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Apple launches AirPods Max: do they warrant their high £549 price?

Apple’s first over-ear headphones have finally arrived – we compare key specs against their closest rival headphones from Sony and Sennheiser

Apple launches AirPods Max: do they warrant their high £549 price?

Almost exactly four years from the launch date of its original in-ear AirPods headphones, Apple has released its first-ever over-ear headset, dubbed the AirPods Max.

As you’d perhaps expect from the launch of a new Apple product, it promises to revolutionise the listening experience. Indeed, the brand states the new headphones are ‘a perfect balance of exhilarating high-fidelity audio and the effortless magic of AirPods,’ claiming them to be ‘the ultimate personal listening experience’.

You’ll certainly have to pay for the privilege, though. The AirPods Max cost an eye-watering £549, which is £200 more expensive than the priciest wireless headphones we’ve tested to date.

Are they worth the premium? We take a look at whether the specs can justify the cost and highlight some leading over-ear headphones that – on paper at least – are similarly well equipped.


Find out how the in-ear AirPods fared in our independent lab tests, in our Apple AirPods reviews


Apple AirPods Max key features

Constructed from a stainless-steel frame with telescopic adjustment, the AirPods Max certainly look the part. Combining this with breathable textiles around the ear cushion and headband, the design is as classy and restrained as we’ve come to expect from the brand, despite the Max’s rather large size.

Furthermore, they’re fitted with active noise cancellation, gyroscopic sensors (to best deliver a surround-sound experience as you move your head) and a ‘digital crown’ jog-wheel, allowing you to control the audio, answer calls or activate Apple’s digital assistant Siri.

Claimed battery life Up to 20 hours
Noise cancelling Active with ‘transparency mode’ and eight microphones
Weight 385g
Connectivity Bluetooth 5.0
Travel case Included

Based on the specs as they stand, the AirPods Max don’t appear to break new ground for wireless headphones. They do, however, promise to be comfortable – regardless of the shape of your head – and they will sync effortlessly with your Apple device, be it an iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch. They also come with a soft, slim travel case that when stowed away makes them look a bit like a handbag.

We’re likely to have full lab results for the new AirPods Max early in the new year, which will be the true test of whether they justify their price. For now, you can find out more about their features and how we expect them to perform based on what we know about other Apple headphones in our Apple AirPods Max non-tested product review.

Can I get the AirPods Max in time for Christmas?

You can order the AirPods Max directly from Apple right now, but unless you were quick off the mark to order, doing so is very unlikely to get them to you in time for Christmas.

Apple has said that it will begin shipping on 15 December, but at the time of writing the estimated delivery date for all colours had moved to March – suggesting that supply might struggle to keep up with demand, at least in the short term. Exact delivery estimates are dependent on which of the five colour options you choose, too. You can keep an eye on estimated delivery dates and place an order on the Apple website.

There is still a chance you might be able to get a pair closer to the 15 December launch date – and that’s via third-party retailers such as John Lewis & Partners and Currys PC World, the former of which will begin taking orders for the AirPods Max from 8am on launch day.

Alternatives to the Apple AirPods Max

Apple in no way has the premium over-ear headphone market to itself. Here are some rivals to consider, particularly if the AirPods Max price has you raising an eyebrow.

Sony WH-1000XM4 (£349)

Sony’s premium wireless over-ear headset has plenty of features, many of which are configurable with the accompanying smartphone app. They also boast substantial battery life and advanced noise cancellation – just the thing for uninterrupted sound quality on the move. At £349, they’re also substantially cheaper than the new AirPods.

We’ve also tested the XM4’s predecessors, the Sony WH-1000XM3s, which have seen their price drop a fair bit since the newer version launched and you can now pick up for £219.

Find out how both sets fared in our lab tests with our Sony WH-1000XM4 review and Sony WH-1000XM3 review.

Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless (£339)

Another high-end headset from a respected brand, that again represents an excellent saving over the Apple AirPods Max. These traditional-looking over-ear headphones certainly feel well built and have a voice control function, if you’d rather not fiddle with tiny buttons.

Sennheiser has a reputation for high sound quality. Find out if this model delivered in our full Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless review.

JBL Live 650BTNC (£79)

At around £79, these may be a budget alternative to all-singing, all-dancing rivals, but the JBL Live 650BTNC headphones shouldn’t be discounted as a good option. They have the battery life, noise cancellation and sound-quality credentials to match more expensive models.

Our testing revealed some slight imperfections, but at this price, it may be worth overlooking a few flaws.

Can a budget offering really match up to the might of Sony and Apple? Find out in our JBL Live 650BTN review.


For all the results on the best large headphones we’ve tested, head to our guide to the best over-ear headphones for 2020


 

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