device.
  2. Open the AirPods Pro case and hold the setup button on the back for 5 seconds, until the white LED flashes.
  3. In your device’s Bluetooth menu, choose the AirPods Pro in the devices list.

To pair the AirPods Max to a non-Apple device,

  1. Ensure Bluetooth is enabled on your device.
  2. Hold the noise control button on the AirPods Max for 5 seconds until the light flashes
  3. In your device’s Bluetooth menu, choose the AirPods Max in the devices list.

Is battery life better on the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) or Apple AirPods Max?

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) earbuds rest on a black surface with the case in the background.
Lily Katz / SoundGuys
The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) lasts just under the advertised six hours.

In our battery testing, of constant music playback peaking at 75dB(SPL), the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) lasted 5 hours, 43 minutes with ANC on, which is just a bit short of Apple’s advertised 6-hour battery life. The charging case adds an additional 24 hours of listening time to the earbuds, or 19 hours, 30 minutes of talk time.

The Apple AirPods Max lasts much longer at almost 21 hours with ANC on. As mentioned earlier, the AirPods Max doesn’t have an off button, so it constantly drains battery when it’s not in use. It goes into low power mode if you put it in its case, but even then it’s still draining the battery a little.

The battery draining issue of the AirPods Max and the small battery life of the AirPods Pro don’t make for the most environmentally friendly options. The more charge cycles a battery goes through, the shorter its life becomes. If you want to avoid creating battery e-waste with your headphones, you should opt for headphones with a longer battery life, or wired ones. The most environmentally conscious people may not want either of these options.

Does the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) or Apple AirPods Max block noise better?

The ANC comparison chart for the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) vs AirPods Max, showing that the AirPods Max has slightly better ANC performance.
Both have great ANC, but the AirPods Max is just slightly better.

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and the Apple AirPods Max both have excellent noise cancelling, but the AirPods Max is just marginally better. For reference, our score for the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is 8.2/10 and for the AirPods Max it’s 8.3/10. The AirPods Pro just has two little dips, one between 100-200Hz, and one between 3-8kHz, where it just doesn’t quite match the AirPods Max. Nevertheless, both are amazing at cancelling out noise.

Both also have good isolation, with the AirPods Max having just slightly better isolation in the low end, and the AirPods Pro having better isolation in really high frequencies. A proper fit is integral for good isolation and good noise cancelling, since having outside noise leaking in will diminish the performance of both. This can lead you to turn up your volume to dangerous levels, putting you at risk of noise-induced hearing loss.

Does the Apple AirPods Max sound better than the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation)?

The frequency response comparison chart for the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and the AirPods Max. Both have very similar frequency responses, but the AirPods Pro is slightly bassier.
Both the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max sound great, the main differences are in the high-frequency presentation.

The AirPods Max and the AirPods Pro (2nd generation) have largely similar sound profiles in the lows and midrange, both of which measure close to our target curve in our testing. The AirPods Pro puts out less level in the highs relative to our target. The AirPods Max is a touch under-emphasized in the upper mids and uses a different tuning, leading to comparatively more output at the high end. Either will sound quite good to most people, which is fortunate, because you can’t change the EQ without the help of a third-party app.

If you want to change the sound profile of either of these headsets outside of Apple Music, you won’t be able to do so using the default software. As of now, there are no EQ presets or custom EQ options in the Settings app.

Does the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) or Apple AirPods Max have a better microphone?

The Apple AirPods Max in white on a coffee table next to a newspaper.
The AirPods Max microphone will sound best on flagship phones.

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) has a decent microphone, with a reduction in bass frequencies to help with voice intelligibility. It’s perfectly fine for phone calls, though background noise can cause voices to drop out. If you need to take calls on the AirPods Pro, try to do so in quiet, indoor places.

The microphone in the Apple AirPods Max is really good when used with the right (Apple) devices, otherwise, the AirPods Max doesn’t always do a great job of relaying voices. Your mileage may vary. Background noise isn’t suppressed particularly well, and it can also cause voices to drop out.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone demo (Ideal conditions):

Apple AirPods Max microphone demo (Ideal conditions):

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) microphone demo (Office conditions):

Apple AirPods Max microphone demo (Office conditions):

Which microphone sounds better?

643 votes

Editor’s note: Our standardized test setup plays back pre-recorded phrases from a calibrated artificial mouth in our test chamber, either with or without simulated background noises, simulated reverberant spaces, or artificial wind. This means that samples from every product can be directly compared, which makes it far easier to make meaningful comparisons between products in terms of the raw speech quality or the product’s ability to reject noise. While this setup is consistent, it’s unable to allow the earbuds to detect speech as they would in the real world (using vibrations), so you’re likely to experience something different than our demos above.

 

Should you get the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) or Apple AirPods Max?

The Apple AirPods Max and Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) on a wooden slab next to each other.
Austin Kwok / SoundGuys
The AirPods Pro and AirPods Max are completely different in form, but have similar features.

First things first, only consider either of these AirPods if you primarily use an Apple device. Android phone owners won’t have an ideal experience with either the AirPods Pro or the AirPods Max. If you are an iPhone user, the choice depends on your use case and preferences. The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) is more affordable, more compact and portable, and water resistant, which will probably appeal to most people. It has great sound and amazing ANC, making it one of the best pairs of wireless earbuds for iPhone owners.

Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)
Impressive ANC • Comfortable fit • Wireless charging
One of the best true wireless earbuds for iOS users
The second generation of AirPods Pro features top-quality active noise cancellation in a water-resistant package.

However, those who prefer over-ear headphones and want a longer battery life might prefer the AirPods Max. This set of headphones is perfect for anyone who doesn’t like the feeling of in-ears and doesn’t plan on taking headphones into the rain. It’s good for people who work from home or work desk jobs, since it’s easy to tune out the world and the over-ear fit is more comfortable for longer periods of time. All these perks come at a cost and the AirPods Max is more than double the price of the new AirPods Pro.

Anyone waffling on the AirPods Max, may be better off getting the AirPod Pro (2nd gen) and a pair of renewed Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones.

Apple AirPods Max
Apple AirPods Max
One of the best ANC • 20-hour battery life • Well-built pads
A spectacular pair of headphones with best-in-class ANC
The AirPods Max wireless headphones offer best-in-class noise cancelling with twenty hours of battery life. They provide excellent frequency response and great audio features.

What should you get instead of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) and Apple AirPods Max?

Side-on view of Sony WH-1000XM5 beside the AirPods Max hanging over a white horizontal pipe
The WH-1000XM5 (left) is much friendlier to those who switch between operating systems than the AirPods Max (right).

If you want to be able to use your headphones with any OS without issue, the Sony WH-1000XM5 compares well against the AirPods Max with its amazing ANC. Plus, the Sony WH-1000XM5 sounds good out of the box, and you can tinker with the Sony Headpones Connect’s in-app custom EQ module. With the WH-1000XM5, you get LDAC support for higher-quality Bluetooth audio on Android devices. It’s also way more affordable than the AirPods Max (though still expensive) at $399 USD. The XM5’s predecessor, the Sony WH-1000XM4, is also a fantastic headset with a lot of the same features, just with slightly lower performing ANC. It’s also more affordable at $349 USD, so it’s another good alternative.

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II is another great noise cancelling option, with really good ANC, a great frequency response, a wired audio option, and as the name states, great comfort. For $299 USD, this is also an even more affordable option.

The Sony WF-1000XM4 on a wet, red bench, also with moisture on the earphones.
An IPX4 rating means splashes, sweat, and humidity won’t kill your earphones.

There are a lot of great AirPods Pro alternatives out there, but one really great alternative to mention is the Sony WF-1000XM4. It’s OS-agnostic, using the Sony Headphones app which is available on Android and iOS, and has fantastic ANC. Like the above-mentioned Sony headphones, you can change the EQ in the app, and it also supports the LDAC codec. It’s a little pricier than the AirPods Pro at $278 USD, but it’s well worth it for a great pair of noise cancelling earbuds.

Now, Samsung phone owners have a clear choice in the wireless earbuds market: the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 Pro. The buds are IPX7-rated, so they can handle more water than the AirPods Pro. With the Galaxy Buds 2 Pro, you experience better ANC than the second-gen AirPods Pro, and it’s $20 cheaper at $229 USD. It supports the Samsung Seamless Codec, so Samsung phone owners can have a high-quality Bluetooth audio option. It’s heavily integrated with Samsung, but if you have a different Android device, while you do miss out on features like 360 Audio, it’s still an option worth considering.

Frequently asked questions

No, without the Apple Settings app you won’t be able to install firmware updates. This means only people using Apple devices will be able to install firmware updates.

The AirPods Pro (2nd generation) only comes in the classic glossy white color, but the AirPods Max comes in silver, space gray, sky blue, pink, and green.