By all estimations, it looks like it’s going to be an interesting year for Apple’s audio wearables. While we have reason to believe that we may not see any new in-ear AirPods this year, that might be simply because Apple is focusing on getting its new over-ear headphones to market, and if recent reports are true, they’re going to be every bit as revolutionary as the original AirPods were back in 2016.
A spate of reports this week has suggested that Apple might be going with the name AirPods Studio for the new over-ear headphones, which would obviously be an homage to its Beats-branded Studio 3 cans, and although it strikes us as a bit odd that Apple would cross lines in its name in such a way, it’s certainly plausible when it comes to Apple’s marketing and branding.
However, what’s far more interesting than the name is the new features that Apple could be packing into its over-ears, with advanced sensors that will allow for a more seamless experience. We also saw reports last month that the new headphones will follow a more Apple-like aesthetic, but will also feature magnetically interchangeable parts like ear ups and headbands to allow users to customize them, following the ideology behind the Apple Watch with its wealth of replaceable bands.
There’s been logical speculation for a while that the full-sized headphones would include features from the in-ear AirPods like the ability to automatically pause music when they’re removed, and now 9to5Mac has heard from its sources that it will not only include this feature, but expand it further in a way that’s more appropriate for a full-sized set of headphones.
Head and Neck Detection
Sources speaking to 9to5Mac have indicated that the new headphones will include sensors that can detect not only when they’re being worn on your head but also when they’re simply hanging around your neck. This would presumably not only allow the headphones to pause and playback based on when you’re wearing them, but to determine when to simply go into a hot standby mode when they’re around you’re neck, as opposed to shutting down completely and disconnecting from your device when they’re fully removed from your body. Basically, placing the headphones around your neck would be the rough equivalent of simply taking one of your AirPods out of your ear.
There will also reportedly be another new sensor that will allow the headphones to detect left and right ears automatically, making the headphones essentially “ambidextrous” in terms of how you wear them — unlike most headphones you won’t have to squint in the dark for “L” and “R” indicators to figure out which way to put them on.
While the report doesn’t mention it, with all of these advanced sensors it’s also conceivably possible that the new headphones could also handle audio playback appropriately when you only have a single ear cup up against your ear, such as when you pull one back to hear what’s going on around you. The music on that side could simply be paused, or the headphones could kick into a monaural mode out of the remaining one.
Naturally, the new “AirPods Studio” headphones are expected to include the same Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode features found on the AirPods Pro, however since they’re also expected to be “mainly focused on professional users” (or at least those who are serious about their audio experience), there will apparently be custom equalizer settings included in iOS and macOS, which will be unlocked once the new headphones are paired to a Mac, iPhone, or iPad.
It’s unclear exactly what form this will take, how many bands it will offer, or how users will access it, but sources say that it will be possible to make low, medium, and high frequency adjustments. While the iOS Music app already features over 20 equalizer presets, it appears that this would allow for more custom adjustments, and would likely be a global setting that would likely be available from the Control Center.
At this point it goes without saying that the new “AirPods Studio” will include Apple’s latest H1 chip, which has now become a standard component in almost all of its earphones and headphones. In fact, the only glaring omission at this point is the Beats Studio 3, which continues to use the older W1 chip, even after Apple released the new Beats Solo Pro as an update to its on-ear Beats Solo 3.
In the case of Beats Studio 3, our guess is that Apple wants its own premium “AirPods Studio” headphones to get these feature first, although at this point it also seems possible that the “AirPods Studio” could be Apple’s answer to the “Beats Studio Pro,” and there may not be an update coming in that Beats lineup. This would especially make sense if Apple does indeed plan to use the “Studio” name for its own Apple-branded over-ear headphones.
So far, Apple has kept its Beats products distinct from its AirPods lineup, with the PowerBeats and PowerBeats Pro both being more clearly geared to sports and workout enthusiasts. “AirPods Studio” does stand to muddy the waters a bit in this area, which could be why some have speculated that Apple was looking to shutter its Beats division entirely, and although reliable sources say that isn’t happening, there may be a germ of truth to it if Apple is planning on phasing out some Beats products like the Studio 3 in favour of its own Apple-branded version.
It’s still unclear when we’re actually going to see these new “AirPods Studio” headphones, although rumours suggest that they’ll be priced starting at $349 and could be announced as soon as next month, likely at Apple’s virtual WWDC conference. However, even if Apple does unveil them in the coming weeks, there’s no guarantee that they would be available right away; Apple made a similar move with the HomePod back in 2017, which ended up being delayed into early 2018. There has also been code found in iOS 14, rather than iOS 13.5, which suggests that Apple isn’t planning to actually release them until after the next major iOS release ships later this year.