Why switching to USB-C could fix the AirPods Max

Why switching to USB-C could fix the AirPods Max


Apple’s AirPods Max are a exceptional established of wi-fi headphones. They have outstanding sound cancellation, their ambient/transparency mode is the finest you can get, and regardless of staying 1 of the heaviest headphones on the marketplace, they are amazingly at ease. But Apple has however to handle the AirPods Max’s biggest weak point: they are a $549 set of headphones that only work with compressed, lossy digital audio.

What is that have to do with USB-C? Almost everything.

The terrific electronic divide

Apple AirPods Max.
Riley Youthful/Digital Developments

The AirPods Max’s challenge, in a nutshell, is the way they deal with audio connections. At situation is the truth that even though the Apple New music streaming assistance now offers most songs in lossless audio — in some circumstances at a hi-res audio stage of 24-little bit/192kHz — there’s no way to hear the comprehensive high quality of these lossless tracks on the AirPods Max.

If you hear wirelessly, by using Bluetooth, the headphones count on the AAC codec. AAC appears pretty good, all things regarded. But it’s however a lossy codec, which means a reasonable volume of the info and element contained in a CD-excellent (or superior) recording has to be discarded in purchase to make the audio stream compact ample to be transported more than Bluetooth.

This isn’t a predicament unique to Apple’s headphones. All Bluetooth headphones so considerably need to use lossy compression — even if they are equipped with a incredibly superior quality codec like Sony’s LDAC or Qualcomm’s aptX Hd.

The change is that other headphone organizations accept this limitation by providing end users a wired link (occasionally analog, in some cases electronic) that allows them get all-around lossy compression by likely direct to the resource. Want lossless? You need a wired relationship.

The AirPods Max have an optional wired connection, too, but it has to be the strangest wired link in the headphone field. Instead of piping analog audio straight into the headphone’s drivers so that you can use an external headphone amp and digital-to-analog converter (DAC) of your choosing, and as an alternative of employing a direct digital link so that you can feed the headphone’s inner amp/DAC with an unadulterated lossless electronic sign, Apple has utilized a bizarre hybrid tactic.

Its $35 Lightning-to-3.5mm audio cable requires an analog signal from your supply machine, then converts it into a digital sign, just before at last converting it again into an analog signal. (And, indeed, you examine that suitable — you have to obtain that cable separately.) It’s a system that Apple has acknowledged is much less than ideal when it comes to listening to lossless new music, stating, “given the analog-to-electronic conversion in the cable, the playback will not be totally lossless.”

USB-C to the rescue?

Close up on the USB-C ports on a Macbook Pro.

This illogical state of affairs raises the dilemma of why does it exist in the initial location? And what (if nearly anything) can Apple do to correct it? I have some theories.

Very first, let us get some tech stuff out of the way.

Apple’s Lightning port simply cannot send out analog signals. We know this simply because if you want to use a established of analog headphones with any Apple iphone more recent than the Iphone 7, you will require a Lightning-to-3.5mm headphone adapter. And if it just can’t mail analog alerts, it follows that it simply cannot get them both.

This describes why the Lightning-to-3.5mm audio cable does its analog-to-electronic conversion — the sign heading into the AirPods Max’s lighting port should be digital.

Apple could market a Lightning-to-Lightning cable to produce that digital signal, but it has hardly ever opted to do so, maybe because you’d need to have a USB-A and USB-C adapter to use that cable with Apple’s other goods and that commences to get messy. And Apple is all about simplicity, not messiness.

If only there had been a solitary, compact, absolutely reversible connector that can take care of equally analog and digital audio alerts, the AirPods Max’s woes would lastly be put to rest. Oh wait, there is: it is named USB-C.

USB-C is very dexterous. With the suitable hardware at the rear of it, it can provide up to 90 watts of ability. It can act as the interface for Thunderbolt 3/4 products with up to 40Gbps of bandwidth. And, certainly, it can handle analog and digital audio.

It is by now getting applied by the Master & Dynamic MW75 and the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 S2 in both equally digital and analog capacities, so this isn’t just idea — it is effective. And if Apple incorporated it into the following AirPods Max, it would give folks the very best of both equally wired worlds: analog when folks by now have headphone amp/DACs that they like, and digital for when they’re information to allow the headphones’ created-in circuitry do the weighty lifting.

Will Apple include USB-C to the subsequent AirPods Max?

The Apple AirPods Max on a surface, viewed from the side.
Riley Young/Electronic Developments

Which is the million-dollar dilemma, and I feel the answer is certainly. But it could possibly not occur as shortly as we’d all like. Regardless of rolling about and introducing USB-C to its MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and choose iPad models, Apple has resisted switching from its proprietary Lightning connection to USB-C on the Apple iphone.

Strain from the European Union can make that switch inevitable, but not speedy. Most Apple watchers consider the Apple iphone 14, commonly predicted to be introduced in the tumble, will however have a Lightning port.

So that helps make the Apple iphone 15 the most probable prospect to get the USB-C port. Assuming Apple’s historic sample of releasing a new Iphone each fall retains, that suggests 2023 will be the conclusion of the line for Lightning-equipped iPhones. When that happens, there’s nearly no rationale for Apple to hold working with its proprietary port on any unit, lastly paving the way for an AirPods Max with USB-C.

What about lossless audio through wireless?

With the 1st headphones to use Qualcomm’s aptX Lossless Bluetooth codec now in the wild, we have officially entered a new era for portable, wireless audio top quality. But if you’re hoping that Apple will increase aptX Lossless to the AirPods Max when we hold out for USB-C, I suspect you are going to be let down.

Apple has hardly ever accredited any aptX codecs from Qualcomm for the Iphone or any of its AirPods spouse and children of wireless earbuds and headphones, and I do not be expecting that to alter any time soon. It is, however, conceivable that Apple will do what Apple loves carrying out, and make a model of its AirPlay wi-fi technologies that supports lossless audio on wireless headphones.

At the minute, AirPlay 2 supports lossless new music up to 24-bit/48kHz, but only over Wi-Fi connections, not Bluetooth. A Bluetooth-compatible variation of AirPlay would surely create some attention-grabbing prospects, but if Apple is without a doubt operating on such a method, it’s probable even more down its highway map for the AirPods Max than USB-C.

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