Who the Heck Is Buying Apple’s $550 Headphones?

Everybody will know how much you spent

Key Takeaways

  • AirPods Max work just like regular AirPods, only they’re much bigger.
  • The included Smart Case looks like a cool mashup between a brassiere and a fancy purse.
  • Almost all models are already back-ordered for up to three months.
Woman watching her iPad while wearing AirPods Max to listen to it

Apple’s long-rumored over-ear headphones have finally launched. $549 will buy you a pair of AirPods Max with an included case and charging cable, but no charger. Who on Earth will buy these things?

Based on the performance of the tiny, in-ear AirPods and the AirPods Pro, the AirPods Max probably sound incredible. They also pack in some typical Apple design flourishes, like the Apple Watch-like Digital Crown for volume control, magnetic aluminum earcups, and a headband design that is so sensible one wonders why it’s not used everywhere. Even for Apple, the price is steep, and yet delivery times have already slipped to 12-14 weeks. So, what do people think of them?

"Price-wise, $550 isn’t outrageous," writes Mac and iOS app developer Paul Haddad on Twitter. "It’s a somewhat oddball price between <$400 midrange and >$1k high end."

About AirPods Max

The AirPods Max use a pair of Apple’s H1 headphone chips to power their sound processing features. These include noise cancellation, adaptive audio (to the fit on your ears, and the fit of the headphones), transparency mode (adds environmental noise to the audio), and adaptive EQ. 

The ear-cups are removable, and replacements will be available soon for $69. The band, or canopy, is a breathable mesh strung between supports like a convex hammock, which looks very comfortable. And because these are AirPods, they do all the usual AirPods stuff like reading out your messages, pausing when you remove them, and so on.

As supplied, the AirPods Max come with a case and a charging cable. If you want to plug them into something with a jack socket, you’ll need to supply your own cable. 

What About the Price?

High-end headphones can cost thousands of dollars, but the Bluetooth headphones that Apple is competing with, the kind used for on-the-go listening, top out at around $350 (for the Sony WH-1000XM4). Apple is adding $200 on top.

Right now, a quick search for AirPods Max on eBay shows prices ranging from $799 to $1,200.

The Sony headphones are nice, but it’s very likely that the mostly metal AirPods Max will beat them in feel, and possibly longevity. But at this level, it’s also all about the sound. Given Apple’s achievements with previous AirPods, the HomePod, and recent-model MacBook speakers, it’s likely that the AirPods Max will beat all comers. So, it all comes down to who wants to spend $550 on a pair of Bluetooth headphones.

"AirPods Max are only $100 less than the base Mac Mini," writes videomaker Erfon Elijah on Twitter.

Price No Object

And yet despite these prices, the AirPods Max are selling out. On the U.S. Apple Store site, shipping time for all six colors is 12-14 weeks as of this writing. Usually, folks that live near an Apple Store can pop in and pick up brand new Apple products the same day, but with COVID limiting access, and responsible people staying at home, the only option for many is eBay. 

Right now, a quick search for AirPods Max on eBay shows prices ranging from $799 to $1,200. You can bet that those prices will rise, and that people will pay them.

Even for Apple, the price is steep, and yet delivery times have already slipped to 12-14 weeks.

So, why are so many people ordering these expensive headphones? Some may be audiophiles, but even for them, this is expensive. My guess is they’re selling out because they’re going to be 2021’s hot new accessory. Beats (also owned by Apple) has had the cool-and-expensive market for a while, but that’s probably over.

The AirPods Max not only look incredible, but they look like nothing else. Everyone who sees you will know you have a $550 pair of cans on your head. Better hope they’re not easy to grab and steal.

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