A look at the design of AirPods Max, an instant icon

Product design and architecture go hand-in-hand. No matter their discipline, designers spend countless hours designing, sculpting, and massaging out fine details, all to craft their ideal vision of the future. In this article, we’re diving right into the design of Apple’s newest high-end headphone offering, AirPods Max, and why they’re an instant design icon.

For years, Apple’s secretive, highly regarded, and award-winning Industrial Design Group has long been considered the gold standard in industrial design. After all, the group is credited for literally saving Apple with the release of the iMac in 1998.

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Fast forward twenty-two years after the iMac, and we arrive at Apple’s latest offering, a premium high-end headphone named AirPods Max. Featuring a knit mesh canopy, acoustic memory foam ear cushions, a smooth telescoping stainless steel frame finished with a flawless mirror-like finish, and anodized aluminum ear cups, AirPods Max is a work of art.

Image: Apple

The anodized aluminum ear cups can freely articulate on a ball-joint mechanism attached to the smooth telescoping stainless steel frame of AirPods Max, ensuring you always get the best seal.

A knit mesh canopy balances the weight of the AirPods Max to provide comfort and pressure relief on top of your head. These high-end headphones weigh-in at a hefty 386 grams (or 0.85 pounds), making AirPods Max significantly heavier than most wireless headphones on the market.

Breathable, magnetically attached memory-foam ear cups are acoustically designed to deliver optimal sound quality by ensuring a tight seal. Having a tight seal around your ears is important. How strong the seal is will alter how you perceive audio quality.

Image: Apple


Inside AirPods Max, you’ll find custom Apple-designed 40-mm dynamic drivers that are driven by independent Apple H1 ten-core audio chips inside each ear cup. The result is what Apple calls, “magical.”

The Apple-designed H1 chip is an incredibly powerful and sophisticated piece of silicon. These chips enable AirPods Max to have computational audio, and are capable of over nine-billion operations per second.

Computational audio can analyze music or audio playback and actively apply “complex tuning models” to ensure the best listening experience. Dual neodymium ring magnet motors allow AirPods Max the ability to “maintain total harmonic distortion of less than 1 percent across the entire audible range, even at maximum volume.”

AirPods Max provides rich, deep bass, accurate mid-ranges, and crisp, clean high-frequency extension so every note can be heard,” says Apple.

Image: Apple

Sound is subjective. Everyone hears music differently, and not everyone has a trained ear to detect the subtle nuances in the music we listen to or the tracks in the films we watch.

AirPods Max are a marvel of engineering. They strike a unique balance of design and audio engineering, a unique and difficult feat for any audio company. Apple has taken huge strides in perfecting this balance, making them one of the few who dare to accept this challenge.

Steve Jobs said it himself, “the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Sid Ramirez
Author: Sid Ramirez

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