The Apple AirPods Max are some of the best wireless headphones you can currently buy – quite a feat considering they're the company's first crack at an over-ear design. Yes, they're expensive, but they sound truly excellent and have all the Apple user-friendliness you'd expect. Rumours of new AirPods Max haven't yet begun to surface, but that hasn't stopped us from dreaming up what we would like from a sequel. After all, the originals are well over a year old already so a successor arriving in the next 12 months wouldn't be out of the question.
So, what would we like to see from an AirPods Max 2? We've come up with a wish list that includes lossless compatibility, more design options, better battery life and, yes, a new case. Salivating at the prospect of some new AirPods? Here's what you might (fingers crossed) have to look forward to...
Most conspicuous by its absence from AirPods Max is lossless support. When you're paying £549 ($549, AU$899) for a pair of headphones – a lot more than rivals like the Sony WH-1000XM4 – you might expect them to be able to handle hi-res audio. Especially given that Apple Music now supports it. But if you shell out on the AirPods Max thinking thus, you'll be mighty disappointed.
The AirPods Max don't support Apple's ALAC Bluetooth codec for wireless transmission of higher-quality audio, instead settling for the firm's 'standard' AAC codec. Neither actually truly supports lossless quality anyway – Bluetooth and lossless don't go hand in hand, you see – but we're hoping that Apple could find a way to handle it wirelessly. Apple is reportedly investigating it, and so is Sonos.
Whether that transpires or not, we'd at least expect the sequel to support lossless over the cabled connection, which, again, isn't the case with the originals.
Bundled audio cable
That leads us to the next item on our wish list: a bundled audio cable. The first-gen AirPods Max do not ship with one in the box. That means if you want to use them wired – with a console controller, in-flight entertainment system, or perhaps even a phone with a headphone port like the Sony Xperia 1 II – you need to shell out an extra £35 ($35, AU$35) on a Lightning-to-3.5mm cable. That's not ideal considering how much you've just spent on Apple's headphones.
3.5mm headphone port
While we're on the subject, would it kill Apple to kit out the AirPods Max 2 with a 3.5mm headphone jack? At the moment they only have a Lightning port – hence the need for a Lightning-to-3.5mm cable or adapter.
Fitting them with a 3.5mm port would likely make life considerably simpler for users who want to wire the AirPods Max 2 to an audio source, as they could use any cable with a 3.5mm connector at each end.
Chances are though, it won't happen. Apple was the first company to remove the 3.5mm headphone port from phones – to make the iPhone slimmer (and also promote its own Lightning standard). 'Fit' shouldn't be an issue with the AirPods Max, of course, but bringing the connection back might signal to some watchers that Apple was wrong to drop it from its iPhones. So expect to only see a Lightning port, or perhaps even a USB-C one, on the AirPods Max 2.
Let's be honest, the AirPods Max case is a waste of time. It's ugly – it's been compared unfavourably to a bra, and even Chanel hasn't been able to save its image – but worst of all, it doesn't even do its job (protecting the headphones) particularly well. It leaves the headphones' headband and the top and bottom of the ear cups exposed, meaning they're still liable to knocks and scratches and infiltration by dust and dirt. The case needs redesigning. Apple can do better.
Better battery life
The case does fulfil one important function, though – it saves battery life. Putting the AirPods Max into it automatically puts them in an ultra-low power mode that can help the current charge last for months. In use, you get around 20 hours of playtime before they need to be charged up.
That's bested by plenty of rivals, including the excellent Sony XM4 (which offer 30 hours). If Apple is going to continue to charge such a premium for the AirPods Max 2, we would hope to see at least 25 hours of life from a single charge. The ability to charge them wirelessly using Apple's MagSafe system would also be very welcome.
Before the AirPods Max launched, it was reported that Apple was planning to give them a modular design that would let the user swap out the headband and ear cups, allowing. That way, they could mix and match when it comes to colours, personalising their headphones in a way that watch bands do for the Apple Watch.
That didn't happen. According to Bloomberg, Apple suffered developmental issues with the headband, leading it to abandon the modular concept altogether.
However, unusually for an Apple product, the AirPods Max are still pretty easy to take apart – you can disconnect the ear cups from the headband using nothing more than a SIM card ejector tool. With replaceable parts (and the greater sustainability credentials that go with them) becoming more popular with brands and consumers, and Apple soon to offer self-service repairs at home, could we see the AirPods Max 2 offer swappable parts that you can replace yourself? It could well happen, and we're all for it.
Left and right ear detection
Another innovation believed to have fallen by the wayside during development of the original AirPods Max is the ability to reverse the headphones' orientation. That would be done via ear detection, which, in combination with programmable touch controls on the left and right ear cup, would let the user decide which side of their head to have the controls on.
Again, it was a non-starter, mainly because Apple went for an Apple Watch-style Digital Crown volume control as opposed to an on-cup touchpad. It has proven a more reliable way of controlling the headphones than touchpads, which in our experience can be a bit fiddly to operate on most headphones. But regardless, we would like to see some kind of consideration for lefties.
Cheaper (perhaps sportier) versions
This was another rumour doing the rounds before Apple launched the original AirPods Max. Well-regarded analysts were speculating that Apple could launch two models: one high-end, and a more affordable, sport-focused pair.
The AirPods Max only launched in one variant, though, and to call them high-end is putting it mildly. So could Apple release a more affordable model alongside an AirPods Max sequel next time around?
Apple does have form in this area. It followed the HomePod smart speaker with the less powerful, more affordable HomePod Mini. And it has done the same with its other devices, like the iPad Mini, Apple Watch SE and iPhone SE. In some cases – as with the AirPods and AirPods Pro – the 'cheaper' model launched first, but that doesn't detract from the fact that Apple tries to appeal to multiple budgets within a product category. Even if none of its devices can actually be called 'cheap'.
A cut-price pair of AirPods Max could also tempt some customers away from the likes of the popular Sony XM4 and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. Maybe the rest of us will soon be able to get in on the AirPods Max joy, after all...
And what would a 'sporty' pair of over-ear headphones look like? That we don't really know, although we would expect a lighter design with smaller ear cups and some sort of sweat and water resistance.
Improved functionality on Android
There's no getting away from it – the AirPods Max are pretty much an Apple-only affair. While they do still sound pretty awesome when paired with one of the best Android phones, to get the best out of them requires an iPhone or iPad. And spending all that money on a pair of headphones and then only using half the feature set is like buying a Rolls Royce just for the cigarette lighter.
Pair the originals with an Android device and you'll miss out on the spatial audio feature with dynamic head tracking. That relatively new Apple technology means the sound of spatial audio songs or soundtracks stays rooted to the source device as you move your head, so if you look away from the screen during a film, the audio adjusts accordingly to sound as if it's still coming from the screen. Neat.
The Live Listen Audio feature also requires either iOS or iPadOS. As Apple says on its own website: "AirPods can be used as Bluetooth headphones with Apple devices using earlier software and with non-Apple devices, but functionality is limited." Now it probably won't change that for the AirPods Max 2 for fear of harming sales of its other products. But still, we can dream...
Read our AirPods 3 review
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