It's official – Apple is releasing a pair of over-ear headphones called AirPods Max (they were rumoured to be called AirPods Studio). They'll be released on December 15th 2020, but are available to order today… though the price is a hefty £549/$549/AU$899.
Delivery times already look to be slipping – if you want a pair before Christmas, definitely don't hang around!
They'll come in five colours: space grey, silver, sky blue, green, and pink. They're made with a stainless steel frame, and a mesh fabric on the headband that Apple promises will be extra comfortable, with a different mesh on the memory foam ear cushions to keep them soft and form a perfect seal.
Apple says that a "revolutionary" new ear cup mechanism helps it pivot and rotate to fit your ear shape better, and to distribute ear cup pressure more evenly.
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AirPods Max feature active noise cancellation and Spatial Audio, both of which are features of the AirPods Pro. We're excited to see how good the noise cancellation will be, because we were really impressed with the AirPods Pro, and over-ear headphones tend to do it better.
There will be a transparency mode for hearing what's around you when needed, and though we found the option to be a little too transparent on the AirPods Pros, we'll see how it works here.
Spatial Audio is a technology that basically mimics a surround-sound setup when watching compatible video on your iPhone or iPad – it not only sounds like Dolby Atmos 3D audio is coming from all angles, but those sounds stay in in the right place relative to the screen when you turn your head. It feels like you're in a room with speakers, rather than wearing headphones.
A 40mm driver designed by Apple delivers the sound, and that combines with Apple's H1 chip – used in the AirPods Pro – to analyse music in real time and adjust the output live to sound its best through Apple's setup.
This type of system has already produced really impressive results not only on the AirPods Pro, but also the HomePod mini, which blows away anything else at the same size.
For control, Apple has borrowed the Digital Crown from the Apple Watch – the dial sits on top of one of the aluminium earcups, and you can use it to easily adjust volume, play/pause, change tracks and invoke Siri.
All this tech does come with one potential downside: at 384g, they're around 50% heavier than the fantastic Sony WH-1000XM4 noise-cancelling headphones. Hopefully they won't feel it, if Apple's mesh fabrics and fancy ear-cup mechanisms work as promised, but that's a big increase in weight to overcome.
Apple promises battery life of 20 hours with ANC turned on, which is excellent. It also says that 5 minutes of charge time can provide 90 minutes of listening time which is also handy. It charges over Lightning, rather than USB-C, which is consistent with other AirPods. And yes, following the omission of a charging adapter in the iPhone 12 and MagSafe Duo, you just get a cable here, but no plug.
AirPods Max come with a slimline protective case too, which automatically puts the headphones into a low-power mode when they're packed away, to preserve batter life.
We're really looking forward to trying them out, though at a price that's hundreds more than the rest of the best noise cancelling headphones, they'd better sound as impressive as they… uh, sound.