Apple’s first set of wireless headphones — the AirPods Max — launched to great fanfare in 2020. At $549, the aluminum-clad cans raised eyebrows for their price and design. But despite their cost and some odd design decisions (like the lack of an off switch), reviewers were nearly unanimous with their praise, especially for the Max’s standout features, active noise cancellation (ANC), and transparency mode. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely.
Do we actually know anything about the AirPods Max 2? No, we do not. Given that the original AirPods Max are more than two years old, we’d have expected at least some hints at this point, if not full-on leaks. But so far all we’ve got are crickets.
That could mean a few things. It could be that there’s nothing to know. Perhaps the OG AirPods Max are all that there will be, like how the original HomePod turned out to be a one-off. Or it could mean that Apple has upped its secrecy and security game, and it’s just that nothing is leaking.
Or maybe it means that the AirPods Max are on a longer refresh cycle than the other AirPods. Or that we’re just in between, and so there’s nothing yet to know.
Regardless, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to talk about. Here’s what we think could be on the horizon if and when things are updated.
A special case
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There’s a lot to like when it comes to the AirPods Max, but most folks seem to agree: the included travel case is terrible. Maybe it’s that it barely protects the earcups and offers zero coverage for that fancy (and comfy) headband. Or maybe it’s that you can’t power down the headphones unless you put them in the case. The bottom line is that Apple’s case — which has earned itself the rather unflattering nickname “the bra” due to its double-cup shape — needs a serious rethink.
Every high-end set of wireless cans we can think of, from the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 to the Sony WH-1000XM5, come with a fully protective, contoured and zippered travel case. And we don’t see why the AirPods Max should be the exception. This worst-case scenario should be an easy win for Apple on the AirPods Max 2.
Not to put too blunt a point on it, but Apple needs to fix that case. Full stop.
Lose a little weight
Is it possible for a set of headphones to be both incredibly heavy and surprisingly comfortable? Until the AirPods Max, we’d have said no. Still, there’s no denying that despite weighing in at 13.6 ounces (far more massive than the WH-1000XM5’s 8.8 ounces), Apple’s cans are really comfy. Not so comfy, however, that you can wear them for hours without fatigue. After a while, that weight — again, they’re nearly a full pound — does start to drag you down.
It will be a challenge to shave ounces if Apple sticks with its aluminum and steel materials, but it needs to try. What’s the point of having class-leading active noise cancellation if you just want to rip the headphones off your head two hours into your flight? Apple is a master of materials and design, so we have faith that the AirPods Max 2 can tilt the scales at 10 ounces or less without sacrificing an ounce of luxe.
Here’s the thing about the AirPods Max. They sound great. But they’re being held back by a baffling decision on Apple’s part.
If you’re a fan of hi-res audio — the kind of sound quality that we think of as better-than-CD-quality — Apple has plenty of lossless, hi-res tracks on Apple Music in up to 24-bit/192kHz. There’s no way to transmit this full, lossless quality to a set of wireless headphones using existing Bluetooth codecs, so wireless headphones typically come with an analog cable that lets you pipe that ultra-high-quality sound from a compatible phone or a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) directly into your cans.
The AirPods Max have an analog cable option (which for a whopping $35), but it doesn’t send an analog signal directly to the drivers. Instead, Apple’s cable takes the analog signal and converts it to digital, but at a lower quality level than true hi-res lossless. There’s currently no way around this limitation.
So we’re hoping that at the very least Apple provides a cable connection that can transmit unprocessed digital audio from a phone or computer to the AirPods Max 2. In an ideal world, a similarly high-quality path would exist for analog signals, too.
Set a new wireless audio standard
A better cable solution would go a long way to giving the AirPods Max 2 the kind of sound quality its predecessor lacked — but why stop there? As a set of wireless headphones, the AirPods Max 2 shouldn’t be tethered if it can be avoided, and Apple is perfectly positioned to revolutionize how wireless audio works.
Bluetooth is limited as far as audio quality goes. Even the latest advances from Qualcomm, which provide lossless CD quality via Snapdragon Sound, can’t rise to the level of lossless hi-res audio. It simply doesn’t have enough bandwidth.
However, ultra-wideband (UWB) does have enough bandwidth — tons of it, in fact — and it’s designed to deliver that bandwidth over very short distances, with very low latency, and very low power consumption. Best of all: Apple already has plenty of experience with UWB — every iPhone since the iPhone 11 has possessed a UWB radio, and Apple’s UWB-based U1 chips now reside in products like the AirTag and the charging case for the second-gen AirPods Pro.
Granted, thus far Apple has only been using UWB for its spatially-sensitive locating capabilities, but we know that the technology can do far more. Let’s hope that Apple makes the AirPods Max 2 the first wireless headphones that eliminate the compromises in sound quality inherent in Bluetooth devices.
Ditch the Lightning port
This one’s a no-brainer. Apple already has started using UBS-C on the iPad, and the European Union has issued new rules that will force Apple to convert the iPhone to USB-C in the near future.
The writing is on the wall: Lightning has to go, and we think it’s all but guaranteed that the AirPods Max 2 will come with USB-C, not Lightning, for all of your charging and wired audio needs.
Speaking of charging, it’s possible that Apple might find a way to add its MagSafe wireless charging tech to the AirPods Max 2. Apple was able to do so on the iPhone as well as the charging cases for the third-gen AirPods and second-gen AirPods Pro, but the AirPods Max 2 could pose a more difficult challenge. MagSafe needs a metal ring to perform the “mag” part of its duties, but the actual wireless charging doesn’t work well through metals like aluminum. And since the current AirPods Max are almost entirely aluminum on any surface that would be big enough for a MagSafe connection, it’s hard to see how that would work.
Still, Apple has been known to place plastic inserts within its aluminum cases when it needs to. We could see Apple integrating a discreet, circular plastic insert on one of the earcups of the AirPods Max 2 — possibly with an Apple logo — to enable this feature.
More colors, longer battery life
Finally, no Apple product update would be complete without some improvements to the basics. The AirPods Max currently come in five colors: space gray, pink, green, silver, and sky blue. But Apple has a long history of adding additional colors to its products over time, and it wouldn’t surprise us to see the AirPods Max 2 come in some new clothing options, perhaps syncing up with the Apple Watch 8’s schemes: starlight, black, and product(Red).
When it comes to battery life and wireless products, more is always better. That’s a truism that Apple has had a habit of ignoring over the years, and it’s fair to say that even though the AirPods Max’s 20-hour battery life isn’t the worst in the wireless headphone world, it’s very near the bottom.
Do you absolutely need more than 20 hours? Maybe not on a day-to-day basis, but if you’re a frequent traveler you may not find yourself near a power outlet when you need one. Having a little extra wiggle room would be really helpful, so here’s hoping the AirPods Max 2 get a boost in the power department. Though more battery capacity usually means increased weight, which is something we definitely don’t want to see more of on the AirPods Max.
As we said at the outset, there’s been almost no buzz about the next generation of the AirPods Max. Some observers even question whether Apple will continue to make their most expensive headphones. Apple doesn’t publish sales numbers for the AirPods family, so it’s hard to say if the Max have been doing well.
But if Apple does indeed create a sequel to the AirPods Max, and if history is any guide, it’s likely that Apple will announce it around the time of the product’s third anniversary — December 2023 — or possibly in the fall of 2023 to coincide with the next iPhone.
Apple tends to keep pricing static on its generational improvements as long as it isn’t introducing a major change, so we expect that it will keep the AirPods Max 2 at the current price of $549. When the AirPods Max initially debuted, that number was shockingly expensive. But since then, we’ve seen several new wireless headphones eclipse that price, including the $699 Bowers & Wilkins Px8, $599 Master & Dynamic MW75, $999 Mark Levinson No. 5909, and $800 Focal Bathys, which not only make the AirPods Max seem like less of an outlier, it also reduced the pressure on Apple to sell the AirPods Max 2 for any less.
So there you have it: our crystal ball set of hopes and dreams for the AirPods Max 2, a set of headphones that Apple is likely going to announce, even if we can’t say exactly when. As soon as we get something more concrete to go on, we’ll be back with an update.