AirPods Max 2: what we want to see

AirPods Max worn by a man silhouetted against the sunset
Original AirPods Max (Image credit: Apple)

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-canceling – 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.

Possible AirPods Max 2 features

- Could land in late 2024
- Touch controls
- No Digital Crown this time
- No Adaptive Audio
- Better battery life
- USB-C instead of lightning port
- New colors

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 might have in store next, including Adaptive Transparency, the latest U1 and H2 chips, and sweat and water resistance.

We've also heard some whispers of changes that might be coming to the AirPods Max 2, and you'll find all these early rumors below.

Plus, as much as we loved the original AirPods Max, there's always room for improvement, so we've also come up with a list of 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, and you'll find this list below too.

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, and we might be waiting a while for one, as according to predictions from an Apple analyst the AirPods Max 2 won't land until the end of 2024 or the 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. And he's not alone, as more recently Mark Gurman (who has a similarly good track record) has said in his Bloomberg newsletter that the AirPods Max 2 will land in late 2024. 

So while it's still worth taking these comments with a pinch of salt we also wouldn't recommend holding your breath for the Max headphones to get a refresh for a while yet.

That said, 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 and Gurman'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 the 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.

apple airpods max case

Look at this. It's protection against some scratches, on some sides of the aluminum. That's it! (Image credit: TechRadar)

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…

apple airpods max Lightning connector

Less of this, please. (Image credit: TechRadar)

4. USB-C

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.

apple airpods max earpads

Swappable earpads for funky color mixing? We'd love it. (Image credit: TechRadar)

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 woman wearing the apple airpods max headphones in a dark room while looking at a screen

(Image credit: Apple)

Unsurprisingly it has been reported by Mark Gurman (writing for Bloomberg) that the AirPods Max 2 will have USB-C rather than a Lightning port.

Thanks to new EU laws, Apple has moved most of its products over to USB-C, so it's fully expected that the AirPods Max 2 will follow suit.

New colors
At the same time as mentioning a move to USB-C, Gurman also claimed that the AirPods Max 2 will be available in new colors, though he didn't specify what shades those might be.

The same chipset and no Adaptive Audio
According to a leak on Chinese social media (via MacRumors), the AirPods Max 2 will have the same H1 chipset at the original model. That unfortunately means they apparently won't get the Adaptive Audio feature offered by the AirPods Pro 2, as this requires a new chipset (such as the H2 used by the Pro 2).

Touch controls
A patent discovered by Patently Apple 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.

Lossless audio
Another patent spotted by Patently Apple 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.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.