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Apple Joins Smartphone Giants Upending the Big Headphones Market

  • $549 AirPods Max add to parade of more advanced wireless cans
  • Industry incumbents struggling to keep pace with global brands
A pair of Apple AirPods Max headphones.
A pair of Apple AirPods Max headphones.Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

Having once upended the market with its AirPods, Apple Inc. looks likely to again change the course of the $35 billion advanced headphones arena with its $549 AirPods Max and inflict pain on incumbents from Bose Corp. to Bang & Olufsen A/S.

The Silicon Valley giant debuted its latest upscale gadget into a market increasingly led by mobile tech brands at the expense of established audio specialists. Family-run Sennheiser electronic GmbH, which popularized headphones with its bright-yellow HD 414 in 1968, is set to offload its consumer business to a partner with more marketing muscle. Between Apple’s new over-the-ear play at the high end and aggressively priced incursions from below, firms like Sennheiser are struggling to compete with the wireless expertise, app ecosystems and global reach of phone makers.