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Apple reinvents headphone design with AirPods Max over-ear noise cancelling cans

Apple has launched its first over-ear wireless headphones, the AirPods Max. The new premium cans feature high-res audio support with Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, and spatial audio processing support, and feature a novel headband design, and Digital Crown control.

The company says it has crafted every aspect of the new headphones to provide ‘exceptional acoustic performance.’ 

Ever eager to push iconic design, a breathable knit mesh canopy which spans the headband, is used to distribute weight and reduce on-head pressure. The look is likely to prove as divisive as the brand’s distinctive AirPod stalks.

A stainless steel headband frame, with telescoping headband arms promise a light, secure fit.

Each ear cup attaches to the headband through a proprietary mechanism that balances and distributes ear cup pressure, allowing it to independently pivot and rotate to fit the contours of your head. Borrowing from its Apple Watch design, a Digital Crown is used for volume control, track control and to activate Siri.

Borrowing from its Apple Watch design, a Digital Crown is used for volume control, track control and to activate Siri…

The AirPods Max boast a pair of 40mm Apple-designed dynamic drivers, each driven by an Apple-designed H1 chip, comprising 10 audio cores. It’s these that handle Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, a Transparency mode, and spatial audio.

Many of the features offered will be familiar from rival high-end active noise cancelling headphones. To deliver ANC, each cup uses three outward-facing microphones to detect environmental noise, plus one mic inside to monitor the sound reaching the listener’s ear. 

A Transparency mode allows the user to simultaneously listen to music while hearing the environment around them. Adaptive EQ measures the sound signal delivered to a user and adjusts the low and mid-frequencies in real time.

Arguably the most interesting aspect of the headphones will be Spatial Audio, which uses dynamic head tracking to place sounds virtually anywhere in a space, delivering an immersive experience for content recorded in 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos

Using the gyroscope and accelerometer in AirPods Max and iPhone or iPad, spatial audio tracks the motion of a user’s head as well as the device, compares the motion data, then remaps the sound field so it stays anchored to the device, even as the user’s head moves.  

Other niceties include Audio Sharing, which makes it possible to share an audio stream between two sets of AirPods, and an auto detect mode that plays and pauses audio when the headphones are removed, or one ear cup is lifted. Battery life is rated up to 20 hours.

Unsurprisingly, the AirPods Max are specifically designed to work with Apple iOS smartphones and Apple TV products. Available in five colours – space grey, silver, sky blue, green and pink. – the AirPods Max will retail at £549.  This makes them considerably more expensive than well regarded rivals, like the Sony WH-1000XM4.

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