It's just a matter of time before Apple's rumoured over-ear wireless headphones become a reality. In all honesty, we had hoped they'd be here by now – especially with Apple reportedly pulling rival headphones from shelves and Huawei announcing its own FreeBuds Studio (yes, that's the real name) over-ear wireless headphone proposition. But the iPhone 12 (and HomePod mini) event has come and gone and still the in-ear AirPods officially remain Apple's only headphones.
An announcement regarding some Apple-branded over-ears could be imminent, of course, but in the meantime there are plenty of rumours and leaks to keep the anticipation high.
There's been a steady drip of clues around over the past few months, including a strong suggestion that they could be called the Apple AirPods Studio and come in "premium" and sport versions.
First came noted Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo's prediction that we would see the first pair of Apple over-ear headphones this year. Then US retailer Target listed a pair of 'Apple AirPods (X Generation)' headphones in its inventory. Coincidence? We think not.
More recently, an anonymous source told Bloomberg that there would be two modular designs – one premium, one sporty, while tech analyst Jon Prosser (responsible for the Target inventory leak) claims to have definitive info on the name and pricing.
So what can we expect from a pair of Apple over-ear headphones? When will they arrive? And how much will the so-called AirPods Studios cost? We've rounded up all the leaks and rumours to give you the best idea of what we'll see.
Without further ado, let's see what Apple has in store for us...
Apple AirPods Studio over-ear headphones: price and release date
A Bloomberg report dated 1st September claimed that Apple would release its "first over-ear headphones outside the Beats brand " in October. It sounds like the perfect time to launch new products if you ask us – just in time for the busy holiday season and the Black Friday sales – but there's still no announcement from the Cupertino giant.
The new headphones had long been expected to debut alongside the 5G iPhone 12, with a new iPad Air and two new Apple Watches. Thing is, we now have the new iPad Air and Watches, the iPhone 12 and the HomePod mini... meaning the AirPods Studios would probably have to be announced on their own.
Reliable leaker Jon Prosser was correct in his prediction that the headphones would not arrive during the big iPhone 12 launch. The tech analyst's source stated that the AirPods Studio won't enter mass production until 20th October, which Prosser supposes makes the new flagship headphones too late for the iPhone 12 event. Disappointing.
Most recently, a fresh Bloomberg report dated 26th October states that while Apple is still planning to announce its high-end, noise-canceling over-ear headphones (as well as a smaller AirPods Pro proposition and a revamped in-ear entry-level model) the product "has faced several development challenges over the past two years and has been delayed multiple times."
A "person familiar with the matter" is claimed to have said that the over-ear headphones were due to go into production weeks ago, but that was pushed back due to problems with the headband. The issue? Apparently, the part – which is rumoured to be replaceable – was deemed too tight in some testing.
The report continues that Apple initially wanted to include large touch pads on the sides of the headphones, but reduced the size of those panels. The company has also allegedly scaled back some of the interchangeable aspects of the model that were a hallmark of the initial concept. The latest version of the product is likely to lack a replaceable headband, but could still include interchangeable ear pads, according to the report.
So how much can we expect to pay for this new pair of Apple wireless headphones? This is Apple, so don't expect them to come cheap. According to the listing for Apple AirPods (X Generation) that mysteriously popped up at Target, they'll retail for $399.99 (around £350/€350). That would place them in the same price bracket as the Award-winning Sony WH-1000XM4 and notable Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless.
Set in stone? Not so fast: a more recent leak suggests they'll be $50 cheaper: $349 and with the model codename B515. If true, Apple could undercut the five-star Sony WH-1000XM4s and four-star Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. Then there's Jon Prosser, who claims the leather model will cost a whopping $599, while the "sport-like" variant will retail for $349 – a big (and surely unlikely?) price gap between the premium and sporty models
The Apple AirPods Studios are expected to feature noise-cancelling, in line with the AirPods Pro – and for that tipped top-end $599 price, they should do. If Apple can deliver high-quality audio at $349, however, the Cupertino firm could quickly catch up with the leading brands in the noise-cancelling space.
Either way, it's good company to keep. If Apple's new pair is anywhere near as good as either the Sonys or Sennheisers, they'll be some of the best wireless over-ears around.
Will Apple's over-ears really be called AirPods Studio?
The question on everybody's lips for some time has been what Apple's over-ear headphones will be called.
The firm has had enormous success with its AirPods range of in-ear headphones, and chose to stick with the title for the AirPods Pro which launched last year. Apple claims AirPods are the most popular headphones in the world, so we were always expecting it to reuse such a recognisable name.
So what of the AirPods (X Generation) seen in Target's inventory? A viable moniker?
We don't think so. The name in the Target listing was just a placeholder – something to sit on the page until the real name is known. Apple is notoriously secretive about product details – retailers and mobile networks find out about a new iPhone at the same time as the rest of us – so the chances of someone from Target having advanced details is slim to none.
If Jon Prosser's May 2020 tweets are to be believed, we know the name of Apple's latest headphones: AirPods Studio. Names such as 'SoundPods' and 'AudioPods' have also cropped up online but as of September 2020, the consensus now seems to be that 'AirPods Studio' is the chosen branding.
Some Twitter users raised concerns over this moniker, saying that the term 'Pods' denotes Apple's diminutive in-ear headphones and thus would be misleading for an over-ear product, but Prosser advises readers to think of 'Pod' as Apple-speak for 'music', which makes sense when you consider products such as the Apple HomePod wireless speaker – sort of.
Apple AirPods Studio: design
Apple prides itself on its intuitive and stylish designs, and we expect its first pair of over-ear headphones to be no different.
Until recently, we only have concept images to go on – speculative mock-ups that people have created to give an idea of how they might look – and images leaked in Apple's own iOS 14 update (above). They all feature a traditional over-ear design with wireless functionality and cushioned ear cups. Much like the Apple-owned Beats range of over-ear models, in fact.
However, a leak on Twitter may have given us not just a mock-up but the real thing. As you can see from this image below, they will supposedly marry aluminium frames with a mesh fabric headband and polished earcups.
Noted analyst Jon Prosser also thinks there will be a "luxury variant" with leather and metal, plus a "sport-like" model, "made of cheaper materials".
This appears to tie in with the physical description previously provided to Bloomberg by an anonymous tipster: "retro look with oval-shaped earcups that swivel and a headband connected by thin mental arms".
Interestingly, the tipster also claims that Apple could launch two variants: a premium model swathed in "leather-liked fabric" and a fitness-focused model (the one supposedly pictured above) that features "lighter, breathable material".
What's more, both the earcup and headband padding are rumoured to attach to the frame magnetically, meaning that Apple's design will be modular. This would allow users to customise the headphones according to an activity, selecting sweat-proof ear pads for working out, then switching to plusher leather pads when relaxing at home.
We have a fair idea idea about colour schemes, too. Icons spotted in iOS 14 source code reveal both a light and dark option, 9to5Mac reports. Whether those options are white and black, or more nuanced options such as space grey (as found on Apple's iPhones) remains to be seen – the leak above points to the latter – but chances are they'll come in more colour schemes than Apple's plain white AirPods.
Apple AirPods Studio: features and specs
Apple's over-ear headphones should be positioned above its Beats range, so expect a suitably premium set of features – making the AirPod Studios Apple's smartest headphones yet.
Active noise-cancellation should come as standard, to block out background noise. This has two benefits: it lets you hear your music more clearly without cranking it up to ear-splitting volume, and because it dulls background noise it helps you sleep even if you're not listening to music.
Since over-ear headphones provide much more room for computer chips and batteries, we'd expect the noise-cancelling software to be as good, or better than, that found on the AirPods Pro wireless buds.
Wireless Bluetooth 5 should also come as standard, as should hands-free Siri compatibility. That would mean you could control music playback and retrieve useful information just by speaking.
We can expect touch controls on at least one of the earcups, too, so you don't have to reach for your phone every time you want to skip a track.
Since the recent release of a USPTO patent filing (thanks, dedicated Apple intellectual property blog, Patently Apple) we know that the firm is working on 'rotation recognition tech' too – ideal if you prefer to wear your cans with the band slung low over the back of your neck after a few hours of 'Studio' mixing, but you still want the same 'swipe-down' touch-control functionality.
You can also expect 'wearer detection', so the AirPods Studios automatically play and pause when you put them on or take them off. There's even talk of 'ear detection', meaning you can wear the headphones either way round and the software will route the correct channel to the corresponding ear.
We would also expect a more grown-up sound quality than Apple's Beats stablemates. Beats headphones tend to be a bit bass-heavy at the expense of the rest of the frequency range, but we would expect more from an Apple-branded pair. Both the AirPods and the AirPods Pro can be bettered for sound, but they're still a cut above your average in-ear pair.
If Apple can marry such premium sound quality with its usual winning ease of use, it could well have a hit on its hands (and our ears).
Apple AirPods Studio vs AirPods Pro: which is better?
It's too soon to know how Apple's over-ear wireless headphones will compare with its AirPods and AirPods Pro models. But we can take an educated guess.
The extra space will allow Apple to use bigger, more advanced drivers for a fuller, more rounded sound. There will also be more room for noise-cancelling components, so expect Apple's most advanced noise-cancellation yet.
Really, they will be completely different propositions: AirPods and AirPods Pro offer an in-ear experience, with all the benefits that entails (more portability, a less obtrusive look, lower price, etc.) while Apple's over-ear headphones should offer better sound quality, more bass and more effective noise-cancellation.
And let's not forget, Apple is rumoured to be releasing its third-generation AirPods – dubbed the AirPods 3 – in early 2021.