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Apple’s $549 Airpods Max headphones are not cheap

Apple announced its new AirPods Max yesterday, likely the company’s last product for 2020.

It’s a brand new set of first-party, over-the-ear headphones from Apple, as has been rumoured for months now. You can see our in-ear headphone review here.

The new cans direct join the space where the Bose NC700 ($339 RRP) and Sony XM4 headphones ($349 RRP) have been super popular recently, for their high-quality sound and leading noise-cancelling performance.

Some cool Airpods Max features

Apple’s announcement didn’t coincide with any reviews or an event – just a quietish press release on Apple.com, where the company focused on “incredible high-fidelity audio, Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, and spatial audio.”

  • The feature list includes a Digital Crown (like the Apple Watch) to control volume, skip, pause, answer phone calls
  • Apple’s claiming 20 hours of battery life, and details like sensors that recognize when headphones are on your head or not, “acoustically engineered” memory foam on the earcups for a good seal and five colour options.
  • There’s also an H1 chip, which performs the tasks of Bluetooth connectivity, and a Digital Signal Processor (DSP) for decoding the audio stream, and a co-processor (possibly a second DSP) for handling sensor information.
Apple Airpods Max Colors
Image: Apple

Only $549 wow!

  • There’s a lot of reaction to Apple’s pricing. A full $200 over those you’d consider competitors — and saw sales during Black Friday well under $300 — places Apple in the audiophile realm.
  • Normally, only audio pros are interested in these kinds of headphones, like the Sennheiser HD 820 that go for $2000 or so, Beyerdynamic Amiron for $500, and so on. But these are generally wired headphones for analog sound with zero-compromise.
  • Anecdotally, there’s a normal curve to audio equipment and costs, where paying more gets you a nicer, better sounding set of headphones. A $200 set will crush a $50 set, a $400 set will be a little better but the margins get smaller.
  • Apple’s carving out its own pricing realm: well above midrange and top-selling competitors, not into the high-end HiFi range ($1,000+).
  • Considering you can buy an iPhone (iPhone SE, iPhone XR) from Apple for less
  • Of course, Apple usually justifies its premiums through next-level execution, design, and quality.
  • It’s likely Android users will be able to use these as a standard Bluetooth device, missing out on the software and connectivity.
  • What’s surprising isn’t that they’ll likely be worth the money for iPhone users, it’s that Apple decided that it will be able to have a significant market share when these are a lot of money.
  • And I don’t care about this but it’s worth pointing out: no visible Apple logo anywhere. There’s a reason for that, but I don’t have the answer. Also, you get a carry case which looks sort of funny.
  • Anyway, the price tag remains divisive. $549 is a lot, but unlike iPhone upgrades, it’s a much less price-sensitive market. No one needs to buy these, though they may become part of the affordable luxury items Apple goes for.
  • Also, Apple focused on high-end audio with the HomePod at a premium price but struggled to unseat Google and Amazon, partly due to Siri, I’m sure. 
  • This seems different: pre-orders started and went straight to 12-14 week delays or longer for availability, meaning anyone who didn’t get in early will miss a Christmas purchase. Apple’s putting them on sale on December 15th, if there’s any to even sell.

What‘s not to like?

Airpods Max Case
Image : Apple
  • What is the deal with the case? So many memes to come!
  • No analog wired option at all for sound. The compromise option is to buy a $35 lightning-to-3.5mm cable, but that’s still a digital signal.
  • Apple Music doesn’t support HD sound options, so to get HiFi audio you’ll need to stream music elsewhere, like Tidal. Not everyone cares about this …except those that like to spend at $500+ headphones? I can’t figure that out.
  • Charging via lightning cable.
  • Apple Care adds another $59.
  • Also the branding. The AirPods brand made sense for the little earbuds that go into a pod. AirPods Max, for big ol’ headphones? I get wanting to use the popular branding of AirPods but it’s a bit off? Not that it matters but you know.

Reviews should be coming soon. Expect the price tag to be a major factor, but I’m super interested in just how good they are compared to the current Sony XM4/Bose range.

Michael

Passionate about technology and gaming. I am a regular bloke with a small child, so forgive any mistakes in my posts, it's from sleep deprivation. All opinions are my own.

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