I’ve been looking forward to the announcement of the AirPods Max, formerly rumored to be called the AirPods Studio, since the rumors of them started rolling over a year ago. I kept track of all the reports and patent filings and approvals. I’ve paid attention as features and pricing have been discussed. I was let down when the stories of production delays came up a couple of months ago and definitely got my hopes up a few days ago when it looked like Apple got it together and was ready to release.
Apple announced the AirPods Max via a press release Tuesday morning at 5:30 Pacific, just as predicted. However, the final product isn’t quite what the previous rumors said they would be. Gone is the flexible metal band that folds flat and the touch-sensitive ear cups for control. The new U1 Ultra-Wide Band chip is not included. They don’t auto-resolve R-L orientation and there is no mention of alternative ear cushions, but the fact that they do attach with a magnet means Apple and others may offer them in the future.
Sometimes that happens. We are never promised all that the rumors claim. The feature set and design are still pretty impressive, though. The internals should deliver sound quality that no other Apple product can match. The ear cushions are memory foam, so they should comfortably conform to your ears while making a nice seal. The Digital Crown comes over from the Apple Watch and should make the controls easy to use, even it is isn’t as exciting as previous rumored possibilities. And after years of plastic headphones and earbuds, aluminum cans sound like a step up in class, as well.
Then you have all of the technology that comes over from Apple’s years of experience developing and refining the AirPods, AirPods Pro and various Beats products. The Max boast not just one Apple H1 chip, but two, one installed in each ear cup. This means we get Apple’s very effective Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency Mode and their new Spatial Audio feature. There are nine mics on board, with 8 dedicated for ANC and Spatial Audio. That should give the Max a significant boost over Apple’s existing audio products when using these features.
The new colors are a nice touch, as well. I ordered Space Gray because I’m basic like that, but Silver, Sky Blue, Pink and Green are also available.
I’m really not sold on the included case, which doesn’t look like it will offer much protection. These headphone also don’t fold down into a super portable shape, so it will be interesting to see how well they travel.
When you put all of this together, do you have a product that is really worth $549? I’m not so sure yet. At $349 I was in 100%. At $399 I was starting to feel the burn a bit, but still wasn’t turned off. But Apple kept going up to $549 and has surpassed the price of a several competing high-end headphones that have comparable or even superior features and specs.
I understand that the AirPods Max offer some Apple-specific features that other high-end headphones can’t. However, I’m not completely sure that justifies this price tag. You have to remember that Apple isn’t entering a developing product category, which wireless earbuds still were when the original AirPods hit the market. And Apple’s AirPods and AirPods Pro were and have continued to be competitively priced. The high-end headphone market is as established as it gets and the pricing is far less consumer-friendly, so Apple has its work cut out here.
I’m not saying that I won’t fall in love with the AirPods Max as soon I listen to a wide range of music and streaming video with them. Maybe they will absolutely blow my mind. I didn’t expect to love or possibly even like the original AirPods when I got them to review, but their simplicity and easy of use changed the way I use earbuds and headphones forever. I’ve rarely encountered products that changed my mind so definitively.
So I’m going to keep an open mind here. I’m not going to read tons of reviews when they come out. I’m going to get my AirPods Max next week and let my ears decide. However, my ears will have their work cut out trying to override my hands. They are having a VERY hard time letting go of $549 for any headphones, no matter how good they are. We’ll see which one wins out next week.
So who else is taking the plunge and handing Apple an extra $549 to say Merry Christmas to jolly old Tim Cook? Who’s ready to throw a stocking full of coal at him over this price tag? Let me know in the Comments section below or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.