Apple announced a new member of the AirPods family today, just in time for Christmas. AirPods Max were expected at last month’s Apple Silicon, but Apple decided to give the new product a solo debut. What’s so special about these $549 headphones? Let’s take a look under the ear cups…
Both AirPods and AirPods Pro are earbuds. They’re great earbuds with iconic designs, but earbuds aren’t for everyone. Take me, for example – I can’t wear earbuds because I wear hearing aids. AirPods Max are true over-ear headphones, and of course Apple decided to innovate as much as possible.
Rocket Yard editor-in-chief Mark Chaffee made a great observation when I was talking to him earlier: “I guess buying Beats by Dr. Dre in 2014 for $3 billion wasn’t good enough for Apple.” Beats by Dr. Dre still exists (OWC has Studio2s for $200 off right now!) – and the line features similar over-ear models like the Solo Pro Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones. It makes me wonder if the Beats line will eventually disappear altogether…
Start at the Top and Work Down
The headband that holds the AirPods Max ear cups onto a head is made up of a “canopy” of a breathable woven mesh material. That reduces pressure and heat on the top of the head while the headphones are being worn. Telescoping stainless steel arms adjust down or up to give the headphones a perfect fit, and they are attached to the canopy with a lightweight and strong stainless steel frame covered with a soft touch material.
The ear cups are made of aluminum and are attached to a mechanism that allows each cup to pivot independently, balancing the pressure on the area around the ears. In those cups are memory foam cushions covered with soft woven material.
Unlike AirPods and AirPods Pro, the headphones come in a variety of colors: silver, space gray, sky blue, pink, and green.
AirPods Max Sound Technology
Hopefully, the sound technology built into AirPods Max justifies the $549 price tag. The tech includes an Apple-designed dynamic driver, active noise cancellation, transparency mode, adaptive equalization, and spatial audio with dynamic head tracking.
The dynamic driver produces a very wide frequency range that the company says delivers “your favorite songs with previously unheard texture and accuracy”. Apple looked at high-end floor standing speakers when designing the driver, which uses a dual-neodymium ring magnet motor to minimize harmonic distortion across the audible range.
Apple really created computational audio, and the headphones use an H1 chip, the custom acoustic design, and advance software to block outside noise and make movie audio seem like it’s happening all around your head. The transparency mode lets the outside sounds in, useful when in outdoor situations.
Active noise cancellation counters any outside noises with “anti-noise” to immerse you in the sounds you’re listening to. That “spatial audio with dynamic head tracking” is useful when you’re watching movies, with gyroscopes and accelerometers in the headphones following your head motion to provide ultra-realistic sound.
That noise cancellation is aided by nine microphones situated around the headphones. Eight of those are used for active noise cancellation, and three are used for voice pickup. Yes, you can use AirPods Max during phone calls or those ever-present online conference calls.
The Digital Crown used on Apple Watch has grown up and a larger version is used as the primary control for AirPods Max. Turning the crown adjusts volume. Pressing the crown once allows the wearer to play, pause or answer a phone call. A double press skips forward, while a triple press skips back. A press and hold gesture summons Siri.
The Noise Control Button toggles between noise cancellation and transparency mode and is the only other control.
A pair of AirPods Max lasts up to 20 hours of listening time on a single charge. That’s true while listening to music with active noise cancellation or transparency mode enabled, while watching a movie with spatial audio on, or when talking on a call.
Charging the AirPods Max via Lightning connector for just five minutes provides 90 minutes of listening. The AirPods Max come with a Smart Case that Apple says allows the headphones to “enter an ultra‑low‑power state that preserves charge.”
You can order today for pickup or delivery on December 15, 2020.