Are these the Apple headphones to finally beat the Sony WH-1000XM3?

Apple's over-ear headphones could have a similar design to the Beats Studio 3 Wireless (pictured). (Image credit: TechRadar)

The first pair of over-ear Apple headphones have been revealed, after 9to5Mac reportedly discovered icons representing the rumored cans in iOS 14 code. 

Two icons – one light, one dark – depict a pair of over-ear headphones with padding on the earcups and headband, and appear to show two different color options for the headphones (likely space gray and the same white as the AirPods).

These new headphones – which some are calling the Apple AirPods X – could prove to be a new rival for the best headphones of 2020, the Sony WH-1000XM3. Only if the first Apple headphones come with premium features like stellar noise cancelation and unbeatable audio quality, that is.

According to 9to5Mac, "these glyphs are used in iOS 14 to represent the unreleased headphones throughout the operating system including Apple’s battery and charging status widget" – just like the icons you'll find in iOS 13 to represent the AirPods and the AirPods Pro on the volume bar.

If Apple is intending the new headphones to become part of the AirPods family, they could come with some of the true wireless earbuds' best features, like the H1 chip that allows for the 'Hey Siri' and speedy Bluetooth pairing. 

We still don't know what the headphones will be called, but current predictions include the Apple AirPods X and the Apple StudioPods.

iOS 14 is expected to launch sometime between September and November 2020, which suggests that Apple's over-ear headphones could be released at the same time.

However, a report by respected analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who correctly predicted the release of the upgraded Apple AirPods and the AirPods Pro in 2019, claims that the wireless headphones will launch earlier in the year, alongside a number of new products.

That would mean that – were the new Apple AirPods over-headphones to be launched alongside the iPhone 9 in March at the expected spring event -–this appearance in iOS 14 will also be found in future versions of iOS 13, so the release date is pretty broad.

In any case, the discovery of these iOS 14 glyphs adds credence to claims that we'll be seeing the first pair of Apple over-ear headphones in 2020 – and they're the clearest image so far of how the headphones might look. Check out the glyphs for yourself below:

apple over-ear headphones

(Image credit: Apple / 9to5Mac)

Mounting rumors

Despite no official confirmation from Apple of the existence of the over-ear headphones, rumors have been mounting since the start of this year. 

Most recently, an inventory listing from US store Target, may have revealed the price of the hotly-anticipated cans. 

YouTuber Jon Prosser posted an image to Twitter, which appeared 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 Apple StudioPods, 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

We've been hearing rumors for a lot longer than that, though. In June 2018, Bloomberg reported that Apple was planning “studio-quality over-ears headphones” that will “use Apple branding and be a higher end alternative to the company’s Beats line”.

Speaking to people close to the matter, Bloomberg reported that Apple originally intended to “introduce the headphones by the end of 2018, but has faced development challenges”, and was instead targeting a 2019 launch. Of course, they never materialized, making a 2020 release date all the more credible.

Olivia Tambini

Olivia was previously TechRadar's Senior Editor - Home Entertainment, covering everything from headphones to TVs. Based in London, she's a popular music graduate who worked in the music industry before finding her calling in journalism. She's previously been interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live on the subject of multi-room audio, chaired panel discussions on diversity in music festival lineups, and her bylines include T3, Stereoboard, What to Watch, Top Ten Reviews, Creative Bloq, and Croco Magazine. Olivia now has a career in PR.