- AirPods Studio expected in March 2021
- Over-ear design
- Apple has patented “headphones including an adjustable band”…
- …as well as “Noise and Wind Cancellation” technology
- Features likely to include wireless pairing/charging, Hey Siri, and “head and neck detection”
- Apple over-ear headphones could use touch gestures rather than buttons
- StudioPods will cost more than AirPods: £399/$399 is likely price
Sources (and Apple’s own patent activity) strongly indicate that we will soon see the launch of a pair of over-ear headphones, to join the popular in-ear AirPods and AirPods Pro. In this article we look at clues, leaks and rumours related to the so-called AirPods Studio or StudioPods, including their expected price, release date, design and tech specs.
Is Apple definitely launching over-ear headphones?
There’s no such thing as definite with Apple, but the evidence is there.
A January 2019 patent called simply ‘Headphones’ describes “A pair of headphones including an adjustable headphone band”, which clearly isn’t describing the AirPods as we know them.
Apple has released over-ear headphones before, under its Beats brand (which Apple bought, along with Beats Radio, for $3bn in 2014). This is expected to be the first time the company extends the popular AirPods brand into the realm of over-ear.
The AirPods Studio aren’t the only new AirPods in the pipeline at Apple – we have a separate article dealing with new AirPods rumours.
What will Apple’s over-ear headphones be called?
Nothing official has been announced, so we don’t know for sure, but prolific (and mostly accurate, particularly recently) Apple leaker Jon Prosser believes the name will be AirPods Studio.
Looks like Apple is sticking with the “AirPods” branding for their new over-ear headphones.
— Jon Prosser (@jon_prosser)
May 9, 2020
The pundit consensus had previously focused on hybrid names like StudioPods, but AirPods Studio is currently the strong favourite.
The use of the ‘Pods’ suffix might seem odd. There’s always been a sense that this implies compactness – a neat, self-contained capsule of a product, like the iPod or HomePod – and that doesn’t feel so appropriate for a more capacious set of over-ears.
But Apple clearly feels the Pod brand has a lot of currency across its music-related lines, and the AirPods in particular have been a huge and dominant marketing success.
When will Apple launch the AirPods Studio?
The Apple over-ear headphones rumour first came from the analyst Ming-Chi Kuo way back in February 2018. At the time he issued a research note saying: “Apple to have own-brand, high-end over-ear headphones with all-new design; to be as convenient as AirPods with better sound quality; shipments to begin 4Q18F at earliest.”
If you’re thinking he was way off – it’s autumn 2020 now and nothing has been announced – then hold your horses for a moment. Apple’s interest in developing a set of over-ears was backed up by Bloomberg sources in March 2018 and later in July 2018. Just because we haven’t seen them yet doesn’t mean they’re not on Apple’s product roadmap.
Now we have a brand-new launch date prediction for the AirPods Studio – and it’s not until next year.
Okay, how about “One More Thing” ?
After this November ARM Mac event, the next Apple Event (currently a digital event) will happen on Tuesday, March 16, 2021 🗓
— Jon Prosser (@jon_prosser)
October 16, 2020
Read more about what to expect at Apple’s next event.
How much will the AirPods Studio cost?
Kuo has claimed that Apple’s new over-ear headphones will cost more than the AirPods. Note, however, that his prediction was made before the launch of the AirPods Pro, so he may have had a lower bound of £159/$159 in mind, rather than £249/$249.
On the other hand, Bloomberg expects the headphones to target the higher end of the market, as is the case with the HomePod speaker, so a high price is likely.
A Target listing that appeared back in March suggests that the StudioPods could cost $399 (which using Apple’s maths would convert to £399).
The new over-ear headphones are likely to rival headsets from the likes of Bose as well as Apple’s own Beats by Dre brand. If you’re wondering what the competition costs, the Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series II) wireless headphones are £269.95. The Sennheiser Momentum 3 wireless noise-cancelling headphones cost £349.
There are lots of cheaper alternatives, but Apple is never particularly keen on targeting the budget end of any market.
What will the AirPods Studio look like?
Leaker Fudge has tweeted a grainy photo said to be of the AirPods Studio.
Probably Sport variant of Apples headphones
Personally not impressed, looks too much like 2 Palm Pre’s attached to 2 tuning forks :/ hard to unsee
— Fudge (@choco_bit)
September 16, 2020
The headphones are described as having a HomePod-style mesh material on the headband and ear cushions; covers in anodised aluminium (available in various colours); and a steel frame holding the headphones together. There’s a Lightning connector on the underside of one cover but no 3.5mm audio jack. A version in leather is also expected.
For a very approximate idea of what the AirPods/StudioPods could look like you could also take a look at these illustration from an Apple patent:
Bear in mind, as ever, that patent illustrations are not required to look much like the finished product, only to illustrate the elements being claimed for protection. But it gives a rough idea of where Apple’s thinking is headed.
The above patent, discovered by Patently Apple, relates to noise and wind cancellation and was granted to Apple in November 2018. More on that below.
We mocked up our own StudioPod design based on a pair of Beats headphones. However, there are designers out there with much better illustration and Photoshop skills than us, and Curved.de has posted some great concept illustrations:
And here’s a look at that concept in a video:
Meanwhile, someone at The Apple Post has come up with this possible design.
AirPods Studio features & spec
The following features are likely:
- Noise cancelling
- Noise isolation
- Wireless pairing
- Optional wired connection when superior audio quality is required
- Wireless charging
- Gesture control
- H1 chip to power Hey Siri
- U1 chip for positioning and locating
Looking at Beats’ range of wireless over-ear headphones could also give an insight as to what to expect from Apple’s over-ear Pods. For example, the Beats Studio 3 Wireless feature Pure Adaptive Noise Cancelling and the Apple W1 chip, while the PowerBeats Pro offers Hey Siri thanks to the inclusion of the H1 chip.
- Responsive noise blocking pinpoints and blocks external sounds.
- The Beats Studio 3 Wireless responds automatically to individual fit and music playback.
- Soft cushions offer “advanced venting and signature ergonomic pivoting for a customised, flexible fit”.
- Real-time audio calibration constantly optimises sound output to ensure clarity, range, emotion and a premium listening experience.
One patent describes a way for users to control music playback without buttons. Most over-ear headphones require users to locate and press buttons on the cups, but Apple describes a means by which users could control the music playback using gestures.
Apple describes the use of gesture controls as a way of handling media playback such as play, pause and volume up and down. A swipe down towards the ground could lower the volume, while a swipe “forward” could jump to the next song.
Apple addresses an issue associated with gesture control in the patent: If you can’t see the headphones because they are on your ear you need to use touch to locate the right area to touch.
That problem is exacerbated by the fact that people don’t always wear headphones in exactly the same way – you might have them over the top of your head, or you might have the band around your neck. It’s a challenge for the headphones to interpret the gesture correctly.
To solve this problem Apple has found a way that these gesture controls could be adapted depending on the way the owner wears the headphones. If the headphones are worn further back on the head, for example, they would be smart enough to recognise a swipe down to the ground, even though it’s now at a different angle to the device, and turn down the volume.
The headphones may be able to determine their position on your head due to the U1 chip that is said to be included.
The U1 chip (which also features in the Apple Watch Series 6 and the iPhone 11 series) should also make it easier to track down lost headphones as you will be able to use it to locate the position of the device in which the chip resides.
The patent also mentions noise cancellation, at least briefly:
“In some embodiments, headphones can also include a noise cancellation feature. The noise cancellation feature can be substantially improved if a listener’s ears are completely covered by the ear cups.”
Apple’s solution is a number of sensors inside the headphone cup that can identify your ear and determine the orientation of the headphones from it. This means that when you use a gesture to control the music the gesture will be interpreted correctly.
Apple has also been granted a patent for “Noise and Wind Cancellation” as applied to over-ear headphones.
There are in fact two noise and wind cancellation patents that were published by the US Patent and Trademark Office back in November 2018, but one of them was originally filed in 2017, according to a Patently Apple report.
Apple’s invention performs spectral mixing of signals from a microphone located inside the ear cup (or ear bud, or phone) that is directed towards the ear canal, with the signals from at least one microphone located on the outside of the ear cup’s housing to generate a mixed signal.
Won’t StudioPods cannibalise Beats sales?
According to Ming-Chi Kuo’s February 2018 report, the new “high-end over-ear headphones” will make Apple’s “acoustic accessory lineup more complete”. Apple’s decision to launch more headphones, despite owning Beats, will build on its ‘Pod lineup, which includes EarPods, AirPods, iPods and the HomePod.
In its March 2018 report, Bloomberg noted that the addition to Apple’s wearables and accessories segment – a category that includes AirPods, Beats headphones, the Apple Watch, Apple TV and iPad accessories – makes sense as during their February 2018 financial results call the company revealed that they saw a surge of 70% in wearable product sales in 2017.
Incidentally, while the new Apple headphones could cannibalise Beats sales, Bloomberg doesn’t think that Apple will stop producing that brand of headphones. “Given the strength of the Beats headphone name, the company will likely keep that brand while developing a different new one for the new headphones,” the site suggests.