The hits just keep coming for Apple, which has barely given tech journalists a moment to themselves this autumn. It has now announced the AirPods Max, a set of premium over-ear headphones, which have been expected for years but still, somehow, come as a surprise - not least because everyone thought they'd be called the AirPods Studio.
In this article we present everything you need to know about Apple's new AirPods Max headphones, including their release date, design, features, tech specs and price.
Apple isn't messing around: it announced the launch of the AirPods Max on 8 December 2020, and they were immediately available to pre-order on the Apple Store. They will ship, and become available to buy normally online or in shops, on 15 December.
On 18 January 2021 reports started to appear indicating that some users are finding that their AirPods Max are running out of battery quickly. This seems to have followed a software update.
There are also reports that condensations can collect inside the AirPods Max cups. More here: AirPods Max 'suffer from condensation' - reports.
People who are having problems with audio or the connection to AirPods Max are recommended to reset or reboot them. We explain how to do that here: How to reset AirPods Max to factory settings.
There is also some confusion about how to put the headphones in low power mode. Apple has clarified AirPods Max power management, and explained what triggers the headphones' two different low-power modes in a document. We explain what you need to know here: AirPods Max case 'not required for low-power mode'.
The AirPods Max are over-ear headphones, which means the cups completely enclose the wearer's ears. (This, presumably, is why the leaker L0vetodream cryptically said Apple's next product would be "good for winter".)
The controls include a Digital Crown, exported from the Apple Watch line. This should enable convenient and accurate volume adjustment - we certainly rate this feature on the watch.
There's a flexible, breathable knit mesh - seemingly similar to the one covering the HomePod and HomePod mini - over the inner part of the cup and the headband canopy, which Apple says is "made to distribute weight and reduce on-head pressure". As expected, the headband itself is adjustable.
The ear cushions too should contribute to the wearer's comfort. Apple says, slightly mysteriously, that "Each ear cup attaches to the headband through a revolutionary mechanism that balances and distributes ear cup pressure, and allows it to independently pivot and rotate to fit the unique contours of a user's head." We're not exactly sure what that means, but we'll test it out once we get a review sample. The cushions use memory foam to create a strong seal.
The headphones come in a choice of five colour finishes: Space Grey, Silver, Pink, Green and Sky Blue.
We have one more thing to say about the design: Repair site iFixIt has published their teardown of the AirPods Max - and said that the AirPods Max craftsmanship makes competition look like toys.
Features & specs
Considering the price - which we'll get to in a moment - it would be reasonable to expect absolutely top-grade audio quality from the AirPods Max. We'll put this to the test in due course, but Apple is certainly talking a good game.
We've already heard that the seal over the ear will be effective, which is the first step in achieving sound immersion. But the AirPods Max go further by offering active noise cancellation (including, as on the AirPods Pro, Transparency Mode for when you want to hear what's going on in the outside world). The headphones also replicate the AirPods Pro Spatial Audio feature.
In terms of tech specs, sound is generated by a 40mm dynamic driver and a dual neodymium ring magnet motor. There's an H1 chip on each side, each capable of nine billion operations per second, and these will optimise sound quality using computational audio.
The AirPods Max also offer Siri, as expected (and Apple has since clarified that they do offer hands-free Hey Siri as well), and can detect when they're on your head and trigger pause/play as appropriate. Like other AirPods, and recent Beats headphones, they will pair easily with iPhones and other Apple products.
There's plenty missing from the AirPods Max, though. For more on this, read about why the AirPods Max lack the U1 chip.
This bit's easy. There are multiple colour finishes but only one price in each territory: the AirPods Max cost £549 / $549 / A$899.
You can buy them direct from Apple, but other retailers may offer them at a (slightly) lower price. We'll add a price comparison widget to this article when shops start to announce their pricing.
The AirPods Max come with a Smart Case in a matching colour - Apple has since explained that this case activates low-power mode more quickly, but isn't essential for this - and a Lightning to USB-C cable for charging.