Everything You Need to Know About the New Apple AirPods Max

Apple ventures into the world of over-ear headphones in a big way.

The new Apple AirPods Max on-ear headphones, set against an aqua background

Months of rumblings that new headphones were coming out of Cupertino were confirmed this morning with Apple’s announcement of the AirPods Max, its first foray into over-ear headphones. Here’s everything you need to know about the new cans, from the new form factor to the familiar features to the hefty price tag.

As the first AirPods that don’t look like severed iPhone 5 earbuds, the AirPods Max are a radical departure for the brand but not that different from the design of other high-end headphones. The stainless steel headband is lined with a “canopy” of mesh fabric, which also lines the memory foam ear cups. Apple says that the ear cups attach to the headband via a “revolutionary mechanism that balances and distributes ear cup pressure.” We’ll have to wait until we actually get our hands on a pair to evaluate that claim.

What definitely looks good is the Digital Crown, a spinnable, clickable wheel borrowed from the Apple Watch that provides basic controls on the AirPods Max. An additional button allows the user to switch between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode.

Inside the headphones, there’s a 40-mm driver, advanced software, and enough processing power to perform nine billion operations per second. Spatial Audio uses onboard sensors to track head movements and place sounds virtually in a space, providing an immersive experience for 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmost audio. Again, though, how that translates into sound quality remains to be seen.

If you’ve used AirPods and/or AirPods Pro in the past, you’ll recognize the aforementioned Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Modes (a blend of headphone audio and environmental noises), the H1 chip and easy iOS pairing experience it facilitates, and Adaptive EQ, which measures the sound that reaches your ear and adjusts the low and mid-frequencies in real time. All are welcome inclusions to these new headphones.

Beyond its form factor, the biggest departure the AirPods Max make from their predecessors is price. The MSRP is $549, more than double the $249 price tag of the previously top-of-the-line AirPods Pro. That’s a lot of dough, but it might be worth it for some, particularly if the sound quality is truly top-notch and the integration into the Apple ecosystem is as smooth as it is when the company usually releases a new product.

AirPods Max are available for preorder in space gray, silver, green, sky blue, and pink exclusively from Apple, which optional engraving included. They will begin shipping on December 15, just in time to serve as a Christmas present for someone who has been very good this year.

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