Apple Announces $549 AirPods Max Over-Ear Wireless Headphones

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Ending months of speculation, Apple today announced the release of its US$549 AirPods Max high-end, over-ear wireless headphones offering Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency mode, and spatial audio. AirPods Max come in five colors, and are available to order starting today, with availability beginning Tuesday, December 15.

AirPods Max feature a 40-mm Apple-designed dynamic driver that according to Apple provides “rich, deep bass; accurate mid-ranges; and crisp, clean high-frequency extension”, whilst a dual neodymium ring magnet motor reportedly allows AirPods Max to maintain total harmonic distortion of less than 1 percent across the entire audible range, even at maximum volume.

Each of the AirPods Max's ear cups is equipped with an Apple-designed H1 chip to deliver computational audio and support Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency mode, and spatial audio.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 says that every part of AirPods Max is carefully crafted to provide exceptional acoustic performance:

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.

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.

AirPods Max weigh in at 13.6 ounces, which is significantly heavier than the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700 (8.3 ounces), Sony’s WH-1000XM3 (8.99 ounces), and the Beats Studio 3 (9.2 ounces).

AirPods Max use optical and position sensors to automatically detect when they are on your head, and will pause playback when removed or when an ear cup is lifted.

Quoted battery life is up to 20 hours of high-fidelity audio; talk time; or movie playback with Active Noise Cancellation and spatial audio enabled. For comparison, Sony’s WH-1000XM3 headphones offer up to 30 hours and the Beats Studio 3 22 hours. AirPods Max ship with a soft, slim Smart Case that puts the headphones in an ultra-low power state that helps to preserve battery charge when not in use.

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.

AirPods Max come in silver; space gray; sky blue; pink; and green, and are available to order starting today for US$549 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.

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. As none of these software versions are currently available, we should expect to see them drop between now and 15 December.

As always. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on this latest product release by Apple. Have you already placed your order? Is that asking price a little too rich for your tastes? Or, do you rate alternatives more highly? Let us know by adding a comment below.

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Submitted by Bruce Harrell on Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Hi hearing aid users,

After minimal testing, it appears my MFI hearing aids bleed too much sound to be able to use them in my recording studio in lieu of headphones, so I'm back to the drawing board with the Airpod Max, which I'd love to get for many reasons, all already identified by you. So, I'm seeing my audiologist January 15. I'll report back to you after that.

Joy and good health!

Bruce