Apple’s AirPods Max, the long-rumored over-ear headphones, are finally official. They’re up for order right now and ship on December 15 for $549. You can pick from silver, Space Gray, Sky Blue, green or pink.
Here’s the scoop
AirPods Max bring smart experiences to a pair of over-ear headphones, much like AirPods Pro did to earbuds. Their flat oval ear cups have a knit finish masking a cushion — similar to the shells of the HomePod and the HomePod Mini. The ear cups attach to a stainless steel frame that leads to a headband made of the same knit mesh, which Apple says will reduce pressure and increase comfort. From first glance, the top portion of the band is significantly slimmer than Beats Solo Pros, Bose 700s and Sony WH-1000XM4s.
Thanks to a swivel attachment at the ear cups, you’ll have plenty of wiggle room for the ear cups to rest comfortably on your head as well. There’s a digital crown, the same tool as on the Apple Watch, for adjusting the volume, playback and other core controls. There’s also a rectangular button for turning on noise cancellation and transparency mode. Sensors inside the ear cups will detect if they’re on your ears, or slightly on or around your neck, which will enable auto play or pause.
Stacking up the features
The AirPods Max have all the high-end audio features you’d expect: active noise cancellation (ANC), thanks to on-board microphones, algorithms and a processor to block out the world around you. There’s also a transparency mode that will allow some outside sound to be let in.
The H1 chip is packed inside to power the audio experience and deliver fast pairing. The chip will also handle how the music sounds, courtesy of Adaptive EQ. Essentially, this is a technology that listens and detects how the audio sounds within the ear cups and makes adjustments accordingly.
A 40-millimeter dynamic driver in each ear cup powers the audio experience, so sound as a whole should be rich. Spatial audio will also be supported on AirPods Max and delivers a soft of surround sound experience in a pair of headphones.
Apple is promising up to 20 hours of listening and playback with noise cancellation enabled — 10 hours fewer than the WH-100XM4s from Sony. The headphones come with a Smart Case for protection and carrying, but it doesn’t charge the Max.
Let’s recap and compare
AirPods Max are up for order right now at $549 and will ship on December 15. You can pick from silver, Space Gray, Sky Blue, green or pink.
And while the colors look fantastic, let’s be real clear: Apple is entering the headphones space at a premium. These are high-end headphones, but they’re only Apple’s first crack in the over-ear space. For half the price, you can get exceptional over-ear cans with a similar feature set — and ones that have continued to prove themselves over time. Our top pick for noise-canceling and over-ear headphones, Sony’s WH-1000XM$s, cost just $279 and deliver 30 hours of battery life. Beats Solo Pro, which deliver the same noise-canceling modes and deep integration with the Apple ecosystem, are priced at $299.95.
We’ll be going ears-on as soon as we can with the AirPods Max, though, and will report back on just how well they stack up against the competition.