Apple has unveiled a pair of wireless over-ear headphones, dubbed Airpods Max in reference to the company’s hugely popular line of earbuds. The headphones will cost a pretty penny—$549—and will be available starting December 15 (but you can order them today).
The price is at least in part due to Apple’s design chops, which are on full display here. The Airpods Max have ear cups that resemble the rounded curves of the Apple Watch, with acoustically engineered memory foam to mold around your ear. These attach to the headband through what Apple calls a “revolutionary mechanism that balances and distributes ear cup pressure.” A single button lets the wearer toggle between noise cancellation and “transparency mode,” a feature also found in AirPods Pro that allows you to hear what’s going on around you as you listen.
Noise cancellation is table stakes for over-ear headphones like these, but Apple’s version is dynamic and constantly adjusts based on the sounds around you and your movements. It relies on three external microphones and one mic positioned inside the ear cup to detect what outside noise can reach your ear.
The headphones, which come in five colors, can also play spatial audio, a newer technology that can re-create the listening experience of surround sound within headphones. Apple says Airpods Max have 20 hours of battery life when noise cancellation and spatial audio are enabled.
Airpods Max also come with a funky case that fits just around the ear cups. The case puts the headphones into a low-power state to save battery; when you put them on, they use optical and position sensors to automatically recognize that you want to use them. Just like other Airpods, the Airpods Max immediately pair with your devices and can automatically switch between them.
By entering into the high-end headphone market, Apple will be going up against stalwarts like Bose and Sony, which have vastly more experience and a slate of well-established and cheaper products. And that’s not to mention its own Beats brand, for which the most expensive wireless noise-cancelling headphones cost about $350.
Perhaps Apple buffs and fans of previous Airpods’ seamless integration with iPhone, iPad, and Mac will be salivating over the Airpods Max. But when you can get high-end equivalents elsewhere for less, are these really worth the sky-high price tag?