Apple is rumoured to be readying the AirPods Max 2. The second-gen noise-cancelling headphones are tipped for new colours and lossless audio support, as well as minor design upgrades.
As you can see in our AirPods Max review, we rated the originals the full five stars, praising their "cinematic" spatial audio and "exceptional" build quality, so any upgrades, however small, could be cause for celebration.
We could certainly see plans for the new AirPods Max 2 revealed at this year's Apple Worldwide Developers Conference Event (WWDC), the annual keynote which showcases everything that the most valuable company on the planet has in store for the coming months. Held on June 5th at 1.30 pm Pacific Time, the conference event teases updates on a mixed reality headset, new iOS features and a new MacBook Air, but there are some who think updates to the new AirPods Max 2 could also be revealed as well.
We really did love the AirPods Max when they launched in December 2020, but it's now approaching three years since we've had a proper sequel. So what might a new pair of premium noise-cancelling Apple over-ears bring to the party? Here's everything we know so far about the rumoured AirPods Max 2's price, release date, design and specifications.
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AirPods Max 2: release date rumours
Apple kept us waiting for the 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 in September. Alas, that did not happen.
Leaks were few and far between last year, though Mark Gurman's Power On newsletter last May claimed that an AirPods Max update could be imminent: "Look out for an AirPods Max refresh with new colours (and, we hope, a price drop - $550 is absurd for those headphones)".
It certainly raised our hopes that we could see them break cover over Christmas, though our expectations have been muted by the latest remarks by respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who says the next-gen AirPods Max could arrive alongside cheaper AirPods (AirPods Lite?) in the second half of 2024. Or even 2025!
That would be an uncharacteristically long wait between generations of products for Apple, though perhaps the upgrade would be more significant for that gap. The likelihood is that we'll see an update to the original AirPods Max model first, refreshing appetites for the model before a sequel comes along shortly after, similar to games companies throwing out a quick remaster to coincide with a brand new title.
Stay tuned and we'll bring you all the latest AirPods Max 2 release date rumours as they slip out.
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 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.
There are no credible AirPods Max 2 price leaks just yet, but with Apple positioning its over-ears above the best AirPods Max alternatives such as the Sony WH-1000XM5 and Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, we'd expect the AirPods Max 2 to come with a similarly steep price tag. Especially now that the AirPods Max are by no means the priciest wireless headphones out there any more.
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 Cupertino 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, the AirPods Max make 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, who has a strong record when it comes to Apple leaks, reckons an "AirPods Max refresh with new colors" could be on the way as soon as this fall/autumn. That would certainly then pave the way for a brand-new model hot off the back of a refresh to the 2020 originals.
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). There are even rumours of an AirPods Max 2 Product (RED) edition.
Elsewhere, there's talk of Apple tweaking the control mechanism. According to Patently Apple, Cupertino 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 case, which has been rather humorously compared to a bra or a gun holster. Not only does it look strange, we think it does a poor job of protecting the headphones from knocks, scratches and dirt. 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 a bit cooler than its predecessor...
Apple AirPods Max 2: specs
With an asking 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.
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 not yet clear. A touch-responsive surface would certainly be something we'd welcome to the party, though, so fingers crossed on that score.
Apple is also said to be sprucing up its noise-cancelling tech. In February, the folks at Patently Apple outed 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.
There's even talk of a new "Find My" feature which, like you already have built into most 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. That should be more than enough for dealing with drizzly conditions, splashes and your own sweat. Nice.
That's about it on the rumours front, but here are three 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 Sony WH-1000XM5, which offer 30 hours, and the class-leading Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, which manage a staggering 60 hours.
2. 3.5mm audio port
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. Let's hope the AirPods Max 2 fix that.
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 features. Don't hold your breath on this one, but better Android support would certainly widen the appeal of the AirPods Max 2.
Apple AirPods Max 2: early thoughts
If you're a keen Apple user, the AirPods Max are arguably the very best noise-cancelling headphones you can buy. Build quality is second-to-none, sonics are superb, and comfort is exceptional.
If the AirPods Max 2 can address a few of our (fairly minor) gripes – like the near-pointless case and the lack of a 3.5mm audio port – Apple's second-generation over-ears could cement their place in headphone history.
It'll definitely be interesting to see which chip the new model incorporates when it finally arrives. The original Max utilises the H1 chip, whereas the AirPods Pro 2 is 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.
With any luck, the AirPods Max 2 will surface sooner than the latest rumours of next year suggest. We're certainly going to be looking to WWDC23 this summer to see if Apple teases anything AirPods Max related, be it an update to the original model or the proper announcement of a bona fide sequel.
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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?
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.