Apple launches its most expensive headphones yet

The new AirPods Max cost more than an iPhone or the latest Xbox series, but is it really worth it?

From computers to headphones, Apple's prices just keep going up. And now, the company is selling headphones that will literally make you say, "No way I am not purchasing headphones at that price." If they do not cause you a heart attack first.

The AirPods Max - over-the-ear headphones - are the latest addition to Apple's portfolio of products and will compete with offerings from the likes of Bose, Sony, Jabra and others. AirPods Max are the first headphones of this type from Apple and are made of stainless steel with a mesh canopy on top. They will come in five colours: space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink.

So far so good. But what literally gives us a heart attack is the price. For $549 ( or €600-620 in continental Europe) of your hard-earned money, you get Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), Adaptive EQ and high-fidelity special audio. All of this is backed-up by Apple’s own H1 chip for a premium wireless Bluetooth 5.0 audio experience. There is still a physical port on the headphones - a lightning one meant for charging the battery, said to be good for up to 20 hours on a single charge with either spatial audio or ANC enabled.

Continuing the physical tour of the AirPods Max, Apple offers a pretty-nice mix of physical controls and advanced sensors. A Digital Crown, inspired by the Apple Watch design, offers precise volume controls, as well as the ability to play or pause audio, skip tracks, answer or end phone calls, and activate Siri. These are activated by single, double, and triple taps or press and hold, which makes for one overloaded key.

There is also a dedicated Noise control button which cab switch between ANC and Transparency mode. The latter is meant to amplify the environment sound. Oddly enough, there seems to be no mention of a “basic” audio mode beyond these two. Another notable omitted piece of info relates to powering on and off the headset as there does not seem to be a dedicated button for that.

Instead, Apple has equipped the AirPods Max with optical and position sensors that can be used for wear detection among other things. Simply lifting one ear cup from your ears pauses audio. Plus, the AirPods Max also have plenty of data on the user’s head position, which is what Apple leverages for its Spatial Audio and Adaptive EQ features.

The AirPods Max come with a total of nine microphones - six are used exclusively for the active noise cancellation and one for voice pickup with two more serving double duty.

Naturally, in order to get the full seamless experience from the AirPods Max, you need to use them with an existing, preferably current Apple device ecosystem. Officially, they require iOS 14.3, iPadOS 14.3, MacOS Big Sur 11.1, watchOS 7.2, tvOS 14.3 or later. Given the H1 chip at the core of the AirPods Max, we wouldn’t rule out some limited third-party support, though, but so far the official specs don’t mention any compatibility with non-Apple products.

However, the massive $549 price tag is...well, massive. For a similar price, you can buy a $400 iPhone SE, plus a pair of $129 AirPods with a wired charging case (Oh, yeah, good to mention there is no charger included to the AirPods Max, you have to buy it separately), and you'd still have $20 left over for an iPhone case. Come on, You can even buy the Xbox Series X that is now selling for $499...

Which kinda raises the question, whether it is really worth all that money for just a pair of wireless headphones on their own? If you are an Apple fanatic, the $199 AirPods Pro are a great fit for good sound quality, portability, and noise cancelling. There's also the $129 AirPods with a wired charging case that will serve you well. 

And if you have a preference for over-ear high-quality headphone designs like the AirPods Max, the Sony WH-1000XM4 are highly rated for their sound quality and noise cancellation, and they can often be found for around $278. And there's also the Bose 700, which deliver excellent sound quality and noise cancelling, and can often be found for max $340. 

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