Apple Airpods Max

Apple reveals $549 AirPods Max as its first over-ear headphones

Range-topping AirPods will be available from December 15

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Apple has revealed its first over-ear headphones, called the AirPods Max. The headphones are priced at $549, open for preorder now, and ship starting on December 15.

Rumored for much of 2020, the headphones first appeared as a small icon discovered in Apple's own iPhone software, before being officially revealed on December 8.

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Although the AirPods Pro, a pair of wireless earphones in a pocket-friendly charge case, offer good sound quality and surprisingly effective active noise cancellation, Apple is stretching to a much higher sector of the market with the AirPods Max.

Priced at $549, they are around $200 more than rivals from Sony and Bose, and $300 more than the AirPods Pro.The new headphones sit in an area of the audio market closer to options from the likes of Shure and Focal.

How do the AirPods Max differ to the AirPods Pro?

Apple AirPods MaxThe AirPods Max are priced at $549Apple

Apple speaks about "computational audio," and high-fidelity sound, powered by its H1 chip designed for headphones, as reasons for why the AirPods Max are different. Apple is also focuses n comfort when describing its new headphones. The ear cups and headband are covered in a "breathable knit mesh canopy," designed to evenly distribute weight and reduce pressure on the top of the wearer's head.

The ear cushions are made from acoustically-engineered memory foam to create a seal with the user's ears, and the cups are attached to the headband with a mechanism designed to balance and distribute pressure, allowing each cup to pivot and rotate to better fit the owner's head.

Inside, the AirPods Max features a pair of 40-mm dynamic drivers designed by Apple and promising sound quality to justify the high price. Apple explains how a "unique dual neodymium ring magnet motor...maintains total harmonic distortion of less than one percent across the entire audible range."

Apple Airpods ProThe AirPods Max use a pair of Apple's H1 computational audio chipsApple

The headphones have an Apple H1 chip in each ear cup. These chips each have 10 computational audio cores and are capable of nine billion operations per second. Apple claims its use of processing power to improve headphone audio quality makes for a breakthrough listening experience — but, again, the proof will be in how these headphones actually sound in the real world.

Also featured on the AirPods Max is the Digital Crown, borrowed from the Apple Watch and used to control volume, media playback, phone calls and Siri.

As with the AirPods Pro, the new Max headphones also have active noise cancelling (ANC), and transparency mode to amplify the sounds around you, for example when talking to someone. For the ANC system, each ear cup has three eternal microphones to monitor ambient noise, which the H1 chips then analyze and produce the opposite frequencies to create artificial silence.

The Max also features spatial audio, which Apple added to the AirPods Pro earlier in 2020.

Apple Airpods MaxThe Apple Watch's Digital Crown is used to control music, calls and SiriApple

Using the gyroscope and accelerator of the AirPods Pro and Max, spatial audio adjusts the sound output to make it always come from the direction of your iPhone or iPad, despite how the device and your head are moving. Spatial audio also means the headphones can handle 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos surround sound.

Available in five colors — space gray, silver, sky blue, green and pink — Apple says the AirPods Max have up to 20 hours of battery life with ANC and spatial audio both enabled. The AirPod Max comes with a soft carry case that wraps around the ear cups and puts the headphones into an "ultra-low power state" when not in use.

As with other AirPods, the new model can automatically switch from one Apple device to another. For example, if you finish watching a movie on your Mac then pick up your iPhone and start a podcast, the AirPods Max will automatically switch from the former to the latter. There's also Audio Sharing, which lets you connect two pairs of AirPods to an Apple device, like an iPhone, iPad or Apple TV 4K, at once.

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