The Apple AirPods Max 2 haven't been officially announced yet. However, considering the huge popularity of the original AirPods Max over-ear headphones, it's not too much of a risk to say that Apple is likely to release its second-generation version soon.
When it comes to sheer sound performance alone, there's no doubt that the best AirPods you can buy today are the AirPods Max. These are Apple's first and only pair of Apple-branded over-ears with noise-cancelling tech and absolutely stunning audio quality. Sure, Apple technically owns all of the best Beats headphones, but the AirPods Max even beat the top Beats headphones for noise-cancelling – like the Beats Studio 3 – in terms of audio performance, comfort, additional features and luxe design.
Since the original AirPods Max were released, Apple has since refreshed its true wireless AirPods Pro, with the AirPods Pro 2. These latest buds aren't the same style as the Max, but they have got a bunch of new and improved features packed in that might translate well to over-ears and give us a glimpse of what Apple has in store next, including Adaptive Transparency, the latest U1 and H2 chips, and sweat and water resistance.
As much as we loved the original AirPods Max, there's always room for improvement. In our guide below we'll be rounding up some of the early rumors about the AirPods Max 2 and a bunch of the features we'd love to see in Apple's next iteration of over-ear headphones.
- No firm release date
- Touch controls
- No Digital Crown this time
- Adaptive Transparency
- Better battery life
- USB-C instead of lightning port
I love my AirPods Max, but I’m very aware I paid the Apple Tax. If I’d gone for the Sony WH-1000XM4s (which were the best headphones at the time) instead I’d have got even better noise cancelation for considerably less cash, but the sound wouldn't have been quite as good.
There's a good chance that Apple is working on the second generation of AirPods Max considering the originals were released in 2020. However, it’s unlikely Apple’s planning a massive price cut, which means the AirPods Max 2 will still only suit die-hard Apple fans with cash to burn.
However, if the AirPods Max 2 offered some significant improvements on the originals, it might be worth paying Apple’s elevated price for them.
With that in mind, here are six things we think would make the Apple AirPods Max 2 a must-buy and ensure they enter right at the top of our best headphones guide, not just our best Apple headphones guide.
AirPods Max 2 release date & price rumors
The Apple AirPods Max 2 haven't been announced yet, which means we don't have a release date. This means we're unlikely to see the AirPods Max 2 until the end of 2023 or, according to recent predictions from an Apple analyst the end of 2024 / beginning of 2025.
The analyst is Ming-Chi Kuo, an Apple supply chain expert with a solid track record for guessing what moves Apple will make next; so while it's still worth taking his comments with a pinch of salt we also wouldn't recommend holding your breath for the Max headphones to get a refresh this year.
Another reason we expect the AirPods Max 2 to be so long from release is that the only rumor we've heard so far is that they weren't currently in development in mid-2021 (via SlashGear (opens in new tab)). Of course, things could have changed a lot over the past year, but we know that Apple takes its time to work on products, often entering product categories late – think the iPhone, iPod, Apple Watch and more.
The first generation of the Apple AirPods Max launched in December 2020, and while there's no specific pattern to follow here, we know that Apple updated its AirPods Pro with the AirPods Pro 2 three years after the originals were launched. So there's a chance Kuo's comments are incorrect, but we'll have to wait and see what Apple announces.
We've no idea what kind of price to expect from future AirPods Max models – it might depend on how Apple feels sales of the current model have gone, which ithe brand doesn't like to share.
However, it's worth noting that the price of the current AirPods Max are often discounted by about $100-$150. It seems likely that the market has deemed that to be a better price than the $549 / £549 / AU$899 launch price. Perhaps the new version will move more in that direction, making it expensive but more affordable for the vast majority of people.
AirPods Max 2: What we want to see
1. A proper carrying case
If you asked me to describe the current AirPods Max case in a single phrase, it would be “a stupid stupid headphone bra”. That’s not exactly poetic, but it is accurate. In my opinion, the AirPods Max carrying case is hopeless, horrible and whenever I take it out in public I feel I have to apologize: I didn’t choose it! It came with the headphones, honest!
But my main beef with it isn’t its form, but its function. There’s no protection for the headband, which means this is quite literally a case of style over substance.
I could pay lots more for a nice hard case, but I already paid quite a lot for the actual headphones. Other brands manage to include a real case – surely Apple can too with the AirPods Max 2.
2. Lossless audio
The AirPods Max are more expensive than many audiophile-grade headphones but they don’t support lossless audio: they only use Apple’s compressed AAC codec over Bluetooth.
When you’re paying this much for a pair of headphones, no matter how nice, there really needs to be the option to step it up so you can listen to Apple's Music's Lossless or Hi-Res tiers in all their glory.
We've written about how lossless AirPods might be possible using current Bluetooth tech, but regardless of whether Apple uses these exact tricks or not, I want the highest-quality headphones to play the highest-quality music.
Of course, even if it can't be done wireless, there's always the wired option. Speaking of…
3. A standard cable connection that's included
Yes, really: like everybody else’s, my AirPods Max didn’t include an audio cable for wired listening. Instead, you have to give Apple an extra $35 / £35 / AU$35 for its Lightning to 3.5mm cable. And this doesn't even enable lossless audio, because it's a digital cable! The worst of both worlds.
For headphones this pricey, not including the cable was a cut corner too far. And then the connector wasn't even a plain old 3.5mm headphone port, which would have added utility and been a less cash-grabby option.
So let's have a cable included please, even if you insist on it being a non-standard one. But while we’re on the subject of Lightning connectors…
MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros have it. iPad Airs have it. Pretty much every other manufacturers’ devices have it. USB-C is the future. Which is why in the EU Apple now has a deadline for switching its future iPhones over to USB-C.
It may have made some sense at the time as Apple's standard charger for AirPods, but these days, Apple’s use of Lightning in the OG AirPods Max is incredibly annoying: it won’t be long before they’re the only Apple kit in my home that doesn’t have a USB-C socket. So let's make sure that the replacement is geared for the future.
5. L/R ear detection
If I had a penny for every time I’ve put my AirPods Max on the wrong way round I’d have enough money to buy the AirPods Max 2. I can never remember which side the controls are supposed to be on, and while I understand why Apple wanted to go with an Apple Watch-style Digital Crown I think it should also have implemented the Apple Watch’s reversibility: every Apple Watch can be used on the right or left side and its controls reversed accordingly.
However, the same doesn’t apply to the AirPods Max: you can have the controls on the right, or you can have them on the right. But the earpads are very uniform, so the ability to put them on either way round and for the headphones to automatically adjust would be perfect.
6. Swappable components
The AirPods Max were long rumored to be modular, with interchangeable headbands and ear cups so you could make yours truly personal (and Apple could sell you more stuff) in the same way you can change the bands on your Apple Watch.
Apparently Apple couldn’t make that work, at least with the headband (the earpads can technically be swapped pretty easily), so it binned the whole idea. But the AirPods Max are actually quite easy to dismantle, especially if you just want to take the ear cups off, so it’s not far-fetched to imagine swappable ear cups in a range of funky colors and design at the very least.
If I'm going to pay lots for one of the best wireless headphones, it'd be great if I can make them feel totally like my own.
AirPods Max 2: rumors so far
If the AirPods Max 2 are in development, then Apple has done a phenomenal job of keeping details and leaks to an absolute minimum. As such, there aren't many rumors to divulge at present. That said, here are all the early rumblings we've been able to find about the AirPods Max 2 so far.
A patent discovered by Patently Apple (opens in new tab) suggests that Apple is working on touch control functionality for the AirPods Max. The patent, published in early February, 2022, shows that touch controls could be present on future devices, though it's not clear if this pertains to a potential AirPods Max 2 or an updated AirPods Max model.
The patent mentions the act of "processing gestures on a touch-sensitive surface," displaying a diagram of an example of this tech. Furthermore, the digital crown featured on the AirPods Max appears to be absent in the patent's diagrams, potentially hinting that a future AirPods Max model could eschew it entirely in favor of bespoke touch controls.
Another patent spotted by Patently Apple (opens in new tab) suggests that Apple could be working on new high-quality optical audio transmission technology for AirPods, though this unlikely to be the main transmission tech – Bluetooth would still be the main way people use these devices.
While this isn't a guaranteed feature for the AirPods Max 2, we have to imagine that a potential follow-up model could feature this same tech. After all, if the AirPods Pro 2 can manage to include this tech, there's no reason why a pair of over-ear headphones couldn't feature the same lossless audio support.