This morning, Apple made a surprise announcement: it started taking orders today for its long-rumoured over-ear headphones, branded AirPods. Called AirPods Max, they take design cues from existing Apple products and use various internal sensors and microphones to deliver “computational audio” functions.
AirPods Max, priced at $549, are completely wireless headphones, and they use Bluetooth, backed by Apple’s custom technology, to connect to audio sources such as an iPhone or a computer. They come with a “Smart Case” that protects the headphones for storage and puts the headphones into a low-power sleep mode. In addition, the case has a Lightning port, allowing users to charge the headphones with an included Lightning to USB-C cable.
The aforementioned sensors include an optical sensor, a position sensor, a case-detect sensor and an accelerometer in each earcup, and a gyroscope in the left earcup only. There are also nine microphones. One is dedicated solely to voice pickup, while the other eight are used for active noise cancellation; two of the microphones have a dual function.
In addition to the active noise cancellation that comes standard in many headphones at or below this price point, computational audio features also include transparency mode (as previously seen in AirPods Pro), spatial audio, and adaptive EQ. The built-in sensors can also be used to detect when and how the headphones are being worn, powering some useful functions such as automatically pausing music playback when you lift one of the earcups.
As far as audio quality goes, we’ll have to wait for reviews to see where it lands, but Apple is, of course, effusive in its own press release, explaining why it believes these headphones should offer top-notch audio:
AirPods Max features a 40mm Apple-designed dynamic driver that delivers rich, deep bass, precise mids, and clear, clean highs so every note is heard. A unique dual neodymium ring magnet motor ensures that AirPods Max maintain less than 1 percent total harmonic distortion across the entire audible range, even at maximum volume. Equipped with an Apple-designed H1 chip in each earcup, custom acoustic design, and advanced software, AirPods Max use computer audio to deliver the highest possible listening experience. Leveraging each of the chips’ 10 audio cores — capable of 9 billion operations per second — computational audio delivers a groundbreaking listening experience with Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency Mode, and Spatial Audio.
Apple says AirPods Max get up to 20 hours of battery life with active noise canceling and spatial audio turned on, and five minutes of charging can get 1.5 hours of playback.
AirPods Max are operated with a single button and a digital crown button at the top of one of the earcups – an interface inspired by the Apple Watch, minus the touchscreen. The crown can be used to adjust the volume, skip forward or backward, answer incoming calls, or summon Siri.
The headphones are available in five colors: space gray, silver, green, sky blue and pink and can be optionally engraved at the time of order placement. Apple is taking orders for AirPods Max from its online store starting today, and the headphones are expected to reach their first buyers on December 15.
List image by Apple