Apple AirPods Max over-ear headphones are official (and very expensive)

Apple AirPods Max
(Image credit: Apple)

Well, it's official. Apple has unveiled its first pair of over-ear headphones. The Apple AirPods Max (as they're called; not the highly rumoured 'AirPods Studio' we expected) are wireless headphones that cost – wait for it – £549 ($549, AU$899). Sadly, that is not a typo.

As you'd reasonably expect for their rather lofty price, the AirPods Max combine wireless connectivity with active noise-cancellation and Apple's H1 chip (two H1 chips, in fact). Adaptive EQ and spatial audio technologies are thrown into the mix too.

Apple has designed its own 40mm dynamic driver for the AirPods Max, promising "rich, deep bass, accurate mid-ranges, and crisp, clean high-frequency extension". Apple claims that their neodymium ring magnet motor maintains total harmonic distortion of less than one per cent across the frequency range – even at maximum volume. That's quite the claim.

Another big design feature is the use of Apple's Digital Crown to control the headphones. First seen on the Apple Watch, the crown will allow you to alter volume, control playback, summon Siri and answer/decline calls.

Apple AirPods Max

(Image credit: Apple)

The H1 chip in each of the ear cups supposedly has ten audio 'cores' capable of nine billion operations per second, and it's here that Apple powers its audio technologies. Adaptive EQ works to adjust the sound to the fit and seal of the ear cushions by measuring (and adjusting) the sound signal in real-time, while spatial audio aims to deliver an immersive soundstage for content recorded in 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos surround sound by using the headphones' gyroscope and accelerometer to track the motion of a user’s head and remap the audio field accordingly.

Noise-cancelling comes courtesy of four microphones in each ear cup – three outward-facing to detect environmental noise, and one inside to monitor the sound reaching the listener’s ear. Transparency mode allows users to simultaneously listen to music while hearing the environment around them.

Audio Sharing allows users to share audio between two sets of AirPods (whether that be the AirPods Max, AirPods Pro or AirPods) on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple TV 4K.

Apple AirPods Max

(Image credit: Apple)

More commonplace features found in premium headphones these days are also correct and present in the AirPods Max. For example, they automatically play and pause audio when they detect being placed on or removed/briefly lifted from one's head respectively. 

Battery life is "up to 20 hours" with noise cancellation and spatial audio enabled, too, although Apple doesn't quote a figure without those two features on. One would assume it increases the more features you turn off.

Should you run out of battery, a five-minute charge is apparently enough to get an hour and a half of extra playback time. You'll need to supply your own MicroUSB charger, though, as there's not one in the box – you just get a MicroUSB-to-Lightning cable.

Apple AirPods Max

(Image credit: Apple)

Available to order now, with availability beginning next Tuesday (15th December), the AirPods Max come in five colours – space grey, silver, sky blue, green, and pink – and are supplied with a Smart Case (above) that puts AirPods Max in an "ultra-low" power state to help preserve battery charge when they aren't in use.

Again, pricing is £549 ($549, AU$899), putting the AirPods Max far and beyond the price of the current wireless noise-cancelling headphone class leaders, the Sony WH-1000XM4 (£350, $350, AU$499). Let's hope the AirPods Max are worth the premium, then...


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Becky Roberts

Becky is the managing editor of What Hi-Fi? and, since her recent move to Melbourne, also the editor of Australian Hi-Fi magazine. During her 10 years in the hi-fi industry, she has been fortunate enough to travel the world to report on the biggest and most exciting brands in hi-fi and consumer tech (and has had the jetlag and hangovers to remember them by). In her spare time, Becky can often be found running, watching Liverpool FC and horror movies, and hunting for gluten-free cake.