AirPods Max 2: release date rumours, potential price, features and spec leaks

Apple AirPods Max headphones in silver finish on a minty teal background
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

It's not often a pair of headphones creates a whole new market, but that's just what the AirPods Max achieved in 2020. Before then, the most premium wireless headphones were made by Sony and Bose and cost under £400 / $400 / AU$500. Then along came Apple with no prior experience and its outrageous price tag of £549 / $549 / AU$899 (plus a five-star rating from us, which can't have hurt). And wouldn't you know, other brands followed suit.

Now we have the B&W Px8, Mark Levinson No. 5909 and Focal Bathys. All fine headphones, none of which would exist without the AirPods Max.

But 2020 was a long time ago. While the Max's influence continues to be felt, other models have since overtaken them, whether it's the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones' superb noise cancellation, or the Mark Levinson No. 5909's audiophile-grade sound quality. So what does Apple have up its sleeve?

Here we've rounded up the latest (and most credible) rumours and offered a few ideas on how Apple can keep its space among the creme-de-la-creme in the current market.

Surely, a sequel is destined to be unveiled soon...

AirPods Max 2: release date rumours

Apple AirPods Max in space grey finish placed on wooden shelf surrounded by small house plants.

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)
  • Later this year or early next, according to reliable Apple analysts
  • Could appear during the iPhone 16 launch in September

Unlike other AirPods, there's only ever been one model of AirPods Max. So without a release schedule to act as a guide, it's tricky to estimate when the next model might launch. But there are a few rumours.

Our best bet comes courtesy of remarks by respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who suggested a new Max model will arrive in either the second half of 2024 or ship in early 2025. If true, that will mark four years since the original model – more than a lifetime in the headphones market.

A recent Bloomberg report from Mark Gurman contradicts this, saying Apple will only launch two mid-range to budget models of AirPods in 2024 – the AirPods 4 and AirPods Lite. Which would leave both the AirPods Pro 3 and AirPods Max 2 until 2025.

However, no report is guaranteed 100 per cent accurate, and even the most feted of Apple soothsayers contradict themselves sometimes. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman previously said that as part of Apple's new AirPods product roadmap, the AirPods Max would surface in late 2024, in not only new colourways but with USB-C charging too (the standard that Apple has been forced to adopt by the EU).

Apple kept us waiting for the original AirPods Max: they were expected to debut alongside the iPhone 12, which launched on 12th October 2020, but "complications" in the design and manufacturing process put paid to that. Instead, the AirPods Max were finally unveiled on Tuesday 8th December, before going on sale on Tuesday 15th December 2020.

Given that Apple replaced the AirPods 2 wireless earbuds with the AirPods 3 after just a couple of years, there was, reasonably, talk of an AirPods Max update in 2022. It turns out Apple will keep us waiting a lot longer...

AirPods Max 2: price predictions

Apple AirPods Max shown in all five colour options

(Image credit: Apple)
  • Expected to arrive at a similar price to the originals
  • Slim rumours they will be more affordable

The first-generation AirPods Max hit shelves at £549 / $549 / AU$899. That was more expensive than we'd hoped – and even imagined – but it didn't seem to matter. Indeed, the AirPods Max sold out almost instantly. At one point, the waiting list ballooned to 12 to 14 weeks. That's Apple customers for you!

Amazon, John Lewis, Walmart and other Apple sellers have plenty in stock right now, but Apple's high-end headphones remain in high demand, not least as they have shed some pounds/dollars as sales periods have rolled around. We've seen the premium cans fall to around £449 / $449 / AU$799 before. On that, we've listed today's best AirPods Max deals just below.

So will the AirPods Max 2 follow suit? There are no credible AirPods Max 2 price leaks just yet, but Apple was the first brand to position a pair of wireless headphones at such a high price point, a significant step above the 'premium' pairs like the Award-winning Sony WH-1000XM5. It gave the green light to other brands to release high-end models, such as the five-star Bowers & Wilkins Px8, Focal Bathys, Mark Levinson No. 5905. Bose has recently launched the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones at £450/$429/AU$649, too.

We imagine the Max 2 will stick to a similar price as the originals, with Apple no doubt wanting to continue to play in the high-end playground.

Some rumours, however, suggest that the new AirPods Max could be cheaper than the originals due to concerns that the first generation was priced too highly. Some have speculated that Apple could drop the cost for the second generation to $449, but considering that the AirPods Max sold so well even with that hefty price tag, this could be borne more out of hope than genuine expectation. We would rather bet on Apple adding a second, lower-cost model to its over-ear lineup than lowering the Max's price. AirPods Max Lite, or AirPods Max SE, anyone?

Apple AirPods Max 2: design

Apple AirPods Max headphones in their silly carry case, both in blue finish on white background

(Image credit: Apple)
  • New colourways and USB-C port strongly rumoured
  • Redesigned case is expected
  • Gesture or touch-based controls suggested

Apple is renowned for its sleek designs, but it really pulled out all the stops for its first pair of over-ears. From its pristine anodised aluminium ear cups to its perfectly weighted steel headband, the AirPods Max makes some of the best wireless headphones feel cheap by comparison.

Since their launch, the AirPods Max have been available in five finishes: Silver, Blue, Space Gray, Pink and Green (similar to the 2021 iMac Pro lineup). Mark Gurman reckons an "AirPods Max refresh with new colours" could be on the way for the 2024/2025 release, most likely to coincide with any new colours that Apple is introducing across its iPhone 16 range.

There's no word on which colours Apple will pick, but we've heard whispers that the tech giant could opt for the remaining three colours in the 2021 iMac Pro lineup (Yellow, Orange and Purple, naturally). There are even rumours of an 'AirPods Max 2 Product (RED)' edition, which would certainly be a bold look. Whether Apple goes down the sombre, neutral colours of Sony or continues offering shiny pastel colours remains to be seen – we certainly like having the option of so many colours for an AirPods model.

As Apple moves away from its proprietary Lightning connections towards the more universal USB-C, the one rumour we can be certain of is that a USB-C charging/audio port will appear on the AirPods Max 2. During the 2023 September Apple Event, the company announced that USB-C connections featured on the iPhone 15 as well as new charging cases for the AirPods Pro 2, which only strengthens the idea that USB-C is the new standard for Apple products going forward.

Elsewhere, there's talk of Apple tweaking the cans' control mechanism. According to Patently Apple, the Cupertino brand is attempting to perfect a set of gesture-based touch controls to replace the Digital Crown. We found the Crown to be a neat solution, but it's a little too easy to knock when adjusting the headphones.

Lastly, there is strong speculation that Apple plans to rejig the Apple AirPods Max carry case, which has been rather humorously compared to a bra or a gun holster. Not only does it look strange, but we think it does a poor job of protecting the headphones from knocks, scratches and dirt as it doesn't even cover the whole product. Ramping up the protection for what is a very expensive piece of tech should certainly be a priority next time around.

Thankfully, an Apple patent uncovered in July 2022 seems to suggest that Apple is working on a far more substantial case that snaps shut using a series of "magnetic clasps". Sounds like a no-brainer to us.

Apple AirPods Max 2: specs and features leaks

Close up of digital crown control on Apple AirPods Max headphones with a small house plant in background

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)
  • Lossless audio quality desired but not highly expected
  • Adaptive Audio and improved ANC rumoured
  • New chip, "Find My" feature and waterproofing on the wishlist

With such a high launch price, the original AirPods Max needed to deliver a lot. Thankfully, they did. Features include active noise-cancellation (ANC), two Apple H1 chips capable of adjusting their processing up to 200 times a second, Adaptive EQ to tune playback, plus support for spatial audio with dynamic head-tracking. Impressive. But there's a 'but'...

When Apple added lossless audio quality tracks to Apple Music in mid-2021, it emerged that none of the company's AirPods, including the Max, could deliver lossless audio wirelessly. Not even over the Max's wired connection. You'd like to think the AirPods Max 2 could rectify the issue, though no rumours of yet suggest they will.

That said, Patently Apple suggests Apple could be working on new better-than-Bluetooth optical audio transmission technology that would enable wireless lossless audio. That would be a big evolutionary step for portable wireless audio. 

Apple recently announced a new "groundbreaking wireless audio protocol" that "unlocks powerful 20-bit/48kHz Lossless Audio" in the AirPods Pro 2, although this only works when the Pro 2 (USB-C charging model) is connected to the imminent Apple Vision Pro headset. If wi-fi headphones are where gains in wireless sound quality are possible instead of the restricted Bluetooth, this could be the path that Apple takes in the future if it's serious about higher-quality audio.

Apple is also said to be sprucing up its active noise-cancelling technology. In February 2022, the folks at Patently Apple revealed an interesting AirPods Max patent that covers the detection of "audio howl" (unwanted feedback created by noise-cancelling microphones). Apparently, Apple is working on a better way to detect and mitigate this interference, which could result in a more natural noise-blocking experience.

It will be interesting to see which chip the AirPods Max 2 incorporates when it finally arrives. The original Max use the H1 chip, whereas the AirPods Pro 2 are equipped with the upgraded H2. According to Forbes, there's a chance of a switch to H2 for the second generation of the AirPods Max, even if this becomes less likely when you consider the design upheaval involved in integrating a new chip. An even newer chip (H3?) will usually allow for better noise-cancelling, better battery life, better audio and better computational power – improvements that will be welcomed across the entire AirPods line.

Apple also announced a new Adaptive Audio mode at WWDC 2023. This is a hybrid listening experience that gives you a mix of transparency mode and ANC to provide the best of both listening technologies in one place. But surprisingly, it's only coming to the AirPods Pro 2, not the AirPods Max. Could Apple be keeping it back for the AirPods Max 2? It's a distinct possibility.

There's also talk of a new "Find My" feature, as featured in recent iPhone models. This would keep track of where your cans are, allowing you to pinpoint their exact location when they go walkabout and you're fretting you've just left hundreds' worth of headphones in a gym locker room.

Speaking of the gym, getting hot and sweaty shouldn't damage your Max 2 cans too badly, with rumours indicating a likely IPX4 rating is incoming (currently there's no official IP rating for the Max). That should be more than enough for dealing with drizzly conditions, splashes/sweat and dust ingress. Nice. 

AirPods Max 2 wishlist: 4 features we'd like to see

That's about it on the rumours front, but here are four other features we'd like to see on the AirPods Max 2:

1. Better battery life
AirPods Max battery life is "up to 20 hours" with noise cancellation and spatial audio enabled. That's plenty for a commute or five, but significantly less than you get from the class-leading Sony WH-1000XM5, which offer 30 hours, and the five-star Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, which manage a staggering 60 hours.

2. Wired listening when the battery is dead
If you want to use the AirPods Max in a wired capacity, the only way to do so is with the optional £35 / $35 / AU$55 Lightning-to-3.5mm cable. Even then, the AirPods Max won’t work in passive mode: if the battery’s dead, the headphones are useless. Not ideal if you're stuck on a plane at 30,000 feet. Apple was the one guilty of killing the 3.5mm headphone jack in smartphones (from the iPhone 7) in the first place so we may not see this appear any time soon, but we can hope for a way to listen to these headphones in passive, wired mode. We imagine a USB-C-to-3.5mm adapter will be included in the Max 2 (when it replaces the Lightning connector), but any other way of listening to music wired when the battery is dead would be a bonus.

3. Improved Android support
Unsurprisingly, you need an iPhone or iPad in order to get the most out of the AirPods Max. Sure, they'll work with non-Apple products using standard Bluetooth 5.0, but you’ll miss out on almost all of the unique iOS features such as spatial audio with head-tracking, conversation mode, adaptive audio, audio sharing and more. Don't hold your breath on this one, but better Android support would certainly widen the appeal of the AirPods Max 2.

4. Foldable design
A better battery case is technically the #1 requested feature from team What Hi-Fi?, but a design that's also foldable would do wonders when it comes to portability. We imagine Apple's design team might disagree, but a folded design that can be packed into a more sensible and protective carry case would be valuable for high-end headphones.

Apple AirPods Max 2: early thoughts

Woman wearing Apple Airpods Max while looking at Apple iPad in a dark room

(Image credit: Apple)

If you're a keen Apple user and have the funds to pay for a premium listening experience, the AirPods Max are arguably the very best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy. In our time with the headphones, we find the build quality is second to none, the sonics are superb, and the comfort is exceptional.

If the AirPods Max 2 can address a few of our (fairly minor) gripes – like replacing the near-pointless case and offering lossless audio – along with bumps to sound quality, battery life and noise-cancelling to compete with new formidable rivals, Apple's second-generation over-ears could too cement their place in headphone history.

With any luck, we'll have more concrete information on the upcoming AirPods Max 2 in the run-up to their release – and we'll update this page as more rumours emerge until then.


The best AirPods Max alternatives to consider

How do they stack up against the competition? Read our AirPods Max vs Sony WH-1000XM5 comparison piece

And AirPods Max vs Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

Not to mention AirPods Max vs B&W Px8

Read our Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max review

The best AirPods ranked and rated

Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. He studied law and history at university before working as a freelance journalist covering TV and gaming for numerous platforms both online and in print. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or forcing himself to go long-distance running.

With contributions from
  • bazzalad
    I own a pair of Apple’s AirPod Pros & Max headphones and I have just ordered the updated AirPod Pro 2 earbuds because the feedback from users has been so incredibly favourable. Plus, I’ve got the added benefit of having the perfect person in mind to pass on my still near perfect gen.1 AirPod Pros too !

    My biggest annoyance with some industry commentators, who really should know better, is their constant criticism that the AirPod Max were/are somehow too expensive. Such rhetoric continues to perpetuate this myth about how headphones should be something that is super low cost, regardless of quality. The fact is that headphones are one area where most ppl have a completely unrealistic and impoverished attitude, when it comes to price.

    Basically we all understand quality costs more; don’t we? And I doubt there’d be many of us out there complaining about a Hifi system delivering fantastic audio quality including Dolby Atmos & Spatial Audio if it cost only $500US would we (the exact features in the AirPod Max). The trouble is we’ve got used to headphones being throw away & being of ultra cheap sound quality, Apple itself helped create this idea with its cheap earbuds it gave away with every phone, tablet and computer for years and years. Industry caught on and suddenly all you could see is the thousands of alternate no-brands copies of corded earbuds. But then things started to change, we began migrating to wireless and now noise cancellation headphones but the trouble is we took this same low budget outlook with us.

    The quality of headphone we were been given was increasing hugely from the days of throw away corded earbuds but not our understanding of cost and our appreciation of the additional value we were being given. Try it for yourself, go plug in one of those old $20 corded earbuds to your iPhone and compare it’s sound quality to your AirPod Pros or Max - it’s like Night and Day, the difference, isn’t it?

    The truth is Apple’s hardware designers first attempt at the AirPod Max was actually rejected my upper management because it would have cost twice the amount retail. Personally, I so wish we’d also had that option available to buy. I’d love it if version 2 of the Max included 2 models - a revised Max & a much higher audio quality version, and I don’t just mean the addition of lossless here, I mean actual audio quality. A model for all of us who understand better sound quality costs more to research, design, test & produce.

    When I criticise everyone about their attitude towards headphones and our reluctance to see sense, I admit I’m just as guilty. Even as a kid I spent over $2000 on a Hifi system for myself so why did I expect headphones only costing $50 to deliver the same experience? It just doesn’t stack up now does it?.

    In fact, it took me years to slowly research and upgrade both my own Hifi and headphone systems. I now understand and truly appreciate that, better sound quality is such a wondrous and joyous experience. And as with most things in life, higher quality comes with a cost - although at a certain price point and above, the difference starts to become a lot more granular and one of personal taste. And of course there are the brands that try price gouge but they invariably don’t last long.

    ‘So personally I think the AirPod Max is an extremely well priced headphone & great value once you consider its features, design, build quality and performance. The only way to get something better would be if you’re willing to spend considerably more money. So please no more talk about how these are over priced, it’s just such a ludicrous statement.

    Like o said earlier, try buying a $500 Hifi system that delivers you the same overall & audio experience? You can’t of course, so why on earth would you expect Headphones to be exponentially cheaper?
  • IanBlackburn
    I have AirPods Max and AirPods Pro Gen 2. I actually find the noise cancellation better on the AirPods Pro Gen 2, which isn't surprising because it has an updated H2 chip and adaptive transparency mode. But just generally, the ANC is better, and they don't suffer from the occasional "audio howl" I get on the Max. Sound quality-wise for music, though, the Max is much better than the Pros to my ears (the Pros are still really good, though).

    I'll almost certainly move to gen 2 Max, with an updated H2 (or H3?) when available. I lose myself sitting at home with the AirPods Max on - total relaxation. The Pros are always in my pocket, ready for calls, podcasts, music, and going for a run and are great, but the AirPods Max are really special and are what I reach for when I want to zone out and relax.
  • cryanhorner
    pretty hard to justify buying any kind of new wireless headphones right now. it feels like we're on the cusp of people finally figuring out lossless wireless sound, and so every product coming to market now is basically just a sightly polished version of what already exists and is just holding space until that breakthrough comes to market.

    my cheapo soundcore wireless over the ear headphones are falling apart, but i'd rather just keep using them until that technology is available because nothing else any manufacturer is offering really seems exciting or necessary to me. lossless is literally the only compelling new feature that would get me reaching for my wallet, particularly as someone who is already a frustrated apple music subscriber.

    now the matter is just, can i keep my current cans alive and kicking until then...