We all knew it was coming, Apple moving into the high-end headphones market. They brought up Beats a few years back, and although I’m a fan of them, they’re not in the same league as Sony and Bose. So, Apple has launched the AirPods Max.
Apple AirPods Max
While Apple has been enjoying the success of the popular AirPods earbuds, the is no reason to suggest it will gain market dominance so easily with the new AirPods Max headphones.
The premium end of the headphone market for travellers has long been controlled by Bose, and more recently, Sony. With the QC35 II, Bose long held the title as the travellers preferred choice of headphones until Sony gave us the WH-1000XM3’s. A pair of headphones that were a huge step up in performance over the Bose offering at the time.
Each were, or are, around the $380/£350 at launch and after years of fine tuning. Apple has gone straight in at an eye-watering $549/£549. So not only do the new AirPods Max need to be the best travel friendly headphones, they need to be nearly $200 better!
Apple has designed its own 40mm dynamic driver and a new H1 Chip, which will ensure a seamless user experience for those already using an Apple device. However, this means a better user experience for iPhone users over Android-powered devices. Will this segregate the AirPods Max somewhat, as both Bose and Sony offer the near same experience over both platforms.
But, it is not just the internal tech that’ll help to deliver a great, near distortionless sound, according to Apple.
The unique knit mesh flexible headband and telescopic arms are designed to give a more secure and comfortable fit to the memory foam sculpted cups on your ears.
Combined, these will not only provide a better weight distribution regardless of head shape, it will guarantee a superior seal around your ears.
The exterior is completed by one of five different anodised aluminium ear cup colour options, Green, Pink, Silver, Space Blue or Space Grey.
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Active Noise Cancelling is promised to be industry-leading, and with 8 of the 9 microphones used for ANC, three of which are outward-facing, the AirPods Max uses computational audio to continually adapt the audio playback in realtime.
And while the ANC keeps external noises out, the Transparency Mode does the opposite. Just a single press on the noise control button claims to give you natural levels of hearing without the need for removing the headphones.
Adaptive EQ, or equalisation, is new to the AirPods line up and is something many of us wouldn’t usually put high on the top of the features list when buying some new headphones, but if you do purchase the Apple AirPods Max, this might be the reason the sound quality will be so good.
Making use of the inward-facing microphones, AirPods Max can calculate how the headphones are fitted around your ears and how you are hearing the audio. Then they adjust the low and mid frequencies to deliver the best possible listening experience.
AirPods Max feature a 40-mm Apple-designed dynamic driver that provides rich, deep bass, accurate mid-ranges, and crisp, clean high-frequency extension so every note can be heard.Apple
This is where I think Apple and the AirPod Max WILL change the premium Headphones market. Unlike the competition and their touch-sensitive panels, Apple has used the Digital Crown from its Watch for the majority of the controls.
Sadly, Haptic feedback has been left out but the Digital crown still controls the volume, play/pause, skipping tracks and voice control for phone calls and of course, Siri. There is just one other button and that is for noise control.
To quickly switch from Active Noise-cancelling to Transparency mode it takes just a single press, which is useful to have when out and about
There is one thing though that neither the Digital Crown nor the physical button does, and that is to turn off the power, as the new Apple AirPods Max headphones don’t turn off.
Packed full of sensors, working with the H1 chip, the AirPods Max detect when they are picked up and placed on your head to allow music to begin. Similarly, they can pause and/or stop when removed. But they never turn off!
Instead, they enter a low power mode when they’ve not been used for a short period of time and then spring back into life when needed. Apple is claiming the AirPods Max will deliver up to 20 hours of playback between charges, which is way down on the ~38 hours on the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones.
To further improve the battery performance the AirPods Max come with a Smart Case. As you can see from the press image, this is far from a suitable travel case for your new $500 investment. In fact, I think case is too stronger a term!
Inside the Smart Case are magnets which, when the headphones are placed in it, tell the AirPods Max they have been stowed away and place them into an Ultra-Low power mode.
Apple AirPods Max Specifications
|Dimensions||168.6 x 187.3 x 83.4mm|
|Controls||Multi-function Digital Crown|
|Chip||Apple H1 in each Ear cup|
|Battery Playback||Up to 20 Hours|
|In the Box||AirPods Max|
Lightning USB-C Cable
AirPods Max Pricing
The Apple AirPods Max are $549/£549 direct from Apple.
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There’s no denying the new Apple AirPods Max will be a success. The Apple fanbase alone will snap these headphones up regardless of the high price and irrespective of the performance.
But those who may already own the Sony or Bose devices will be much harder to convince. I can’t see many of those users making the change as, on paper at least, it’s not an upgrade to what they already have!
If, and it’s a big IF, Apple AirPods Max are to become the headphone of choice for the tech-savvy traveller, then these need to clearly be $200 better than the competition. They certainly have the style, the brand name and specifications but, travel case aside, will they perform and be value for money?