AirPods Max: Apple’s new over-ear headphones look fantastic but mighty pricey

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AirPods Max are available to order for $549.
AirPods Max, the first over-the-ear headphones sold under the Apple brand, combine a custom acoustic design with Apple H1 chips and advanced software.
Photo: Apple

Apple expanded its popular AirPods lineup Tuesday, unveiling a new over-the-ear model dubbed AirPods Max.

The high-end headphones promise to deliver “the magic of AirPods” in an all-new design. They boast high-fidelity, spatial audio and active noise cancellation like AirPods Pro. And they come in five colors. They’re available to order today, priced at $549.

Many music fans have been waiting for Apple to pack everything that makes AirPods so special into an over-ear design that provides an even more immersive listening experience. AirPods Max give you all that, plus a custom acoustic design for a “breakthrough listening experience,” according to Apple.

“AirPods are the most popular headphones in the world, beloved for their effortless setup, incredible sound quality, and iconic design,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, in a press release Tuesday. “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.”

Meet AirPods Max

AirPods Max are nearly identical to AirPods Pro in feature set. They offer an adaptive equalizer that tunes your music in real time, active noise cancellation (with a handy Transparency mode that lets you hear what’s going on around you if desired), and spatial audio with support for 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound and Dolby Atmos.

AirPods Max acoustic design features a 40-mm dynamic driver and a dual neodymium ring magnet motor
AirPods Max acoustic design features a 40 mm dynamic driver and a dual neodymium ring magnet motor.
Photo: Apple

With AirPods Max, however, you get an all-new acoustic experience. Apple-designed 40 mm dynamic drivers deliver deep bass, accurate midrange and clean high-frequency extension, the company says. AirPods Max also pack a unique dual neodymium ring magnet motor that allows them to maintain total harmonic distortion of less than 1% across the entire audible range — even at maximum volume.

According to the AirPods Max tech specs, the headphones pack multiple sensors to power the audio magic:

  • Optical sensor (each ear cup)
  • Position sensor (each ear cup)
  • Case-detect sensor (each ear cup)
  • Accelerometer (each ear cup)
  • Gyroscope (left ear cup)
  • They also come with nine microphones: They use eight for active noise cancellation and three for voice pickup (“two shared with active noise cancellation and one additional microphone,” Apple says).

    AirPods Max sport an over-ear design with top-quality audio, active noise cancellation and spatial audio.
    AirPods Max sport an over-ear design with top-quality audio, active noise cancellation and spatial audio.
    Photo: Apple

    AirPods Max’s breathable knit mesh canopy evenly distributes weight, reducing pressure on your head and making the headphones comfortable during even the longest listening sessions. Their stainless steel headband frame provides strength and flexibility, while telescopic arms make it easy to get your desired fit, no matter how big or small your head is.

    Each ear cup attaches to AirPods Max using “a revolutionary mechanism” that distributes pressure, Apple says. They’re also engineered using memory foam to create an effective seal. On the bottom of one ear cup, you’ll find a Digital Crown, inspired by Apple Watch, that makes it easy to adjust volume and control playback without taking your iPhone out of your pocket.

    They come in space gray, silver, green, sky blue and pink.

    Order AirPods Max today

    AirPods Max run for up to 20 hours in between charges. Plus, they ship with a soft Smart Case that puts them into an ultralow power state to preserve battery life when they’re not in use. Like typical Bluetooth 5.0 headphones, they also work with non-Apple devices. However, Cupertino notes that functionality will be limited if you’re not running the latest versions of Apple software.

    You can order yours today from the Apple Online Store for $549.

    The next step in AirPods evolution

    Apple upended the wireless earbuds market when it unveiled the first version of AirPods in September 2016. They finally hit the market in December of that year. While the radical design looked goofy at first, Apple packed a ton of tech into the tiny package. AirPods quickly became the default way for Apple fans to listen to music, podcasts or phone calls.

    Apple’s custom-built W1 chip and some fancy software made the earbuds a delight to use. Soon, their unmistakeable white design didn’t look so strange anymore.

    Since then, Apple continued to refine its hit earbuds. Version two brought a faster, more-stable H1 chip (and an optional wireless charging case) in March 2019. AirPods Pro — which arrived with a sleeker design, active noise cancellation and a heftier price tag — followed in October 2019. (They also use the H1 chip.)

    As with Apple’s earbuds, the new AirPods Max benefit from a combination of advanced hardware engineering and custom software. They also add a little more weight to rumors that claim Apple might kill off the Beats brand it bought for $3 billion in 2014. (Aside from the Beats line of headphones, Cupertino also acquired the foundation for Apple Music in that deal.)

    While AirPods proved an unabashed hit — helping propel Apple’s wearables category to new highs — they haven’t been without controversy. Software updates reportedly sapped the performance of AirPods Pro’s noise cancellation. And packing so much hardware into such a small form factor earned AirPods a repairability score of 0 from iFixit.