Apple this morning announced their latest product, over the ear headphones known as AirPods Max. Priced at a whopping $550, there's a lot of initial reaction and comparisons to Microsoft's Surface Headphones. So, if you're part of that wave, we've got your back. Here's how the two compare on price, features, and a lot more.
First off, there's the price. Microsoft's Surface Headphones come in two generations. You can find the first-gen Surface headphones for much cheaper at around $100-$120 on most reseller websites like eBay. The latest Surface Headphones 2, though, comes in at $250. Both products also come in multiple colors. Surface Headphones 2 come in Light Gray and Matte Black, though first-gen Surface Headphones only in Light Gray.
Apple's AirPods Max, though, comes in five colors: Space Gray, Silver, Green, Sky Blue, and Pink. They're priced at $550. Looking at just the price, you can see the difference here. You can pick up two Surface Headphones for the price of one Apple AirPods Max. But is it worth it? Let's dive deeper.
Next up, there's connectivity. This is quite important for headphones. We're giving Microsoft the upper hand here, for a couple of reasons. First off, Surface Headphones have a 3.5 mm headphone connector, letting you connect the headphones up to a PC or any other device manually to a headphone jack. Secondly, it also features multi-device support and Bluetooth, letting you pair and switch between PCs, Macs, iPhones, and other devices. There's even a companion app on Windows, iOS, and Android, too to help you manage how you use the headphones with your non-Windows devices
Looking at the AirPods Max, there's quite the situation if you're not into Apple's ecosystem of devices. While AirPods Max supports Seamless Switching and pairing between Mac, iPhone, and iPad devices, we presume it would work the same way with AirPods do with Windows. This isn't exactly as seamless when it comes to pairing compared to Surface Headphones. Anyway, AirPods Max also lacks a 3.5 mm connector, so you can't use the Apple cans with your PC with a cable.
And, as far as we can tell, managing the AirPods Max will only work through iOS, unlike Surface Headphones, which can be managed on iOS, Android, or Windows via the Surface Audio App. Finally, Apple's headphones also have a proprietary Lightning connector for charging, whereas Surface Headphones are USB-C.
Now, there's the design. Of course, these two products differ significantly in design. We already dived deeper into Surface Headphones design back when we reviewed it. Basically, the Surface Headphones feature a padded canopy on the top and memory foam around the ear cups. We really like this design.
The outside of the cups (on the side) also rotates for volume control and noise cancellation and has touch controls to help control your digital assistant or play and pause music You'll also find a dedicated mic mute button, as well as the power button on the cup, too. This is a unique design that helps keep the headphones light and thin, around 0.64 pounds, 8 inches in length, and 1.89 in thickness.
Apple's new AirPods Max are different. Apple says that the headphones have a "breathable knit mesh canopy, spanning the headband, is made to distribute weight and reduce on-head pressure." The headband is made of stainless steel and looks to be quite flexible. The earcups are also able to independently pivot, too.
Weight comes in at .85 pounds, and the length at 7.37 inches, and thickness at 3.28 inches. But let us not forget Apple's Digital Crown. The AirPods Max features this signature feature from the Apple Watch on the top of the cup. This is to control volume, answer calls, and activate Siri. Another button on the cup will also let you switch between the audio and noise cancelation modes.
Sound and noise cancellation
Now, for sound and noise cancellation. Microsoft's Surface Headphones feature up to 30dB for active noise cancellation, and 40 dB for passive noise cancellation (to hear outside). Microsoft claims there are 13-levels of active noise cancellation, too. Its Omnisonic speakers (Microsoft's term for audio immersion,) meanwhile come with a 40nm Free Edge driver. The frequency response is 20-20 kHz, and audio Codecs are SBc and aptX. Digital Assistants, meanwhile, can be configured on-device based on what operating system or phone you're using Surface Headphones with.
Just like AirPods Max, the Surface Headphones also sport audio pause, which means the music will pause if you slip it off your ears. There's a total of eight mics on board, with two being in each cup. These are all the technical specs we can find listed online about Surface Headphones.
Apple's AirPods Max, however, are jam-packed with all kinds of sensors for tracking your head, and for spatial audio. The drivers and speakers are Apple-designed and are dynamic. It has an optical sensor, position sensor, accelerometer, in each cup, and a gyroscope in the left ear cup. There's also a total of nine microphones onboard, 8 for active noise cancellation, and three for voice pickup. Oh, and let's not forget Siri, which is always-on with the Apple headphones, letting you hear messages, respond to messages, check the weather, and more.
There's also a transparency mode, to let you hear outside noise, and adaptive EQ, which automatically tunes the low- and mid-frequencies of the music to the shape of an individual’s ear. We'll also mention Apple's headphones have the H1 headphone chip in each ear cup, too. Apple says this chip "uses computational audio to create a breakthrough listening experience."
On paper, it would seem as though Apple has the upper hand here over Microsoft. For the high price, its headphones have a lot of technology packed in Apple's new cans.
Battery life and conclusion
Apple says that AirPods Max can last up to 20 hours on a single charge for watching movies, talking, and more. Microsoft's Surface Headphones, meanwhile, can go on for up to 18.5 hours of music listening time or up to 15 hours of voice calling on Microsoft Teams. Note that Apple's headphones have a special carry case, which can put the headphones in an ultra-low power state to preserve charge. Surface Headphones have one, too, but the case doesn't support this feature.
Alas, looking at both headphones, the choice is yours to make. For Microsoft fans, the Surface Headphones 2 are the best buy. You get the ease of use with different devices, and Windows 10. Apple fans, or those with Apple devices, might be better off with AirPods Max. Those pair of cans play nicer with iOS and Macs and even might have better sound quality.