Apple goes over-the-ears with the AirPods Max headphones

Apple’s new headphones maxes out on the bells and whistles; unfortunately, so has the price.

by Justin Choo

Apple AirPods may not represent the best of what the headphones world has to offer, but we will give them their time of the day simply because of the no-fuss, ease of use. So when Apple decided to drop the AirPods Max, their over-the-ears headphones for $849, it certainly raised a few eyebrows.

We weren’t expecting them to be cheap, but neither were we expecting a roughly $300 premium over the current king of mainstream wireless headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4. But they look the business, don’t they? Take your pick of five colours like space grey, silver, sky blue, green, and pink – all great colours.

In all seriousness, it seems like you’re paying top dollar for the build. It involves a stainless steel headband frame, telescoping headband arms, and independently pivoting ear cup mechanism, which certainly seems expensive. Interestingly, a breathable knit mesh canopy replaces the traditional headband, and we’re certainly intrigued by the weight distribution and how it will feel on the head. Also, Apple has transplanted the digital crown found on Apple Watches onto the headphones to control volume and skip tracks.

Each ear cup bears an H1 chip – each has ten audio cores – to carry out computational audio enhancements, which includes Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), Transparency Mode, and spatial audio. After measuring the signals in your ear canal, Adaptive EQ tweaks the EQ in real-time to improve the sound. ANC and Transparency Mode controls noise, allowing you to suppress or allowing environmental sound from passing through. Spatial audio delivers a virtual surround sound.

The headphones also feature optical and position sensors, which trigger the headphones to playback or pause when you remove or put on the headphones. And to improve the clarity of voice calls, beamforming microphones are used to help block out background noise. The battery is good for up to 20 hours of use, with ANC and spatial audio enabled. On paper at least, there isn’t anything groundbreaking by way of features, so we have to wait and see how it stacks up against the competition.

But what people do appreciate are conveniences, like the one-tap setup where the headphone automatically pairs with all the devices signed in to your iCloud account. I’m not sure I can say the same for the slim Smart Case, which is bound to evoke some giggles due to its resemblance to an undergarment – guess it’ll take a while before the joke gets old. That aside, the case is used to put the AirPods Max into a low power state to conserve battery.

Despite the price, I’m pretty sure Apple is going to shift a modest number of units. If you’re looking for headphones like this, you’re essentially deciding between the AirPods Max and Master & Dynamic MW65, which is $100 cheaper but with less tech.