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AirPods Max: 8 things you need to know if you bought Apple's new headphones

If you picked up a pair of Apple's swanky new over-ear noise-canceling headphones -- or are thinking about it -- here are some answers to frequently asked questions.

David Carnoy/CNET

We have a full review of the AirPods Max that's chock-full of info for people contemplating dropping $549 on Apple's high-end noise-canceling wireless headphones. But not everybody wants to unpack a few thousand words to find the answers to a few vital questions you might have about the AirPods Max, especially if you already own a pair. That's why I've rounded up some of the most-asked questions about the AirPods Max with answers to go along with them.

In some cases, the answers may change as Apple updates the headphones' firmware. If it does -- and perhaps adds new features -- I'll provide updates. Feel free to ask any questions or provide any AirPods Max insights in comments section, and they may just turn up in a future update. 

Read moreFull review of Apple AirPods Max

Can I connect wirelessly to Android and other non-Apple devices?

Yes, the AirPods Max are Bluetooth headphones and should connect to any Bluetooth-enabled audio device. However, you lose some extra features, like hands-free Siri (for voice commands) and Apple's new spatial-audio surround-sound feature, which is pretty cool and only works with iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad.  

To connect, you simply hold down the noise control button (the button that allows you to toggle between noise canceling and transparency modes) to make the headphones discoverable as a Bluetooth device. You then find it in the Bluetooth settings menu on your other device.

The AirPods Max currently stream only AAC and not aptX, aptX HD or Sony's LDAC codecs, which are compatible mostly with Android devices. It's possible that support for additional codecs -- and additional features -- could be added in the future with a firmware upgrade, but for now there's just AAC. That's just fine for owners of Apple's devices, which these headphones are optimized for. Although Android devices support AAC streaming, there have been reports that they don't handle it as well as iOS devices.

I do not recommend that Android owners buy the AirPods Max at this time, particularly given the high price.

How do I listen in wired mode?

Alas, Apple didn't include a cable for wired listening, which would come in handy if you wanted to plug into an in-flight entertainment system on a plane (most still required a wired connection). That's kind of absurd considering what the AirPods Max cost, even if Apple is concerned about its unused -- or lightly used -- accessories ending up in landfills. 

The USB-C-to-Lightning cable that comes with the headphones is just for charging the AirPods Max and your other Apple mobile devices that have a Lightning port (you still need a power adapter but could also use a standard USB-A Lightning cable to charge the headphones). You can't plug that cable into the USB-C port on your computer and get any sound. Furthermore, you can't use the little Lightning headphone adapter that used to come with iPhones to connect a 3.5mm auxiliary cable and plug into an audio device's headphone port. You'll get no sound with that setup either.

The only way to go wired is to buy Apple's Lighting-to-3.5mm audio cable, which costs $35. I do suggest buying it. I'm using it more than I thought I would and the sound is slightly but noticeably better when going the wired route (and you can listen to lossless FLAC files on your computer if you have a stash of uncompressed digital music files).

Read more: Best noise-canceling headphones

Can I still get sound out of the headphones if the battery is dead?

No -- and that also goes for wired listening as well. That's different from some competing headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM4, which have a so-called passive mode available when wired up to an audio source. That said, I don't think that feature's absence on the AirPods Max is a big deal: You can get 1.5 hours of playback time with a short 5-minute charge and battery life is rated at a respectable 20 hours with noise canceling on at 50% volume. 

The extra cable costs $35. It's too pricey but is nice to have.

David Carnoy/CNET

How do I turn them off?

Some people have complained that the AirPods Max can't be manually turned off. However, as Apple notes, if you set your AirPods Max down and leave them stationary for 5 minutes, they go into a low power mode to preserve battery charge. They do this immediately if you put them in their "Smart" case, which has elicited some rather negative comments (for its design), but I don't dislike it nearly as much as others.

Also, after 72 stationary hours out of the Smart Case or 18 hours in it, your AirPods Max go into a lower power mode that turns off Bluetooth and Find My to preserve battery charge further.

Apple didn't do a good job clarifying all this at launch. But after I posted my initial review, I was pointed to a web page that has detailed info on "How to charge your AirPods Max and learn about battery life." If Apple had communicated this information earlier, fewer people would have complained about not being able to manually turn them off.

Do the AirPods Max leak sound?

While the AirPods Max feel snug on your head and have a good seal that helps with noise cancellation, if you play your music at higher volumes some sound will leak out, allowing people in close proximity to hear what you're listening to, which can be irritating for them. 

The earpads are made of more breathable material than the type that are covered in real or faux leather, so that may be part of the reason some sound leaks out. If you wear glasses, the issue may be more pronounced.

The earpads adhere magnetically.

David Carnoy/CNET

Is the battery replaceable?

Supposedly it is, though you'll have to have Apple do it and the company hasn't said how much that will cost yet. Since the headphones cost so much, it's good that the battery can be replaced, since all rechargeable batteries run down after repeated charges. In theory, you should be able to use the headphones for many years.

Are the earpads replaceable?

The earpads adhere magnetically and are easily removable. Apple will soon begin selling replacement earpads in various color options for $69 per pair, which is quite pricey ($49 seems more reasonable). But again, at least they are replaceable. You can mix and match colors as you like.

What does AppleCare Plus for AirPods Max cover?

The AirPods Max‌ includes a one-year limited warranty that allows you to get the hardware fixed for free if it malfunctions and isn't related to accidental damage -- like dropping it. You also get up to 90 days of complimentary tech support.

Optional ‌‌AppleCare‌‌ Plus coverage costs $59 and gets you two years of 24/7 priority access tech support via chat or phone and accidental damage coverage -- up to two incidents per 12 months, each subject to a $29 service fee -- from the date of purchase. Battery service coverage is included.

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