When it comes to sound quality, there’s no doubt that the best AirPods you can buy today are the AirPods Max. They are absolutely impressive when it comes to audio quality, although they are naturally far from perfect.
I love my AirPods Max, but I am very aware that I paid the Apple Tax: if I had gone for the Sony WH-1000XM4s (which were the top of the line at the time), I would have had even better noise cancellation for considerably less money.
With the second generation AirPods Max certainly being worked on in Apple’s labs (the originals were released in 2020), it’s unlikely that Apple is planning a big price cut – but if it offered such improvements, the AirPods Max 2 would be worth paying for. Apple’s high price.
Here are six things we think would make the AirPods Max 2 the best headphones, not just Apple’s best headphones.
1. A suitable carrying case
If you were to ask me to describe the current AirPods Max case in a single sentence, it would be “stupid stupid headphone bra”. This isn’t exactly poetic, but it’s accurate. The AirPods Max carrying case is desperate, horrible and whenever I take it out in public I feel like I have to apologize: I didn’t choose it! It came with the headphones, honest!
But my main problem with it is not its form, but its function. There’s no headband protection, meaning this is literally a case of style over substance.
I could pay a lot more for a nice hard case, but I’ve already paid a lot for the real headphones. Other brands manage to include a real case – certainly Apple can too.
2. Lossless audio
AirPods Max are more expensive than many audiophile headphones, but they don’t support lossless audio: they just use Apple’s compressed AAC codec over Bluetooth.
When you’re paying that much for a pair of headphones, no matter how good, there really needs to be the option to step it up so you can hear Apple Music’s Lossless or Hi-Res levels in all their glory.
We’ve written about how lossless AirPods might be possible using current Bluetooth technology (we’ve written about a potential AirPods Pro 2, but it all applies here too) – regardless of whether Apple uses these exact tricks or not, I want the loudest- quality to play music in the highest quality.
Of course, even if it can’t be done wirelessly, there’s always the wired option. Talking about…
3. A standard cable connection included
Yes, really: like all the others, my AirPods Max didn’t include an audio cable for wired listening. Instead, you should give Apple an extra $35 / £35 / AU$35 for the Lightning cable for 3.5mm. And that doesn’t even allow for lossless audio, because it’s a digital cable! The worst of both worlds.
For headphones this expensive, not including the cable was too much of a corner cut. And then the jack wasn’t even a simple 3.5mm headphone port, which would have added utility and would have been a less profitable option.
So let’s include a cable please, even if you insist it’s not a standard cable. But since we are talking about Lightning connectors…
MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros do. The iPad Airs does. Virtually all devices from other manufacturers have it. USB-C is the future, and it may even arrive on iPhones as soon as the iPhone 14.
It might 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 irritating: it won’t be long before they’re the only Apple kit in my house that does not have a USB-C socket. So let’s make sure the replacement is forward-looking.
5. L/R ear detection
If I made a dime for every time I put my AirPods Max the wrong way, I would have enough money to buy the AirPods Max 2. I can never remember which side the controls should be on, and as long as I understand why Apple wanted to go with an Apple Watch-style digital crown I think it should also have implemented Apple Watch reversibility: every Apple Watch can be worn on the right or left side and its controls inverted accordingly.
However, the same does not apply to the AirPods Max: you can have the controls on the right or on the right. But the headphones are very uniform, so the ability to place them in any direction and the headphones automatically adjust would be perfect.
6. Interchangeable components
AirPods Max are rumored to be modular, with interchangeable headbands and earcups so you can make yours really personal (and Apple might sell more stuff) in the same way you can change the bands on yours. Apple Watch.
Apparently Apple couldn’t get this to work, at least with the headband (the headphones can technically be swapped out pretty easily), so they scrapped the whole idea. But the AirPods Max are actually pretty easy to take apart, especially if you just want to take the earbuds out, so it’s no exaggeration to imagine swappable earbuds in a variety of colors and designs at the very least.
If I’m going to pay that much for one of the best wireless headphones, it would be great if I could make it feel totally mine.