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Apple’s AirPods Max are expensive, but oh so fancy.


David Carnoy/CNET

Apple surprised everyone and released the AirPods Max, the company’s first over-ear headphones, as one last announcement at the end of the year. The $550 headphones are not only expensive, but they’re also downright impressive. CNET editor David Carnoy says they sound “like high-end headphones, with tight bass, natural mids, crisp highs and a wide soundstage for a closed-back headphone.”

From 20-hour battery life, active noise cancellation, a dedicated transparency mode and a super-fancy surround-sound mode called Spatial Audio, there’s a lot to learn about Apple’s newest headphones.

But that’s what we’re here for. Below we’ll walk you through 14 different features, tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your shiny headphones.


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Bluetooth pairing with AirPods Max is really quick

Seriously, pairing the AirPods Max is an extremely simple process. You’ll need your iPhone or iPad and the headphones. Take the headphones out of the smart case and unlock your device.

A second or two later, you’ll see an alert on your phone asking if you want to connect to the AirPods Max. Tap Connect and you’re technically done. However, Apple has added a brief tutorial that walks you through some of the basic controls as well as asks if you want to enable Spatial Audio after playing a brief demo (more on that in a minute).

Once your AirPods Max are paired, the headphones will automatically work with the rest of your Apple devices that use your Apple ID. You won’t have to repeat this process for each device.

If you’re setting up your headphones with a Mac and not an iPhone or iPad, you’ll need to follow the steps in our next tip.

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The AirPods Max only has two buttons, neither of which is a power button, and no touch controls.


David Carnoy/CNET

Connect AirPods Max to a Mac or non-Apple device

At their core, the AirPods Max are still Bluetooth headphones. That means you can connect them to other Bluetooth devices, like the new Chromecast, an Android phone or Windows PC.

However, pairing to a non-Apple device or a Mac requires some extra steps. Namely, you’ll need to put the headphones in pairing mode by holding in the noise control button until the indicator light starts blinking white. The button is located on the top of the right ear cup, while the indicator light is on the bottom of the same side.

With the headphones in pairing mode, open the Bluetooth settings on the device you want to pair them with, select AirPods Max from nearby devices and follow the prompts.

Learn the controls

The AirPods Max lack any touch controls, and instead rely on a digital crown, just like what you’ll find on an Apple Watch, and a stand-alone noise control button. Both buttons are on top of the right ear cup, and serve multiple purposes.

Let’s start with the digital crown, which offers plenty of controls and features.

  • Control the volume level by turning the crown in either direction.
  • Single-press to play or pause.
  • Double-press the crown to skip forward.
  • Triple-press to go back.
  • Press and hold to trigger Siri.

The digital crown is also how you answer or end a phone call.

  • Single-press to answer or end a call.
  • Double-press to reject a call.
  • During a call, single press to answer a second incoming call and put the first call on hold.
  • With two calls active, double-press to hang up the current call and switch to the other call.
  • Press and hold to reject a second incoming call.
  • Double-press to stop listening through your headphones and send the call to your phone.
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The controversial case.


David Carnoy/CNET

Use your iPhone, iPad or Mac to control AirPods Max

If you find it easier to switch between active noise cancellation and transparency mode or turn spatial audio on and off using an iPhone, iPad or Mac, you can do that, too.

With your AirPods Max connected to an iPhone or iPad, swipe down from the top-right corner of your screen to access the Control Center. Long-press on the volume slider and then adjust your settings as desired.

On a Mac, click on the AirPods Max icon in the menu bar and then select the mode you want to use. Right now, spatial audio on the Mac isn’t possible.

How to turn AirPods Max on or off

The short answer? You can’t. The AirPods Max are either on your head and actively in use, or in some form of low-power state to prolong the battery.

When not in use, place the headphones in the smart case to instantly put them, effectively, to sleep. If you forget to put them in the case and simply place them on a desk or table, they’ll eventually enter that same state, but it will take longer to get there.

Auto-play and auto-pause are still a thing

If you take the headphones off, or just lift an ear cup off your head, anything you’re listening to will automatically pause. When you put the headphones back on, they should reconnect and begin auto-playing whatever was last playing.

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There are plenty of settings you can change, you just have to know where to look.


Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Siri is always available

If you have “Hey, Siri” enabled on your iPhone, iPad or Mac, your AirPods Max will follow suit. Whenever you’re wearing the headphones and need to do something like change albums, send a message or place a call, use the wake phrase of “Hey, Siri” followed by your command or question.

Here’s where you can adjust AirPods Max settings

There is a settings page for your AirPods Max, but unlike the Apple Watch, which has its own dedicated app, it’s buried in your iPhone’s Bluetooth settings page. Specifically, you need to go to Settings > Bluetooth > Tap on the “i” next to your AirPods Max.

On this page you’ll find options to change the name of your AirPods, adjust the direction you turn the digital crown to adjust volume, disable automatic switching, among other settings.

I highly recommend going through this page and familiarizing yourself of what you can and can’t control.

Test out spatial audio

During the initial pairing process, you were given the chance to listen to a Spatial Audio demo and decide if you want to turn it on. The demo is brief, and does an alright job of showing off what the feature can do; which is to create a surround sound-like environment inside your headphones, that adjusts in real-time as you move your head.

But in order to really get a good idea of what spatial audio does, I suggest watching any content that supports Dolby Atmos 5.1 or 7.1 audio. Apple TV Plus subscribers can use the Tom Hanks movie Greyhound or if you have Disney Plus, any of The Mandalorian episodes are fantastic examples.

While watching a show on your iPhone or iPad, turn your head to hear the sound move around you. It’s a crazy experience, no doubt.

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That cable right there? It’ll cost you.


David Carnoy/CNET

How to view battery level

Whenever the AirPods Max are in use, you can view the current battery level by looking in the top-right corner of your iPhone or iPad’s screen. If you’re using them with a Mac, you can click on the AirPods Max icon in the menu bar to view your battery level.

Another option to check on battery status is to use the battery widget on your iPhone or iPad, or simply place your AirPods Max next to your iPhone or iPad and wait for a the battery life alert to show up.

Need a wired connection?

You can use the AirPods Max as wired headphones, but you’ll need to buy a separate cable. It’s a $35 Lightning-to-3.5mm cable you can buy directly from Apple.

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The mesh canopy.


David Carnoy/CNET

The ear cups come off for cleaning

Each ear cup is magnetically attached to the headphones, allowing you to remove and clean it. Or if one gets damaged beyond repair, you can buy replacements for $69 a pair.

Having issues? Try a soft reset

If you’re having issues with the AirPods Max, you can soft reset them — which is akin to restarting your computer — by holding in the noise control button and the digital crown until the status light turns amber.

How to factory reset AirPods Max

If you’re returning the AirPods Max, selling them, or need to factory reset them for another reason, you can do that by holding in the noise control button and the digital crown until the indicator light turns amber and then white.

After mastering your AirPods Max, make sure to read our guide to Apple’s audio sharing feature that allows you to share whatever you’re listening to with a friend without sharing earbuds. If you’re annoyed by the new automatic switching feature in iOS 14, you can turn it off with a few taps. If you’re looking for tips and tricks for iOS 14, we have plenty of those, too.

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