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Apple's AirPods Max noise-canceling headphones may cost a bundle -- $549 to be precise -- but they sold so well at launch, Apple initially couldn't keep them in stock, particularly in certain colors (you shouldn't have a problem getting any color now, however). And while they may not be as popular as the standard AirPods and AirPods Pro, the Max is the latest example of a high-profile Apple product that creates its own cottage industry for dedicated accessories. Indeed, there are already plenty of AirPods Max add-ons, including traditional "shell" cases, charging stands and ear cup and headband covers. 

Here's a look at some of the best accessories available. Note that I've only tested three of these, while the others are alternatives that I think are cheap enough that they're worth rolling the dice on. I'll update this list as more arrive and as I get more hands-on experience with them.

Read more: Best noise-canceling headphones for 2021

David Carnoy/CNET

When Apple released the AirPods Max, it got a lot of grief about the headphones' unusual protective covering, which drew its fair share of bra and purse comparisons and was criticized for not fully protecting the headphones. I wasn't as down on it as others, but I knew we'd soon see a bunch of third-party cases, and several have already arrived, including Waterfield Design's $89 Max Shield case.

Aside from its swanky design, what makes it different from all the $20 to $25 generic cases showing up on Amazon is that it has a "Magnetic Butterfly" that puts the AirPods Max in low-power mode just like the magnets on Apple's cover do. With other cases, you stick the AirPods Max (with their cover on) in the case -- they don't have magnets. 

The Max Shield is designed to house the AirPods Max naked -- or wearing their cover -- and has an inner pouch to store the included USB-C to Lightning charging cable or the optional Lightning to 3.5mm audio cable for wired listening. There's also an exterior zippered pocket, as well as an exterior stretch mesh pocket for storing additional items. The Max Shield is available in eight color variations. 

David Carnoy/CNET

Apple doesn't include a cable for wired listening with the AirPods Max, which is pretty irritating because the fact is the AirPods Max do sound better in wired mode and sometimes it's easier to plug into a device than pair with it wirelessly, particularly if you've got non-Apple devices that aren't on your iCloud account.  

The easiest way to listen to high-res audio is to plug into a Mac or Windows PC and load up some FLAC files, which I did. Obviously, you can also listen to streaming services this way (and any other audio). The volume levels were plenty high on the MacBook Pro I was using and I did experience a subtle but noticeable bump up in audio quality going the wired route.

Also the cable does eliminate any latency, which might be a factor while gaming or with music production. Note that the AirPods Max still needs battery power to deliver audio, even in wired mode; there's no "passive mode" available. 

Apple's cable lists for $35, but you can get it for $30. It's available in black or white.

Best Buy

Anker's Lightning to 3.5mm cable for wired listening costs $5 less than Apple's cable.

Amazon

If you drop your AirPods Max headphones on the wrong surface, the aluminum earcups could get dinged up. That's where a silicon ear cup protector could save the day. There are plenty of them available on Amazon in plenty of color options. The Seltureone model is currently rated most highly by users -- and it's priced around $10 -- so that's my current pick in this category. But it could change as new versions become available.

Amazon

The AirPods Max mesh-infused headband is designed to be quite sturdy, but this headband cushion serves three purposes: It offers some increased protection for the mesh, adds some extra cushion for the crown of your head and it customizes the look of the headphones.

It's available in a few color options and can be easily removed and washed.

Amazon

Spigen's known for its affordable phone cases, but it also makes assorted other accessories, including the Ultra Hybrid Pro, a set of protective covers for the Max's ear cups. They're a little pricey at $24, but if you just want some protection and still want to show off the natural color of your AirPods Max's aluminum design, this is a good option.

Amazon

You can find several AirPods Max hard carrying cases on Amazon ranging in price from around $17 to $30. This case doesn't incorporate magnets to put the AirPods Max into their lower-power sleep state, but it has a plush interior, a slot for storing a power adapter and comes in multiple color options for $30.

Aukey

The AirPods Max include a USB-C to Lightning charging cable in the box, but no power adapter. This affordable Aukey Swift 30-watt two-port USB-C charger allows you to charge your AirPods Max and iPhone (or another device) at the same time. The new "upgraded" version lists for $17, but sometimes the price comes down by a few bucks with an instant coupon.

Read our list of the best phone and gadget chargers for 2021.

 

Amazon

This is your basic silicone rubber charging stand for the AirPods Max. Once you thread the charging cable into the stand, you're good to go (no cable is included). It initially cost $20 but is now close to $10, which is what it should cost. 

Read moreBest AirPods Pro accessories

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