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AirPods Max in 2024 – what’s next?

As much as I love them some areas could be improved…let’s get into it…

AirPods Max - what next?

AirPod Max is Apple’s premium audio device yet for three years now they’ve not been touched and are starting to show signs of ageing which is a shame.

When you put AirPods Max on and use them they almost justify the stupidly high ticket price of $550, but at the price point it’s reasonable to expect that they would be packed with Apple’s latest audio wizardry – yet sadly that’s not the case.

The story circulating currently is that the only update that AirPods Max will get this year is the necessary switch from lightning to USB-C. But surely, if there is to be an update of any kind, wouldn’t it make sense to take a more belts and braces approach and update them from top to bottom – or from inside to out?

I was using my pair the other day and as much as I love them, I realised there were several areas where Apple could improve the AirPods Max experience…so here are my thoughts on where Apple’s over-the-ear headphones could be improved.

Value

Let’s start with their obvious Achilles heal – the price.

I don’t think I’d find the price so hard to swallow if they were regularly updated and bristling with new technologies – so rather than moan about the fact they are over twice the price of AirPods Pro (2nd generation), I’d say let’s leave the price where it is but make them worth it.

Similar to buying cars – you’re aware you could buy cheaper, but if it’s the premium brand and experience you want then you are happy enough to fork up the extra cash.

The first crucial and obvious area that needs to be improved is the chip. The chip inside AirPods Max is central to much of what it can or rather can’t do. Currently, AirPods Max is only using the old H1 chip – the original chip that it launched three years ago and it is dated.

AirPods Pro 2 uses the H2 chip and a newer driver & amplifier – and they sound amazing and are not far away from the audio quality of AirPods Max. I know that sounds a bloody daft statement, but it’s true which only goes to prove how central the chip is to AirPods.

The H2 chip uses computational algorithms to deliver even better noise cancellation, stunning three-dimensional sound and better battery life.

In short AirPods Max needs the H2 chip to justify the price. That one change alone can surely not be that hard to make and would make massive differences throughout.

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AirPods Max in the wild

With the H2 chip inside AirPods Max would get Adaptive Audio, Personalised Volume and Conversation Awareness which would all play their part in making day-to-day life with these headphones more premium and enjoyable.

It’s quite obvious when you look around that AirPods Max are becoming more popular even being worn in gyms whilst working out. So isn’t it about time that AirPods Max finally got IP54 dust, sweat and water resistance?

It’s crazy that before I go out with mine I check the weather! I’m not saying I’d be daft enough to wear these or any headphones in a storm – but I shouldn’t be scared about wearing them in the drizzle – come on Apple – change things up will you?

Although the case has never been high on my hit list whilst we are having a refresh it’s about time that these expensive headphones were properly protected. The case we have right now does look like a bit of an afterthought – so this time let’s hope Apple gives us a case that not only covers them but also has the U1 chip in it.

It’s not as easy or as commonplace to misplace these bigger headphones but equally, it’s not unheard of and with U1 inside it means that you’d be able to use Find My to track them down. Similar to AirPods Pro 2 it would make sense to add a speaker to the case not only to help locate them with alert sounds but also to warn you when the battery needs charging – which admittedly is not all that often!

Sticking with the case there is another related area that AirPods Max needs to be updated. At the moment you have to put AirPods Max in the Smart Case to fully power them down. After three years isn’t it about time we had a dedicated power button? There is more than enough space.

A touchy subject

It’s more than likely that if you end up buying AirPods Max you’ll have used AirPods Pro – so you’ll have got used to the touch controls for volume and track skipping.

With that muscle memory carrying over to AirPods Max it would make sense if the large metal ear cups were also touch-sensitive – it’s far easier than trying to twist the current crown.

AirPods Pro 2 uses infrared skin detectors which is way better than the optical sensors that AirPods Max are using – so time for a change I reckon…

The ear cup & headband material are the only parts of the design of AirPods Max that don’t feel premium. The ear cup fabric feels harsh, abrasive and cheap – maybe a soft velour lining like other studio headphones would be a change for the better.

Many users have reported stories of the headband mesh starting to sag and look a little sorry for itself after time. I’m not a fan of the bars either – so along with the ear cups, a softer approach may be a good idea too. Aesthetically some new, updated more punch colours would be cool too denoting the new generation – possibly matching the iMac range – just a thought.

Audio

There is not much that needs changing here – when you wear and listen to them they are stunning – with rich, full, measured, levelled well EQd audio. AirPods Max offers deep, rich bass to accurate mids and crisp, clean highs all delivered with crystal clear clarity.

I guess there could be an argument for having an app on the phone for your AirPod Max that would let you tweak the EQ to your liking – but honestly…it’s not a deal breaker. Apple’s audio engineers know their stuff and EQ is an area where you can quickly dive down a rabbit hole and ruin the sound you have. So although a nice idea in theory, this could be a case of best left alone. Leave it to the pros – less is sometimes more.

If they could find a way to give us a better Lossless experience without having to plug the headphones in that would be neat – but as I just said possibly I should leave that to the experts – I don’t even know if it’s possible. Oh, and if we have to plug in to get Lossless audio – how about that at $550 including the $40 audio cable in the box…

AirPods Max are brilliant but just need some 2024 love to make them sparkle once again. I don’t think any of the changes I’ve suggested are extreme and would just help make AirPods Max the king once again.

Apple has left it too long to refresh and update these brilliant headphones – let’s hope this is the year they are finally set free to shine once again.

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2 Responses

  1. The AirPods Max as it is remains an extraordinary headphone, and I say that as an audiophile obsessive nutcase with way too many dollars invested in a rack-mount DAC/valve amp/streamer system and an insane collection of wired headphones that cost me more than my car.

    While other premium headphone manufacturers still struggle with Harman tuning, Apple nailed it as close as anyone else has gotten (save for some variability in the highs which can be adjusted via their audiogram-based personalized tuning feature, itself an astonishing innovation about which far too few folks are aware). They also managed to achieve some of the lowest distortion we’ve seen in a flagship headphone to date.

    As far as its wired capabilities, it’s not possible to create a wired, lossless configuration of the AirPods Max, because like all wireless headphones, the DAC and amplifier are located on the headphones themselves—the afterthought wired cable the current AirPods Max has available offers no benefit other than keeping them charged. The only input the APM accepts is digital.

    To accomplish lossless audio output, they’d have to install a discrete on-board DAC with lossless capability utilizing a lossless wireless codec—which I’m sure they’ll get around to eventually, but it’s arguable whether we’d be able to detect the difference. Besides, Apple has their eyes set far ahead of the hi res audio fad towards something far bigger and more transformative.

    Apple has made it clear that although they “upgraded” their music library to lossless, hi res codecs to satisfy consumer demand (ie to remain competitive), their emphasis is squarely on Spatial Audio—which is smart, because Atmos mixes are cropping up every day, and this will be the way we all listen to music in the future, no doubt. It stands to be the most transformative innovation in the music listening experience since stereo launched in the 60’s. The latest mixes by Giles Martin and Steven Wilson speak volumes about what this technology is capable of—it’s the closest thing to the live experience we’ve ever heard, at the best possible seats at the event to boot.

    Apple always seems to know what time it is, and the future is what they’ve always been about—creating personal technology that becomes indispensable to us before we even recognized that we needed it.

    Yes, the case desperately needs a redesign, and I’d like the upgraded chips as well. The volume range could be a little more robust too, but Apple is so ensconced in wellness and protecting our ears from unsafe volume levels that this feature seems unlikely. But I maintain that if everyone wasn’t so preoccupied with hi res formats at the moment, and Apple hadn’t created their own punchline with the bra-shaped case, nobody would have gotten so bent out of shape about the price—I own a set of Focal Utopias, Meze Elites and HifiMan HE1000SEs, and if I were blinded to the manufacturer in listening tests, factored in Spatial Audio, the personalized audiogram-based tuning adjustments and their formidable, precisely-executed bass response, I wouldn’t feel deprived at all if I were marooned with the AirPods Max on a desert island and my plain ol’ iPhone as the source.

    I’m sure the next gen AirPods Max will offer something more than just a USB-C connector. My bets are on even better sound quality, more ergonomic controls, and above all an even more exciting listening experience—one that brings us even closer to the future, to another experience we didn’t even realize we were missing.

    1. a great read – thank you so much for taking the time – yeah the next gen will hopefully be even more special

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