Apple is a company that has an incredible ability to sell everything it makes, no matter the price. The Airpod pro comes out for $250 in 2016 and everyone complains about the price. The iPhone x comes out and everyone complains about the price. Its almost a broke record (sorry for the pun). But I have to give Apple some credit here.
I am going to use the word "convenience" often here because its Apple's bread and butter at this point. If you don't know, I am deep into Apple's ecosystem at this point. Not balls deep, I'm talking orgy at the mannequin factory deep. I have the iPhone 12 Pro Max, a second hand iPad, the Airpod Pros, I have a Apple TV (which I no longer use) and a old macbook that is collecting dust (its older than dirt). I use my Airpods often for convenience where I can't use my DROP Panda (review coming soon) or when I need noise cancelling. But, in one week, I use three or four Apple products. Now, onto my expectations.
At $550, its typically outside of my "big leaps in headphone sound" category. The reason I chose $500 as my cut off its the fact that I tested headphones at $800 that I didn't like as much as my 1770 Go headphones at $500 USD. I love my Koss 95x/esp headphones more than I liked the Denon cans I have tried before. This is how I chose my cutoff. I also felt that most people aren't really looking at headphones much higher that $500ish. So why would Apple place their product in the $500 to $600 USD range? What is it battling and does it beat a headphone at $250?
At $500 and up you have some wonderful headphones. The 1770 pro/go are at $525 or $500, the 1990 pro is at $550, NDH20 at $500, the TH-610 at $700, the Ananda at $800, and none of those are wireless. I have found some reviewers who are thinking that Apple is targeting the $2000 market and trying to beat the HD800s (priced at $1700 currently) and I feel that its misleading. Any headphone reviewer will start their comparison with something similarly priced within $150 USD of the review. The issue is most wireless headphones are either less (sony for $350) or more (HIFIMANN for $800) which is an issue. I rather not compare these with a wired headphone or a open back headphone, I want to use a headphone that is similar. As we can't find something wireless within that range, here's my expectation on what to expect.
Apple likes to uppercut, not undercut its consumers. They want to have something that beats the competition, innovation is rare since Jobs died. 90% of modern iPhone features are not new in the smartphone world, and it doesn't change with the Airpod Max. Dual suspension headband, dial for volume, noise cancelling or transparency, replaceable ear cups, and dynamic drivers. The only features these bring in is their in-house chips and spacial audio. I am not a fan of spacial audio personally, I like having the stereo sound and not listening to my phone like a TV, I would watch it at home if I wanted surround sound. All these features swing at the Sony 1000xm3 line up, and for $200 USD less! I guess the price must do with the sound?
The Airpod pro sound is nice. It's not $550 nice, but it is well worth choosing over the 1000xm3 at the same price. We can expect the MAX to hit at the same sound, but for $200 more I would expect a minimum $500 sound to match the price. I would be ok paying for a $50 Apple tax, as there are other brands (cough, sennheiser) that do the same. I expect a sound that has a strong bass, well evened out mid range, with some accent and articulation in the high range. This is typical of Apple and are present in the Airpod Pro. I want them to strike a blow at the Ananda and make it comparable, but its still a closed back. I feel they should at least beat the sound of the DROP Panda in the high range and obviously more bass seeing that the Panda is a Planar.
All in all, I see a good feature set and likely a good sound for $300. But I feel the H1 dac/amp they are going to use needs to strike a blow to Beyerdynamic and the NDH20 in order to be a worthy $500 to $600 set of cans. I will attempt to get a pair for review, but I am a little tight on cash at the moment. On the upside, my newborn loves headphones!