Apple Debuts $550 Over-Ear AirPods Max Headphones
Apple has begun pre-sales for the new,$550 AirPods Max over-the-ear wireless headphones on Tuesday. The hearables, wrongly rumored to be called the AirPods Studio, were announced without any of the official fanfare or event that usually accompanies major product announcements from the tech giant. However, they are the company’s first noise-canceling headphones to come with the Apple logo and not under the Beats branding.
Maximum Apple AirPods
The AirPods Max essentially combines the Apple elements from its existing AirPods with the more powerful hardware of over-ear headphones. They have high-fidelity audio, adaptive EQ, spatial audio, and most notably, active noise cancellation. The earcups actually adjust to a wearer’s head, and the headphones can rapidly switch from noise-canceling to transparency mode, which lets wearers hear some outside noise and back. The noise cancellation relies on three microphones on each earcup to detect noise outside, with another in the cup to listen to the sounds the wearer hears to adjust how the headphones fit and move in real time.
“AirPods are the most popular headphones in the world, beloved for their effortless setup, incredible sound quality, and iconic design. With AirPods Max, we are bringing that magical AirPods experience to a stunning over-ear design with high-fidelity audio,” Apple senior vice president of worldwide marketing Greg Joswiak said in a statement. “The custom acoustic design, combined with powerful H1 chips, and advanced software enable AirPods Max to use computational audio to wirelessly deliver the ultimate personal listening experience.”
That software includes easy connections to Siri through the microphones in the earcups when connected to an iPhone or any other Apple smart device, including the Apple TV and Apple Watch. Along with the usual Siri control of the hearables and connected devices, wearers can switch among the devices based on what they are doing. For example, Apple says a wearer could be listening to music on a Mac computer then take a call on their iPhone, and the headphones will switch over. The AirPods Max also enables audio sharing where one audio stream can be listened to simultaneously by two sets of AirPods. According to Apple, the new headphones can last for 20 hours and are charged with a Lightning connector.
The whole design of the AirPods Max is very much an Apple design. They are clearly supposed to evoke the aesthetic of long-time chief designer Jony Ives, even though he is no longer at the company. The smooth curves and color choices are reminiscent of the iPhone’s look in many ways. They look like high-end fashion statements people will wear to show off. There’s even a short introductory film for the headphones like the ones typically shown at Apple events to impress people with the look and feel of a device more than its technical specifications.
The AirPods Max headphones are arguably competitors with Montblanc International’s $600 MB 01 Smart Headphones. The sheepskin and silicone wireless headphones offer active noise cancellation and built-in Google Assistant access and arguably approach the same market as the AirPods Max, just from the other direction. The AirPods Max encapsulates what Chris Messina, the inventor of the hashtag, pointed out in a blog post in 2016 about the then-new AirPods.
“What Apple has done is produce something that isn’t a technology product, but is, rather, a fashion object—a piece of jewelry, an entertainment product, a status symbol, a genie in a bottle—that drips with sex appeal,” he wrote. “So, don’t confuse AirPods with just another Bluetooth headset; that’s not what they’re replacing. AirPods offer a new relationship because they’re alluring, sensuous, and sultry.”
Messina responded to the AirPods Max by declaring he needed to update his post. He suggested that Apple has expanded from jewelry into luxury wearables design.
Apple AirPods Max suggests that Apple has expanded from a jewelry maker into a luxury wearables designer.
— Chris Messina 🎩 (@chrismessina) December 8, 2020
Then again, Apple may be missing a step without Ives at the helm. The AirPods Max comes with what Apple calls a Smart Case that puts the headphones into power-saving mode. Joanna Stern immediately dubbed it an AirPurse, and there’s no question that that’s what it looks like.
And the the AirPurse, the smart case that holds your $550 AirPods Max. (Case is real and included. Name is not.) pic.twitter.com/SPccsyXdCv
— Joanna Stern (@JoannaStern) December 8, 2020
AirPurse or not, the AirPods Max could expand Apple’s already dominant position in the hearables market that Voicebot found in our recent Hearables Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report 2020. In the U.S., AirPods and AirPods Pro account for 30.6% of the market, a plurality far ahead of any other manufacturer. The preference for Apple is even more apparent if you include the 10.8% market share of Beats. The AirPods have consistently high user ratings and fewer customer requests for improvements compared to the company’s rivals. Apple’s share of the market has actually grown by a couple of percentage points from 2018, even as the pool of customers has risen 23%. The question now is if Apple can do the same with high-end hearables. The marketing of the AirPods Max certainly reflects Apple’s ambitions in that regard. Along with the aforementioned movie, iPhone users can play with an augmented reality tool to virtually set the headphones on a real-world surface, as seen on the right with Voicebot’s model for size comparison. It’s a fun but possibly unnecessary and expensive combination of tech and fashion, just like the AirPods Max.