AirPods Max

A quick note on the AirPods Max. Anyone who knows me knows that I spend an unhealthy amount of money on Apple products, so of course I have a pair. In fact, I have two. Don’t ask.

They’re a weird one. Great headphones aesthetically – the magnetic ear cups and slick digital crown are a particularly nice touch – but by all objective measures, they’re by far the most failure prone piece of electronics I’ve ever owned by a mile. My first pair failed, I sent it in under warranty, my second pair failed, my first pair that came back under warranty failed, and I’ve now sent both pairs in under warranty – the first pair for the second time. And when you send these in under warranty Apple’s not repairing them – they’re just sending back a brand new pair. You can tell because the whole process has a turnaround of 48 hours. Which means that I’ve now sent three unique pieces of hardware back to Apple, all with the same problem.

Here’s the general pattern of degradation:

  • Everything works fine for a month or two.

  • You notice for the first time that they drop out – the ANC and sound both fail, then come back a few seconds later. I assume this is a chip crashing and rebooting.

  • The drop outs become more frequent, and it gets progressively harder to get them to come back. Eventually you have to start manually restarting them by holding down the noise control button and crown for 10 seconds.

  • Things get even worse and restarting them doesn’t work anymore. You can still have some luck by factory reset – unpairing, holding the noise control button and crown for 15 seconds, and re-pairing.

  • Eventually even that stops working and they become completely inert. Mine wouldn’t respond at all anymore when holding noise button and crown.

Not good. I went through a couple pairs of Apple’s Beats Solo Pro a few years back, and those were also awful from a reliability standpoint as well – the ANC would start hissing and crackling incessantly 2 to 4 months into ownership. But the AirPods Max are unique in that they not only fail, but fail catastrophically when they do. A $549 product that’s a brick a few months in.

But here’s where things get even weirder: if testimonies on the internet are to be trusted, this doesn’t seem to be a particularly widespread phenomena. I’ve found a few other people online who’ve run into the same problem, but the ratio seems low compared to the total number of AirPod Max owners out there. When I was talking to an Apple Genius on my latest warranty claim I asked him if he was seeing a lot of these – he said he’d only seen two other cases like mine all year. Take this all with a grain of salt though – the Genius wouldn’t have said anything if there really was a widespread problem, and the people who comment online about their AirPods Max tend to be the blinded-by-loyalty Gruber type who dismiss anything that might make Apple look bad as user error.

Assuming failure is relatively rare, that would suggest that I’m either really unlucky, or am doing something to destroy these things. The former doesn’t seem likely, so it’s probably the latter, but that’s not a strong probability either because I positively baby them – they’ve never been dropped, I don’t exercise with them (so sweat is not an issue), and they never even leave my apartment. Cosmetically, they look brand new – not even a scratch. So taking that into account, the only possibilities I can think of for what I might be doing differently:

  • I use them quite a lot. 8+ hours a day. Maybe that’s too much?

  • I’ll occasionally put them on soon after a shower when my hair is still damp. Maybe that’s enough moisture to destroy them?

That’s it. Maybe one of these is the problem, but if $549 headphones can’t take moisture from wet hair, we’re not in a good place here.

A big part of the reason I’m publishing this is that I’ve found so little information elsewhere online that I wanted there to be something on Google for people who’ve found themselves in a similar position.

Personally, I suspect a major defect that Apple’s staying quiet about. This has happened to me before – I bought AirPods Pro very early and had a problem where they’d discharge to 0% battery if left in their case for too long (so every morning you’d wake up to them with ~0% charge). After 11 months of frustration and being able to find very little information on the issue, Apple suddenly acknowledged this as a widespread hardware defect and replaced them. It was an annoying year of use, but I ended up with brand new AirPods by the end of it.

If you’re thinking about AirPods Max – I’d advise getting AppleCare+ to give yourself two years of warranty instead of one. In case you’re unlucky like me, it’ll buy you an extra year for Apple to find and fix whatever’s wrong here.

No. 4 and 5 arrive tomorrow (once again, brand new from warranty replacements), and I’m hoping for better luck. I’ll update this post with any new findings.

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AirPods Max

Published
September 30, 2021

Find me on Twitter at @brandur.

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