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
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
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
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?
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.