The AirPods Max, Apple’s premium $549 noise-canceling headphones unveiled on December 8, 2020, can now be pre-ordered ahead of retail availability which starts next Tuesday, December 15. To help our readers reach an informed purchasing decision, the iDB team has created a compilation of the various tidbits regarding the latest over-ear headphones from Apple.
AirPods Max tidbits
The AirPods Max support adaptive EQ, active noise cancellation with Transparency mode, spatial audio, a custom acoustic design, audio sharing, automatic device switching, Siri capabilities and more. For those wondering about adaptive EQ, it’s a new Apple feature that adjusts the sound to the fit and seal of the ear cushions by measuring the sound signal delivered to a user and then adjusting the low and mid-frequencies appropriately, in real-time.
The AirPods Max take advantage of the wireless Bluetooth 5.0 protocol. You can use them as regular Bluetooth headphones on Android and Windows, but functionality is limited on non-Apple devices due to the lack of Apple-only capabilities like seamless pairing, audio sharing and device switching, as well as computational audio features such as spatial audio.
Apple has not made any claims about water resistance.
Find My compatibility
The AirPods Max don’t work with the Find My app.
The AirPods Max are not meant to be used as gaming headphones. You would never want to use them for gaming due to Bluetooth latency, audio compression, no audio mixing, etc.
Where’s the Apple U1 chip?
The AirPods Max are not equipped with Apple’s U1 chip with ultra-wideband networking for improved spatial awareness. Found in the iPhone 11 and later (and some other devices), it enables much higher accuracy than Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi and is used for directional AirDrop. In the future, it’s expected to be used in Apple’s rumored AirTag item-tracking accessory.
Apple H1 chip for that AirPods magic
Inside of each of the AirPod Max’s ear cups is Apple’s H1 headphone chip for advanced features such as computational audio, improved wireless performance and range, seamless cross-device pairing via iCloud, fast device switching, automatic ear detection, Hey Siri and so forth. Each H1 chip features ten audio cores capable of nine billion operations per second.
The AirPods Max headphones are equipped with Apple’s custom 40mm dynamic driver for deep bass, accurate mid-ranges and clean high-frequency extension. A dual neodymium ring magnet motor permits the headphones to maintain total harmonic distortion of less than one percent across the entire audible range, even at maximum volume.
A bunch of microphones
There are nine microphones total: Eight beam-forming microphones (four in each ear cup) are used for active noise cancellation and three outward-facing ones pick up your voice and detect environmental noise (two are shared with active noise cancellation while one inward-facing microphone inside each ear cup monitors the sound reaching your ear).
There are multiple sensors in each ear cup: optical sensor, position sensor, case-detect sensor, accelerometer and gyroscope. The optical and position sensors detect when the headphones are on your head. With on-head detection, your AirPods Max automatically pause audio when you take them off and resume playback when you put them back on.
The gyroscope and accelerometer sensors are used for spatial audio: they track the motion of both your head and your host device to remap the sound field in real-time so that it stays anchored to the host device like your iPhone even as your head moves.
You’ll find two buttons on the right ear cup. One cycles between active noise cancellation and Transparency mode and the other, inspired by the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown, lets you precisely control the volume, play/pause, skip tracks, invoke Siri or answer/end calls: Turn the Digital Crown to adjust the volume, press it once to play, pause or answer/end a phone call, press twice to skip forward, press three times to skip back and press and hold for Siri.
2 things that are interesting. Top position on headphones means that your forefingers touch the controls at the top vs a thumb roller like on most gaming headphones. I do hunt for buttons a lot on Bose QCII and finger pads are easier to register than finger tips pic.twitter.com/JhdcC8O5aE
— Matthew Panzarino (@panzer) December 8, 2020
Ways to output audio
The AirPods Max are cordless headphones, but there’s a Lightning port built into the right ear cup that can be used for wired audio, in addition to charging. You can also connect your AirPods Max to a host device via an optional Lightning to 3.5 mm headphone jack cable (Apple’s 1.2-meter cable costs $35). To use the headphones with studio setups, you’ll need an adapter. The headphones do not support USB audio, as noted by Jason Snell.
Apple sells a Lightning to 3.5mm audio adapter that will let you plug into a headphone jack for direct audio input; you can't plug it into USB and use it as a USB audio device https://t.co/EizKLJVZXU
— Jason Snell (@jsnell) December 8, 2020
Ear cups and replacement cushions
Each ear cushion attaches magnetically to the headband through a mechanism that allows the aluminum ear cups to independently pivot and rotate in order to fit the contours of your head and balance pressure. You’ll find the woven “L” and “R” in each ear cup, like with many other over-ear headphones. Replacement ear cushions are coming soon, priced at $69 for a set of Apple-made left and right ear cushions.
Potential weight fatigue
Due to their stainless steel telescoping headband frame and arms, the AirPods Max weigh 13.6 ounces, or about 384 grams (including cushions). That’s heavier than many premium over-ear headphones on the market, prompting concerns of potential wear fatigue. Apple claims that the breathable knit mesh canopy spanning the headband was designed to distribute weight and reduce on-head pressure. The included Smart Case weighs in at 134.5 grams.
There are five different color finishes to choose from. The AirPods Max headbands are available in color finishes that are very similar to the iPhone 12 family: white/silver, black/space gray, blue and pink/red. The casings, however, are the iPad Air colors, as observed by Rene Ritchie. With replacement ear cushions, as first observed by MacRumors graphics designer Ryan Barrieau, you can mix and match colors for a total of 25 possible combinations.
The AirPods Max are rated with up to 20 hours of listening, movie watching or talk time on a single charge with active noise cancellation/Transparency mode enabled or spatial audio turned on. A quick-charge function provides around 1.5 hours of listening time with just five minutes of charge time. The headphones are recharged through the built-in Lightning port.
The included charge cable lets you top up the AirPods Max battery by connecting the headphones to a USB-C charger or a USB-C port on your computer. You can also use the USB-A to Lightning cable that came with your iPhone for charging purposes. Storage in the included Smart Case preserves battery charge in an ultra-low-power state. As noted by Matthew Panzarino, these headphones do not function without a charge passively. An out-of-warranty battery replacement service is priced at $79.
Warranty and AppleCare+
The AirPods Max include Apple’s limited 1-year warranty. Optional AppleCare+ coverage, priced at $59 (or under $10 per month for six months), extends your coverage to two years from the product’s purchase date. AppleCare also gets you coverage for two accidental damage incidents per 12 months, each subject to a service fee of $29, along with battery service coverage. An out-of-warranty battery replacement service for the headphones is priced at $79. AppleCare+ can be added at checkout or online within 60 days of your purchase.
The AirPods Max are available with free engraving when purchased through the online Apple store or in the Apple Store app. The option, available at checkout, lets you engrave a mix of emoji, text (like your initials) and numbers to customize the appearance of your headphones. Apple’s support staff has confirmed to MacRumors that engraved headphones can be returned. Your headphones may ship faster if you choose an engraving than without it.
The AirPods Max are currently back-ordered for several weeks, with delivery estimates well into January, with most colors listed to start shipping sometime in February or even March 2021. However, you can get your AirPods Max quicker if you choose an engraving.
Pricing and availability
The AirPods Max can now be pre-ordered on Apple.com and in the Apple Store app for $549 ahead of retail availability beginning next Tuesday, December 15. At launch, they’ll be available in the United States and more than 25 other countries and regions.
The AirPods Max AirPods Max are compatible with the iPhone and iPod touch devices running the iOS 14.3 software or later, iPad tablets with the iPadOS 14.3 update or later, Mac computers powered by macOS Big Sur 11.1 or later, Apple Watch smartwatches with watchOS 7.2 or later and Apple TV media streamers running tvOS 14.3 or later.
In the box
Your purchase includes a Smart Case with a pair of AirPods Max headphones inside, plus a Lightning to USB-C cable for charging and printed documentation with Apple stickers. A charging brick and a Lightning to 3.5mm cable are not included in the box.
The AirPods Max reduce environmental impact by being brominated flame retardant–free, PVC-free and beryllium-free.
AirPods Max in AR
To interact with a three-dimensional model of the AirPods Max on your iOS device, including exploring the headphones in augmented reality, point the Safari browser on your iPhone or iPad at apple.com/airpods-max, then tap graphics in the section labeled with the text “Use AR to see the new AirPods Max” near the bottom of the page.
Apple has so far shared an 80-second hands-on video walkthrough, highlighting the key features of the AirPods Max, along with the inaugural ad titled “Journey Into Sound”. The product introduction video is narrated by Evans Hankey, Apple’s Vice President of Industrial Design, which is her first stint as an Apple narrator. Both videos are embedded right ahead.
The rumor-mill has predicted a few additional features for the AirPods Max that didn’t pan out. We didn’t get a more affordable Sport model that was supposed to cost $350. Touch pads for controls on the sides of the headphones are nowhere to be found, but there’s the Digital Crown!
Looks like they made some changes on these to get them out the door as was deemed likely after several development set backs over the past many months — not seeing swappable bands, and Apple Watch Digital Crown instead of touch panels, and left and right sides aren’t reversible.
— Mark Gurman (@markgurman) December 8, 2020
Some of the other predictions that didn’t come true include swappable headbands, reversible L/R ear cups for easy switching between the right and left side so you could wear the headphones either way around, and so forth.