As one of the most prolific headphone makers in the world (just think of how many sets of earbuds the company has shipped with iPhones over the years) it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for Apple to release its own over-the-ear headphones. Today the company quietly released its new AirPods Max headphones—but with a price tag that probably has the competition relieved.
Back in 2014, it was assumed that at least part of the reason Apple purchased Beats by Dre for $3 billion (in addition to laying the groundwork for its Apple Music streaming service) was to rebrand the company’s extremely popular Beats headphones as an Apple-specific product. That never happened, and after releasing some of the first truly wireless earbuds with the AirPods back in 2016, and the AirPods Pro a few years later, many had wondered if Apple would ever release an over-ear alternative, especially given it’s been slowly moving away from the Beats branding for its music streaming services.
Available in five different colors (silver, space gray, sky blue, pink, and green) and featuring a “40-mm Apple-designed dynamic driver” on each side, the AirPods Max use a stainless steel flexible headband covered in breathable mesh that’s paired with what Apple calls a “revolutionary mechanism” where the strap connects to each ear cup. This supposedly allows the AirPods Max to adapt to the unique shape of every wearer’s head, while memory foam cushions promise a tight seal around the ear.
Unlike over-ear headphones from Sony and Razer which solely rely on a Bluetooth connection for streaming audio and pairing, the AirPods Max take advantage of Apple’s wireless H1 chip so that pairing is a seamless process when used with Apple devices. And in lieu of touch sensitive pads on each ear cup that detect taps and finger swipes for adjusting the sound and playback, the AirPods Max borrow the Digital Crown from the Apple Watch, hopefully providing a more precise and mechanical way of making volume adjustments and quickly accessing other shortcuts.
Battery life is rated at around 20 hours with all of the AirPods Max features activated, including active noise cancellation powered by three outward facing microphones on each side and one listening to the sounds entering the ear canal, Adaptive EQ which monitors the sound being played back and adjusting the lows and mids on the high for an optimal mix, and Spatial Audio which leverages a gyroscope and accelerometer inside the headphones that should deliver an immersive surround sound-like experience which accurately repositions sounds around someone as they move their head.
The AirPods Max include a color-matched soft Smart Case that puts the headphones into a low-power sleep mode to conserve battery life, but unlike the headphone cases that companies like Sony include, Apple’s new over-ears don’t appear to be completely protected in the soft case.
Other features include Audio Sharing allowing a stream to be shared on two sets of AirPods headphones (including the buds, we assume), Automatic device switching so the headphones will automatically switch over to your iPhone when a call comes in, and of course, full operability with Siri. The AirPods Max are available for pre-order today with shipping starting on December 15, but the $550 price tag is going to be a tough sell when the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones and their industry-leading active noise cancelation are still $200 cheaper.