Almost a year ago, when rumours of Apple’s over-ear headphones were just starting to come into focus, a reliable report suggested that the company was hoping to create a modular, interchangeable design that would allow users to customize their headphones by swapping headbands, ear cushions, and more.
The report, which originally came from Bloomberg, hinted that Apple might take an approach similar to what it’s done with the Apple Watch, basically creating one set of headphones and then packaging them in different kits, and at least two major variations were predicted at the time — a sport version that would use lighter and more breathable materials, and a premium version that would feature leather-like fabrics and accents.
Of course, that’s not what we ended up getting, and when AirPods Max finally arrived just before Christmas, they were considerably more monolithic in design, with the only variations being the five colour options.
However, when you consider that we heard multiple reports of production problems with the new headphones, it’s not unreasonable that the modular and interchangeable design was something that had to be sacrificed if Apple wanted to get the product out before the end of the year, and in fact Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman said as much in late October:
Apple has also scaled back some of the interchangeable functionality of the headphones that were a hallmark of the initial concept. The latest version of the product is likely to lack a replaceable headband, but could still include interchangeable ear pads.Mark Gurman
However, now that iFixit has completed its full and final teardown of the new AirPods Max, we can see that Apple may have very well left the door open to eventually bringing an interchangeable headband to the AirPods Max.
The Headband Comes Off
In a discovery that’s actually very surprising for premium headphones of this nature, it seems that the AirPods Max are designed to allow the headband to be effortlessly separated from the earcups with little more than the SIM ejector tool that comes in the box with every iPhone (for now at least).
Before you assume that this doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, remember that the two earcups are connected electronically through the headband. In fact, as iFixit discovered during its preliminary inspection last month, both battery cells are located in the right earcup, which means the left side is powered entirely through the headband.
Almost all on-ear and over-ear headphones take this approach of wiring up the two earcups through the headband, for fairly obvious reasons, which effectively makes them a single-piece unit. In the case of the AirPods Max, however, Apple has actually designed a modular electrical connection between the headband and the earcups that’s similar in design to a Lightning port.
While this obviously makes the AirPods Max easier to repair, it clearly goes beyond this as the AirPods Max have been designed to let you detach the entire headband with nothing more than a SIM card removal tool or paperclip, without even needing to open up the earcup.
When fully assembled, a little poke in just the right place compresses two tiny springs inside the joint, freeing the clamp that secures the headband.iFixit
While there are still a few tricks to removing the headband — you still need to remove the magnetic ear cushion and fold the earcup flat — it’s hard to believe that Apple would have made the process this simple purely for repairability; in the very least it seems to be a remnant of the original plan to allow users to swap out different headbands for the AirPods Max.
Unfortunately, unlike the ear cushions for the AirPods Max, Apple doesn’t sell headbands separately — at least not yet — but if you had two pairs of AirPods Max headphones in different colours, it looks like there’s no reason you couldn’t swap the headbands between them to go for a more colourful look, especially if you combined that with matching ear cushions.
However, it’s a bit less clear right now if you’d be able to actually use earcups from two different AirPods Max together, as knowing Apple there’s likely to be some way in which the earcups are paired with each other, but since the headband is ultimately just the means of connecting the earcups together, swapping that out shouldn’t be an issue.
It remains to be seen whether Apple plans to do anything with this, but the easily removable headband definitely leaves the door open for the company to eventually begin selling alternative headbands, and possibly even some crazy futuristic designs that it’s been cooking up.