Why Apple needs to release a less expensive version of AirPods Max

Airpods Max On End Hero
Airpods Max On End Hero (Image credit: Joseph Keller / iMore)

It was in the rumor mill for months, even years, but Apple finally released the AirPods Max back in December 2020. However, they came with the outrageously high price tag of $549, but despite that fact, AirPods Max still sold out pretty much immediately after pre-orders were available. They're our top pick for best luxury noise-canceling headphone, after all, so I suppose it's not surprising.

While I thoroughly enjoyed Apple's over-ear headphones in my AirPods Max review, I can't help but think that there should still be a less expensive version to appeal to the average person. After all, it seems that the people buying AirPods Max right now are the audiophiles, techies, and other people who are heavily vested in the Apple ecosystem who want premium headphones. But not everyone will have almost $600 to drop on headphones, especially when some great alternatives are almost half the price, like the Sony WH-1000XM4, or even less.

I believe a less expensive AirPods Max could be a real success for Apple, and here's what it could be like.

Aluminum instead of stainless steel

Airpods Max Side

Airpods Max Side (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

One of the main features of the AirPods Max is that it has a high-end, premium stainless steel frame on the headband. As a result, the AirPods Max can feel quite heavy, and they are best worn with little movement — otherwise, they may slide a tiny bit on your head (I speak from experience). However, the ear cups are currently made with machine-textured anodized aluminum, and when combined with the memory foam and mesh textile of the ear cushions, feel rather lightweight.

I think if Apple were to make a less expensive version of AirPods Max, it could possibly use aluminum for the frame rather than steel. After all, if you search around, aluminum is a material that is commonly used for other headphones. It may not be as strong as stainless steel, it still adds a sophisticated touch and aesthetic. Plus, making it plastic would cheapen the "Max" moniker, at least in my eyes.

Some people may want Apple to come out with a plastic one for a "Sports" version, but that doesn't make sense to me either. Over-ear headphones are just too bulky to be used while running or working out — for those situations, we have AirPods and AirPods Pro.

No magnetic ear cushions

Airpods Max Earcups Magnetic Off

Airpods Max Earcups Magnetic Off (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

Another great feature with the AirPods Max are the removable ear cushions. Since they attach magnetically, they're super easy to take off if you need to clean them or even swap them out to mix-and-match colors.

But if Apple were to create a more affordable AirPods Max, this could be one of the features they can take away to do so. It's not like many other headphones on the market allow you to remove the ear cushions easily, so it would just fall in line with the standard that's already set by everyone else.

If this did actually come true, though, you'd better make sure you buy your favorite color on the first go!

Take away active noise cancellation

Airpods Max Wear Side Angle

Airpods Max Wear Side Angle (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

Like the AirPods and AirPods Pro, aside from design, the biggest difference is Active Noise Cancellation (ANC). While ANC is my favorite feature with my AirPods Pro and AirPods Max, not everyone may need it. So if Apple made a less expensive AirPods Max, taking away the ANC would make it possible.

It's not like every pair of headphones on the market has ANC either. In fact, many headphones may not have ANC, but they do have passive noise cancellation due to the materials used for the ear cushions, which block out external sound naturally. Most over-ear headphones are better than earbuds at passive noise cancellation as well, since they literally go over your ear, which is more effective and tuning out external noise without any software.

I can definitely see Apple transitioning over to passive noise cancellation with a different non-removable ear cushion material if they were to make a cheaper AirPods Max version. I mean, they did it with AirPods and AirPods Pro, so why not?

But why cheaper AirPods Max?

AirPods Pro

AirPods Pro (Image credit: iMore)

Like I said, as much as I love my AirPods Max, they're just way out of reach for a lot of people. I believe they could find great success in releasing another version of AirPods Max for slightly less, thus falling in line with competitors like Bose and Sony's most popular headphone picks at the moment. After all, Apple AirPods have dominated the earbud market, and if they have a more affordable over-ear headphone, I think they could dominate the headphone market. This is especially true for those who are already heavily vested in the Apple ecosystem.

I'm not sure if a new version of AirPods Max could be a possibility in the next Apple event, but maybe someday they won't cost an arm and a leg for most people.

Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.

When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.

3 Comments
  • They already make cheaper AirPods Max, they're called Beats. If you take off all the stuff that makes them premium, they are no longer AirPods Max. If you take all the stuff off a Lexus that makes it luxury, you don't get a cheap Lexus, you get a Toyota. Similarly, Genesis minus > Hyundai.
    Maybe add some of the capabilities of the Max to the Beats line.
  • I agree - I don't think Apple should take away features to lower the price. My suggestion is to develop a set of on-ear headphones versus the over-ear design of the AirPods Max. This would be similar to the Beats Solo Pro versus the Studio3 line.
  • Here in Europe, the AirPods Max are even more expensive, above $700,- ! I'm not gonna buy them, not because I can't afford them, but on principle, because I think this price is madness.
    The proposed features to be changed/dropped are exactly the ones I could easily do without:
    aluminum instead of steel: don't care.
    magnetic ear cushions: would be nice to have but not a showstopper for me, if not there.
    no ANC: I never needed/wanted that. I no longer fly often. Mostly I listen to music when being at home where it usually is quiet. Even when outside, I don't turn ANC on. It makes me feel uncomfortable to be sealed off completely from everything that's going on around me.
    So yes, a cheaper version with these modifications would make me seriously consider buying them.