Apple has quietly presented its first wireless headphones: the AirPods Max. A surprise release for a surprising product; ideal conditions to look at this helmet which will undoubtedly be talked about for some time.
Announced a few days ago, the AirPods Max immediately raised eyebrows in all newsrooms and all people who follow the tech news. This superlative helmet with a well-defined design deserves a good mood ticket.
A NAME THAT SURPRISES
AirPods Max, therefore, is Apple’s vision of wireless headphones, in line with what brands like Bose, Sony or JBL offer to name but a few. The headset enriches a range made up of AirPods (2016) and AirPods Pro (2019). The fact that Apple is releasing headphones is confusing in more ways than one, especially because since the takeover of the Beats brand by Apple in 2014, some talented observers (understand: “your servant”) could think that the brand was going to leave the field of over-ear headphones to its new acquisition. The arrival of AirPods Max completes us (me) convince that Apple is definitely never where we (is) waiting for him.
A DESIGN THAT SURPRISES
Second puzzling point: its design. We could quibble endlessly about the beauty or not of the product and we will not do it because, as Android users know well: all tastes are in nature. One thing is certain: in terms of assembly and manufacturing quality, the product seems to set the bar quite high, as often with Apple. ON THE OTHER HAND, we can question certain rather specific design choices both in relation to what Apple has accustomed us to so far and in relation to the market in which this AirPods Max is positioned.
In the wonderful world of helmets wireless from 180 to 350 euros, the enlightened enthusiast is used to falling on the lines that have become classic models from Sony, Bose, Jabra, JBL, Plantronics and even Beats. These products focus on a stocky yet versatile line cut for everyday use on the street, transport, in the office, at home, etc. This use case provides a collapsible construction allowing the helmet to be stored in its case and / or in a bag when not in use.
Bose broke this concord of the design picked up with its Headphones 700 (see photo above) which changes to a more refined design than the QC35 it replaces and, above all, to a non-folding roll bar. The AirPods Max also follows this path with fluid lines, although the headphones are very massive. Just like the Bose, the AirPods Max is equipped with a non-folding headband. At first glance with its headphones not enclosed by the arch and its thin branches, one could almost take the AirPods Max for a product from Bowers & Wilkins (the PX) or even, squinting through a stained glass window and having a small cataract, find it similar to a Parrot Zik 3 (RIP … but cocorico anyway).
A SURPRISING FILIATION
At second glance, we understand where the parentage comes from. While Apple has just harmonized the design of its iDevices by finally providing the iPhone with the straight edges that are now found on the iPad Air and Pro, the company has decided to give its wireless headphones airs of …
APPLE WATCH ??
Apple Watch, yes, yes. The headphones earphones therefore take the rounded lines and finish of the aluminum case of the most famous connected watch in the world, the design of which, quite between us, I support less and less. And if the design of the headphones alone was not enough, Apple has also equipped its headphones with a single button and the famous Digital Crown which here centralizes all user actions.
I’ll be honest, I’m usually fond of design recalls between different products from the same brand, but the Digital Crown, there, it is a little too much. So that we can * really * identify it as a reminder of the Apple Watch, Apple positioned it prominently on the top of the right earbud. It is therefore necessary to turn it horizontally to raise or lower the volume, when years of practice and a certain logic normally call for a vertical positioning of the wheel. Come on, it’s 2020, let’s skip one more habit, we’re not around that anymore.
But still, Apple has rather accustomed us to an approach to design by function and this presence of Digital Crown really gives the impression of having been placed with forceps to make a not very subtle reminder to his connected watch. This is all the more surprising since unlike many headsets on the market for many years, no touch gesture is present on these yet smooth and * very * large headphones. The lack of touch gestures on the part of the brand which has yet imposed the use of capacitive touch on all its products, even on the Apple TV remote control (who hadn’t asked for anything, poor thing) has something to surprise.
A PRICE THAT… SURPRISES?
We know that for a good ten years Apple has positioned itself frankly on the premium market. It abandoned the plastic of the first MacBook and iMac for more qualitative aluminum and with better durability, it was the first brand to position its smartphones beyond the symbolic bar of 1000 euros in attack price and at launch. Apple Watch in 2015, the brand readily adopted the codes of fine watchmaking before making a shift towards sport and health. But premium sport and health.
Quite regularly, moreover, the price of options for its products provokes hilarity. Whether we are talking about the price of components for its Macs unrelated to OEM prices, or the price of optional parts, like the famous Mac Pro wheels at 849 euros or the price of the Pro Stand , the stand for the Pro Display XDR screen which costs a certain price that decency prevents me from writing here.
However, the AirPods and AirPods Pro positioned respectively at 180 and 279 euros are still within the acceptable limits for true wireless headphones, some brands like Sennheiser offering their products at higher prices. With the AirPods Max, we therefore expected that Apple would position the selling price around 400 euros, which would already be quite high.
But at 629 (SIX HUNDRED AND TWENTY-NINE) euros, the price of the helmet made in Cupertino caused a lot of mocaccinos to spit through their noses when reading it, and it is propelled (because at this price, we no longer say “to hoist”) well above the fray. The AirPods Max evolves at a price only shared by audiophile brands.
This price also contrasts radically with the * relatively * content prices recently observed for the iPhone 12 or HomePod mini, which I happily echoed two weeks ago. Beyond the build quality, at this price level, it is generally necessary to list the codecs supported by the product to ensure flawless compatibility with the formats. lossless the most exotic used by the most demanding customers. Apple highlights certain features and components such as the accelerometer for spatialization, permanent automatic equalization based on ambient noise and the presence of H1 chips already crossed in AirPods Pro and Beats headphones, but in terms of connectivity and supported formats, it must be satisfied with a laconic:
… Without further details. Not sure this is enough for audiophiles.
Add to that the usual meanness of the optional jack adapter and the storage case which seems like a really bad idea, one could legitimately worry about the AirPods Max.
A SUCCESS THAT WILL NOT SURPRISE
And yet, I’m telling you now, the AirPods Max has every chance of selling well. I’m not a diviner, obviously, but it seems that the first opinions from the editors who have been able to test it are rather positive. As with all Apple products, this product will not be purchased for its very broad scope of functionalities or extensive customization via an ultra-comprehensive dedicated app, but rather for its high quality manufacturing and assembly, its compatibility total with the ecosystem of the brand and, of course, the statutory aspect that it implies.
Apple devices have been used for a long time, despite their undeniable qualities, as a tool for social validation and a headset at 629 euros will certainly continue to maintain this practice. I was still sad to think that there was a gaping hole in terms of price between the AirPods positioned under 300 euros and this AirPods Max at 629 euros, and I realized that the Beats range was precisely used to fill this void. Smart! The product will nevertheless have difficulty in establishing itself in the audiophile world, which will not be fooled by an article at a high price if the supported formats do not follow. But since HomePods and AirPods, we know that Apple does not specifically target this audience.
This column wouldn’t be validated by my beloved editor without a throat tackle on Android, so I am VERY in a hurry to see how the competition, Huawei and Xiaomi in the lead, intends to react to this product which, clearly, could give very bad ideas to companies seeking profit… Max (you have it ?)