iOS and AirPods Max settings for a better experience with the Max Stand

Published June 14th, 2022

I really love my AirPods Max. Even with the Apple-ism of no power button, they’re just so comfortable, create a powerful yet detailed sound, and work so harmoniously with all of my Apple devices: yep, I’m deep in the Apple ecosystem, so they are a magic fit.

I was on the hunt for a stand, and shortly after purchase, I saw The Max Stand. It looks perfect on paper: a neat desk stand that has a magnetic charging plug, allowing the AirPods Max to stand vertically, and remain charged. Perfect, right? While I had missed the Kickstarter campaign, they were still on Indiegogo: I gave my pledge, and waited. And waited. And I felt for the pledgers of the original Kickstarter campaign who had delay after delay, and ended up waiting months and months to receive their Max Stand, and many online appeared to be disappointed with the finished product. And I am too. The finish feels a little less polished than had been promised, the plastic top feels rather cheap (and is hard, not soft touch as advertised), and some recipients had some QC issues with alignment and overall polish and finish.

But the bigger issue is the fact that they are always connected to your iPhone (or your last connected device).


The issue:

When the AirPods Max are on The Max Stand and my phone rings, they take the audio of the call. I need to tap a button on my iPhone to pass audio back to the iPhone. Annoying, right?

The solution:

Check your Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Call Audio Routing setting - "Automatic" gave me a better user experience

With the Apple Smart Case

Let’s say you’re using the Smart Case: you take your AirPods Max off, twist the ear cups, place in the Smart Case, and the case’s magnets will place the AirPods Max instantly in to ultra low power mode, and disconnect from your devices. If you go to the Battery widget, you’ll no longer see the AirPods Max listed.

This is great: I can see they’re disconnected, but means I need two hands (and time) to get them out of the case, rotate the ear cups, and get them ready for my head.

With The Max Stand

But with The Max Stand, they’re in my preferred ear cup position, and ready to pick up in a single hand and be charged and ready for my head. But my AirPods Max always remained connected to my iPhone.

You take your AirPods Max off, place them on The Max Stand, but if your phone rings, your AirPods Max would take the audio of the call, even while they were on the stand. If you go to the Battery widget, you’ll always see the AirPods Max listed, even after days of not actively using them.

This is the big issue: if my AirPods Max are on The Max Stand, my iPhone rings, and I pick up my iPhone to answer it, I don’t want the AirPods Max to take the call.

It is my understanding that it is the Smart Case’s magnets that handle the disconnection issue, and I do wonder what would have been possible if The Max Stand included magnets too (or if the minimalist design means it is impossible to reach that ‘right’ spot to trigger the disconnection).

And of course with the AirPods Pro, this issue doesn’t exist because any smart person pops them back in their Smart Case after use so you don’t lose one, but also keep them charged, and the smarts of the case disconnecting them from your devices without needing the user to even know what is happening. Smart Case, hey?

I’ll admit: I was really disappointed with The Max Stand’s behaviour with the Airpods Max – it was like an AUD $120 paperweight.

Speaking with The Max Stand support

Speaking with The Max Stand support team, they claimed that they did not replicate the issue with the AirPods Max taking the audio of the call. This made me feel a bit daft, but others online were reporting the same issues. I knew I wasn’t alone.

Apparently the always-connected thing isn’t an issue. From a user perspective, it is weird to always see the AirPods Max on my Battery widget, but The Max Stand claim it is fine. The audio issue was a dealbreaker though.

I’d looked at AirPods Max settings on the iPhone, but nothing would let them just sit on The Max Stand looking gorgeous when my phone rang: they always wanted to be involved in the conversation. 

I reset the AirPods Max, re-paired. Same issue. 

This process took months: with weeks sometimes passing while waiting for a reply. But after more Googling, found out about a setting I didn’t even consider looking at buried away in the Accessibility settings.

Call Audio Routing on iOS

During my troubleshooting, I looked at Bluetooth settings, AirPods Max settings, even within Accessibility under categories that you’d think could help, such as AirPods or Audio/Visual.

But the Call Audio Routing is the piece of the puzzle here.

And it’s no wonder I didn’t notice it: it’s under the Accessibility category of “Touch” (and I’ll admit I didn’t spend much time looking in there because I didn’t figure this was a touch-based issue).

This is under Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Call Audio Routing.

In my iPhone’s settings, Call Audio Routing was set to “Bluetooth Headset”.

This means that any time my iPhone rings, if a Bluetooth audio device is connected – like the AirPods Max sitting on the Max Stand being permanently connected – they will automatically take the audio of the call when I answer. 

Changing this to “Automatic” means the iPhone routes to what it feels is the best device. Which is actually a good thing in this instance.

When set to Bluetooth Headset:

  • if I’m listening to my AirPods Max, and my phone rings, answering is on the AirPods Max as you would expect

  • when the AirPods Max are not being worn, when my phone rings, they take the audio of the call

With this set to Automatic:

  • if I’m listening to my AirPods Max, and my phone rings, when answering the AirPods Max take the call

  • if I take my AirPods Max off and sit them on the desk (or Max Stand) – basically keep them “connected” – and my phone rings, answering keeps the call audio on my iPhone

The audio is routed to the device. Hence “Call Audio Routing”. So obvious, right? Why on earth that setting is under “Touch” is beyond me, but it does solve the issue I’ve had with the AirPods Max and The Max Stand.

I’m not sure when this setting became available, or why mine was set to “Bluetooth Headset” – looking online shows some had issues with this setting around the iOS 11 era. I checked my partner’s iPhone and that too was set to “Bluetooth Headset”. But more Googling shows others have it set to “Automatic” because Call Audio Routing is also used for another issue. Why mine was “Bluetooth Headset” and others have “Automatic” shows a curious default for when the feature was added, and what is inherited from past backups vs new setups perhaps.

However, there’s one issue. If you’re using a Bluetooth speaker with a mic, actually using the speaker, and your phone rings, when you answer, your Bluetooth speaker will take the call’s audio when set to “Automatic”. This may not be ideal to have everyone in the vicinity hear your conversation. Setting this to Call Audio Routing to “Speaker” means your iPhone’s speaker will take over – which is good(-ish) for when using a Bluetooth speaker, but would mean if you’re wearing your AirPods Max, you’d need to take them off and use the iPhone to take the call without pressing an additional button. And hit another button to go back to the iPhone and not the iPhone’s speaker.

So while changing this to “Automatic” solves the AirPods Max/Max Stand issue, may create other issues for Bluetooth speakers.

Ideas for the future

Apple could improve this behaviour by allowing device-specific Call Audio Routing options. An idea could be for the AirPods Max to have a different Call Audio Routing option than the Bluetooth speaker: if your Bluetooth speaker is connected, the call comes through to your phone, but if listening to the AirPods Max, they take the call’s audio.

For The Max Stand, I think a v2 of the product has much more potential, with a rather large list of items to improve the overall experience:

  • improve the touch of the plastic to make it feel more premium (and be as advertised)

  • make the base a little heavier to make one-handed detachment easier

  • add a charging LED indicator so take guess work out of alignment on the stand

  • explore adding magnets to actually disconnect the AirPods Max from the iPhone (like when using in the Apple Smart Case)

  • improve the overall quality control and finishes

  • improve response times to customer enquiries

Do I recommend The Max Stand now? Kind of… there are still some shipping issues around the world (check out the Indiegogo comments), the QC and finish is not really up to the standard they claim it is (and they’re aiming to emulate a very Apple experience). It just feels like a faded photocopy of an Apple experience, lacking that polish and refinement. And this makes me think its asking price is high for what you get. But in saying that, I do love having my AirPods Max sitting on my desk, able to be grabbed and ready for my head with a single hand, and always on charge. It’s a great start, but a v2 revision could take this to a whole new polished level. Time will tell.

In the meantime, if you have a Max Stand, you too may want to check the Call Audio Routing setting on your iPhone to see if it improves your experience. For me it has taken it from an expensive paperweight to an actual usable product: so that’s a huge plus.

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