Apple AirPods Lite: release date rumours, price, design and features predictions

Apple AirPods Pro 2
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Cheaper AirPods have been rumoured for a while now, but they might be just a few months away. A recent Bloomberg report said we'll see the so-called AirPods Lite around September or October, alongside the AirPods 4.

Apple has fared very well at the high end of the headphone market, with the AirPods Pro 2 and AirPods Max both earning five-star reviews. And now it wants to do the same at the cheaper end of the market.

So what would a (relatively) budget pair of AirPods offer? Let's see what's been rumoured so far.

Apple AirPods Lite: release date rumours


(Image credit: Future)

Bloomberg's Mark Gurman recently said that production lines are readying for a run of 20-25 million pairs of new AirPods, which are expected to launch around September or October. Yes, that is when we're expecting the iPhone 16 to be unveiled. But the AirPods Lite have been rumoured for quite some time.

In a report in January 2023, analyst Jeff Pu claimed that Apple is working on a cheap pair of earbuds, a model he referred to as the “AirPods Lite”.

Inveterate Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has only fanned these flames, predicting that the next generation of AirPods would ship in the second half of 2024 or the first half of 2025.

Apple AirPods Lite: price predictions 

Pricing at this stage is once again nothing but pure conjecture and based predominantly on US-based predictions, but industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo does have a specific number in mind. Kuo claims that Apple plans to target a $99 price point for the AirPods Lite, undercutting the current cheapest AirPods 2 model (from 2019) by $29. However, some speculate that Apple might introduce a new, cheap pair of AirPods at a slightly higher price and, instead, cut the price of the standard AirPods 3 to turn them into a more budget option.

Either way, it's unlikely Apple will have three pairs of 'standard' AirPods in its lineup. Our bet? Apple will give the AirPods 4 active noise cancellation, helping to justify a slightly higher price than the AirPods Lite. The Pro models aren't expected to be upgraded until 2025.

For Apple to provide a more wallet-friendly alternative, though, a serious cut from the current $129 benchmark feels like the most likely outcome. We reckon somewhere around $100 is more likely, which translates to around £80 / AU$150.

Apple AirPods Lite: design 

In-ear headphones: Apple AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Future)

We can pretty much safely bet that the AirPods Lite will be in-ear headphones, almost certainly daubed in the company’s now-iconic white paint and most likely with stem designs.

What we’d most logically expect is a similar design to the proposed model’s cousins, the AirPods 3 – i.e. short listening stems, an unobtrusive ear tip configuration and hopefully some touch controls for skipping tracks and changing volume on the fly. They were themselves an update on the AirPods 2's longer-stemmed, double-tap-control design, which Apple is now likely to have firmly moved away from for future models.

The excellent Pro 2 flagship model of the AirPods featured interchangeable silicone ear tips depending on the size of the wearer’s lugs, something that wasn't featured with the AirPods 3. Our guess at this cheaper end of the price spectrum is that you’ll get an unadjustable tip rather than interchangeable ones, even if this unalterable design gives your inner-ear cartilage a potentially rougher time of it. 

Perhaps to cut costs (and help differentiate the models) Apple will also do away with touch controls altogether on a cheaper Pod.

Apple AirPods Lite: features 

Atmos on Apple Music

(Image credit: Apple)

The most likely competitors to the AirPods Lite would be the Sony WF-C500 and the Panasonic RZ-S500W. These class-leading budget wireless earbuds retail for around £89/$79/AU$149 and £100/$150/AU$219 respectively. And they show what to expect from cheaper AirPods.

You can’t expect too much from such affordable products, of course. But the excellent Sony WF-C500 do have IPX4 waterproofing, Bluetooth 5.0 and a 20-hour battery life, so we would expect the AirPods Lite to include similar specs at this price level, if not better. The AirPods 2 have a 24-hour battery life, so Apple is unlikely to drop below that figure. The AirPods 3 offer 30 hours.

We wouldn’t expect AirPods 3-level features like spatial audio support and wireless charging, though. Because of such feature omissions, the AirPods Lite might find themselves with an older, less powerful Apple chip too.

Now, the brilliant Panasonic RZ-S500W offer noise-cancelling technology, but that’s a very rare feature for earbuds at their price, often saved for models around and above the £150/$200/AU$300 mark. The AirPods 4 are rumoured to have ANC, but it's safe to say the Lite model won't – Apple has to differentiate between the two models somehow.

Apple AirPods Lite: sound quality 

Apple AirPods Pro 2

(Image credit: Future)

This is the factor that matters most. After all, no amount of fancy aesthetic flourishes and clever functionality can mask poor sound quality, Apple label or no.

We’ve been impressed with the audio fidelity of Apple’s recent AirPods line. The AirPods 3 deliver a tonally balanced and decently detailed sound (even if it’s not as insightful as the best at their price), and we regarded the Pro 2 model as a five-star class leader in the sound quality department. Honestly, the AirPods 3's sound quality in a more budget model wouldn’t be far off what we can these days expect from a $99 pair, though this could again be one of the areas in which Apple chooses to differentiate the models. Fingers crossed it isn’t.


Check out our Apple AirPods Pro 2 review 

AirPods 3 vs AirPods Pro 2: which are better?

Need to know which Apple Music songs are available in Spatial Audio?

See the best AirPods deals live right now 

Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. During his time at the publication, he has written countless news stories alongside features, advice and reviews of products ranging from floorstanding speakers and music streamers to over-ear headphones, wireless earbuds and portable DACs. He has covered launches from hi-fi and consumer tech brands, and major industry events including IFA, High End Munich and, of course, the Bristol Hi-Fi Show. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or trying to pet strangers' dogs. 

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