Why I'm skipping the AirPods Max in favor of Apple's last-generation earbuds

Apple AirPods Pro Max vs Powerbeats Pro
(Image credit: Apple)

Sorry, Apple. You're not getting my money for the new AirPods Max headphones. I'm buying last year's Powerbeats Pro earbuds instead, so congrats... Apple?

Yes, the Cupertino-based company will be getting my money in the end, but not 3.6x as much as it's asking for when it comes to the new AirPods Max. For me, someone who is usually an early adopter of all things tech, the better deal is for Apple's true wireless earbuds from last year under the Beats umbrella.

This isn't to say I'm not intrigued by the over-ear AirPods Max. Apple is promising 'unparalleled' active noise-canceling spatial audio, intuitive controls (Digital Crown), fast connectivity (H1 chip), and comfortable mesh material cushioning throughout.

But here's why I'm holding off the the Max version of the AirPods, and instead opting for the Pro version of the PowerBeats. At least for now.

Update: I'm practiced when I preached and bought the Powerbeats Pro over the AirPods Max. Receipt screenshot is included below as proof.

1. AirPods Max is 3.6x as expensive in 2020

The AirPods Max headphones launch price is $549 / £549 / AU$899. In the US, that's 3.6x as expensive as the best price I can find on the Powerbeats Pro.

The Powerbeats Pro now cost $149 / £159 / AU$225, depending on where you shop and what color you choose (I'm going for Lava Red introduced in mid-2020). That's quite a deal when they originally launched at $249 / £219 / AU$349 in June 2019.

In a year-and-a-half, the Powerbeats Pro price dropped 40%, so my mission come Black Friday or Cyber Monday 2021 will be to find the AirPods Max on sale for a more reasonable price. When I do, expect to see that deal info here.

apple airpods max

(Image credit: Apple)

2. AirPods Max availability is extremely limited 

Am I the only early adopter who didn't pounce on buying the AirPods Max without a second guessing them? Right now, most AirPods Max colors from the Apple Store are 12 to 14 weeks out, meaning you won't be able to get a pair until March (if that delivery estimate holds true).

Now, we did note yesterday where to buy AirPods Max if you want them sooner – some third-party retailers seem to have them in stock, but my options are becoming limited by the hour. This isn't a purchase I plan to rush until I see some independent analysis on how they feel and sound, which brings me to my next reason for holding off on the AirPods Max.

Apple airpods max

(Image credit: Apple)

3. I'm waiting for AirPods Max reviews

Why do the AirPods Max cost $270 more than the Sony WH-100XM4, which are our current best headphones of 2020? That remains to be be seen (or heard).

Between now and Tuesday, December 15 (the AirPods Max release date), I'm eager to see what reviewers determine. Are Apple's takes on over-ear headphones better? If so, by how much? Does that curious-looking case actually make sense after some hands-on time? Do the telescoping arms hold up over a long period of time?

So many questions about the AirPods Max. Conversely, the Powerbeats Pro earbuds are fully proven, with more than 500 days of testing by reviewers including our own Senior Editor Nick Pino. They don't have all of the bells-and-whistles of the noise-canceling AirPods Max, but I know what I'm getting into.

Apple airpods max

(Image credit: Apple)

4. AirPods Max overlap with my AirPods Pro

The AirPods Max look extremely comfortable, and I like a good pair of over-ear cans, but its noise-canceling perks overlap with what I currently get from my AirPods Pro. I'd have a hard time determining which to pull out of my bag on a subway or airplane (you know, when I can do those things again).

The Powerbeats Pro, on the other hand, serve an entirely different purpose, offering something that I don't get with the AirPods Pro: security. I've already lost and somehow miraculously recovered my AirPods more than once, and I don't trust them to always stay in my ears when I'm not standing still.

If I plan to run outdoors more in 2021 (which guess I've just committed to doing in writing), I want earbuds with ease-of-use instant pairing in the mornings (the H1 chip is in the Powerbeats Pro, too, thankfully), with the assurance they they'll stay in my ears (their around-the-ear clip design is something I don't get from the AirPods Pro).

In effect, the Powerbeats Pro offer something completely different from the AirPods Pro – something I'd use in a different, more active mode of my life. I can't say about of the relax-and-recline-ready AirPods Max when the AirPods Pro would be used for that some mode.

beats powerbeats pro

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Caveat: what if the Powerbeats Pro 2 come out?

There a good chance that Apple will launch the Powerbeats Pro 2 next year, and I'll regret my purchase of older hardware (this is why I'm an early adopter). The current version lacks noise-cancellation and the charging case isn't pocket friendly.

Apple has two big reasons to launch new Powerbeats Pro earbuds, too. The Apple Fitness Plus release date is December 14, and New Year's resolutions often kick off a exercise equipment buying frenzy. It's not unreasonable to think that Apple will push its new service software with some fresh hardware. 

Wouldn't it be wiser to invest in the AirPods Max, which won't be replaced any time soon? I still say no. The inevitable Powerbeats Pro 2 won't have that 40% discount, and the expected perks are unlikely to make up the difference for me.

Update: I followed through, buying the Powerbeats Pro

I put my money where my mouth regarding this op-ed and bought the Powerbeats Power at that aforementioned 40% discount over their original launch price.

Amazon order for Apple Powerbeats Pro

(Image credit: Future)

My Lava Red Powerbeats Pro earbuds don't arrive until December 17 (or December 18), but that's still a lot quicker than the March 2021 delivery estimate of all of the Apple AirPods Max colors in the US. 

Between now and then, I just have to make sure that surprise Green Monday deals on December 14 don't take this all-time-low price down even further.

Matt Swider