Apple’s AirPods Max with Spatial Audio will cost $549

New headphones have head-tracking surround, Adaptive EQ, ANC and a 20-hour battery life.

AirPods Max

Joining the wireless world of AirPods is AirPods Max, Apple’s over-ear headphones aimed at consumers and avid music listeners. Key features include the H1 chips, Spatial Audio, Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), Transparency Mode and Adaptive EQ – features that can also be found in the AirPods Pro.

AirPods Max

In terms of smart features, then, AirPods Max isn’t offering anything brand new. Instead, the focus here is obviously on audio reproduction, with a 40mm Apple-designed dynamic driver in each earcup. The Cupertino-based tech giant says that the driver delivers “rich, deep bass, accurate mid-range, and crisp, clean high-frequency extension so every note can be heard”. AirPods Max also has a dual neodymium ring magnet motor, which keeps harmonic distortion at a significantly low level – “less than 1 per cent across the entire audible range”, apparently.

AirPods Max Driver
The 40mm cups deliver “rich, deep bass, accurate mid-range, and crisp, clean high-frequency extension”.

Apple has incorporated computational audio into the new headphones, which was mentioned in its announcement of the HomePod Mini. Using the H1 chip, this means the AirPods Max is capable of undertaking nine billion operations per second to power Adaptive EQ, ANC, Transparency Mode and Spatial Audio in real-time.

Spatial Audio is of particular interest to producers and engineers, reproducing 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos surround audio mixes to listeners, by using dynamic head tracking to place sounds virtually in a space. This is achieved with the gyroscope and accelerometer in AirPods Max, along with Phone and iPad tracking the motion of a user’s head and device. There’s no major production software yet capable of addressing it yet, though. By rights, Logic and Final Cut Pro X should be on the vanguard.

The vastly more common use case is for watching movies. Titles with 5.1, 7.1 and Atmos mixes on Apple TV+ and bought via iTunes (and Disney+, Mando fans) do sound markedly different using Spatial Audio on the AirPod Pros, for instance.AirPods Max Pink

AirPods Max is built with comfort in mind, too. Ear cups are attached to a headband, sporting a breathable knit mesh canopy, via a “revolutionary mechanism that balances and distributes ear cup pressure”, Apple says. This lets listeners rotate the cup to fit their head, while a memory foam cushion provides an effective seal for immersive sound. In case it isn’t obvious, the design, dubbed The Digital Crown, takes inspiration from the Apple Watch, with a volume control dial and play/pause button. Phone calls can also be answered and ended with the controls, and Siri can be activated, too.

When it comes to battery life, listeners will get up to 20 hours of audio, talk time or movie playback with ANC and spatial audio enabled. Unlike its little siblings, AirPods Max does not come with a rechargeable case, but does come with a Smart Case that puts the headphones in an ultralow power state to preserve battery.

AirPods Max Case
Apple’s AirPods Max in their accompanying Smart Case.

Juxtaposing the immediately recognisable design of the Apple-owned Beats by Dre, the AirPods Max look is a bit more hi-fi, and very minimal. There are no logos, no earcup embroidery and no trim. However, the new wireless headphones are available in a range of colours matching the newly available iPhone 12 range. Namely, a palette of silver, space grey, sky blue, pink or green.

Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing says of the release: “AirPods are the most popular headphones in the world, beloved for their effortless setup, incredible sound quality, and iconic design. With AirPods Max, we are bringing that magical AirPods experience to a stunning over-ear design with high-fidelity audio,”

“The custom acoustic design, combined with powerful H1 chips, and advanced software enable AirPods Max to use computational audio to wirelessly deliver the ultimate personal listening experience.”

Apple’s AirPod Max headphones are available to order immediately, with a price tag of $549/£549. Even with head-tracking spatial audio, that’s an eye-watering amount for a pair of consumer headphones. And it puts them in the same price bracket as some truly exceptional reference headphones. Will their feature set compete with revered pro audio ‘phones? We look forward to bringing you our review very soon.

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