Apple’s September event is in the rear-view mirror, and while we saw two new Apple Watches and iPads, there was no iPhone 12 announced at the virtual event. One long-rumored device that could make its debut soon is the AirPods Studio, a pair of over-ear headphones that have been hinted at for quite some time. (Another is the AirTags, which also could make their debut in October alongside the expected launch of the iPhone 12.) Apple also just removed rival headphones and wireless speakers from its stores, which seems like a good sign that a headphone-related announcement is imminent.
Like other high-end headphones and the AirPods Pro, the AirPods Studio headphones are likely to have noise cancellation and a transparency mode that can pipe in external sounds for personal safety and awareness of your surroundings. Although Apple owns Beats and has several over-ear headphones like the Solo Pro already available, there’s been speculation about an Apple-branded pair since early 2018.
Considering the success of AirPods in the wireless earbud market, Apple may look to bring all of its audio gear under one umbrella. Here’s everything we’ve heard about the AirPods Studio so far.
A mystery headphone appears in iOS 14
We got some indication of what AirPods Studio might look like, at least in terms of what its icon looks like in iOS, when it was first spotted in iOS 14 code by 9to5Mac back in May. The image shows a standard over-ear headphone with padded cups and a white or grey color, although this could just be a variance for light and dark modes in iOS.
This isn’t the first time a glyph or product image showed up in software before an official release: the AirPods Pro, PowerBeats Pro and PowerBeats 4 all were spotted in glyph form before being announced.
An earlier report from Bloomberg also reported that Apple was working on several versions of over-ear headphones, including a fitness-oriented model and one with premium leather-like finishes. There was speculation that the headphones may have interchangeable components too, like being able to switch out ear cups. You can already customize products like the Apple Watch with a myriad of metal finishes, colors and bands, so it’s no surprise that Apple may do something similar with other wearables like headphones.
Later, an image and video appeared online by a Twitter user known as @choco_bit, who claims to show the so-called Sport variant of the AirPods Pro. The images are of headphones with two squareish cups and a headband that appears to be padded with something similar to the HomePod mesh. The video shows what could be a case for the headphones.
Apple leaker Jon Prosser also followed up with the render below, which looks similar to the models pictured above.
Prosser earlier said the AirPods Studio would start at $349, putting them in the same ballpark as premium headphones such as the Bose 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4.
AirPods Studio could have unique sensors and audio tools
The most intriguing thing about the AirPods Studio are the rumors about what’s inside. According to that same 9to5Mac report, they may have a sensor to detect whether the headphones are on your head or resting on your neck, which would allow them to play and pause music accordingly. This is similar to the AirPods, which have sensors that detect when you take one out of your ear.
Unlike other over-ear headphones, the AirPods Studio might not have a right or wrong way to wear them. They may automatically be able detect how you put the headphones on and adjust the left and right channels accordingly.
The AirPods Pro have an adaptive equalizer that changes the sound automatically, depending on variables such as your ear shape. But they don’t offer a user-adjustable EQ unless you change the settings in an app like Apple Music or Spotify. If the AirPods Studio wants to seriously compete with brands like Bose and Sony, Apple will likely need to give us a dedicated equalizer to tweak the sound settings on the AirPods Studio.
As for battery life, we don’t yet have details of how long the AirPods Studio might last. But the Beats Solo Pro, which is an Apple-owned headphone that costs $300 (£270, AU$429), offers 22 hours of listening time with noise cancellation active (or up to 40 without).
Read more: Apple’s spatial audio feature should have Bose and Sony worried
It’s safe to assume the AirPods Studio would have some sort of touch panel, or way to control playback without needing to reach for your phone or use the voice assistant. This would be similar to the regular AirPods that have tap controls, or stem controls in the case of the AirPods Pro.
AirPods Studio could use Apple’s U1 chip
Since making its debut in the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, Apple’s ultrawide-band or U1 chip has flown under the radar somewhat. At the moment, it’s used for more accurate AirDrop transfers, but its potential reaches far beyond just file sharing. The other potential for the U1 is for its accurate location tracking and a Twitter user known as @L0vetodream posted that the AirPods Studio could use this chip.
This chip could potentially help the headphones know how to route the audio according to how they’re worn, or simply to pinpoint the headphones with greater accuracy in the Find My app.
Will the Beats name fade? Will Apple keep AirPods and Beats separate?
That’s one big question we don’t know the answer to yet. Apple has always kept the Beats headphones fairly separate from AirPods, even though they share some of the same internals. The Solo Pro released in 2019, for example, have active noise cancellation, transparency mode and the same chip that’s in the AirPods for fast connections to Apple devices. They also come with voice-activated Hey Siri.
One sign that the Beats Solo Pro might be on the way out is they just received a substantial $100 price cut at retailers, including Amazon and Best Buy.