It's fair the say the Apple AirPods Max shook up the wireless headphones market when they launched in 2020. Until then, no other brand had dared to launch a wireless, ANC headphone at such a high-end price (over £500/$500!). But Apple hasn't been afraid to push boundaries and the AirPods Max, when we tested them, became the very first AirPods that What Hi-Fi? has awarded the full five stars to.
Featuring a suite of excellent features, including wonderfully cinematic spatial audio, brilliant sound quality, a reliable battery life, and a comfortable but sturdy build, they remain a staple recommendation from our reviews team for any Apple user. But three years is a long time in today's consumer tech landscape, and we're still patiently waiting for the next generation of these premium AirPods Max headphones.
Here to help manage your expectations and keep you apprised of all the latest rumours and industry gossip, we’ve created this AirPods Max 2 guide. In it, our team of audio experts has rounded up all the latest credible-looking rumours doing the rounds and offered a few ideas on what Apple would need to do to keep its space among the creme-de-la-creme in the current market.
Surely, surely, a new pair is destined to be unveiled sometime soon...
- Read our full Apple AirPods Max review
AirPods Max 2: release date rumours
It's currently up in the air exactly when the second generation Max will debut, but there are a few rumours doing the rounds that give us a rough estimate. 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.
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 buds after just a couple of years, there was talk of an AirPods Max update in 2022. We wondered whether we'd see the rumoured AirPods Max 2 debut alongside the iPhone 14 and AirPods Pro 2 that September, but alas, it didn't happen. Nor did any news of the Max 2nd generation surface during any of Apple's 2023 launch events.
Bloomberg's Mark Gurman seems to echo Kuo's assessment, stating in a recent October 2023 newsletter that as part of Apple's new AirPods product roadmap, the AirPods Max would gain not only new colourways but USB-C charging, too, in late 2024. This would be in line with the iPhone 15 and AirPods Pro 2 switching to USB-C ports in 2023, but it's still unclear whether this means it's the current Max model (which hasn't been updated since 2020) will get these light updates or if they will be integrated as part of the new 2nd generation model.
2024 would be an uncharacteristically long wait between generations of Apple products, although we can hope that the eventual upgrade will be more significant for that gap.
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AirPods Max 2: price predictions
The first-generation AirPods Max hit shelves at £549 / $549 / AU$899. That was more expensive than we'd hoped, but it didn't seem to matter – the AirPods Max sold out almost instantly. At one point, the waiting list ballooned to 12-14 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. After a bargain? We've listed today's best AirPods Max deals below, as we've seen the premium cans fall to around $449 / £449 during the Black Friday sales period.
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 above the £500 / $500 mark, allowing other high-end models – such as the five-star Bowers & Wilkins Px8, Focal Bathys, Mark Levinson No. 5905 and more – the license to follow suit. We imagine that the Max 2 will still cost a step above the current premium wireless class leaders such as the Award-winning Sony WH-1000XM5 (£380 / $399 / AU$550) and brand new Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones (£450 / $429 / AU$649), especially if Apple wants to continue to play in the high-end playground. Whatever the price, we imagine it will be steep, even if the AirPods Max are by no means the priciest wireless headphones out there anymore.
There have been rumours, however, suggesting that the new AirPods Max could be cheaper than the original model thanks to concerns that the first generation was priced too highly. Some have speculated 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.
Apple AirPods Max 2: design
Apple is renowned for its sleek designs, but it really pulled out all the stops for its first pair of over-ears. From pristine anodised aluminium ear cups to a perfectly-weighted steel headband, we found that 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 next iPhone range.
There's no word on which colours Apple will pick, but we've heard whispers that the tech giant could opt to use 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 AirPod model.
As Apple moves away from its proprietary Lightning connections towards the more universal USB-C, the one rumour was can be certain of is that a USB-C charging connection will appear on the AirPods Max 2. During the 12 September Apple Event, the company announced that USB-C connections will be featured on the upcoming iPhone 15 as well as the new charging cases for the existing 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 by our review team and everyone is the industry. 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 £500 piece of tech should 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. Let's just hope it looks less silly than its predecessor, too.
Apple AirPods Max 2: specifications and features leaks
With a launch price of £549 / $549 / AU$899, the 1st Gen Apple 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 when Apple added lossless audio quality tracks to Apple Music in mid-2021, it emerged that none of the company's AirPods, including the rather pricey AirPods Max, had the ability to deliver lossless audio wirelessly. It's not guaranteed, but you'd like to think the AirPods Max 2 could rectify the issue. Indeed, Patently Apple suggests that Apple could be working on new optical audio transmission technology that would enable lossless audio transmission, while Apple more 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 model is connected to the upcoming 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 future if it's serious about higher-quality audio.
Touch controls could soon be revamped, too, with Patently Apple reporting that Apple has filed a patent for touch controls for upcoming models, although whether this will be implemented for the new Max 2 model is not yet clear. A touch-responsive surface would certainly be something we'd welcome to the party, though, so fingers crossed.
Apple is also said to be sprucing up its noise-cancelling tech. 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 sound profile.
It'll definitely be interesting to see which chip the new model 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, 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 which – like recent iPhone models – knows where your cans are, allowing you to pinpoint their exact location when they go walkabout and you're fretting you've just left £550 worth of headphones in the gym's 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.
Apple AirPods Max 2: 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
If you're a keen Apple user and have the funds to pay for a premium 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, better audio listening options – along with improvements to sound quality, battery life and noise-cancelling to compete with new formidable rivals, Apple's second-generation over-ears could 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 rumoured release in 2024/2025 – and we'll update this page as more rumours emerge until then.
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