Apple Airpods Max headphones Gen 1 (late 2020)

The problem I have had with Etymotics—and this shows clearly in their frequency response plots—is they have a brash and overbearing upper midrange/lower treble.

They have an overzealous 5-decibel boost around 2-5 KHz which just so happens to be (per basic knowledge of the human ear) the frequency range where the auditory system is extremely sensitive. Since sound response is totally relative and can be easily thrown off from a lack of proper proportions and especially so when a frequency range very sensitive to the human ear is overemphasized, that pitfall throws everything off balance. That overemphasis overshadows everything else imbuing a cold plasticky quality that deadens clarity in the mid and high treble, makes vocals sound cold and lifeless, and makes bass sound flat and missing. So boosting right in that 2-5 KHz window is very bad.

In that regard, that makes them very much like the AKG K701, a classic Hi-Fi headphone which also made the very same classic mistake in its frequency response, and which also was panned by some for a very stiff response (you get that when you do not show extreme caution there and overemphasize that very touchy 2-5 KHz range) that lacked bass, proper tonality, and treble clarity.

Of course, in knowing this, you can do tricks to give the impression your headphone performs better by purposely reducing the response from 2-5 KHz to make it seem like the frequency extremes are more fully rendered than other headphones. However, this is a double-edged sword and you also cause the sound to have a muted quality that lacks bite or punch that this sensitive region needs to be hearing enough of. Beyerdynamic used this technique of 2-5 KHz underemphasis extensively for years until Sennheiser, who was known for a warm curve in the HD 580, HD 600, and HD 800, decided to mimic it (perhaps going too far in reducing the sense of immediate presence) in their groundbreaking Sennheiser HD 800. It should be fairly noted that frequency response charts are not the whole story here. Distortion and the goal to lack it completely plays just as crucial a role. That’s why the HD 800 sounds far superior to the DT 880 since in THD (meaning total harmonic distortion) charts, the HD 800 has at least an order of magnitude less of distortion that gives it a very squeaky clean and hyperdetailed sound. But despite its clean and revealing nature, I personally cannot stand the HD 800’s muted, distant sound that comes from this very noticeable underemphasis in that 2-5 KHz region.

1 Like

@Hifihedgehog Living up to your name! I find it really difficult to pinpoint finer audio issues. Obviously overly strong bass or lacking treble are easy, and a sharp resonance/response peak somewhere can be heard, but for once we’re talking about broad few-dB boosts or drops if becomes basically impossible for me to pick those out without a “before/after” comparison.

I wish I could more quickly switch between the Sony and the APM, because by the time the APM gives me the chime that it has connected, the memory of the Sony sound profile is already fading. :slight_smile: The good news is that unlike before the APM reset, the two pairs are quite close in enjoyment for me. In fact the APM are actually making me experience the Sony as having an overly pronounced bass. Which is sometimes great, and sometimes too much.

The whole saga has made me curious about open back headphones. I wonder if something like the (currently) $150 Sennheiser HD 560S would be an amazing experience way beyond the 1AM2 and APM, or if it would be just another good sounding pair in my small collection (Sony MDR 7506, Sony 1AM2, Airpods Max).

1 Like

FWIW my brother swears by the Sennheiser 560s… “hands down the best for listening to a wide range of music”… My reaction after buying a pair , based on his recommendation, in essence was “meh”.

I strongly suspect that if I was to measure the response curve of my own ears it would be significantly different than his. And FWIW visually, he has mom’s ears, and I have my dad’s.

Displays are an area where I’m far more knowledgeable, but I’ve also been very interested in audio perception as I’m certain that’s it’s at least as varied and nuanced as visual perception is.

3 Likes

OK it’s final, the APM’s have been boxed up and removed from my iCloud account. The sound improved massively after a reset, and I finally understand the positive reviews. But given that there’s no exciting difference between the APM and what I already own, it seems wasteful to keep 'em.

I maintain that the clamping force is unpleasant (makes you feel ‘trapped’ and amplifies sounds from muscles straining etc), the weight is noticeable, and the hard earcups makes me worry about scratching/damaging them when I set them down. I also don’t love the scratchy earpads. I just isn’t a joy to put them on.

As stated above I do love the ease of use (put them on and they’re connected, volume dial right on the headset), I enjoy the great noise suppression, they sound good, and they look kind of cool, but that still doesn’t add up to $450+tax worth of value. It was worth a shot!

2 Likes

By the way, as I was reading up on the various open back Sennheiser models, I came across a helpful graph that helps talk about response:

A lot of these descriptions make sense to me, and match what I’ve heard dragging a notch filter around in an equalizer while mixing audio. Anyway, just leaving this here mostly so I know where to find it. :slight_smile:


Side note: for those considering Sennheiser HD58X or HD6XX headphones, going straight to drop.com gives you (atm) better prices than on Amazon or eBay, and on drop they’ll be guaranteed brand new.

I’ve got an HD6XX pair on order. Very different product than the APM (open back, obviously no active noise cancellation), but hopefully better sound. Perhaps I should have gotten the HD58X: the 6XX are supposedly way better, but at 300 ohms (vs. 150 of the 58X) they might be too much for my Fiio BTR5. Edit: it’s fine. BTR5 at max volume and iPhone at 50% is plenty loud. I did order a $15 balanced cable so the BTR5 can use its two DACs for more volume/less risk that the lower end output is limited by the preamp.

So why the 6xx? The 58X has smaller drivers, generally considered lower-end than the 600 series. I want something “impressively better” than what I own, so cheapening out makes no sense. Between the 600, 650, and 6XX, it seems that the consensus is that the 600 is more neutral/reference, with a bit less bass, and that the 650 and 6XX are virtually identical, minus some of the accessories included. The 6XX is way cheaper atm, I paid $233 including tax and shipping, compared to $400 (“from $550”) for the HD650 before tax from Sennheiser. FWIW, the 6xx were down to as low as $180 around Christmas time last year.

Anyway, even if this purchase ends up causing me to buy a new preamp, it’s probably still cheaper than my AirPods Max spur of the moment purchase. :sweat_smile: And hopefully I’ll enjoy the sound a lot more!

Just got the HD6XX in. Haven’t done any A/B testing, but I’m enjoying their sound tremendously already, even without “burn-in”. Unexpected benefit of open back headphones: you can hear yourself harmonizing when singing along. :slight_smile:

At $233 incl tax, it’s an easy decision to keep these: beautiful sound, distinct experience from the closed back Sony 1AM2, and not insanely expensive.

Of course this is a very different product than the AirPods Max (no ANC), but echoing what a reviewer wrote elsewhere: for dedicated listening sessions I don’t need the ANC, and for noisy environments where I do need ANC I don’t need top quality sound: AirPods pro are fine on the plane. Sonic happiness achieved. :+1:t2:

Edit: the word “D@mn!” has been heard with alarming frequency around @JoeS lately. These things sound effin amazing. Perfect fit for my rabbit ears. :vb-grin:

3 Likes

Quasi related to the Airpods Max as the engineer in the interview also works on them as well as the new Air Pods Pro. They apparently were trying for the same sound signature as the Max, but pocketable.

He talks also about airflow being the major change, which makes sense and is something I discovered in my hifi speaker days where moving my first “good” speaker a few inches away from the wall made a really noticeable difference in sound quality.

I spoke to Apple to find out the secret behind the AirPods Pro 2’s audio success | What Hi-Fi? (whathifi.com)

1 Like