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Apple Introduces AirPods Max Over-ear Wireless Headphones for $549

Apple is leapfrogging Beats with the introduction of a high-end over-ear wireless noise cancelling headphone.

Apple AirPods Max Over-ear Headphones in silver front and side views

Better than Beats?

Apple today announced AirPods Max, innovative wireless headphones that bring the magic of AirPods to an over-ear design with high-fidelity sound. AirPods Max combine a custom acoustic design, H1 chips, and advanced software to power computational audio for a breakthrough listening experience with Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency mode, and spatial audio. AirPods Max come in five gorgeous colors, including space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink, and are available to order starting today, with availability beginning Tuesday, December 15, 2020 for $549. This makes them Apple’s most expensive headphone ever. Our first thoughts are at the end of the product info.

Apple AirPods Max Over-ear Headphone Colors

“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, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.

Apple AirPods Max Headphones in red

Custom Acoustic Design

Apple says every part of AirPods Max has been carefully crafted to provide exceptional acoustic performance for each user. The breathable knit mesh canopy, spanning the headband, is made to distribute weight and reduce on-head pressure. The stainless steel headband frame provides strength, flexibility, and comfort for a wide variety of head shapes and sizes. Telescoping headband arms smoothly extend and stay in place to maintain the desired fit.

Apple AirPods Max top view in red

Each ear cup attaches to the headband through a revolutionary 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. Each ear cushion uses acoustically engineered memory foam to create an effective seal — a critical factor in delivering immersive sound. The Digital Crown, inspired by Apple Watch, offers precise volume control and the ability to play or pause audio, skip tracks, answer or end phone calls, and activate Siri.

Apple AirPods Max Dynamic Driver

Breakthrough Sound

AirPods Max feature a 40mm Apple-designed dynamic driver that claims to provide rich, deep bass, accurate mid-ranges, and crisp, clean high-frequency extension so every note can be heard. A unique dual neodymium ring magnet motor allows AirPods Max to maintain total harmonic distortion of less than 1 percent across the entire audible range, even at maximum volume.1 Equipped with an Apple-designed H1 chip in each ear cup, a custom acoustic design, and advanced software, AirPods Max use computational audio to deliver the highest quality listening experience possible. Utilizing each of the chips’ 10 audio cores — capable of 9 billion operations per second — computational audio powers a breakthrough listening experience that includes Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency mode, and spatial audio.

Apple AirPods Max Internals Exploded

Features

  • Adaptive EQ: AirPods Max use Adaptive EQ to adjust the sound to the fit and seal of the ear cushions by measuring the sound signal delivered to a user and adjusting the low and mid-frequencies in real time — bringing rich audio that captures every detail.
  • Active Noise Cancellation: AirPods Max deliver immersive sound through Active Noise Cancellation so users can focus on what they are listening to. 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.
  • Transparency Mode: With AirPods Max, users can switch to Transparency mode to simultaneously listen to music while hearing the environment around them — ensuring everything, including a user’s own voice, sounds natural while audio plays perfectly. Switching between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode can be done with a single press using the noise control button. 
  • Spatial Audio: AirPods Max use spatial audio with dynamic head tracking to place sounds virtually anywhere in a space — delivering an immersive, theaterlike experience for content recorded in 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos. Using the gyroscope and accelerometer in AirPods Max and iPhone or iPad, spatial audio tracks the motion of a user’s head as well as the device, compares the motion data, then remaps the sound field so it stays anchored to the device, even as the user’s head moves.
Apple AirPods Max pairing with iPhone

The Magic of AirPods

AirPods Max join the existing AirPods family (AirPods & AirPods Pro). The magical setup experience customers love with today’s AirPods and AirPods Pro extends to AirPods Max with one-tap setup, followed by automatic pairing with all the devices signed in to a user’s iCloud account, including iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV.

AirPods Max automatically detect when they are on a user’s head using the optical and position sensors. Once in place, AirPods Max play audio and can pause once removed or when the user simply lifts one ear cup. With AirPods Max, voice calls and Siri commands are crisp and clear due to beam-forming microphones that block out ambient noise and focus on the user’s voice.

Battery and Performance

AirPods Max feature long battery life with up to 20 hours of high-fidelity audio, talk time, or movie playback with Active Noise Cancellation and spatial audio enabled.2

AirPods Max come with a soft, slim Smart Case that puts AirPods Max in an ultralow power state that helps to preserve battery charge when not in use.

Apple AirPods Max left earcup interior

Additional Features

  • Automatic switching allows users to seamlessly move sound between iPhone, iPad, and Mac. When playing music on Mac, users can easily take a call on iPhone and AirPods Max will automatically switch over.
  • Audio Sharing makes it possible to easily share an audio stream between two sets of AirPods on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple TV 4K. Simply bring AirPods Max near the device and connect with a single tap.3
  • Siri capabilities include the ability 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 AirPods Max Headphones in black

First Thoughts

No other headphone packs in this much technology. On paper things look very promising, but at $549 they will certainly be up against some serious audiophile competition. I’d be surprised if they can top some our favorites in sound quality including the HiFiMan Deva and DALI IO-6. Although it’s never wise to underestimate Apple. Almost surely Apple has the competition beat in convenience (and likely comfort) since Apple can control the end-to-end music experience. Perhaps the DAC (not mentioned) could be one of Apple’s secret weapons. A better DAC (digital to analog converter) can make all the difference. Now with Apple’s leap into high-end headphone audio, will they finally embrace hi-res streaming on Apple Music?

Pricing and Availability

AirPods Max are available to order starting today for $549 (US) from apple.com and in the Apple Store app in the US and more than 25 other countries and regions. AirPods Max will begin shipping on Tuesday, December 15, 2020. Here’s the full 2020-2021 AirPods line-up:

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  • AirPods Max (over-ear): $549
  • AirPods Pros (earbuds): $249
  • AirPods (2nd gen, earbuds): $159

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.

  1. Testing conducted by Apple in December 2020 using preproduction AirPods Max and software paired with iPhone 12 Pro units and prerelease software. AirPods Max placed on B&K Type 5128-C High-frequency Head and Torso Simulator (HATS). Volume was set to 100 percent with Active Noise Cancellation on. After playing pink noise to initialize the system, a 20Hz to 20kHz, -3dBFS peak, 1/12th octave stepped sine tone sweep was played and recorded on HATS. Total harmonic distortion was calculated using industry-standard IEC methods. Distortion is dependent on test signal, fixture type, headphone placement, and other factors.
  2. Battery life varies by use. See apple.com/batteries for details.
  3. Users can send audio from Apple TV 4K to up to two pairs of AirPods or Powerbeats Pro using Control Center.

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