Apple’s first generation premium wireless headphones first launched in 2020, with not much more said since. The AirPods Max are definitely due an update – will we get AirPods Max 2 or 2nd generation in 2023? Other than rumours of some new colours, there’s been little info to go on. But now that the iPhone 15 has adopted USB-C, it surely can’t be long until Apple’s over-ear cans get a refresh.
We gave the first-gen headphones 4/5 in our AirPods Max review thanks to the impressive sound, but the case and some other more practical aspects disappointed us. We’d expect a step up from this in AirPods Max 2. But what else do you need to know about Apple’s next-gen headphones? Let’s find out.
AirPods Max 2: latest developments
Two key developments impacting these headphones since 2020 are the launch of lossless Apple Music streaming, and the EU’s common charger ruling demanding all portable gadgets use USB-C instead of anything proprietary. The former isn’t supported by Apple’s most expensive headphones, and the latter means it won’t be able to sell them in Europe in their current form after December 2024. In the meantime, we’ve also had some other premium, Apple-made headphones in the form of the Beats Studio Pro.
When Apple added USB-C charging to its 2nd generation AirPods Pro earphones, it also promised lossless streaming support from the upcoming Vision Pro mixed reality headset – suggesting we’re a little closer to seeing the tech on other devices. The original, Lightning-equipped AirPods Pro 2nd gen also came with an H2 chip that offered Bluetooth 5.3 connectivity, improved noise cancellation and a conversation boost feature for those with hearing challenges to follow conversations more clearly. These are all things we’d love to see on the AirPods Max 2.
AirPods Max 2: potential release date and price
First whispers of AirPods Max 2 came from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, who has one of the strongest track records for Apple leaks – but obviously his prediction of an Autumn 2022 launch didn’t work out. Instead, that was when we got the AirPods Pro (2nd generation).
According to TF International Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is looking to ship its next batch of AirPods products in the second half of 2024 or the beginning of 2025. That includes the AirPods Max 2 and, interestingly, a cheaper set of AirPods targeting a price of $99/£99.
We think this is quite late for AirPods Max 2 and we’re quite convinced that the reality is somewhere in between. If we had to bet on it, we’d say that late 2023 is still a likely scenario – despite them not arriving alongside the iPhone 15 in September.
As for the AirPods Max 2 price, there’s not too much to go on. AirPods 2 debuted at the same price as the original AirPods, so we might get the same luxury with the Max successor. AirPods Max currently retail for $549/£549, so expect a figure in the same ballpark. And with them being seriously undercut by the better $350/£350 Beats Studio Pro, there’s a fearsome gauntlet there that has been laid down by Apple’s own Beats brand.
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AirPods Max 2 design
The AirPods Max debuted in Space Grey, Silver, Green, Pink and Sky Blue options, so isn’t shy to a splash of colour. Early reports suggested the sequel would see more hues added. We can look to the 2021 iMac for inspiration. Expect brighter colours, in the same pastel shade. Could we get yellow like on the iPhone 14 variant? Red? Yes, please. Purple? Come here. iPhone 12 and subsequent iPad models have featured a purple option, so we’d hedge our bets on this one.
According to a patent Apple holds, the company is working on touch controls rather than the Digital Crown. Apparently, this feature was intended for AirPods Max the first time around, but Apple couldn’t get it quite right. Assuming Apple is working on this again, expect the loss of the Digital Crown to be a big design differentiator.
Finally, who could talk about AirPods Max without mentioning the controversial case? While designed for convenience, the bra/purse-like design has received much criticism. Admittedly, the case does look a little silly and doesn’t offer much in the way of protection.
A recently-granted patent discovered by Patently Apple suggests changes are on the way, with a fully-enclosed case held together by magnets. It would certainly do a better job of keeping the headband safe from scuffs or scrapes than the current case.
AirPods Max 2 potential features and specs
As mentioned above, Apple is working on touch controls for AirPods Max 2, which would be a brand new feature to the headphones. Should Apple decide to tweak the case too, we could be looking at a way to turn the headphones off, without the daft magnets in the case and a “low power” mode.
Other new features could include improved active noise-cancelling. Thanks to another patent, we can see Apple is working on tweaking its ANC to better avoid audio howls and feedback. While we haven’t seen any complaints of these issues, we welcome any improvements to the already impressive noise-cancelling feature.
Yet another patent (spotting a trend?) explains that Apple is working on new optical audio transmission technology. It’s a fancy new alternative to Bluetooth, which would allow Apple to deliver lossless audio wirelessly. Other alternatives for lossless audio support include an AirPlay-esque feature.
Naturally, Apple might not pursue any of these patents. But if we’re to see them anywhere, we’d expect AirPods Max 2. A spec bump in the drivers behind the headphone, improving the already stellar audio quality, also seems likely. Many of the hardware enhancements we’re expecting have appeared in the latest version of the Beats Studio Pro headphones: they don’t have Apple’s H2 inside, instead using a custom Beats chip that – like the recent Beats Studio Buds+ – supports Google Fast Pair as well as Apple’s FindMy tech. With these headphones, lossless audio (24-bit/48kHz) is supported via USB-C, but it is not available wirelessly.