For many the timing will be just about right. Apple today took the wraps off its new over-ear headphones.
AirPods Max comes with just about all the goodies you might expect in a high-end audio product geared towards serious listeners and, perhaps, even audiophiles:
- Custom acoustic design
- H1 chips
- “Advanced software” for computational audio
- Adaptive EQ
- Active Noise Cancellation
- Transparency mode
- Spatial audio
Apple says the AirPods Max will be available in five colors: space gray; silver; sky blue; green; and pink.
“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,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “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.”
In terms of the physical design one standout feature is what Apple is calling the “canopy” to the ear cushions. Or, simply, the thing that holds everything together. Apple designers opted here for a breathable knit mesh canopy which should help reduce on-head pressure in addition to helping keeping the area cool.
The digital crown as seen on the Apple Watch has made its way to the AirPods Max. As you might expect you can use it to control volume in addition to play or pause audio, skip tracks, answer or end phone calls, and activate Siri. Seen below:
Inside there’s expectedly some interesting engineering. The heart of audio reproduction is a 40mm dynamic driver (made by Apple). According to Apple total harmonic distortion is less than 1% across the entire audible range even at maximum volume.
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.
Other features include automatic pairing with a user’s iCloud account which will work with iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. Apple also says the AirPods Max will automatically sense when the headphones are being worn using optical and position sensors. Automatic switching is supported so you can, for instance, listen to music from one device and then switch to your iPhone to take a call.
Battery life is rated at 20 hours. A smart charging case is included.
Stark Insider Take
That’s all well and good. AirPods Max look the part, very Apple-ish. Quite modern. And I’m quite sure they will sound good, if not great. Audiophile grade? We’ll have to wait to find out.
But there’s that bitter pill. And something not yet mentioned.
If you want a pair of AirPods Max be ready to pay up. To the tune of… $549 USD.
In the AirPods world we think of premium as in the $199 to $249 range. In the case of Apple’s over-ear option the price more than doubles. Market research must be telling them that there are some well-healed people this holiday season willing to spend a hefty chunk for high-end listening pleasure. Given there’s so many lower cost alternatives out there from the likes of Bose, Sennheiser, Sony and even well-performing entry options from Cowin and Shure among others that you have to wonder if the AirPods Max are entering the market in a very HomePod-like manner — which is to say slightly overpriced, not to mention late to the game.
We will see. This is Apple. If any company has proven that it can successfully grab the high-end market time and time again it’s the team led by maestro Tim Cook.