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Apple launches new over-ear headphones

The AirPods Max come packed with features such active noise cancellation, spatial audio, and adaptive equaliser.

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Apple yesterday announced the AirPods Max, new wireless headphones that will probably replace the company’s Beats wireless headphone portfolio to hold all of its personal audio under the AirPods brand name. 

The headphones combine a custom acoustic design, H1 chips, and software to power artificial intelligence-powered audio processing for a listening experience augmented with features such as Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency mode, and spatial audio. 

Custom Acoustic Design 

Each ear cup attaches to the headband through a mechanism that balances and distributes ear cup pressure and allows it to pivot independently and rotate to fit the contours of a user’s head. Each ear cushion uses acoustically engineered memory foam to create an effective seal, which is a critical factor in delivering immersive sound. The digital crown, as featured in the Apple Watch, offers precise volume control and the ability to play or pause audio, skip tracks, answer or end phone calls, and activate Siri. 

The AirPods Max feature a 40mm Apple-designed dynamic driver that provides rich, deep bass, accurate mid-ranges, and crisp, clean high-frequency extension so every note can be heard. A dual neodymium ring magnet motor allows the headphones to maintain total harmonic distortion of less than 1 percent across the entire audible range. 

With the Apple-designed H1 chip in each ear cup and advanced software, the AirPods Max use AI-powered audio processing to deliver the highest quality listening experience possible. Using each of the chips’ 10 audio cores, capable of 9 billion operations per second, the AI-powered audio powers a listening experience that includes Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency mode, and spatial audio. 

Apple provided the following description of features of the device: 

  • Adaptive EQ: The AirPods Max use Adaptive EQ to adjust the sound to the fit and seal of the ear cushions by measuring the sound signal delivered to a user and adjusting the low and mid-frequencies in real time, bringing rich audio that captures every detail. 
  • Active Noise Cancellation: The new headphones deliver immersive sound through Active Noise Cancellation so users can focus on what they are listening to. Each ear cup features three outward-facing microphones to detect environmental noise, while one microphone inside the ear cup monitors the sound reaching the listener’s ear. Using computational audio, noise cancellation continuously adapts to the headphone fit and movement in real time. 
  • Transparency Mode: Users can also switch to Transparency mode to simultaneously listen to music while hearing the environment around them. This ensures everything, including a user’s own voice, sounds natural while audio plays perfectly. Switching between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode can be done with a press of the noise control button.  
  • Spatial Audio: They also use spatial audio with dynamic head tracking to place sounds virtually in a space, delivering an immersive, theatre like experience for content recorded in 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos. Using the gyroscope and accelerometer in the headphones and iPhone or iPad, spatial audio tracks the motion of a user’s head as well as the device, compares the motion data, then remaps the sound field so it stays anchored to the device, even as the user’s head moves. 
  • Long battery life: The headphones feature battery life of up to 20 hours of audio, talk time, or movie playback with Active Noise Cancellation and spatial audio enabled. 

The AirPods Max can be used with all the latest Apple devices, including the iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. The headphones will also be able to switch between these devices with the same ease of previous AirPods devices. 

AirPods Max come in five colours, including space grey, silver, sky blue, green, and pink, and were available to order yesterday in the US, with availability beginning Tuesday, 15 December. They retail for $549 before taxes in the US, which would fall in line with the iPhone SE 128GB pricing in SA at approximately R11,600 on the iStore. South African availability is still to be announced. 

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