The Apple AirPods Max have finally been announced, having been the subject of rumor for quite some time now.
The first Apple over-ear headphones were quietly launched via a press release posted the Apple newsroom, and according to Apple, they boast “incredible high-fidelity audio, Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, and spatial audio”, like the AirPods Pro.
They’ll be available to buy from December 14 (though you can preorder them now), and will set you back $549 / £549 / AU$899 – far pricier than most of the best headphones on the market today.
The release of the Apple AirPods Max comes after months of speculation regarding potential Apple over-ear headphones, once thought to be called the AirPods Studio.
While Apple previously had a patchy track record with audio products (the less said about the wired EarPods that used to come with iPhones and iPods, the better), it’s slowly improved its reputation since the purchase of the Beats Audio brand and the launch of the Apple Music service.
It now boasts two excellent sounding smart speakers in the shape of the HomePod and HomePod Mini, and its in-ear true wireless earbuds, the AirPods and AirPods Pro, are among the most popular in the category.
However, the over-ear market is a very competitive one, boasting well established brands with decades’ worth of heritage – many of which offer studio-quality headphones at far lower prices than the AirPods Max.
Currently, the Sony WH-1000XM4 over-ear noise cancelling headphones are our top pick of the bunch, and audiophiles have plenty of alternatives to pick from. Still, spatial audio, automatic switching, and an unusual design could separate the AirPods Max from the pack, and if the success of the true wireless AirPods is anything to go by, the new headphones could take the market by storm.
The Apple AirPods Max certainly represents the most high-profile headphone launch in some time, and we’ll be eager to see whether they can meet the high standards Apple aspires to with its other products.
For now, here’s everything we know about the Apple AirPods Max, including the price, release date, and the specs:
Cut to the chase
- What are they? The Apple AirPods Max – the brand’s first over-ear headphones
- When will they be released? December 15, 2020 (though you can preorder now)
- How much will they cost? $549 / £549 / AU$899
Apple AirPods Max release date
The Apple AirPods Max were announced on December 8 via a press release posted to the Apple newsroom – a surprisingly low key launch, considering how much hype has surrounded the first Apple over-ear headphones over the past couple of years.
Though they’ll be officially released on December 15, 2020, they’re available to preorder now – that’s if you can find them in stock, of course.
According to the official Apple Store inventory updates, you probably won’t be able to buy the new AirPods Max directly from Apple on December 15.
In fact, if you hesitated on Apple’s peculiar-looking noise-canceling headphones, it’s unlikely to arrive in 2020. AirPods Max restock in the US will ship in 12 to 14 weeks, showing us an estimated delivery date of March 5 to March 19. That’s a long wait.
In the UK, most AirPods Max colors show a delivery date of January 7 – the Sky Blue model is 12 to 14 weeks out, indicating it may be the most popular color option. In Australia, every version of the AirPods Max has been pushed back to 2021 except for Pink, which may arrive by December 23, according to the Apple Store estimate.
The AirPods Max are available to buy from other retailers though, including Best Buy in the US and Currys in the UK. You can check out AirPods Max stock below:
Apple AirPods Max price
The Apple AirPods Max cost $549 / £549 / AU$899, and are available to preorder from today.
That’s far more expensive than many of the best over-ear headphones on the market, including our favorite cans, the Sony WH-1000XM4; anyone hoping for a budget-friendly price like the HomePod mini will be disappointed.
All may not be lost though – it was previously rumored that there would be two versions of the Apple over-ear headphones, with a cheaper, sports-friendly model also said to be hitting the shelves.
If the AirPods Max are the ‘luxury variant’ we’ve been hearing about over the past few months, Apple could feasibly launch a less expensive variant in the near future. A previous leak from Target’s inventory put the price of what could be the cheaper model at $349 (about £280 / AU$530), which, while pricey, is a lot more palatable.
Either way, Apple’s over-ear headphones are much more pricey than Apple’s popular true wireless earbuds, with the most expensive of these – the AirPods Pro – coming in at $249 / £249 / AU$399.
Apple AirPods Max design
The Apple AirPods Max come with a minimalist design that’s typical of the tech giant, with sleek lines and a stainless steel build – and they come in a range of stylish colors, including space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink.
They look pretty comfortable to wear (although we’ll need to test this out for ourselves), thanks to knit mesh headband, which Apple says is “designed to distribute weight and reduce on-head pressure”. We’re not entirely sold on the look of the mesh headband, but we can’t deny that it does look comfortable.
The headband frame itself is made from stainless steel, with “telescoping headband arms” that can be extended so you can find a good fit.
Memory foam padded earcups should also help keep the AirPods Max comfortable during long listening sessions; these earcups are attached to the headband with a mechanism that “balances and distributes ear cup pressure, and allows it to independently pivot and rotate to fit the unique contours of a user’s head”.
On-ear controls are minimal; interestingly, Apple has reprised the Digital Crown dial of the Apple Watch, which provides “precise volume control and the ability to play or pause audio, skip tracks, answer or end phone calls, and activate Siri”.
You can simply turn the dial to adjust the volume, or press once to play / pause your music, press once to answer and end phone calls, press twice to skip to the next track, and press three times to skip backwards.
There’s also a noise control button that allows you to switch between active noise cancellation and Transparency mode, while the bottom of the earcup houses an Apple Lightning port for charging. A charging cable is included with the headphones, unlike the latest iPhone.
Included with the AirPods Max is an unusual-looking Smart Case that puts the headphones in an “ultralow power state that helps to preserve battery charge when not in use”. The Smart Case has so far been compared to a bra, a sleeping mask, and a handbag by bemused Twitter users.
As much as the design of the AirPods Max is being lauded on Twitter, it’s likely Apple will have the last laugh based on the success of its previous ‘controversial’ devices, as TechRadar’s deputy editor John McCann points out.
It doesn’t look like Apple has included a 3.5mm headphone port – if it hasn’t, the AirPods Max will be totally wireless, only working with a Bluetooth connection with your smartphone or tablet. Unless you purchase a Lighting to 3.5mm audio adapter for an additional $35 / £35 (about AU$45), that is.
Don’t forget, either, that you can add a free engraving on the Max headphones, as with the AirPods Pro or AirPods, when buying on apple.com or the Apple Store app.
Apple AirPods Max audio performance
According to Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, the AirPods Max bring the “magical AirPods experience to an 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,” he said in the press release announcing the new headphones.
Inside the headphone are 40mm dynamic drivers, which Apple says will deliver “rich, deep bass, accurate mid-ranges, and crisp, clean high-frequency extension so every note can be heard”.
According to Apple, a dual neodymium ring magnet motor allows the AirPods Max to “maintain total harmonic distortion of less than 1% across the entire audible range”, so these headphones should sound very clear indeed, even at high volumes.
Despite the high price of the AirPods Max, support for Hi-Res Audio files is limited (aside from Apple Masters, which are only available via Apple Music) – this could hinder the success of the new headphones, as you’d probably expect comprehensive codec support from cans at this price.
Like the AirPods and AirPods Pro, they come with the Apple H1 chip in each earcup, featuring no less than 10 audio cores to allow for Adaptive EQ, active noise cancellation, Transparency mode, and spatial audio.
Released as part of iOS 14, the Spatial Audio feature first came to the AirPods Pro, and works in 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos, which positions sound all around you within a virtual sphere – that means that if you’re watching a Dolby Atmos film that shows a plane flying overheard, it will sound as though the plane is really passing above you.
Apple AirPods Max battery life and connectivity
The Apple AirPods Max feature “up to 20 hours of high-fidelity audio, talk time, or movie playback” – which wouldn’t seem a huge amount if it wasn’t with “Active Noise Cancellation enabled”.
ANC tends to lower the battery life a decent amount, so we’d imagine you can get a few more hours usage if you’re using for low-res audio without additional features enabled – plus, you may be able to conserve some battery by placing the AirPods Max into their soft Smart Case.
The best over-ear headphones will usually hit around 30 hours of battery life, though many great models make do on around 20 – either way it’s enough for a full day’s use or two, depending on how wedded they’ll be to your ears.
In terms of connectivity, these are wireless headphones, so there’s no headphone jack to speak of that we can see. That’s not surprising, though, given how much Apple has done to popularize wireless technology through its flagship smartphones, true wireless earbuds, and wireless charging pads. Still, it could put off hardcore audiophiles who prefer the fidelity of wired listening and don’t want to pay for an additional adapter.
An Automatic Switching feature will enable users to easily switch between iPhone, iPad and Mac, when jumping between music listening and taking calls too, and one-tap setup will mean you can get started with your new cans pretty swiftly. You’ll also be able to share audio between two sets of AirPods on pretty much any Apple source device – even Apple TV 4K or the iPod Touch – so you and your friends can listen to the same music simultaneously.
As ever, Apple has included support for its smart assistant Siri too, meaning you can use voice commands to “play music, make phone calls, control the volume, get directions, and more. Siri can also read incoming messages as they arrive with Announce Messages with Siri.”
Apple says that the AirPods Max require Apple devices running iOS 14.3 or later, iPadOS 14.3 or later, macOS Big Sur 11.1 or later, watchOS 7.2 or later, or tvOS 14.3 or later – while they’ll work with Android or Windows devices, you won’t be able to use Spatial Audio or Automatic Switching without one of the aforementioned devices.
Apple AirPods Max active noise cancellation
These over-ear Apple cans will feature active noise cancellation, with a “noise control button” that will also cycle through a Transparency mode for recording environmental noise and playing it through the earbuds – for when you need to be a bit more aware of your surroundings.
For ANC, we’re told that “Each ear cup features three outward-facing microphones to detect environmental noise, while one microphone inside the ear cup monitors the sound reaching the listener’s ear. Using computational audio, noise cancellation continuously adapts to the headphone fit and movement in real time.”
The Apple AirPods Pro already feature active noise cancellation, so this isn’t a brand new feature for the range, though we expect it’ll be more effective with the natural sound isolation that comes with a pair of over-ear cans – physically blocking out unwanted sound so you can focus on your podcasts, calls, or tunes. (The original Apple AirPods do not feature ANC.)
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