Skip to content
Thoughtful, detailed coverage of everything Apple for 34 years
and the TidBITS Content Network for Apple professionals

Apple’s One Last Thing for 2020: AirPods Max

Despite titling its M1 Mac announcement “One More Thing,” it turns out that Apple had one last thing up its sleeve for 2020: the AirPods Max, new over-ear headphones that expand the AirPods product line beyond earbuds. While the AirPods Max are an intriguing product, sit down before you see the price: $549. They are available to order now.

AirPods Max

The AirPods Max feature a pair of Apple’s H1 chips, the same custom silicon that powers the second-generation AirPods, the AirPods Pro, and various Beats headphones. As such, the AirPods Max include all the features of the AirPods Pro, including Active Noise Cancellation with Transparency mode, Adaptive EQ, spatial audio, and automatic switching between devices running the latest Apple operating systems.

Like other AirPods, the AirPods Max are based on Bluetooth with the usual Apple flourishes. You can also connect them directly, but that requires a $35 Lightning to 3.5mm audio cable. Unfortunately, the cable comes in only white or black, neither of which matches the available AirPods Max colors: silver, space gray, sky blue, pink, and green.

The AirPods Max boast a whopping nine microphones: eight for Active Noise Cancellation and one strictly for voice. Two of the Active Noise Cancellation microphones do double duty as voice microphones, presumably for noise reduction.

An interesting inclusion is the Digital Crown, just like on the Apple Watch. With it, you can control the volume, play and pause audio, skip music tracks, respond to phone calls, and invoke Siri. They also include a noise control button to switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode.

AirPods Max buttons

Apple demonstrates how the various buttons work in an announcement video.

The AirPods Max offer the sort of design touches you’ve come to expect from Apple. Each ear cup is magnetically attached and features independent articulation that is designed to allow it to remain in place without shifting around on your head. Just as with the AirPods and AirPods Pro, the AirPods Max can detect when they’re on your head using optical and position sensors.

They’re also packed with sensors. Each ear cup has an optical sensor, a position sensor, a case detection sensor, and an accelerometer. The left ear cup also has a gyroscope. Those sensors allow things like dynamic head tracking with the spatial audio feature for immersive sound.

The flexible headband is largely composed of a breathable mesh, so your head doesn’t get sweaty. The ear cup material may look familiar: it appears to be the same mesh used in the HomePod. The outer cup is aluminum, and the headband frame is made from stainless steel. You can buy replacement ear cup cushions for $69 each.

For charging, Apple includes a Lightning to USB-C cable but doesn’t bundle a USB-C power adapter. You can also use a Lightning to USB-A cable with one of the many USB-A power adapters most of us have lying around. Apple also included a soft case called the Smart Case, which Apple says puts the AirPods Max in an “ultralow power state” to help preserve the battery. Unlike other AirPods, the AirPods Max do not charge through a case. Apple claims up to 20 hours of battery life and says that just 5 minutes of charging will get you 90 minutes of use.

AirPods Max Smart Case
Make sure it matches your shoes.

The AirPods Max certainly seem impressive, but the $549 price tag makes them more expensive than a pair of HomePods (which regularly sell for $250) or five HomePod minis (which list for a mere $99). While serious audiophiles may spend thousands of dollars on headphones, they have exacting standards that Apple may be hard-pressed to meet. Who will shell out $549 for Bluetooth headphones? But as is often the case with Apple products, the answer may be: more people than you might imagine. Already, the AirPods Max are backordered for up to 14 weeks.

Subscribe today so you don’t miss any TidBITS articles!

Every week you’ll get tech tips, in-depth reviews, and insightful news analysis for discerning Apple users. For over 33 years, we’ve published professional, member-supported tech journalism that makes you smarter.

Registration confirmation will be emailed to you.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA. The Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Comments About Apple’s One Last Thing for 2020: AirPods Max

Notable Replies

  1. Incredibly expensive. What makes the cost so high do you think? I currently have over the ear bluetooth headphones that seem ok. I got them from somebody in my weekly volunteer teaching class. It doesn’t have noise cancelation, but the sound quality seems nice when I’m on the train. It also doesn’t fold flat like these. But I suspect the price was 1/25th of these new Apple headphones.

    There can’t be any justification for charging more than Bose. Under pressure, they have lowered prices before. Remember the very first iPhone?

  2. Lots of people buy the higher cost watches too. Function the exact same as the base models. Anything we put on our bodies holds interest beyond performance.

    I think they look great and am willing to bet the design conscious/apple ecosystem potential market for these is way larger than the exacting audiophile market.

    I’d be willing to consider them. I’ve a pair of Sony studio cans plugged into a DAC, clumsy and wired and probably cost about two thirds of the Max between them. Don’t have noise cancellation, transparency mode, Siri…

    I love my AirPods Pro for outside but in the studio I much prefer over ear.

  3. I can’t help looking at the Smart Case photo and thinking that it looks more like, um, corsetry than a case for headphones.

  4. They look nice, but OMG is that expensive!

    Lots of cool features and such, but I wonder how much better (if at all) they will sound compared to my 5 year old $50 Sennheiser HD-203 wired headphones.

  5. Heavily padded corsetry. Maybe Apple will design an SE model and case for the well endowed who don’t need padding.

    Compared to the $52,000 Madonna’s Blond Ambition bra sold for at auction, Air Pods Max and look like an incredible bargain. But a better comparison might be Helmut Lang’s Bra Purse, which was introduced about a year or so ago, and whose price has been gradually marked down from $635 to $254.

  6. It is all about the sound.

    We just don’t know yet. But we will. Lots of people will put these to the test. Just like they did with the Big home pods. Remember that when the big HomePods hit the market lots of people said they were too expensive.
    Then they listened to a stereo pair, and went wow, ok, I see know.

    High end audiophile, studio closed headphones can easily run over $1,500, and average about $800. So these might be a very good price point.

    It is all about the sound.

  7. It really isn’t. Apple always aims to get the high end price of the mass market. This isn’t for audiophiles, this is for folks showing off their style. Question is whether that price sells.

  8. Considering that shipping dates for some models is apparently approaching March 2021 I’m guessing that they are doing OK.

    Now, whether people like them once they get them and how they do long term is obviously another question.

    I bought some Bose 700 Noise Cancelling this spring when everyone being home 24/7 was making it hard to concentrate. And I’ve got my AirPods Pro. I think I’ll let others enjoy these, but they aren’t for me.

  9. Early adopters seem to be grabbing them, but we’ll see after that. Hard to tell before they’ve even officially shipped.

  10. Unless these actively warn the wearer of some pending doom or have an amazing improvement over audio or noise cancellation (just saw that nope, Sony and Bose have more levels of cancellation), I see these as mostly vanity over practical use.
    Me? I actually saw this and immediately ordered a set of ISOtunes Link (used a code from some YouTuber so save $10) for a deal of $59. I mean, 14hr battery, big buttons for when I have yard work gloves on, obnoxious orange panels so I can see where I left them, and noise protection when in the shop or working around machinery.
    Note: I have their other ISOtunes ear pieces but the inner-ear models on cords tend to work out of the ears, and buttons are clumsy. Older ISOtunes beeps between songs. And the cordless ones, I forget where they are at most of the time…LOL. I do not receive anything promoting them. If I want to listen to better source material, I use wired AKG Pro model, which is still cheaper than 2/3 the price of Apple’s Max (price).

  11. I’m actually tempted to try them. I like ANC, but I also imagine that these large soft cans are much more comfortable to wear than my AirPods Pro. They’re expensive, but if they’re really comfy that would probably be OK (kind of like how my 12 mini was really expensive but also super nice compared to a $350 SE2). If you could get them right away I’d probably just order a pair and then send them back if not happy. But since I’m looking at waiting till Mar just to try them, I’ll probably pass. Maybe they’ll end up seeing a HomePod type discount a couple months later. If not, we know they’re selling and making Apple a boat load of cash. :wink:

  12. Often, even when ship dates shown are weeks or months off, there are a few available for pickup at Apple Stores. So check the online Apple Store when they become available and order with the pickup option.

    I was able to get a HomePod Mini on the day they they wee first available at a local Apple Store despite shipping times of several weeks

  13. The Meze Audio Empyrean headphones are $2,995; the B&O H95 headphones are $800. Apple, IMHO, is aiming at the spot between the mass market Sony/Bose consumer and the high end Meze/B&O audiophile. Part of the higher price for Max headphones is material-steel & aluminum compared to the plastic on the Sony/Bose models. Also the Apple engineering-synching with all devices, the crown-style controller-is a cost. And the markup Apple charges because it can. Bose/Sony=Honda Accord; AirpodMax=BMW; B&O/Meze=Ferrari. Because I have and love these Meze’s- in the market for the Max. But after the reviews by the audiophile sites appear that opinion might change.

  14. My dream Apple purchase was B&O not Beats. I was so disappointed - but I also liked BeOS over NeXT. What do i know anyhow… :grinning:

  15. I recently read an article that the case can serve as double duty for a wardrobe malfunction where someone needs an emergency replacement for a bra. Go figure. :grinning:

  16. I think I’d prefer Bose headphones. I’d like to see a comparison review of these with feature-equivalent Bose models.

  17. I’ll definitely pass on these, too. I have AirPods Pro and for on the ear, the original Monster brand Wireless Beats (with their original box, cords, red cleaning cloth, sticker and docs). Even though they were purchased pre-2012, the original battery in them still works and holds a decent charge!

  18. I would get these for the spatial audio–if only it worked with the Apple TV 4K. I understand that without the gyroscopes in the iPhone or iPad, they wouldn’t be able to track the position of your head with respect to the sound source (iPhone/iPad) but the big question for me is whether pairing them with the Apple TV 4K will give me simulated Dolby Atmos/5.1/7.1 sound like I can get from my OG HomePods. That would be sufficient for me because the impact of Atmos from my stereo pair of OG HomePods is muted by the fact that the room I’m using them in has a very high cathedral ceiling, meaning simulated Atmos from a pair of AirPods Max would solve that problem.

    I somehow doubt that’s possible, although I’m not sure why. In the time between the announcement and the first sets shipping, I called Apple and was told the APM would do what I was looking for. Somehow I doubt it, but I ordered a pair anyway. If they really enhance my movie viewing, I’ll keep them. Otherwise they go back.

  19. iFixit has posted a teardown of the AirPods Max, with a surprisingly glowing review.

    Here is the “nut graf”:

    And after tearing down some of the competition, we’re more understanding of that $550 price tag. Sony and Bose both charge less, but internally, the AirPods Max’s obsessive craftsmanship makes those other extremely capable devices look like toys by comparison.

Join the discussion in the TidBITS Discourse forum


Avatar for jcenters Avatar for hartley Avatar for Simon Avatar for tommy Avatar for silbey Avatar for aforkosh Avatar for romad Avatar for corlin Avatar for lowengard Avatar for allen.gainsford Avatar for MMTalker Avatar for jweil Avatar for doug2 Avatar for tjluoma Avatar for mpetrides Avatar for Shamino Avatar for bjmajor Avatar for macanix Avatar for berndt