Apple’s AirPods Max may not be the most popular AirPods model on the market, but many people prefer it for its excellent soundstage, powerful bass, and exceptional sound quality. But since you already paid quite a premium for your headphones, how can you be sure you’re getting the best out of them? For example, does the AirPods Max sound better wired?
AirPods Max sounds better wired than over Bluetooth in many cases because Bluetooth connections often use compression due to its narrow bandwidth. This could lead to a loss of audio quality. A wired connection can send audio signals without compression, though it won’t be perfect lossless quality.
Audiophiles constantly argue over whether you can actually hear the quality difference, but many factors determine this. Let’s look at why your AirPods Max may sound better wired and what determines if you will be able to notice it.
AirPods Max Wired Vs. Wireless
AirPods Max headphones were made to be used wired or wirelessly. They connect to the iPhone (or any other compatible device) using Bluetooth 5.0 or a cable. However, there’s a significant difference between how the two connections send sound to your AirPods.
Bluetooth was never intended to be used for high-quality wireless media playback, as it was designed as a wireless standard for easily connecting nearby devices to transfer data. Even though it supports audio transfer, it was never meant to be used for more than phone calls.
Because Bluetooth is relatively slow (especially older versions of Bluetooth), proper audio transfer requires a codec to compress the sound. The AirPods Max supports the AAC audio codec and SBC Bluetooth codec.
Both of these codecs support the transfer of audio using lossy compression, which means that the sound being transferred will be stripped of any “non-essential” frequencies. These are usually frequencies humans can’t typically hear, so they should theoretically have little to no impact on your listening experience.
Unfortunately, some people have more sensitive ears than others, and hardcore audiophiles all agree they can hear a clear difference between lossy and lossless audio.
On the other hand, wired connections don’t need compression, so you can just as quickly transfer lossless audio over a wired connection. This in itself means that, theoretically, the AirPods Max should sound better over a wired connection than over Bluetooth. However, there are exceptions; we’ll look into them as we proceed.
Does The AirPods Max Have A DAC?
The AirPods Max has a DAC (Digital/Analog Converter) built into the headphones. There’s a lightning port that takes the digital audio coming in from your device and converts it into analog audio for the speakers to play.
Some feel that the DAC built into the AirPods Max isn’t great, causing many people to buy external audiophile-grade DACs to improve the sound quality. Most people don’t regard the AirPods Max as audiophile headphones because of this fact. But audiophiles also argue about whether an external DAC truly makes a difference, and it seems to be down to personal preference.
Does AirPods Max Support Lossless?
AirPods Max support lossless audio to a certain extent, but again it depends on whether you use Bluetooth or wired connections.
Bluetooth connections cannot transfer lossless audio. As mentioned before, Bluetooth needs the audio to be compressed; otherwise, it would go severely out of sync. I remember trying to watch a movie on my computer with my first pair of Bluetooth headphones. It was so out of sync that I couldn’t stand more than two minutes before grabbing my old, beaten-up wired headset.
Modern Bluetooth is better, but a big part of that improvement is the fact that the codecs have been refined. Their quality is much better than it used to be, but they are still lossy.
Using a wired connection is a different matter since it requires no compression. But there’s a caveat.
Can AirPods Max Play Lossless Audio?
According to Apple’s information on lossless audio, a lightning to 3.5 mm audio cable is needed for supporting lossless audio playback with AirPods Max. However, it’s important to note that this cable is not included with the purchase of AirPods Max, and you will have to buy it separately. Additionally, the ADC (analog-to-digital conversion) process does result in some quality loss, so the playback will not be entirely lossless but rather near-lossless, offering exceptional audio quality.
Does AirPods Max Have A Headphone Jack?
The AirPods Max doesn’t have a regular 3.5mm headphone jack, as it comes with Apple’s proprietary lightning port instead, though there are rumors of an upcoming model that will support USB type C.
So, without a headphone jack, how can you connect your AirPods?
How To Connect AirPods Max To Aux
Connecting to aux outputs on an audio device is easy. The Apple lightning to 3.5 mm audio cable should be all you need. If your audio device has a 3.5mm connector, you can simply insert the 3.5mm end of the cable into the connector and then plug the lightning adapter into the headphones. They should start playing automatically with only a second’s delay.
If you only have a 6.35mm connector on your audio device, you will also need a 6.35 mm-to-3.5 mm adapter to go between the cable and the socket.
Connect AirPods Max To iPhone Wired
Connecting your AirPods Max to an iPhone is only slightly more complicated.
If you have one of the older iPhones that still have headphone jacks, you can simply insert the lightning to 3.5 mm audio cable’s 3.5mm connector into the iPhone and plug the lightning connector into the headphones.
If you don’t, you will have to buy a lightning to 3.5 mm headphone jack adapter. Plug the lightning connector of the adapter into the iPhone, then connect the lightning to 3.5 mm cable to the adapter using the 3.5mm headphone jack. Lastly, insert the cable’s lightning connector into the AirPods Max. Again, there might be a short delay, after which the audio should begin to play.
Note that there are lightning-to-lightning cables on the market, but none of these are manufactured by Apple or Apple-authorized brands, so they may or may not work correctly.
Do AirPods Max Sound Better With Apple Music?
It depends on the media you’re comparing Apple Music to. For example, Apple Music supports lossless audio and has for years, while platforms like Spotify only recently started supporting it. Meanwhile, video streaming platforms don’t yet support lossless audio.
Even though the AirPods Max doesn’t support perfect lossless audio, it comes close, so you will notice a difference between Apple Music’s lossless music and other platforms that don’t have lossless sound files.
Comparing Apple Music and Spotify more closely, we can also see that Apple Music uses the AAC codec at 256kbps, while Spotify uses Ogg Vorbis at varying bitrates. Even though Ogg Vorbis can theoretically go up to 320kbps, most experts agree that AAC uses a better compression algorithm that generates better sound quality.
So, in summary, it largely depends on the source media you’re comparing with Apple Music. For the most part, though, Apple Music offers the most optimal listening experience you can get on AirPods Max.
Your AirPods Max should sound better wired than over Bluetooth due to limitations inherent to Bluetooth technology. Most people won’t notice the difference, but for those who want the absolute best audio quality possible from their AirPods Max, the ideal solution is to connect a high-quality DAC to your phone and connect the AirPods Max to that through a wire.