Apple is an aspirational brand -- and that's what these headphones are all about, just the way the first-generation Apple Watch was and perhaps even the first-generation HomePod was about.
If one does an analysis of Apple's entry in a product category -- invariably it starts with the most expensive product first. If it is not the case, often it is the first of its kind to go mainstream. Back in the late 90s when Steve Jobs had come back to Cupertino, his first major product announcement was the iMac. The iMac was a game-changer and without a question, an expensive product for the time. The first iPod was the first of its kind -- but surely even if not, it was the most expensive version of it. Same goes for the iPhone, the same goes for Apple Watch, MacBook with the pro, same goes for HomePod and even in the case of the first AirPods, they literally invented the term TWS. The first AirPods were the first truly wireless earphones, they were the first ones to dabble with computational audio and the first ones to have that "magical" experience Apple talks about while talking about the AirPods Max. And they were expensive for what was available.
So when Twitter goes abuzz with the $549 price tag of the AirPods Max in the US and an even more ridiculous Rs 59,900 price within India which is approximately $800, there is a lack of understanding around what this product is all about. Mind you, I haven't tested this product, but I have a very good understanding of what it is. This is Apple trying to push the envelope of computational audio. This is Apple trying to hedge it above the Beats Solo Pro Wireless which is the most expensive headphones made by its Beats subsidiary. This is also about creating a virtuous hardware platform which works on its proprietary hardware and software.
Let's look at the hardware which is certainly superior to most wireless noise-cancelling headphones by the likes of Sony, Bose and Beats. Apple is an aspirational brand -- and that's what these headphones are all about, just the way the first-generation Apple Watch was and perhaps even the first-generation HomePod was about.
Firstly, Apple is using copious amounts of stainless steel, something that it reserves for its most premium products. Look at the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro, that's a major difference in the build -- aluminium vs stainless steel. It also does the same thing on the Apple Watch. Stainless steel is vastly superior in terms of looks and durability compared to plastic which is mostly found on noise-cancelling headphones. It is bound to be more expensive, just because of that one reason.
Then, there is the size of the drivers and the general amount of hardware that these headphones are packing. 40mm drivers augmented by a neodymium motor - that's hefty hardware. Then, this is matched by a unique design which adds a better fit which usually converts to better acoustic fidelity. It is also said to be more comfortable especially with the new mesh-based headband and telescoping.
Then, there is the little case of it having twin H1 chips which have 10 audio cores each and have the computational capacity of computing 9 billion operations per second. No, the Sony's, the Grado's, the B&W's of this world don't have this custom chip. This ain't your average headphone, leave alone a cheap one. There is a value to be had here because of Apple's advances with computational audio which shines through in features like adaptive EQ which it invented for the HomePod.
It uses information from the gyroscopes and accelerometer in tandem with the fit and the H1 chips to give you the best possible acoustic performance. Then, there is the proprietary support for spatial audio and Dolby Atmos. And let's not forget it offers active noise cancellation like the AirPods Pro and also transparency mode.
Apple is even using the digital crown from the Apple Watch instead of a touchpad which I believe is the better choice for a user interface. That being said, its positioning is weird, to say the least. There is a lot happening and a lot of it is not there on your regular active noise cancellation headphones. Then there's also the case of the rumour which has again been touted by Front Page Tech which states that a cheaper version, perhaps a "sport" model is coming.
So here's what's happening -- this is a flex of Apple's luxury positioning, this is a flex of technology, especially computational audio and this is a flex of Apple moving into space usually occupied with the likes of Bang and Olufsen, Grado and Bowers and Wilkins. These aren't competing with those Bose, Sony, JBL and Sennheiser headphones everyone has been talking about on Twitter. And when you talk about these luxury audio brands, then yes, Apple will beat the pants out of Bang and Olufsen, Grado and B&W. Because, come on, it is Apple.
But the one thing it is not -- for the masses, You don't need the Rs 59,900 price in India, but the $549 price in the US. In every way, these headphones are a cut above what considered to be the standard for a high-end active noise cancellation headphone. It is in a way what Apple did with the iPhone X and the $999 price which pushed the price of phones upwards. AirPods Max will do the same.
Sahil Mohan Gupta is founder and chief editor of Warpcore.live.
(Edited by : Jomy)
First Published: IST