I came into this review expecting a very different sound than what I hear with the AirPods Max. I expected a fairly laid-back sound with a tuning not too unlike the 2016 to 2020 Audeze Era or the STAX SR-007, but with a bass boost. Cue measurements: Instead what I got was a brutally honest, revealing and neutral midrange and treble, but with still the same bass boost. The midrange tuning of these headphones is so spot on to my own tastes that it's almost scary. Seriously, the midrange reminds me more of my modded HD800s than my UERMs or, frankly, any other headphone does. I have no clue how Apple arrived at their target, but I know it's not a Harman midrange tuning (albeit the bass is very close to Harman tuning). Either way, hats off to the engineers who came up with the tuning. Think HD600, but kinda smoother somehow?. More importantly it's not insipid, not soft and boring sounding. This is what I feared the most coming from other ANC headphones. The Sony and Bose headphones are major offenders in that regard. Plugging an HD600 straight into my old phone results in a more boring sound. Sure, even the lowly Vali + HD600 combo results in a livelier sound, but the Vali is actually a really good amp in that regard for the price. A better comparison is the MOTU M4's headphone output (which kind of sucks in the grand scheme of things). The AirPods Max is comparable in micro dynamics, if not slightly better compared to that. It makes me bop my head and shake my foot more than I expected. The soundstaging is also very impressive for what it is. Far bigger stage than the Sony, no doubt also due to its deeper and more leaky pads. To my ears the stage is somewhat bigger than an HD600/Focal Utopia size, but images are a bit blurred. I've read some people complain about instrument separation and it certainly isn't as good as an HD600 here. I'm fairly certain it's hurt by the bitrate as the acoustic design seems quite good. Where it completely obliterates most closed back headphones is in the lack of cup coloration and bass quality. It's funny how making the cups really inert seems to have paid off so much for the sound. None of that plasticky sound that plagues other ANC headphones. And its bass is solid and doesn't linger when it shouldn't. Plus it's cleaner than a 40mm driver has any right to be. Bass quality seems to be superior to entry level orthos and even the HD800 on a decent rig, only surpassed by the best kilobuck orthos. ANC headphones generally seem to use microphone servo technology to dramatically reduce low frequency distortion, but neither the Bose nor the Sony flagship sound anywhere near as clean to me. It holds up extremely well to very high SPLs. Bass distortion is much lower than an HD800 or Focal Stellia for sure. The tuning even reminds me somewhat of the Abyss AB-1266 with a broken seal, except the emphasis is centered on 30Hz rather than 40Hz. Not that the bass approaches what the Abyss can do, but it's addictive nonetheless. Where it fails most is the occasional sibilance. The treble tone is sharper than it should be and as a result some tracks are hard to listen to. It's only the tracks which I already knew for being borderline, but in that case it often pushes it over the edge. 95% of what I listen to sounds fine. The treble is still quite linear and transparent sounding. Overall the AirPods Max sound like an almost metal driver headphone to me. Kind of a hard sound in general, bass to treble. Not in a bad way, however. It also makes it fast and responsive sounding. It's like the engineers spent a lot of time listening to Focal flagships and turning them into a more portable ANC headphone. It'd be fun to compare to the Focal Stellia (which I absolutely loved when I briefly auditioned it). The APM may even sound cleaner due to it being lower distortion. The Stellia is on another level technically, of course. NON SOUND STUFF: The ANC is the best in the business, seriously. I have both the Sony WH-1000XM3 and XM4 here and the APM consistently outperforms both while also sounding more natural. The transparency mode is a joke on the Sony headphones. On the AirPods Max it's actually quite natural sounding, if a bit sibilant. More natural than the shouty APP transparency mode and that's already first rate. While the noise in both NC and transparency modes is still audible, it's the lowest I've heard so far. Impressive considering how noisy these small microphones are. Also I've heard that the Sony's microphones are easier to clip, so these must be the widest dynamic range microphones available in this size. Noise in the NC active mode I'd estimate is in the 10 dBA range! In transparency mode I'd guess it's in the 25 dBA range. APP noise is roughly 5dB louder subjectively. Sometimes I find the pads a bit itchy. The material is somewhat hard. However I find them comfortable despite the weight. The headband works really well for me and might be the most comfortable one I've worn so far. The clamp is strong, but manageable for me. Might be a dealbreaker for some, but you can't have this kind of NC performance without it clamping your skull. The build quality! Seriously impressive. The 3D audio is thankfully not overdone. There's not really any loss from using them on an android phone, sonically. Charging is slow and battery life isn't that good. You'll likely end up charging them every other day or so. Pressure on the ears with ANC active is there, but I don't find it too bothersome. The Sony headphones have somewhat less of a pressure feeling for me.