(Pocket-lint) - Apple has launched a pair of high-end, wireless over-ear headphones called AirPods Max. The over-ear headphones aren't Beats headphones. Instead, they're Apple 'branded' although they don't have huge logos on them or anything as you can see - indeed, they don't appear to have any Apple logos on at all, much like other AirPods. 

There have been numerous leaks around these headphones for some time, so it's somewhat unsurprising that they have launched even if we were expecting them earlier this year - they may have been delayed due to the global situation. We know that certain other products from Apple - as well as other manufacturers of course - have been delayed. 

So here's everything we know so far about the soon-to-be-launched AirPods Max.

Apple

AirPods Max at a glance

  • Over-ear headphones
  • Custom acoustic design
  • "Computational audio" with nine microphones. 
  • Two Apple H1 chips onboard - one per cup for fast pairing and more
  • Use Bluetooth 5.0 (so can be connected to other, non-Apple devices too)
  • Adaptive EQ
  • Active Noise Cancellation
  • Five colours - space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink
Apple

AirPods Max release date and price

  • Fully available from 15 December for $549/£549
  • You can order today though

AirPods Max are available to order starting today for $549/ £549 in the US, UK and more than 25 other countries and regions. Shipping begins next week - Tuesday, 15 December. The price point is significant, especially when you consider the AirPods Pro have many of the same features for less than half the price. 

Apple

AirPods Max design

  • Apple Watch-style digital crown
  • Noise control button
  • Comes with Smart Case
  • Five colours - space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink

The AirPods Max weigh a not inconsiderable 385g and they measure 187mm high and 169mm wide. If you take Sony's excellent WH-1000XM4 headphones, for example, they weigh a lot less at 254g and there's no getting away from the fact Apple's over-ear headphones aren't that lightweight. It'll be interesting to see how they feel when on compared to rivals.

The flexible but strong stainless steel headband telescopes as you'd expect and is covered in an interesting design, with a mesh knit part for comfort - it will be interesting to see how this wears on a longer term basis The ear cups are surrounded by memory foam (again covered in the knit fabric) and the outer cups are anodised aluminum. 

Sadly the AirPods Max don't fold, but the ear cups rotate around for transportation and comfort.  A Smart Case - rather odd-looking in our opinion - is supplied and it'll power down your headphones when they are inserted. Here's what they'll look like when they're in the case:

Apple

Control is via two different mechanisms on top of one earcup. There's a noise control button to switch between Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and transparency modes firstly, though you can also do this on your iOS device or Mac via Control Center or on Apple Watch.

Then there's a Digital Crown alongside it - yes, taken straight from the Apple Watch - yes really! This is actually great news as it works very well on Apple Watch.

As on the watch, you can turn it to control volume, while here you're able to press it to play, pause or answer a call.

Apple

Pressing twice skips forwards and three times is back, just as on other headphones including the AirPods Pro. And as on the Watch, you can also press and hold for Siri

For charging - there's an 18W charger in the box - USB-C to Lightning is used as is now the Apple default. There's a five-minute fast charge that'll give you 1.5 hours of playback. A single charge will get you around 20 hours. 

The headphones charge via a Lightning port on the headphones themselves, but the case has a cut out so you can still attach the cable when they're stored away.  

The headphones are available in five colours, which is interesting since Apple has been seemingly not-so-keen to sell coloured versions of the standard AirPods and AirPods Pro. The AirPods Max are available in space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink and match the iPad Air hues recently announced. 

Apple

AirPods Max connectivity and sensors

  • Apple H1 chip per ear cup
  • Packed full of sensors
  • Bluetooth 5.0

Each of the two ear cups has an Apple H1 chip on board for fast pairing, noise cancellation, Hey Siri support and more - naturally they'll auto-pair with your iCloud devices and can auto-switch in iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur, though this can be a pain if somebody else is using one of your device like an iPad. 

These headphones are packed full of sensors, one for each cup - an optical sensor, position sensor, case-detect sensor, accelerometer and gyroscope. Dynamic head tracking is used in the same way as the AirPods Pro for spatial audio, so you get a full surround sound experience from 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos content. 

There's support for Bluetooth 5.0 so while you wouldn't get the full benefit of the H1 chips by using AirPods Max with a non-Apple device, you can pair it with an Android phone, for example. Again this is like any other Apple true wireless headphones, either AirPods or Beats. 

Apple

AirPods Max sound

  • Apple-designed dynamic drivers
  • Active Noise Cancellation with Transparency mode
  • Adaptive EQ

We don't have a lot of detail about the sound quality of the Apple-designed headphones, but they have specially designed 40mm drivers and we can look to the pedigree of the AirPods Pro which feature very good sound quality indeed.

The AirPods Max boast Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) with a transparency mode and analyse the ambient noise 200 times per second to emit the correct level of anti-noise. Also, like the AirPods Pro they also have spatial audio with head tracking. There's Adaptive EQ, too, as on the AirPods Pro, too - this adjusts the audio depending on the fit of the Max on your head. 

The AirPods Max have a total of nine microphones on board - three for voice pickup (two shared with ANC). A total of eight mics are used for ANC. 

Here are all the AirPods Max rumours that were circulating prior to launch

What will they be called?

  • Maybe called AirPods Studio
  • We're calling them AirPods X
  • Might cost between $350 and $400

Listings for an unreleased pair of Apple headphones appeared in Target's store systems in February. The listing specifically called the headphones "the Apple AirPods (X Generation)", and indicated they'll cost $399.99.

With a price that high, they're likely a high-end pair of over-ear headphones given the top-of-the-range AirPods Pro cost $249.

Since the Target listing, other rumours suggest the headphones may end up being called AirPods Studio and will clock in at $349. 

For the purpose of this rumour guide, we will call Apple's upcoming headphones the AirPods Studio or AirPods X, short for AirPods (X Generation).

In an April 2020 tweet, Prosser claimed that AirPods X is actually the neckband version of the headphones, a little like the Beats X neckband series

Release date

  • Launch in 2020 possible
  • Suffered developmental challenges

Bloomberg's Mark Gurman claimed in early 2019 that Apple was planning to launch its over-ear headphones by the second half of the year, but that obviously never happened. He had originally said Apple wanted to introduce the headphones toward the end of 2018, but it faced development challenges.

Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo then advised investors in January 2020 (via 9to5Mac) that Apple's headphones were now expected to ship sometime in 2020 with the latest reports suggesting July. Of course, July has now been and gone and there's still no sign of the Apple-branded over-ear headphones.

The current global situation may have had a part to play in that though. Apple held a virtual Special Event on 15 September and 13 October, but no headphones were revealed at either. There is another virtual Special Event scheduled for 10 November however, so perhaps the headphones will finally appear then.

Design

  • Over-ears with cans
  • Probably available in light and dark colours
  • Will likely be minimal

Apple's AirPods Studio are said to be over-ear headphones, which means they'll be traditional headphones, complete with cans that sit over your ears.

We imagine Apple launching the Apple X in at least the colour white, especially since it only sells white versions of the AirPods and AirPods Pro. The headphones will likely also have a minimalist look and use premium materials and hardware.

9to5Mac

9to5Mac spotted icons within leaked iOS 14 code that purportedly represent the headphones. They're actually glyphs Apple uses to indicate battery and volume levels for connected headphones in iOS. 9to5Mac discovered both light and dark versions of the same glyphs, suggesting Apple could offer two colour options - perhaps white and black - for its new headphones.

Several Apple and Beats headphones, including AirPods Pro, PowerBeats Pro, and the PowerBeats 4, have leaked like this in the past.

Features 

  • We assume they'll have ANC
  • Use either way around? 
  • Custom equaliser settings

We suspect the headphones will be wireless and feature noise cancellation, of course. 

Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo was first to report about Apple's plans to release a pair of over ears. In a research note from 2018 (via MacRumors), he called them Apple's "own-brand, high-end over-ear headphones" with an "all-new design". He also described them "as convenient as AirPods with better sound quality," which makes us think they would feature Apple's W1 chip (also used by the AirPods).

The headphones are expected to automatically pause and resume audio playback when you remove or wear them (as well as tell if they're on your neck or not). Another suggestion - which we'd take with a pinch of salt - says that you can use AirPods Studio either way around; the headphones will route the left and right channels accordingly. 

It also seems there will be custom equaliser settings with low, medium, and high-frequency adjustments available. 

And, if we had to dream, they'd come with a wireless charging stand. There's just no evidence to suggest that'll be the case, unfortunately.

Apple AirPods Studio X rumours: What's happened so far?

Here's everything we've heard about the AirPods X so far.

2 November 2020: Apple announces Special Event for 10 November

Apple sent out invites to another Special Event on 10 November. The invite says "One more thing" but there are no other hints to suggest what might launch at the event.

13 October 2020: Apple launches iPhone 12 series

Apple announced the iPhone 12 series at an event on 13 October 2020 but there was no sign of the headphones. 

6 October 2020: Apple sends invites out to next virtual Special Event

Apple sent invites out to its next Special Event, which will take place virtually on 13 October. The iPhone 12 models are expected, along with the AirTags and possibly the HomePod 2 and the Appel AirPods Studio X headphones.

6 October 2020: Apple stops selling other rival audio gear ahead of HomePod, AirPods Studio launches

Apple is reported to have pulled rival audio products from its stores ahead of new launches from the company, including the possible AirPods Studio.

15 September 2020: Apple holds September event, but no headphones revealed

Apple held its Time Flies Special Event on 15 September but no headphones were revealed. The event focused on iPad and Apple Watch, along with services.

8 September 2020: Apple announces September event

Apple announced it would be holding a virtual Special Event on 15 September. The company didn't confirm what would be revealed at the event, of course, but the AirPods X are a possibility.

3 June 2020: AirPods Studio now in production

Apple's AirPods Studio over-ear headphones have reportedly gone into production and will be released imminently. 

21 May 2020: AirPods Studio set to launch shortly

According to The Information, shipments of the new AirPods Studio headphones are set to begin in June or July, meaning a launch is just a few weeks away. 

12 May 2020: AirPods Studio will detect when you take them off

9to5Mac suggests the new headphones will be able to detect when they're on your neck as well - that seems to suggest that they'll still be on and ready, but music will be paused. It also seems there will be custom equaliser settings, too. 

11 May 2020: AirPods X actually could be AirPods Studio 

The new headphones may end up being called AirPods Studio and will clock in at $349. That's according to serial Apple leaker Jon Prosser. 

8 April 2020: Are AirPods X actually a cheaper pair of headphones? 

According to a new rumour by tech analyst Jon Prosser, AirPods X are Beats X-style neckband headphones for sports. They'll debut at the same time as the iPhone 12 most likely and will cost $200. The over-ear headphones are, as yet unnamed, and will launch earlier for $350.

9 March 2020: Apple's over-ear headphones pictured in leaked iOS 14 icons

9to5Mac spotted two icons representing light and dark versions of Apple’s high-end headphones in leaked iOS 14 code.

24 February 2020: AirPods X Generation listing hints at upcoming $400 headphones

It's been rumoured Apple is working on over-ear headphones, but could these be new Beats models?

24 January 2019: Apple might launch its own pair of wireless over-ear headphones soon

Apple is reportedly planning to release its own brand of over-ear headphones, and they could arrive as early as the second half of 2019.

Writing by Dan Grabham and Maggie Tillman.