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Apple's AirPods Max Headphones Release This Week for $549

Apple's AirPods Max Headphones Release This Week for $549

The over-the-ear AirPods Max headphones release on December 15th, marking Apple’s move into the expensive high-end headphone market.

The over-the-ear AirPods Max headphones release on December 15th, marking Apple’s move into the expensive high-end headphone market.

Credit | Apple

A couple of days ago, Apple announced their brand new AirPods Max headphones, marking a new direction for the AirPods brand. These over-the-ear headphones are available for preorder now, and will start shipping December 15th, or Tuesday this week.

Apple designed these new headphones with similar features to their $249 AirPods Pro, of which I use and love. This is very apparent in their use of active noise cancellation, transparency mode, and spatial audio, specially designed for AirPods Pro and Max.

The design is completely different however, with an over-the-ear design combined with a mesh canopy, stainless steel body design, and a sleek, cushion-y earcup design. AirPods Max are also available in five colors, including space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink, all of which are not available for use on AirPods 1st gen, 2nd gen, or Pros.

Hi-fi design

Apple says the headphones are designed specifically to provide hi-fi audio, with the physical design created to provide a balanced but tough layout. The company furthers by saying that their ear cushions are specifically designed to create effective seals with the user’s ears, and are built with rotating memory foam to provide some comfort.

While this is a unique approach to a semi-common problem, it’s a good thing that Apple’s taking this into account, since one of the greatest complaints for their high-selling AirPods lineup was the lack of comfort and a problem with ear variance.

AirPods were designed comfortable for one specific eartype, with ‘inspiration’ from Apple’s previous EarPods, of which the bud design is taken from. AirPods Pro improved on this issue by adding flexible, changeable earbuds, but the Max looks to be taking this to the next step.

Apple introduced a “revolutionary mechanism” with the AirPods Max as well, “carefully crafted to provide exceptional acoustic performance for each user.” The company says their new knit mesh canopy, which is the little fabric piece at the top of the headphones, is built specifically to distribute weight more evenly than other headphones, and reduce pressure.

This would be incredibly useful if accurate, since an issue with most hi-fi headsets, is that they’re usually pretty heavy after a long period of time. Generally they’re pretty comfortable, but after a few hours with a heavy pair of headphones, the weight will drag down the niceties of the product.

The company says that their ear cups, (whose replacements retail for $69 USD), are attached to the headphones in a way that allows them to rotate and pivot to specifically fit people’s ears.

While proprietary ear cups aren’t particularly unique in the world of headphones, the emphasis that Apple’s putting on their specific ear cups, is quite notable. The company seems to be pushing hard on not only the comfort, but the practicality of memory foam, specially woven cups. They definitely look comfortable, but that impression will have to be verified when the AirPods Max ship on the 15th.

(un?)Surprisingly, the ear cups aren’t the only new addition that Apple’s brought to the headphone market, as they’ve added a digital crown to the AirPods Max.

Yes, the little circle from Apple Watches. As Apple likes to put it, 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.” 

It’s literally just the digital crown from the Apple Watch. It’s larger however, and first impressions from early unit reviewers seem to be enjoyable.

Hi-fi sound quality

Something that the Apple community was not expecting, was the company’s sudden focus on high definition sound quality for their newest pair of headphones. Apple’s never been really known for innovating in a way that makes them technologically better than the rest of their competitors.

That changed a little bit, when Apple focused on FaceID, innovating facial logins; then their push for the highest quality noise cancellation on earbuds, with the AirPods Pro; followed by their push for the #1 most powerful mobile CPU, which was not expected; then came their ASM1 chip, which you can read about here, which became one of the fastest laptop chips in the world.

They didn’t use to be like that, even though they seem to be pushing that mantra of “number one or nothing,” pretty hard nowadays. Apparently especially when it relates to headphone quality.

Apple blew people’s minds with first impressions of their pretty nice headphones, when they promised high quality sound with high-tech closeups of the earcups, as seen above. That was before people saw Apple’s ridiculous $549 price tag, which is a slap to the face for literally anyone that’s lived through this pandemic. That’s when people realized that the company needed to provide some seriously meaningful upgrades to be worth over half a thousand dollars.

Apple seemed to have guessed that their price tag would have incited some takeback, as they took an extra step and added in their description of the sound features of the AirPods Max.

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Apple divided the high-quality features of the headphones into four different categories, starting with their

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,”

followed by their AirPods Pro technologies, including 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,”

and lastly, their Spatial Audio, which is their newest technology already available on the AirPods Pro:

“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.”

All of these are great technologies to help make high-def audio available on the AirPods Max, but realistically, they’ve all been on AirPods Pro. The Pros have Adaptive EQ, ANC, Transparency, and Spatial Audio. I really hope that Apple is pushing hard on the hardware aspect of the sound quality, since, as I’ve said, all of these were already on the 1/2 cost AirPods Pro.


The AirPods Max contain all of the other features of the AirPods lineup, including low latency audio, automatic pairing, and auto head detection. Siri is also available, and automatic responses based on what you’re doing with the headphones, are also available.

Battery life sits at a pretty high 20 hours of high-fidelity sound. Compared to the 30 hours in Sony’s competitively placed WH-1000XM3s (wonderful name by the way), sit at 30 hours of audio, so the battery life is up there, but not even close to a ~$260 competitor.

The Max also comes with a Smart Case, which people have lovingly referred to as the “sleep mask” and “AirPods bra,” due to its very peculiar design, as the soft, vulnerable part of the headphones is exposed, while the stainless steel, metal body is covered. It’s dumb. Plus, there’s no power button, and the only way to reduce drain is with the smart case.

The AirPods Max also come with Apple’s new automatic switching, allowing the headphones to automatically switch to whichever of your logged in devices (nearby) have audio playing. Along with switching is the company’s audio sharing, with allows multiple AirPods to receive audio from one device, and Siri. Yes, they have Siri listed as a feature.

Overall verdict

I like them, but they’re $549. You can buy the competitive (and pretty high-def) Sony WH-1000XM3s on sale for about ~$240-270 usually, and it looks like they compete pretty aggressively.

Currently, I don’t think they’re worth it. The forcing to use the stupid smart case to turn off your device, no real new features, and with the sound quality boost being questionable, no. If the sound actually comes out and is really good, then that changes things, but it sounds like the headphones are just pretty good. Which isn’t very much of an endorsement at $549.

If these headphones were absolutely amazing, then that changes things:

If I had an Android, this would still be a definite no. Especially not when half the features don’t work outside of the Apple ecosystem.

If I had an iPhone and a spare half a grand, then sure. These are really high quality and they seem really well integrated into the ecosystem.