There are several reasons why the AirPods Max are considered some of the best headphones around. But there are also many ways in which we think Apple’s cans could improve for the AirPods Max 2, or next-gen attempt at an over-ear headset.
We’ve been testing AirPods Max since the headset first launched in December 2020. Both at the time of our initial Apple AirPods Max review and now, well over a year into using them, there are things we’d like in the future of the AirPods Max.
Very few rumors have surfaced regarding the AirPods Max 2, but if we had to guess, we’ll eventually see a refreshed pair of one of the best noise-cancelling headphones we’ve ever worn. AirPods don’t follow the same release schedule as the iPhone, but it seems fitting to update the headset in December 2022, two years after the initial version debuted. That’s simply speculation, though.
For now, we’ve come up with a list of what we hope the AirPods Max 2 will offer compared to the original AirPods Max:
1. New case
While we like the AirPods Max design, especially the fun color range that lends itself well to the headset’s retro aesthetic, there’s a glaring flaw — the case. The “Smart Case” offers very little protection for the pricey headphones, leaving the headband entirely exposed and susceptible to damage. And since AirPods Max aren’t waterproof, either, the included case leaves ports at risk if water bottle leaks or wet weather permeate your bag.
For now, the solution is buying one of the best AirPods Max cases and covers. Several of the cases we’ve tested are affordable and even have the Smart Case’s magnets, forcing the AirPods Max into a low-power mode when they’re stowed away.
2. Power button
The AirPods Max have a huge quirk: unlike most of our devices, and even other Apple products, there is no power button. Excluding a power button is so odd, and something that we think about almost every time we use AirPods Max.
Although they kick into low-power mode when they’re stationary for several minutes or in the magnetic smart case, we still think Apple should provide a way to completely power down the AirPods Max. There’s no reason the Digital Crown button can’t also be a power button.
3. Better battery life
The AirPods Max 20-hour battery life is nothing to scoff at. 20 hours is plenty for a commute, work day or flight on an airplane. And for what it's worth, the low power mode does a decent job at keeping AirPods Max juiced up, even when they're not in use.
But some of the best wireless headphones have a longer lasting battery than the AirPods Max. For example, the Sony WH-1000XM5 can last up to 30 hours with ANC activated, making battery life a key difference between the Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. AirPods Max. We'd like to see the next-gen AirPods Max last as long as the 1000XM5.
4. Greater audio format support
In terms of resolution and detail, the AirPods Max feel like they're achieving nearly the peak of what's possible with Apple's current wireless codec, AAC. But with other companies like Sony investing in new wireless transmission codecs with faster speeds and higher bandwidth, it wouldn't hurt for Apple to put on its engineering cap to bring something new to the scene.
To that end, what the AirPods Max 2 will really need most is a new codec, one that matches or exceeds the 990Kbps max bitrate / 24-bit depth of LDAC. Right now, AAC is limited to 264Kbps with a 16-bit depth and 96kHz sample rate. That's CD-quality, but not Hi-Res Audio.
If Apple really wants to sell these as the be-all, end-all wireless headphones, it's going to need to show audiophiles that it's doubling its efforts for the most pristine audio performance possible.
5. Lower price
Another area that want to see some wiggle room on is the price point. At launch, the Apple AirPods Max cost $549, making them a seriously expensive pair of wireless headphones.
For comparison, the Bose Noise-Cancelling 700 (the company's flagship wireless headphones) only cost $379 while the Sony WH-1000XM4, the best noise-cancelling headphones of the year, only cost $349. Apple's over-ears cost $200 more.
We certainly understand that Apple's products have a premium look and design, but paying $200 more for a pair of wireless headphones felt unreasonable to many. We're not expecting to see anything in the sub-$300 range, but heck, even a $100 price reduction at launch could make the headphones' higher price more palatable.
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Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.
- Nick PinoManaging Editor, TV and AV