Apple’s ‘biggest AirPods launch to date’ expected in September – two new models incoming

the apple airpods 3 next to their charging case
(Image credit: TechRadar)

While Apple's AirPods 3 are excellent earbuds, they're up against some serious competition – competition so good that neither the AirPods 2 or newer third generation of AirPods feature in our guide to the best wireless earbuds. One reason for that is because they lack active noise cancellation – but it looks like that most wanted feature will be coming to one of this year's models.

According to Bloomberg's well-connected Mark Gurman, Apple is planning to launch two new versions of AirPods this year to replace both the second and third generations. With production reportedly kicking off in May, the analyst says that a September or October launch could be likely. 

The upgrades are so big that Gurman says Apple suppliers are gearing up for "the biggest AirPods launch ever". AirPods Pro, meanwhile, aren't expected to be updated until the following year, but the gap between Pro and non-Pro versions looks like it'll narrow considerably this year. Surprisingly, there was also no word on the highly anticipated AirPods Max 2

What AirPods upgrades can we expect in 2024?

Gurman says that Apple has two new AirPods 4 in development, one of which has a codename ending in E (for Entry Level) and one ending in M (for mid-tier). Both models will have a lot in common but they will have slightly different features and price tags. While we first heard rumors about the new models in late 2023, we don't as yet know what the prices will be.

Both new versions have apparently been redesigned to make them more comfortable and fit better, and both versions will have USB-C charging cases. But the big difference between the E and the M models is that the M version will have ANC. That's a first for the non-Pro AirPods, and it's a big update. At the moment, if you want ANC-capable AirPods you'll need to splash out for the more expensive AirPods Pro 2, one of the best noise cancelling earbuds

New hardware isn't the only AirPods update we'll see this year. Gurman says that Apple is also working on a bunch of AirPods improvements in iOS 18, including the interesting "hearing aid mode" for AirPods Pro 2. Gurman says that Apple is also working on a hearing test feature for the best AirPods, and that in the much longer term it's still considering adding small, low-res cameras to AirPods so they can provide data to an unspecified AI system.

For me, the most interesting of all the rumored features is ANC in AirPods. When the AirPods 3 launched we said that rivals with ANC did tend to cost slightly more than Apple's earbuds, but two years later the intensely competitive earbuds market means that the likes of the Sony WF-C700N and Nothing Ear (2) are offering excellent ANC for considerably less cash than Apple's currently charging. If Apple prices the ANC AirPods 4 right, its 2024 earbuds could be a huge hit.

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Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.