I want to own the AirPods Max, but I'm not buying them. I love the seamless nature of AirPods, and I've always preferred over-ear headphones. Plus, I think the pink and black designs look pretty cool. But I'm waiting for what Apple does next — and I would advise many to do the same.
And, no, before you assume I'm just being frugal, this decision is about more than just the price of the AirPods Max, which cost a wildly expensive $549. I've recommended that people spend $300 on headphones before. My wariness is more complicated.
Fortunately for Apple, the public disagrees with me on this, as the AirPods Max are severely out of stock, as Apple is backed up until March for units. I don't know how the public has the funds for these headphones — are y'all just spending your $600 stimulus checks on headphones?
The first version of an Apple product isn't necessarily ready for prime time
From the iPhone to the Retina Display MacBooks, there's a spotty track record for the debut version of Apple products or new designs. It may feel like ancient history, but do you remember Antennagate, one of the biggest Apple fails ever, when the iPhone 4's new design meant you could hold it wrong?
And that those MacBook Pros had a screen burn-in issue (among others)? These were pretty important Apple products, with pretty big flaws. And then there was the Power Mac G4 Cube, which had a new and unique look — plus a bad overheating problem. It commercially bombed and is not fondly remembered, either, as Tim Cook himself called it "a spectacular commercial failure."
We don't know what the AirPods Max's first controversy will be, or if they'll have one. But for now, I'd much rather let the early adopters find out if there is one.
I want a better case
Maybe the jokes about the case looking like a bra will go away soon, but even looking past that, I'm not a huge fan of what I've heard about the AirPods Max charging case.
Early reports from The Verge suggest that the case offers little to no protection, with plenty of slits that could wind up opening your pricy AirPods Max up to attack from something else in your bag. The case is also reportedly easily smudged and attracts fingerprints.
The good news? Well, it's just a case. They can design another case around the AirPods Max, can't they? And I'd bet other companies that make high-end Apple device accessories and cases, like Bellroy, will likely make superior AirPods Max cases down the line, and I could see myself waiting for a while.
No "killer feature"
I don't like the phrase "killer feature," but it's more than appropriate here. There is nothing about the AirPods Max that compels me to buy them now.
I already have the instantly-pairing AirPods Pro for when I'm listening with Apple devices I own, and the rest of the time I'm able to easily split my listening between the SteelSeries Arctis 3 Bluetooth headset and my wired Beoplay H6 2nd Gen (which is sadly no longer made). Between these all, I've got no lack of audio fidelity, noise cancelling or ease of use. Sure, the AirPods Max lets me combine a lot of what I want into one headset, but they don't have anything new that I want.
And while reviews will argue they have a fantastic high-end design, I'm not buying headphones for the industrial design — I'm buying them to listen to stuff. Similarly, while I bet they sound fantastic, I'm never griping about how good music or podcasts sound on those aforementioned headphones. I know Apple's Computational Photography tricks make my iPhone's photos look great, but I don't feel like I'm at a point where I need the Apple H1 chip's Computational Audio tricks. The AirPods Max's Spatial Audio is reportedly pretty cool, and different than the AirPods Pro's implementation, but I'm not entirely sure if it's $550 worth of whoa.
Sound is one of those things where what you have can be good enough until you hear how good the alternative can be, and I'm happy with my blissful ignorance at the moment.
I need a headphone jack
All of these caveats become even more annoying when you learn that the AirPods Max cost $549. $549 is not merely "expensive," either. It's too expensive to not offer a headphone jack, and for Apple to not include its Lightning to headphone jack cable. Of course, Apple will sell you that cable, but it's $35 extra.
Why do I need a headphone jack? I use laptops that I'm not logged into my Apple ID on, which makes you go through a more cumbersome pairing process for Bluetooth. And some day, I'll fly on a plane, where you need headphones with a 3.5mm jack if you want to watch the in-flight entertainment.
I know Apple's trying to reduce its environmental impact, and I know the company thinks we're all going to Bluetooth for all listening (RIP iPhone headphone jack, you're gone but not forgotten), but this is worse than not including the charging brick with the iPhone 12. At least someone who bought a phone before may already own a power adapter. I don't know anyone who would own a Lightning to headphone jack.
And that makes the AirPods Max real price more like $584. Which is the kind of money that could get me a PS5 and a game, after tax.
And I need a price drop, too
The original iPhone had a price cut mere months after its release, dropping its 8GB model by $200, which led to anger from the early adopter crowd. In April 2019, Apple cut the $349 price of the HomePod down to $299, and it feels like they could do that again here. As our AirPods Max vs. Bose 700 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4 face-off shows, AirPods Max are nearly twice as much as the excellent Sony WH-1000XM4, and over $200 more expensive than the Bose 700.
Even a slight price cut would help me consider the AirPods Max, as I've spent more than enough time staring at a pink pair in the online shopping bag. It's just that I can't stomach paying $49 for headphones I need, plus nearly $50 in local taxes.
But a price cut is not guaranteed. The AirPods Max being backordered to March 2021 suggests the company may not need to, but we don't know about Apple's inventory, and how many they expected to sell up front.
My hope is that by the time AirPods Max 2 come out, they'll have a feature that's more compelling for me. So it's on Apple to either make the AirPods Max feature set fit the price or adjust the price to fit the headphones as they are.