Apple announces $549 AirPods Max noise-canceling headphones, coming December 15th

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It turns out Apple has one more major hardware announcement before 2020 comes to a close: after many months of rumors, Apple today unveiled its own over-ear noise-canceling headphones. They’re called the AirPods Max, and they come with the premium design that’s expected from flagship Apple headphones. They also come with an extremely premium $549 price and are set to go on sale on December 15th. Preorders start today.

The AirPods Max come in five colors: space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink. They feature what Apple calls a “custom acoustic design” with a 40mm driver system “that provides rich, deep bass, accurate mid-ranges, and crisp, clean high-frequency extension so every note can be heard.” Apple has brought over a number of features that first debuted in the AirPods line, like adaptive EQ, transparency mode, spatial audio, and audio sharing. There’s even an element from the Apple Watch — the Digital Crown — that has made its way to these headphones. Apple says it “offers precise volume control and the ability to play or pause audio, skip tracks, answer or end phone calls, and activate Siri.” There’s also a separate “noise control” button for switching between noise-canceling and transparency modes.

Image: Apple

As for the design, here’s what Apple says:

The breathable knit mesh canopy, spanning the headband, is made to distribute weight and reduce on-head pressure. The stainless steel headband frame provides strength, flexibility, and comfort for a wide variety of head shapes and sizes. Telescoping headband arms smoothly extend and stay in place to maintain the desired fit.

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.

None of that sounds particularly “revolutionary” when stacked up next to other high-end noise-canceling headphones, but the memory foam ear cushions should make for good comfort. They’re also removable and attach via magnets, so hopefully replacing them won’t be too much trouble.

The AirPods Max offer 20-hour battery life and charge over Apple’s Lightning connector — not USB-C. (Apple has a sold-separately $35 Lightning to 3.5mm cable for wired listening.) If you’re in a hurry, a five-minute charge gets you 90 minutes of playback time. The headphones automatically pause audio when removed from your ears and resume playback when you put them back on.

There’s also a “smart case” for the AirPods Max (below) that automatically puts them into a low-power state. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that Apple is selling a more protective hardshell case at this time.

Image: Apple

Similar to approaches from Bose, Sony, and others, Apple’s noise-cancellation system produces anti-noise to hush external sound by using six outward-facing microphones. Two inward-facing mics measure what you’re hearing to cancel out additional distractions. Apple also claims the AirPods Max perform well for voice calls (even in windy conditions) with their built-in beamforming mics.

Image: Apple

By moving into the premium headphones space, Apple will directly compete with brands like Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, AKG, Bowers and Wilkins, and others that have years of experience and a long list of products between them. Apple is going higher than just about all of them on price, but the company is riding the momentum of the AirPods and AirPods Pro, which have dominated the true wireless earbuds market. My biggest question is whether the sound quality can live up to the price. For much less, you can get the Sony 1000XM4, which support LDAC, a wireless audio codec that isn’t too far off from CD quality. There’s no equivalent for this on iPhone, and Apple Music still only offers lossy AAC audio.

Still, Apple has taken impressive advantage of the synergy between its hardware by introducing features like automatic device switching — the AirPods Max, AirPods, and select Beats products can switch between an iPhone, Mac, and iPad based on whichever one you’re currently using — and, in the case of the AirPods Max and Pro, a capability called spatial audio that replicates an immersive surround sound experience when watching movies and TV shows on an iPhone or iPad.

Apple’s Beats brand also sells higher-end headphones, including the Solo Pro and Studio 3 Wireless, both of which feature active noise cancellation. More recently, with Apple firmly covering consumers invested in its ecosystem, Beats has shown a renewed interest in appealing to Android device owners; the new Beats Flex earbuds have a USB-C connector instead of Apple’s proprietary Lightning port.

Early December is an unusually late time of year for Apple to introduce new products. Today’s news was tipped last week by MacRumors, which reported that Apple had sent out a memo to authorized service providers about imminent changes to AppleCare. In the days since, the long-in-the-works headphones have been viewed as the most likely candidate.

Comments

Yikes. $550. These better sound phenomenal.

Yeah curious about the specs too. I’m sure they’ll sound great though. Plenty of headsets on the market over 500 though so I don’t think that’s weird like a lot of folks in the comments here do. I’d imagine they’re targeting the market right above the Sony MX4s of the world.

Also love that these scream Marc Newson. The Ive era is ova

They should be going after that market. The Bose/Sony $300-$400 price range. This is absurd pricing for something that will most likely at best fall in line with those.

Right. Because Apple is well known for competing at the same price as similar hardware.

1) Apple almost never goes after the market you think they should be going after and they’re almost always extremely profitable as a result of not doing so and 2) what makes you argue that these will sound similar to headphones in the lower price range rather than more premium competitors?

Apple almost never goes after the market you think they should be going after and they’re almost always extremely profitable as a result of not doing so

lmao
I suppose if you think MBA and MBP are going after $300 chromebook buyers you are right, they are not going after that market.

Apple always go after the market I think they’re going after, so there’s that.

I assume he’s referring to the same detractors who ridiculed Apple for entering the phone market, the tablet market, and the watch market.

Apple generally enters a market to win it, and they’ve historically done pretty well for themselves, but that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t have naysayers who either don’t understand or refuse to understand what they’re going for.

I think you’re right, but he should call them out by their names, not "you"

Because any rational person can easily tell what they’re doing.

What am I doing?

I can tell what YOU are doing: Trying so hard to find a way to disagree with me that you’re completely missing the point.

I don’t really understand the question of what "you" means in my comment. I meant that HE is arguing that Apple should target a midrange market for over-ear headphones and Apple very, very rarely ever plays in that market. It means exactly what anyone should think it means when it’s a direct reply to someone. There’s no reason at all to believe I was using the royal You.

Perhaps you could actually respond to points I’m making instead of trying to create some Dan Brown-esque conspiracy puzzle as to what my comment might mean?

I don’t think Apple enters markets to win them from a marketshare standpoint, because my point was that they enter at a higher price point and make up for smaller marketshare with insanely favorable profit share.

Maybe you’re missing that Apple is targeting that market; they’re definitely hoping to persuade people already paying $400 for a set of headphones to pay a bit more for the Apple product.

It’s likely worth more than those in the $400 range, but not that much more, but Apple knows what they are doing.

A price point isn’t the only thing with which Apple or any other company target a market.

The feature set, quality and reputation is just as much an incentive as the price. It’s the reason Apple can charge more and actually get it – people know these will be quality headphones.

Whether they are "better" than headphone X is subjective.

That they are happy to get consumers who spend up is beside the point: Apple generally positions their products at a premium level, usually with the argument that you’re paying for fit and finish and a seamless experience within their product line. I’m not talking about the consumer, i’m talking about what market category they target.

COULD they sell these for $300 or $400 dollars? Sure. But that’s not the way they sell products.

All the same complaints were made about the price (and looks) of Airpods, then Airpods Pro, and on and on and then they still sell like crazy anyway.

I think it’s incredibly weird that I responded to a specific person’s argument with a specific retort, and you responded to my comment as though it was directed at you or an argument you hadn’t yet made.

I quoted you exactly because the words you used signify something and I responded to what it said specifically. I think they stand on their own and sounds ridiculous out of context and in context.

Maybe read what I wrote? It makes sense in the exact same way.

Apple almost never goes after the market you think they should be going after

That’s an odd statement. When has Apple upended your expectations and gone after an unexpected market?

YOU meant the market HE thinks they should go after. I responded to a direct comment. HE thinks Apple should target the $300 market which is basically average pricing for noise-cancelling headphones from mainstream companies.

Apple’s accessories almost never play at the average price range and HIS expectation doesn’t really match the reality Apple tends to live in.

Okay, got your point. The wording was a bit weird, though, it sounded like you were talking about overall market expectations as opposed to that guy specifically.

I agree.

When has Apple upended your expectations and gone after an unexpected market?

HomePod — went after the higher sound quality market rather than the more popular dots and minis.

Apple Watch — went after the higher fashion, jewelry market, rather than general tech market

iPhone 12 Mini — went for the small screen market, not the cost-conscious market the SE was serving

XDR Display — after the high-end production market, not the general or Pro-sumer market.

There are other ones but that’s just off the top of my head.

"HomePod — went after the higher sound quality market rather than the more popular dots and minis."
Failed had to come out with minis to even try to compete.

"Apple Watch — went after the higher fashion, jewelry market, rather than general tech market"
Failed as a Fashion device (those gold ones didn’t sell) had to switch to fitness focused market

"XDR Display — after the high-end production market, not the general or Pro-sumer market."
Failing, no one is buying this monitor

"iPhone 12 Mini — went for the small screen market, not the cost-conscious market the SE was serving"
Everyone has been asking this forever, so this is an expected market..

First, you are moving goalposts as the comment I was responding to (and the context I was responding with) never mentioned success — just "upended your expectations and gone after an unexpected market" so being a success or failure doesn’t factor here.

I’ll give you partial credit for the iPhone 12 Mini as some would pay more for a smaller phone because of the form factor — but the reality is that most people correlate size to price and assume the smallest would be the cheapest.

Nothing else you said negates my point.

Yep or is true in any way. Dude was just giving his opinion as facts oy vey.

Unfortunately, opinions aren’t facts — they may be informed by them, but opinions are only our interpretation of them — infused with our own internal biasis.

States which fact you hold that the HomePod failed. Because we know you don’t have any.
Apple watch has destroyed the high end swiss watch market which is very well known. Google it. Pretty much every other watch market too.
I laughed out loud about the XDR monitor. Shops that use this sort of thing are snapping them up. Its many thousands of dollars less than what they sued before. That’s the market these monitors are for.
Next.

"Apple watch has destroyed the high end swiss watch market which is very well known."

In what universe are you living? Outselling isnt equal to destroying.
I hardly think a person who wants to buy the latest submariner from Rolex says: "Nah, ill just buy an Apple watch instead".

After owning Apple Watches I no longer have any interest in luxury analog watches.

La ti da?

Your apple fandom, warranted or not, does not make you the standard buyer of luxury watches. It’s like saying Tesla destroyed the sports car market. It certainly had an effect, but it in no way destroyed it.

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