Today Apple announced the release of its long-awaited AirPods Max over-ear headphones, which will bring all of the great features of Apple’s AirPods Pro to a set of full-sized headphones that will likely offer even better audio quality thanks to a number of design improvements.
While AirPods Max may not include all of the features that we’d hoped for, they’re still a solid set of high-end over-ear headphones that should be very appealing to anybody who is already a fan of the AirPods family, or simply looking for something that offers tighter integration with the Apple ecosystem.
However, at $549 they don’t come cheap — in fact, they make the price of Apple’s full-sized HomePod speaker seem much more reasonable by comparison — so even though they’re going fast with delivery times already slipping into 2021, read on for 7 important things to know about before you take the plunge.
You’ll Want to Consider AppleCare+
Apple has been offering AppleCare+ for Headphones for a while now, so naturally you can also pick it up for the AirPods Max in the same way as you can for any of AirPods or even Beats-branded headphones.
In the case of the AirPods Max, that will set you back $59, which actually isn’t too bad when you consider the price of the headphones themselves. With AppleCare+, you’ll much more affordable repairs for up to two incidents of accidental damage every 12 months, paying only a $29 service fee.
By comparison, Apple hasn’t published the out-of-warranty fee for AirPods Max — the AirPods Service and Repair page just says to “Ask your service representative” — but you can safely bet it will be a lot more. The non-AppleCare fee is $79 just to replace the battery.
You Can Swap Ear Cushions
While Apple’s announcement of the AirPods Max didn’t make this clear, it turns out that the ear cushions on the new headphones are indeed removable, as Apple demonstrates in its AirPods Max intro video. They attach magnetically and you can actually order more from the Apple Store.
The ear cushions are available in all of the same colours as the AirPods Max, and they’re clearly designed as replacements rather than a way of customizing your headphones, although there’s certainly nothing preventing you from mixing things up by ordering a different colour to go for a two-tone design. They’re currently listed as Coming Soon and will sell for $69.
They’re No Lightweights
You’ll want to keep in mind that the AirPods Max weigh in at almost 385 grams, or 13.6 ounces, making them some of the heaviest premium over-ear headphones on the market — considerably heftier than the 260-gram Beats Studio3 and even the 310-gram Bose Quiet Comfort 35’s.
That said, Apple has promised that the ergonomic design of the AirPods Max should help to distribute the weight more uniformly than many other over-ear headphones, with a “breathable knit mesh” headband that suggests that the bulk of the weight is concentrated in the ear cups, so hopefully Apple has done enough to ensure that users will be able to wear them without too much fatigue, but if you’re concerned about that you might want to wait until the reviews start coming in, or at least make sure you order them directly from Apple so you can take advantage of the 14-day return policy.
A Power Adapter Is Not Included
At this point, it should come as absolutely no surprise that Apple isn’t including a power adapter with the AirPods Max, since it’s pretty much eliminated the charging bricks from almost every other product that it sells.
What you will get is a USB-C to Lightning cable, so you’ll need to have a USB-C power adapter to charge your AirPods Max. Of course, since it’s Lightning on the headphone side, you can also use any USB-A to Lightning cable that you already have around, and presumably Apple is banking on the fact that most buyers will already have one or more chargers available, and with 20 hours of battery life you likely won’t need to charge them all that often.
They Support Fast Charging
While you’ll need to supply your own power adapter, the AirPods Max are capable of fast charging, much like Apple’s Beats-branded headphones, promising to give you another 1.5 hours of listening time with only a five-minute charge.
What’s not yet clear is what kind of power adapter you’ll need to pull this off, as Apple doesn’t specify, but we’re guessing from the included cable that Apple is talking about USB-C adapters here, and not just plugging into your computer’s USB-A port.
You Can Listen By Wire
While we imagine that most AirPods Max users will prefer to use Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless audio, it turns out the you can plug the headphones in to listen to audio from pretty much anything with a 3.5mm jack, although you’ll have to buy the appropriate cable as it’s not included in the box.
The AirPods Max do not include a 3.5mm input jack; rather they rely on the Lightning port for audio input, and Apple sells a Lighting to 3.5mm Audio Cable for this exact purpose.
Available from the Apple Store for $35, it’s 1.2 metres in length and sadly comes only in black or white, but it will work not only with the AirPods Max, but also with Apple’s Beats Solo Pro on-ear headphones. In fact, Apple has been quietly been selling this cable since it introduced the Beats Solo last fall.
It’s also worth noting that the cable is bi-directional, so you can also use it to output audio from your iPhone or iPad to an audio-in port in your car stereo or a wired speaker.
Non-Apple Devices Are Also Supported
While Apple naturally insists that you be running the latest versions of iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, macOS, and watchOS to take full advantage of the AirPods Max, this isn’t strictly necessary as the standard Bluetooth 5.0 headphones will work with any device capable of outputting Bluetooth audio.
Of course, while this is great for non-Apple devices, you’ll want to upgrade your iPhone and other devices if you plan to take advantage of automatic pairing, Hey Siri, Announce Messages with Siri, Spatial Audio, and more.