AirPods Studio rumors: The release date could be pushed to 2021

We didn't get the long-rumored headphones with the iPhone 12 in October. But a new image spotted in iOS 14.3 beta code suggests they are still on the way.

Lexy Savvides Principal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
Expertise Wearables, smartwatches, mobile phones, photography, health tech, assistive robotics Credentials
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Lexy Savvides
5 min read
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Update, Dec. 8: AirPods Studio are actually called AirPods Max. Apple announces $549 AirPods Max over-ear headphones, with a Dec. 15 release date.

Apple released four new iPhone 12 models, two new Apple Watches, iPads and the HomePod Mini in 2020, but other long-rumored products like the AirPods Studio headphones and AirTags are still missing in action. A Bloomberg report claims the AirPods Studio are facing production delays, so we may not see them by the end of this year, but an icon uncovered in iOS 14.3 beta code by 9to5Mac suggests that Apple is still working on the headphones. Apple recently removed rival headphones and wireless speakers from its stores, which did seem like a headphone-related announcement was on the way, but it may have turned out to be related to the Beats Flex rather than a new AirPods model.

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. With Apple removing the EarPods from the box of the iPhone 12, it also makes sense to have a number of AirPods-branded earbuds and headphones for people to choose from. Here's everything we've heard about the AirPods Studio so far.

Read more: iPhone 12 review: One of our highest-rated phones of all time

Watch this: Rumors about AirPods Studio headphones are getting louder

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 gray 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 were all spotted in glyph form before being announced.

Another image was uncovered in the iOS 14.3 developer beta in November 2020, also by 9to5Mac, showing a potential headphone design.

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.


The AirPods Pro knows when you take them out of your ears.

Angela Lang/CNET

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 has 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 are Apple-owned headphones that cost $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.

But a recent tweet by Prosser claims that AirPods Studio may be facing production delays and some features may not make the final release.

AirPods Studio pushed to 2021 due to production delays?

A report from Bloomberg also claims the AirPods Studio were supposed to enter production weeks ago, but have been delayed because the headband was too tight. Some of the modular or interchangeable components may have also been reduced, along with the size of the touch panels on the headphone cups. The AirPods Studio are now thought to miss out on the replaceable headband, but could still have ear pads that can be swapped in and out. 

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 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, has 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 . But Apple recently released the Beats Flex, so the Beats branding may not be on the way out just yet.