What’s inside Apple’s AirPods Max

Here’s what you get for $549.

From Apple’s Tuesday morning press release:

Apple today announced AirPods Max, innovative wireless headphones that bring the magic of AirPods to an over-ear design with high-fidelity sound. AirPods Max combine a custom acoustic design, H1 chips, and advanced software to power computational audio for a breakthrough listening experience with Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency mode, and spatial audio. AirPods Max come in five gorgeous colors, including space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink, and are available to order starting today, with availability beginning Tuesday, December 15

    • The Digital Crown, inspired by Apple Watch, offers precise volume control and the ability to play or pause audio, skip tracks, answer or end phone calls, and activate Siri.
    • Adaptive EQ: AirPods Max use Adaptive EQ to adjust the sound to the fit and seal of the ear cushions by measuring the sound signal delivered to a user and adjusting the low and mid-frequencies in real time — bringing rich audio that captures every detail.
    • Active Noise Cancellation: AirPods Max deliver immersive sound through Active Noise Cancellation so users can focus on what they are listening to. Each ear cup features three outward-facing microphones to detect environmental noise, while one microphone inside the ear cup monitors the sound reaching the listener’s ear. Using computational audio, noise cancellation continuously adapts to the headphone fit and movement in real time.
    • Transparency Mode: With AirPods Max, users can switch to Transparency mode to simultaneously listen to music while hearing the environment around them — ensuring everything, including a user’s own voice, sounds natural while audio plays perfectly. Switching between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode can be done with a single press using the noise control button.
    • Spatial Audio: AirPods Max use spatial audio with dynamic head tracking to place sounds virtually anywhere in a space — delivering an immersive, theaterlike experience for content recorded in 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos. Using the gyroscope and accelerometer in AirPods Max and iPhone or iPad, spatial audio tracks the motion of a user’s head as well as the device, compares the motion data, then remaps the sound field so it stays anchored to the device, even as the user’s head moves.

My take: There are a million audiophiles better equipped than I to judge the value of these features. I will only note that $549 is $200 (57%) more than MacRumors’ predicted.

See also: Apple over-the-ear headphones this week? UPDATE: Today!

28 Comments

  1. Tommo_UK said:
    “Here’s what you get for $549”

    If you think that’s expensive, in the UK after the exchange rate these are $730! You didn’t like our tea tax, but sadly Apple tax the UK an extra 15-20% to “account for exchange rate fluctuations” (almost uniquely I think, and very unfairly given what a massive market we are for the company).

    Under $100 of that additional is accountable to VAT (sales tax) of 20%.

    Heads up: after the Brexit Deal-or-No-Deal is over in January, I will be campaigning for Apple to remove the additional levy on UK prices they imposed in 2016/17, up to and including holding a placard outside the Regent Street Apple Store and Apple UK HQ if necessary. The phrase “Royally Ripped-Off” has never been more apt. This cash cow is fed up with being milked just to get ASPs up.

    1
    December 8, 2020
  2. Frank Pedron said:
    Too bad the high fidelity aspect of these headphones will likely be lost on consumers listening to music downloaded from Apples iTunes store.

    Listening to MP3’s on anything better than middling playback devices is painful. Seriously, my ears hurt and I find the experience irritating after a few tracks.

    I’ve resorted to buying CD’s and ripping them myself to lossless format.

    I realize that there is probably some licensing agreement which prevents Apple from offering lossless downloads, but come on Apple, get with it, I’d gladly pay a premium.

    2
    December 8, 2020
    • David Emery said:
      begin(rant)
      I’d be a lot more sensitive to Apple as having credible audiophile focus if their software was not so hostile to multi-track works. Whether it’s classical, jazz, spoken word or even album rock, Apple music apps that focus only on “song” (track) show massive hostility to those of us who are not focused on popular music.

      This is an issue on my HomePod, as well as on my iPhone/iPad. Mac Music.app at least supports “album shuffle,” there’s Absolutely No Excuse for the iOS Music.app to not support the same mechanism. (It can’t be more than a dozen lines of code plus the user interface elements…)
      end(rant)

      0
      December 8, 2020
      • Bart Yee said:
        Time for a snappy audiophile app to address that issue? Also for a way to provide straightforward lossless recording of ones’ owned music sources and then playback on Apple connected devices??

        0
        December 9, 2020
        • Kirk DeBernardi said:
          @ Bart Yee —

          The ability to do that has been around awhile. It’s called iTunes Match and consists primarily of you letting Apple read the files in your Mac’s iTunes Music Library.

          Apple’s system will scan your drive, creating an index from your library that matches with the songs they currently have in their iTunes library database. Any recording files that they CAN’T match with their own library (these could be personal recordings and ripped CDs), they’ll upload to retain in the cloud along with your matched index already there.

          This will result in a “mirroring” of your Music Library utilizing that index in the cloud that you can access for playback anywhere you have a data connection.

          Turn on “Sync Library” on your chosen devices.

          0
          December 9, 2020
      • Kirk DeBernardi said:
        @ David Emery —

        I’m curious about your issue with either shuffling or playing straight through any named album.

        I’ve done both an album shuffle and a straight album play-through — albeit not often — on iOS, using Siri no less.

        Is this your problem, or is it something else?

        0
        December 9, 2020
  3. Tommo_UK said:
    The drum and bass of competing headphone manufacturers just got drowned out in time for Christmas.

    It doesn’t matter what they sound like, these will clean up in a market desperate for something new after the legacy of locked downs worldwide. Sadly whilst Corona has left the poor poorer, the amount of money floating around anteing splashed on FMCG and discretionary upmarket spending is truly staggering

    Furthermore Apple have shown they are they own boss, and the legacy Steve Jobs and Jonny Ive left the company deeply entrenched. 2020 now sees Apple’s best product line-up in history by far in my opinion, with 2021 suggesting more innovation and craftsmanship on an unprecedented level to come.

    7
    December 8, 2020
    • Jerry Doyle said:
      @Tommo_UK: I agree fully with your comments above Tommo. The new Apple AirPods Max should be a hot selling item during the Holiday period and beyond as COVID-19 is driving ever more of the masses into lockdown. This is a high quality superior headphone set that music aficionados will confiscate as soon as possible. You also are correct that a dichotomy of the haves and haves not exist in our society now due to Corona. The paradox of this COVID period is that the “haves” have accumulated more discretionary money available to spend then ever before and the personal savings rate are at historical levels. Something tells me that music aficionados who are in this fortunate situation will have no hesitancy to plop down the half a grand plus to reward themselves during this sequestered COVID period.

      Apple’s pipeline is full of nice new candies this Holiday Season that will extend on into early 2021. As you denote, this is more new innovative products then I can remember offered at this Season and more still in the pipeline to come. It definitely is going to be an Apple Holiday Season continuing into early 2021. I have little doubt Apple is at $150 by the Q2 financial call and as Gene Munster says, a $200 stock price.

      2
      December 8, 2020
  4. Gregg Thurman said:
    I remember Phil Schiller once saying that Apple’s product pipeline is the strongest he’s seen in 25 years. I think he made that comment about 6 (?) years ago.

    If he was referring to what we’re seeing today it gives one an idea of how far forward Apple plans.

    For the life of me I can’t imagine what Apple will be introducing 6 years from now. I can tell you that by then the word Android will be synonymous with cheap, inferior copy cat.

    2
    December 8, 2020
    • Dan Scropos said:
      Gregg said-“ For the life of me I can’t imagine what Apple will be introducing 6 years from now. I can tell you that by then the word Android will be synonymous with cheap, inferior copy cat.”

      And that news will be (at least) 6 years old.

      0
      December 8, 2020
    • Tommo_UK said:
      “By then?” I think we’ve just passed “Peak Android” 🙂

      2
      December 8, 2020
  5. George Ewonus said:
    I ordered a pair at 9:30 PDT – delivery date is first week of March – talk about popular!

    2
    December 8, 2020
    • Dan Scropos said:
      Try a different color if you want them earlier.

      Apple’s ‘Sky Blue’ version is already backed up 12-14 weeks, meaning you won’t get them until March if you order now. Pink and Green is also proving popular, with shipping pushed back to January 8-15. At the time of publication, silver and space grey are the only two colors available in December, shipping at the advertised time of December 15-17.

      2
      December 8, 2020
  6. Gregg Thurman said:
    Now I don’t have to worry about how hairy my ears get, these will stay in place. Apple says order today, delivery on Dec 17. Too bad you got a slow airplane.

    3
    December 8, 2020
    • Dan Scropos said:
      Space Grey for me, with a December 31st ship date. I expect them to arrive by Christmas. Apple always surprises.

      1
      December 8, 2020
  7. Gregg Thurman said:
    Anybody notice the Max includes an H1? More Apple silicon differentiating Apple products.

    Looking at what Apple has done with the PA Semi purchase, I’d venture they got it for practically free.

    Had PA Semi continued on its very few would have bought its chips, certainly not enough to make them a chip making powerhouse.

    The real value in PA Semi was/is its design team.

    4
    December 8, 2020
    • Dan Scropos said:
      Wow. Good call. That ties everything together. I’ve long maintained that Apple purchases talent and IP, not companies.

      1
      December 8, 2020
  8. Bill Haymaker said:
    From Gruber: “Estimated ship dates are a bit weird. The color ones — green, blue, and pink — aren’t shipping until February are so. As I type this, you can order silver for arrival next week (“December 15–17”) but if you get them engraved, that gets pushed back to December 31. Space gray — engraved or not — are pushed back to December 31 already. For a few minutes at least, you could order engraved space gray ones with an arrival date sooner than un-engraved.”

    2
    December 8, 2020
  9. Adam Foster said:
    Apple sure got me spending $$$ this year end… ouch, just ordered space grey engraved… delivery Dec 31st…

    2
    December 8, 2020
  10. Kirk DeBernardi said:
    Wow. Didn’t know there could be such a big stir about good sound reproduction around this blog — and at premium pricing to boot.

    Didn’t know you guys/gals had it in you.

    Bravo. Bring it on.

    Given that the cherished tiny little AirPods and AirPods Pro have pretty damn good sound, now with Apple having free-run with designing full-sized headphones, I’m fully intrigued as to how they sound, even with all the clever functionalities aside.

    Maybe the next mountain climbed will be that of ubiquitous HD tracks. Let us all be pulled up into a better sounding world.

    Good sound hugs the soul. It’s within Apple’s grasp.

    1
    December 9, 2020
    • Bart Yee said:
      @Kirk
      Imagine how an Apple TV with HomePod mini or AirPod Max with immersive 3D depth and sound field environment experience would be? Or expand that to a 3D graphics game or AR experience with 3D / 4D sound to match?

      Imagine having a Zoom roundatable discussion in AR being actually able to “see” them placed in a virtual conference room setting with localized and focused audio to boot.

      The possibilities for great audio AND new visual / audio applications for both home and business are only limited by ones imagination. Apple silicon and engineering can provide the basis for making it a reality. When Apple Glass or Visual ™ becomes reality, we will literally see, hear, and interact with our world and others in a whole new way.

      Can the Holosuite be far behind?

      1
      December 9, 2020
      • Kirk DeBernardi said:
        @ Bart Yee —

        Yes. When you consider Apple’s current design adeptness at providing great audio for the masses, your vision seems well within their grasp and would be a great ambassador for people to up their audio game.

        I’ve always felt that SOMEONE with the money and stones to “go there” would reap the benefit from having blazed the trail. As Jerry D. noted above, selling out at a half-grand means someone’s pursuing a personal quest for better sound reproduction.

        The computational audio now being employed remains a mystery on how it affects and alters the original engineering of recordings. It probably will play heavily in the performance of the new AirPods Max.

        It’s been a slow slog for most manufacturers to give proper respect to sound, but Apple’s latest efforts finally begin to give it the respect it so richly deserves.

        Now — on to high-def audio streaming and files.

        0
        December 9, 2020
        • Kirk DeBernardi said:
          I also find it odd that people (supposedly) balked at the HomePod at $349 that would fill a room with good sound, yet jump in excitedly at $549 to fill a head.

          0
          December 9, 2020

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