Everything we know about Apple’s AirPods Studio

It’s not quite official yet, but Apple will be coming out with its first high-end, noise-canceling set of over-the-ear headphones, dubbed the Apple AirPods Studio.

Past tweets and leaks all point in this direction, and with a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) application for “totally wireless high-performance earphones” being approved, it’s only a matter of time. The question now is, “When?” Also, we can’t help but wonder what they’ll look like, the features they’ll have, and how much they’ll cost.

Here’s everything we know about Apple’s rumored headphones.

Release date

The history of AirPods Studio speculation has been rife with predicted launch dates that have failed to materialize.

In September, there was a lot of expectation that Apple would announce its new cans at its September 15 event, at which it launched new iPads, Apple Watches, and a fitness subscription service. That didn’t happen, so when Apple sent out invites for its October 13 iPhone event, it seemed like the logical moment for the company to reveal the AirPods Studio.

But that didn’t happen either, despite the fact that in September, Apple began removing third-party audio products from the online Apple Store as well as the company’s many brick-and-mortar locations.

Finally, when Apple revealed that it would be hosting a “One more thing” event on November 10, pundits naturally figured that this would be the coming-out party for the Studios. And… nope.

Why the continued missed expectations? A Bloomberg report suggests that Apple has been running into difficulties with one or more parts of the headphones, which has led to unexpected delays in manufacturing.

At this point, it seems virtually impossible that we’ll see the AirPods Studio make their debut before the new year.

Design

Trying to nail down exactly what the AirPods Studio will look like has been challenging. We’ve seen several supposed leaked designs for the new cans going all the way back to March 2020. But a recent discovery of a set of icons deep within the beta release of iOS 14.3 could be our best clue so far:

iOS 14.3 beta reveals likely design of Apple’s upcoming AirPods Studio headphones https://t.co/aGgzzr7qEM by @filipeesposito pic.twitter.com/II0e2G62VU

— 9to5Mac.com (@9to5mac) November 12, 2020

But what’s surprising is that the oversized headband, folding hinges, and earcup pivots that connect to the center of the earcups shown in this icon are more consistent with the design of Huawei’s new Freebuds Studio

Huawei Freebuds Studio
Huawei

…than with previously leaked renders, which show a very thin and wide headband and arms that connect to the tops of the earcups:

Earlier this month @jon_prosser reported that @Apple is facing issues with the AirPods Studio, thanks to Bloomberg we now believe those issues are likely related to the headband, and "interchangeable functionality".https://t.co/LQPQeOCwP6#Apple #AppleNews pic.twitter.com/b7Li8nYn7B

— Apple Terminal (@AppleTerminal) October 26, 2020

An earlier Bloomberg report indicated that Apple could be planning a customizable approach, with ear cushions and headband pads that will be magnetically attached and thus easily swappable, but it appears that it’s this very part of the headphones’ design that is at the root of the manufacturing delays.

None of this is official, of course, meaning it’s the words of Apple leakers against the silence of the company itself. Curiously, a U.S. patent application first spotted by Apple Insider appears to lend support to both designs. Within the extensive 122 page document are diagrams that illustrate various ways of building a set of over-ear headphones. It also details features like the ability to “automatically (detect) the orientation of the headphones on a user’s head.”

Features

Website 9to5Mac has reported on a number of alleged specs for the AirPods Studio, citing multiple unnamed sources close to the project. Among these, features like neck detection and active noise cancellation (ANC) stand out.

According to 9to5Mac, the AirPods Studio will be able to detect when they’re being placed on your head and play or pause content accordingly. Neck detection will allow the headphones to stay on when you have the device around your neck with the music paused.

The site also says the AirPods Studio will have active noise cancellation, plus a transparency mode to be able to let outside noise in when appropriate. We expected this because Apple won’t be able to compete with industry leaders like the Sony WH-1000XM4 without both of these features.

According to leak tweets from Jioriku, the headphones may also have native NFC pairing for non-Apple devices, capacitive touch gestures on the earcups, and an earcup cupping gesture that enables an ambient sound mode, which would mirror many of Sony’s features.

His unit was set up to use one hand over either left or right ear cups to activate the mode that boosts outside audio and turns music down. Brand new chip for even faster pairing and longer battery life. Expect over a day with normal use, moderate is one day and heavy is 8h (7)

— McGuire Wood ???? (@Jioriku) September 2, 2020

One more feature that’s being reported is custom equalizer settings when paired with a Mac or iOS device, allowing listeners to adjust low, medium, and high frequencies to their liking.

It’s also highly likely that Apple will give the AirPods Studio the same spatial audio feature that was just added to the AirPods Pro, which increases the sense of realism and depth when watching movies that have at least 5.1 surround soundtracks.

That’s it as far as we know in terms of leaked specs, but we have a few more items on our AirPods Studio wish list…

Battery life and charging

Sony’s over-ears can last up to 30 hours on a single charge, which sets the bar fairly high for what kind of juice premium headphones need to have. Very few ANC-equipped headphones last longer than this, but wireless battery life, in general, is on the upswing.

Apple’s track record in the true wireless earbud space has been to deliver just enough battery life to keep its customers happy, which likely means we won’t see a new endurance record with the AirPods Studio.

We could see a first for wireless headphones: Wireless charging. At its fall iPhone event, Apple introduced the new MagSafe wireless charger for its iPhone 12 models — a circular, magnetically latched charger that looks like a larger version of the wireless charger the company includes with the Apple Watch.

Given that the Beats line of wireless headphones uses a circular design for the outer portion of their earcups, it’s entirely conceivable that the AirPods Studio will use a similar shape, and that it will be used to dock a MagSafe charger.

Audio quality

There are even fewer details about the audio quality of the Apple headphones than there are about features. But Apple has a solid track record in the audio landscape, and anything it comes out with is expected to sound great.

The company received high marks for the audio quality of the Apple AirPods Pro, so there’s precedent here to roll out some superb-sounding wireless headphones.

Cost

In his tweets, Prosser said the new Apple headphones will cost $350. If this is true, they’ll be firmly in the price range of the $400 Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and the $350 Sony WH-1000XM4, as well as other solid options like the Shure Aonic 50. That’s exactly where Apple has enjoyed playing in both the headphone and true wireless earbuds spaces so far: Not quite the most expensive option, but very close.

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