Despite the $550 price tag, there are a lot of things to like about Apple’s new AirPods Max headphones. The case is not one of them. It’s a pretty terrible option, offering neither protection or style. Naturally, third-party options will soon hit the market to correct this abomination. One of the first comes from Waterfield Designs, a San Francisco-based company that’s been making lovely leather bags and custom cases for devices from Apple, Microsoft, Google, Nintendo and more for years. Waterfield’s AirPods Max “Shield Case” goes on sale this morning for $99, and it appears to be a huge improvement over Apple’s option.
What’s perhaps most unique about the AirPods Max Shield Case is that Waterfield crowdsourced the design. The company has been accepting feedback and inspiration for new products for several years now, and this time it surveyed about 1,200 potential buyers about what they were looking for in a case and put that into the design.
Just like the cases that come with most other noise-canceling headphones, the Shield Case folds closed around the AirPod Max and zips up, providing full protection. You can store the headphones on their own or with Apple’s case, if you’re into that for some reason. On the inside, you’ll find a plush liner to avoid scratches; it’s the same extremely soft liner Waterfield uses in the laptop pouches of bags like their Leather Messenger. (I own that bag and can confirm the plush liner is absurdly soft.) There’s also an internal mesh pouch that can hold a 20w power brick and charging cables.
There’s also a clever AirPods Max-specific feature on the inside: A magnetic “butterfly” separates the two ear cups and triggers the headphones’ low-power mode. While the AirPods Max eventually go into low-power mode , it’s nice that Waterfield’s Shield Case duplicates the only useful feature in that Apple built into its own case.
On the outside, two zippers close up the Shield Case, which means you can leave it open slightly and plug the AirPod Max in to charge them up. There’s a grab handle up top as well, which should make the case easier to pull out of a backpack. The case also has two more pouches on the outside: One mesh back pocket for quick access and a zippered front pocket for things that you want to secure. That front exterior comes in brown leather with a waxed canvas trim, or in red, blue or black leather with a black ballistic nylon trim.
I’ve used Waterfield products for years, so I’ll admit that I’m perhaps biased — but I also have the experience to know that they usually make really smart decisions in their designs, whether it’s a general-purpose laptop bag or a case made for a specific gadget like this one. It’s not cheap at $99, but the company hand-makes everything in small batches and the quality has always been consistent and excellent. There aren’t many other third-party cases yet on the market, but that should change soon if you want something a little less expensive. But Waterfield’s Shield Case looks like a smartly-designed product for headphones that absolutely need more protection than Apple offers.