Are the AirPods Max headphones worth $549?

Airpods Max Comfort
Airpods Max Comfort (Image credit: Apple)

Apple's rumored "Christmas Surprise" turned out to be the AirPods Max over-ear active noise-canceling headphones. I offer a few points worth considering for those wondering whether Apple's newest goody is worth the admission price ($549).

The Apple premium

When Apple announced the AirPods Max on Tuesday morning, most of us at iMore did a double-take when it came to the price. After all, $549 for headphones is firmly in splurge territory for many. And yet, once I took a few deep breaths, I realized Apple probably found the sweet spot on price when you consider the rest of the market and how it operates.

First, make no mistake $549 is a lot to spend on mainstream consumer headphones. And yet, when you look at the competition and factor in the build-in Apple premium that most of us willingly accept (especially on new Apple products), it makes sense. That premium is about $200 when you consider the competition.

The industry-leading Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, for example, are $380, while the newly released Sony WH-1000XM4 is $350. Apple's Beats Studio3 Wireless are also $350, while one of my favorite noise cancelation headphones, the Master & Dynamic MW65s, are $500.

But, discounts will come

Now consider possible future discounts. While Apple is never going to discount the AirPods Max at its retail stores or online, third-party vendors almost certainly will, eventually. Consider, for example, the year-old AirPods Pro that is normally $249. During Black Friday, Walmart was selling the earbuds for $169, which Amazon quickly matched. Even during non-holiday sales periods, you can now find AirPods Pro at least under $200.

The point? At $549, Apple's giving retailers plenty of space to eventually discount the AirPods Max by $50, $100, or even $150.

How much was your iPhone?

When deciding whether to buy a pair of AirPods Max, you should also look at what you paid for your iPhone. I know, I know, headphones aren't nearly as useful as a smartphone. And yet, if you're willing to spend $1,100 for an entry-level iPhone 12 Pro Max or even $800 for a new iPhone 12, $549 doesn't sound nearly as bad.

For those with significant others, consider using the line, It's 50% less than my new iPhone, honey or *Hey, it comes in Sky Blue to match my new phone!"

Consider it a layaway

It's been less than 24 hours since Apple announced the AirPod Max, and it became available for pre-order through Apple in the United States and 25 additional countries and regions. At the time of this writing, every AirPods Max color is sold out. As such, an order placed today won't be filled for 12-14 weeks.

If you're willing to spend $1,100 for an entry-level iPhone 12 Pro Max or even $800 for a new iPhone 12, $549 doesn't sound nearly as bad.

Apple doesn't charge for online purchases until they're fulfilled. Therefore, if you're still unsure whether it's worth paying $549, look at it differently. Buy a pair today through the Apple website, then physically or mentally put back $45/week. By budgeting, by the time your order ships, it won't feel nearly as bad.

The process is also great for anyone looking to give someone an excellent Christmas gift and not pay for it ... yet. Son, here's a picture of your Sky Blue AirPods Max for Christmas. They'll arrive in March.

It's also in the ballpark

Before throwing shade at Apple for announcing $549 headphones just days before Christmas, you should also take into account other products (or groups of products) at around the same price point. These include the recently released Xbox Series X and PS, which are priced at $499 each (if you can find them), most of an iPad Air (which starts at $599) or Mac mini ($699), and more.

A solid reason to delay

On a final and more serious note, there's one important factor to consider when deciding whether it's worth spending $549 for a pair of AirPods Max. How do they sound? At this point, we don't know, although the first reviews will soon be published to answer the question.

I have no doubt the headphones will sound magical and be well-received. Until they are, however, it's a justifiable reason to wait. And yet, given the three-month turn-around on new orders, it doesn't make any difference now.

Bottom line

I'm not getting an AirPods Max review unit, but I plan to buy one at some point. I don't need a pair and deciding whether to take a plunge is definitely a first-world problem compounded by the pandemic. If you can, there are plenty of reasons to make a purchase, especially if you're an Apple fan, as are most of our readers.

And yet, there's one big reason to wait (how does it sound), which is why Christine Chan and others at iMore are waiting before leaping. And besides, discounts will eventually come for those willing to wait.

What say you? Have you purchased the AirPods Max or plan to do so? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.