Yet another Apple event, and no mention of the AirPods Studio – though we did see the Apple HomePod Mini after years of speculation.
The Apple AirPods Studio are said to be the first Apple over-ear headphones – and they've been the subject of rumor for quite some time now.
AirPods Studio rumors have been mounting in recent weeks, following leaked renders showing off the headphones and a recent Bloomberg report claiming that the AirPods Studio were set to launch in October – though they never materialized at the iPhone 12 launch on October 13 or the One More Thing event on November 10.
That wasn't entirely unexpected – and now it looks like we could be waiting even longer, as production on the AirPods Studio has reportedly run into issues, according to prolific Apple leaker Jon Prosser.
The reports follow previous claims that the AirPods Studio will be far pricier than we expected:
AirPods Studio 🎧 The renders that I shared last month seem to be the luxury variant — made of leather/metal.I’m being told they’ll retail for.... $599 😳There will be another sport-like variant made of cheaper materials for $350.They WILL NOT be at the October 13 event. https://t.co/awunRlGrD4 pic.twitter.com/le2cfmlC9POctober 9, 2020
In any case, we think the AirPods Studio will launch in late 2020 (or at worst, early 2021), following months and months of speculation, rumors, and leaks. According to Bloomberg, both Apple's online store and its physical retail presence has begun removing speakers and headphones from third party sellers in preparation. Walk into your local Apple Store and you'll be unlikely to find products from the likes of Logitech, Sonos or Bose – all usually staples in the stores' audio aisles.
We've also recently seen a new icon in the iOS 14.3 beta that looks suspiciously like the AirPods Studio, backing up previous design leaks and rumors.
And we can't wait to see them – the Apple AirPods Studio could well be the smartest headphones we've ever seen, if rumors of clever ear-detecting sensors and the iPhone 11's UI chip are to be believed – and like the AirPods Pro, we're expecting them to come with active noise cancellation, too.
Here's everything we know about the AirPods Studio so far:
Cut to the chase
- What are they? Apple's first over-ear headphones, the AirPods Studio
- When will they be released? Late 2020 or early 2021, according to rumors
- How much will they cost? Reportedly $349 (about £280 / AU$530), with a more expensive variant available for $599 (about £460 / AU$830)
Apple AirPods Studio release date
The AirPods Studio could be announced before the year is out.
That would back up reports that the AirPods Studio will launch in late 2020, though after a slew of apparent production delays, we're not holding our breath. After all, we initially thought they would be announced alongside the iPhone 12 in October.
Jon Prosser has previously alleged that production on the AirPods Studio wasn't completed until October 20. More recently, Prosser has suggested that they won't materialize until December 2020 "at best", with a March 2021 release date "just as likely".
A recent Bloomberg report that cites "people familiar with the plans" backs up Prosser's claims, saying, "the headphones were due to go into production weeks ago, but that was pushed back due to problems with the headband", with that part being deemed "too tight" during testing. That headband reportedly won't be interchangeable as rumored, but the AirPods Studio could still include interchangeable ear pads.
A 2020 release date has been on the cards for a long time. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo – whose Apple predictions have been proven right in the past – claimed that the new headphones will launch in 2020 back in 2018, when he said that Apple was working on updated AirPods as well as “own-brand, high-end over-ear headphones with an all-new design” back in 2018.
Since then, Kuo elaborated on his initial claims, saying that 2020 would bring iPhone SE 2 (check), a new iPad Pro (check) and MacBooks with scissor keys, as well as a "smaller wireless charging mat, UWB tag, and a high-end Bluetooth headphone" from Apple.
Apple AirPods Studio price
An inventory listing from US store Target, may have inadvertently revealed the Apple AirPods Studio price – and it looks like they won't be cheap.
YouTuber Jon Prosser posted an image to Twitter, purporting to show the upcoming over-ear headphones in Target's system, mysteriously listed as "Apple AirPods (X Generation)".
The product in the image appears to cost $399, which works out at around £300 / AU$600 – if these are the rumored AirPod Studio / AirPods X then the brand is aiming for the higher end of the price scale, surpassing the cost of competitors like the Sony WH-1000XM3 and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.
More recent leaks have put the price at $349 (about £280 / AU$530), which is slightly more palatable, if not inexpensive.
There could be a pricier luxury variant of the AirPods Studio too, if Prosser's recent claims are to be believed.
He says that the luxury AirPods Studio will retail for an eye-watering $599 (about £460 / AU$830), which is more than many of the best over-ear headphones you can buy today.
Apple AirPods Studio design
What will the Apple AirPods Studio look like? There are some convincing renders – some leaked by Jon Prosser, apparently from an Apple insider – though nothing has been officially confirmed.
Prosser has claimed that these renders are based on the luxury variant of the AirPods Studio we mentioned earlier, and that they'll be made from leather and metal, with a cheaper sports variant expected to drop alongside them.
More images 👇 pic.twitter.com/kRI0M5eSF4September 16, 2020
Meanwhile another leaker (@choco_bit) appears to have received the same video and images that Prosser received and neglected to share publicly – and posted them directly to Twitter.
The video potentially shows the "Sport" variant of the AirPods Studio, in what looks to be Apple's Space Gray color scheme – which are rumored to be lighter and feature removable and washable ear cushions.
Probably Sport variant of Apples headphonesPersonally not impressed, looks too much like 2 Palm Pre's attached to 2 tuning forks :/ hard to unseeLooks a lot like what @markgurman described in April, but with homepod mesh pic.twitter.com/dzAufRRl7mSeptember 16, 2020
Both the renders and the leaked images show square housings with rounded corners rather than the typical round or oval housings seen on most over-ear headphones – which hints that the AirPods Studio might not be over-the-ear at all, but rather on-ear.
If that turns out to be accurate, it might make the headset's reported active noise cancelling less effective. Assuming the headphones are as "smart" as the rumors say they are, but they turn out to be on-ear instead, Apple may have some new tech in store that we don't know about just yet.
It was rumored that the AirPods Studio would include large touch pads on each housing – which was backed up by leaked images of the new headphones – but apparently, Apple has now reduced the size of those panels, which could change the design quite dramatically.
It looks like the AirPods Studio will come in Space Gray and classic Apple White, with a metallic finish, magnetic housings, and a padded headband.
According to Prosser, they feature a USB-C port for charging and unusually, won't have any headphone jack at all – that means you won't be able to use them with a 3.5mm audio cable when Bluetooth is unavailable.
The new images back up the two icons discovered in the iOS 14 code back in March, which clearly depicted a pair of wireless over-ear headphones. To be honest, we wouldn't expect Apple to release a pair of wired headphones after the success of their previous true wireless models.
The icons also appear to show two different color options for the headphones (likely space gray and the same white as the AirPods).
More recently, 9to5Mac spotted an icon that seemingly depicts the Apple AirPods Studio has been discovered in the iOS 14.3 beta, which was released to developers on November 12:
Apple AirPods Studio features
Automatic ear detection
The UI chip – which will reportedly be used by the Apple AirTags – could be used to help users locate their headphones if they go missing, using the Find My app.
As well as that, the leaker claims that the UI chip could allow the AirPods Studio to detect how they're being worn in relation to the user's head. In a tweet translated from Chinese, they said that new products in the Apple ecosystem " will use U1 to determine distance and direction, similar to AirPods' spatial audio function in iOS 14".
"It is likely that the new headset with the U1 chip should be able to automatically recognize the left and right positioning of the headset," they continued.
That means you could wear the AirPods Studio any way you want, and the left / right audio channels would automatically switch to the correct ear – and it could make rumored 'air gestures' more accurate, by taking the rotation of the headphones into account.
At least, that's what was rumored; according to Bloomberg, Apple has apparently "scaled back some of the interchangeable functionality of the headphones", which could mean one of the most exciting features of the new AirPods Studio may never materialize.
Another AirPods Studio feature that could come courtesy of the UI chip is Spatial Audio, which has recently come to the AirPods Pro.
Released as part of iOS 14, the Spatial Audio feature works in 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos, which positions sound all around you within a virtual sphere – that means that if you're watching a Dolby Atmos film that shows a plane flying overheard, it will sound as though the plane is really passing above you.
If the AirPods Studio have the ability to track exactly how they're being worn, that Spatial Audio feature could be used accurately, no matter which way round you're wearing your headphones.
Apple Glasses integration
The use of the UI chip and Apple's apparent focus on directional audio also hints at another product that could be in the pipeline: the Apple Glasses.
The rumored AR (Augmented Reality) specs could be designed to work with the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Studio if they do come with Spatial Audio, vastly enhancing the experience of using them. For example, your headphones could give you simple audio cues with Maps directions, or you could lose yourself in an immersive AR experience complete with Dolby Atmos surround sound.
A sports version
The recently images leaked by @choco_bit are apparently of a sports version of the AirPods Studio.
These cans are rumored to be lighter than the regular AirPods Studio and will feature removable and washable ear cushions.
Apple AirPods Studio: what we want to see
The best over-ear headphones combine slick design, comfort, and portability – ideally without breaking the bank. But these days, headphones can be incredibly tech-heavy as well, which is what we would expect from a pioneering company like Apple.
That’s why we’d like to see modern conveniences like wireless connectivity, built-in voice assistance, and active noise-cancelling in the rumored Apple over-ear headphones – and above all else, fantastic sound quality.
Better sound quality than the AirPods
They may be popular, but Apple's AirPods have never been known for their audio quality. While they have a lively presentation, they can sound a bit harsh when it comes to higher frequency sounds like snares, violins, and trumpets.
The Apple AirPods also aren’t the bassiest earbuds on the market (although the more recent AirPods Pro do a better job of this) – but more powerful bass could absolutely be achieved by a higher-spec pair of over-ear headphones.
Ketan Bharadia, International Technical Editor of What Hi-Fi? agrees: “I've never rated the sound of the company's in-ears but, considering [Apple’s] engineering might and the sonic qualities of their iPhones and the HomePod, there's plenty of potential for over-ears to stir things up.”
Over-ears tend to offer higher sound quality than in-ear models anyway, partly because they have bigger drivers than in-ear models. These larger drivers are able to displace larger volumes of air than their smaller counterparts, which in turn creates a more powerful audio performance.
According to Audio Advice, these larger drivers tend to reproduce the “widest range of frequencies, from silky smooth highs to tight, deep bass,” providing a richer, more colorful soundstage than in-ear headphones.
Classic Apple design
Take away the technical aspects of a pair of headphones, and you’ve essentially got a (potentially very expensive) piece of headgear – and as such, it’s important that they look good.
We know that Apple has a strong design aesthetic; despite initial ridicule, the Apple AirPods have become iconic for their unique design, with lots of true wireless earbud manufacturers since taking inspiration from their long, protruding stems and all-white color scheme.
We'd like to see an evolution of Apple's classic design with their rumored over-ear headphones, with smooth, clean lines, premium materials, and a minimalist look without lots of bulky hardware ruining the effect – and the recently leaked images and renders of the headphones seem to support this.
Decent sound isolation
The way Apple’s over-ear headphones sound will have a huge impact on the different situations they can be used in, as Senior Supervising Engineer at the National Film & Television School Jeremy Rodeschini explains:
“My role is to do with sound engineering covering a wide range of applications from theatrical sound to VR as well as live sound – and each application has very different requirements.”
While Rodeschini looks for “excellent isolation from ambient noise, reliability, and robustness” from the headphones he uses for mixing live sound, comfort and “a slightly flattering response” is preferable when he’s recording actors delivering their lines in the studio.
Of course, noise isolation isn’t just useful for working with live sound; for anyone who wants to listen to music in loud environments, like on their daily public transport commute for example, good noise isolation makes a world of difference.
How well a pair of headphones can isolate ambient noise depends on how well they seal around your ears, creating a physical barrier that prevents environmental sound from getting to your ears; this can be challenging for over-ear styles, as they don’t offer as tight a seal as in-ear models.
Still, a good pair of over-ear headphones should be able to physically block a decent amount of ambient noise, and this is something we would expect from a pair of high-end headphones from Apple.
Fantastic noise cancellation
If Apple wants its AirPods Studio to compete with the best over-ear headphones on the market, it should take a leaf out of Sony’s book, and offer the same high-standard of noise cancellation provided by the Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones, as well as noise isolation.
The best noise-cancelling headphones make commuting a breeze, eliminating the noise of crying babies, honky traffic, and the loud conversations of your neighbors by digitally tuning out unwanted environmental sound.
With Apple’s technological might, we’d be surprised if a pair of over-ear headphones from the San Cupertino company didn’t include noise-cancelling technology – after all, it’s an increasingly common feature of premium headphones.
Apple's H1 headphone chip
If Apple is going to release a pair of over-ear headphones, we’d expect them to have the same H1 headphone chip that’s built-in to the AirPods (2019) and the PowerBeats Pro.
Apple’s new H1 chip is designed to improve connectivity and battery life, and allows for a new ‘Hey Siri’ voice activation feature in the upgraded AirPods – all of which we would like to see in any future Apple over-ear headphones.
Wireless isn’t everything though – if Apple markets these headphones as studio-quality cans, the option to use a wired connection to your device will be crucial.
This is because wired headphones tend to offer higher quality audio than their wireless counterparts, as Joe Cox, Global Editor-in-Chief of What Hi-Fi? explains:
“Bluetooth would traditionally compress your music files to transmit them wirelessly, reducing audio quality before it’s even reached your headphones."
While advances in Bluetooth like aptX HD means that audio quality is far better than it once was, you won’t find this technology in Apple’s AirPods (2019) – and if the company doesn’t include support aptX HD in the AirPods Studio, the option for a wired connection will be important to get that studio-quality sound.
For truly modern connectivity, Apple will need to include support for the latest Bluetooth 5.0, while ensuring that gamers don't experience annoying lag by adding support for aptX Low Latency.
It could be that the new AirPods Studio take inspiration from the over-ear headphones already offered by Beats like the Beats Studio 3 wireless noise-cancelling headphones – but these models aren’t exactly known for their audio quality either, with some criticizing their bass-heavy presentation.
If Apple frames these new headphones as studio-quality, true audiophiles like Rodeschini will be looking for perfect audio accuracy:
“Personally I like a comfortable pair of headphones that delivers a sound that is as close to the original as possible so I get to appreciate all the expertise of the mixer and get as close as possible to the artist's intention.”
He continues: “If a headphone is adding any color to the soundtrack, it would be like adding the same blend of spices to every dish you eat without the chef's knowledge – not desirable in my opinion.”
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What about the AirPods 3?
The AirPods Studio aren't the only new Apple headphones rumored to launch in 2020, too. The AirPods Pro Lite will apparently be an entry-level version of the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro, while the so-called AirPods 3 are the anticipated follow-up to the original AirPods – which saw their last upgrade in 2019.
Cant wait for the Apple AirPods Studio to launch? Check out the best over-ear headphone deals we've found today:
- Make sure you read our Apple AirPods Pro review