Apple announce AirPods Max, their over-ear headphones for a hefty $549

Image Credit: Apple

We’ve heard rumours of over-ear headphones from Apple for quiet some time now. Yesterday Apple officially revealed AirPods Max with a super premium price tag.

We first heard whispers of Apple’s own over-ear headphones back in April earlier this year. After rumoured features, name predictions, renders, price leaks and more, we finally have all the details on AirPods Max, with shipping starting next week.

Design

Apple have gone out of their way to provide a unique design for AirPods Max. The headphones are topped by a breathable knit mesh canopy, that distributes weight and reduces on-head pressure. A stainless steel headband frame ensures flexibility and comfort on a wide variety of head shapes and sizes. The suspension system allows each ear cup to indepedently articulate, in order to balance and distribute ear cup pressure and fit to the unique contours of the head. The telescoping headband arms smoothly extend and stay in place for a desired fit.

Headband

The external anodized aluminium cups hold the removeable magnetic ear cushions with acoustically engineered memory foam to give an effective seal and immersive sound. Each cushion is wrapped in a knit textile.

Ear Cup

AirPods Max have only one I/O port – a Lightning port for charging. There is no audio jack on AirPods Max, however they could be used with a Lightning to 3.5mm cable for flights.

Controls are manged through a Digital Crown inspired by the Apple Watch to control volume, play/pause, skip, answer/end calls and active Siri. A second noise control button switches between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode. The placement of these buttons on top of the ear cup seems difficult to access.

Controls

Internals

A custom acoustic design, H1 chips (one in each ear cup) and advanced software power comutational audio and produce high-fidelity sound. 40mm dynamic drivers provide rich, deep bass, with accurate mid-ranges and crisp, clean high-frequency extension. A dual neodymium ring magnet motor maintains total harmonic distortion of less than 1% across the entire audible range at maximum volume.

Exploded

Apple rates AirPods Max at 20 hours of battery life for high-fidelity audio, talk time or movie playback with ANC and spatial audio enabled.

Three beam-forming microphones makes your voice clear for calls and Siri commands, while blocking out ambient noise and wind.


Smart Features

AirPods Max feature all the same smart features as the AirPods Pro we’ve come to love, such as Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency mode and spatial audio, in a larger, over-ear design. Adaptive EQ continually measures the sound delivered, adjusting the low and mid-frequencies in real time based on the fit and seal of the ear cushions. Active Noise Cancellation uses three outward-facing microphones on each cup to detect environmental noise and one microphone inside each ear cup to monitor sound that reaches the listener’s ear. Based on headphone fit and movement in real time, computational audio continuously cancels unwanted sound using anti-noise. Transparency mode passes through environmental noises, so that you can naturally hear sound around you and your voice while music plays. Spatial audio with dynamic head tracking places sounds virtually anywhere in a space, to give an immersive, theatre-like surround experience for 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos content. This uses gyroscopes and accelerometers in the AirPods Max and iPhone/iPad to track the motion of the head and device, comparing motion data and remaps the sound field.

Spatial Audio

Optical and position sensors detect when you’re wearing the headphones, pausing the music when one ear cup is lifted. Always-on Siri is contantly listening for “Hey Siri” to respond to anything you need. Announce Messages lets Siri speak messages as they arrive on your phone. You can simply tell Siri to respond, without touching your phone. One-tap setup and automatic pairing will get you connected in seconds. Automatic device switching allows you to seemlessly switch between iPhone, iPad and Mac based on which you’re using. Audio sharing lets you pair AirPods Max and other AirPods or Beats to a single device.

One-tap Setup

Availability

AirPods Max come in five colours: space grey, silver, green, sky blue and pink.

They come with an interesting soft, slim Smart Case that puts the headphones in an ultralow power state to preserve battery life. Whether the case will protect AirPods Max against drops remains to be seen.

When purchased through Apple, you can get them engraved with text, numbers and emoji.

Engraving

Pre-orders are open as of yesterday in the US and 25 other countries. Shipping starts next week December 15th, however all colours of the AirPods Max in the US are currently showing a 12-14 week shipping estimate.

AirPods are the most popular headphones in the world, beloved for their effortless setup, incredible sound quality, and iconic design. With AirPods Max, we are bringing that magical AirPods experience to a stunning over-ear design with high-fidelity audio. The custom acoustic design, combined with powerful H1 chips, and advanced software enable AirPods Max to use computational audio to wirelessly deliver the ultimate personal listening experience.

Greg Joswiak, senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, Apple

Conclusion

At $549, Apple are positioning these right at the top of the wireless headphone bracket among other premium headphones on the market such as Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H9, which retail for $500 but currently sit at $436.57 on Amazon.

If you’re looking for an excellent pair of cheaper everyday wireless headphones with many of the same key features, look no further than the Sony WH-1000XM4. Usually $349, but are currently just $278 on Amazon, which is around half the price of AirPods Max.

Beyond materials used, the big benefit of AirPods Max over other competitors are the smart features exclusive for Apple users, such as one-tap setup, automatic pairing, automatic device switching and audio sharing. Whether these features are worth an extra $200 is questionable to say the least.

Apple leaker Jon Prosser provided Twitter with renders and potential features in September. Since then Apple seems to have dropped a number of features in order to get these headphones out before the holidays. These include a touch panel rather than the Digital Crown, reversible design meaning you could wear them either way around and a replaceable headband much like the ear cups. It seems Apple ran into production issues back in October, which lead to these features being left out and extended shipping dates. In October Prosser also claimed the price would be $599 with a cheaper sport varient for $350. We could still see a cheaper sport variant, but now the headphones have been announced, it’ll likely be over six months until we see such a device so as not to cannibalise the sales of AirPods Max.

We’ll have to wait until these start shipping next week to see if they justify the hefty price tag.

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