I’ll be honest. I was not expecting Apple’s long-rumored over the ear headphones to be packed with as many features as are now being predicted. I assumed we would basically be getting an over the ear version of the Beats Solo Pro on ear headphones that came out last year. They featured the same Apple H1 chip with Noise Cancellation and Transparency Mode features that came with the AirPods Pro. They sound even better, at least in my opinion.
Matching the Solo Pros with an over the ear product seemed like a perfectly reasonable goal. However, it looks like Apple is really going all out to create something different with these new headphones. According to Mark Gurman, they will have a “retro look,” with swiveling over the ear cups and a thin metal band. I can remember my Dad’s old over the ear phones from 30+ years ago with that style, so I think that will be a nice touch that premium audio fans will appreciate. He also says that Apple may offer a premium version with a leather band cover and earpads and a fitness-oriented version with more breathable material.
Gurman also calls the most Apple of all Apple moves with these headphones- interchangeable magnetic bands and ear pads. They wouldn’t be the first manufacturer to do this, but the competition doesn’t have a thriving ecosystem of Watch accessories and a fanbase that has proven it will spend money on such things. Apple has the branding and experience to turn this into a compelling feature that third party accessory manufacturers add to.
The more interesting features to me are the new sensor and equalizer functionality that 9to5Mac predicts. First of all, the new phones will have sensors that detect orientation. No more looking for the R and L labels on the sides before you put them on. These phones will know. They will also have a sensor that detects when the cups are on/over the ears. Like the AirPods and AirPods Pro, they will automatically pause your content when the phones are removed from your ears. As good as the Beats Solo Pros are, they do not have these more advanced features.
The last bit that I find more interesting than any other feature mentioned is the inclusion of an equalizer. That’s a bit of a new bridge for Apple to cross. Other than the extremely limited and dated EQ Presets feature buried in Settings-Music that has been held over from the iPod days, Apple has always preferred to decide how music should sound for us. There are some iOS apps that allow you to do some custom equalization, but they only work for music that you own. They are not compatible with streaming music, which is what most of us are using today.
I am more excited about this proposed feature than anything else with these phones. Finally getting some flexibility to customize how we want our music sounds, especially very different styles of music, is a step in the right direction. It’s unfortunate that it may take buying the most premium audio product they make to get such flexibility, but this Apple we’re talking about.
We don’t have any indication of how Apple will handle implementing EQ with these headphones yet. Will it be through iOS Settings, the Music app, or a separate application? Will it work with non-Apple devices? That’s hard to say at this point. However it works, any customization is a good thing and it should help this new product appeal to the high-end audio market.
The last prediction that has made the rounds is the price tag. $349 is a doozy, but it’s also pretty much in line with the best of the competition. These will truly be premium headphones and they will come with the price to match. That said, it’s good to see that Apple isn’t just mailing this one in. It seems that they are going all-out to justify the higher price and add features over and above their already very successful earbuds and headphones.
That only leaves the name to talk about. Yeah, it doesn’t really fit this new class of product, but Apple is all about branding. The AirPods name is everywhere, so if these cans have Apple branding rather than Beats, then a variant of AirPods seems inevitable, even if a little goofy. They will also share the same chips and features, so it makes sense on that level, at least. What will be interesting now is whether Apple upgrades the higher-end Beats Studio over the ear headphones, and if so, whether they put them under the AirPods Studio in features and price. Or will the Studios eventually fade away?
Whatever happens, I’m ready for these new headphones to get here. They’ve been rumored long enough. Hopefully they will make an appearance at WWDC in the near future and roll out soon after, but we haven’t gotten a solid rumor on that yet.
What do you think? Are you considering purchasing the AirPods Studio? If so, which feature appeals to you the most? Let me know in the comments section below or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.