Apple took the wireless headphone market by storm with its AirPods in 2016 and moved upmarket with the noise-canceling AirPods Pro last year, but the company has left the over-ear market to its Beats brand.
All indications suggest this will come to an end this year with Apple planning to release its own premium branded over-ear headphones in 2020 called the AirPods X. The AirPods X name itself is one point of contention as recent rumors suggest these will, in fact, be a Beats-X style pair of connected earbuds.
We have gathered together all of the rumors regarding potential new products in the AirPods lineup this year and have pieced them together to help give you a clearer picture of what to expect from Apple's headphones division in 2020 and beyond.
Apple AirPods X price
The first leaks regarding the pricing of Apple’s rumored over-ear headphones pointed to a $399 listing found in Target’s product inventory, which was also the origin for the AirPods X name being associated with Apple-branded over-ear headphones. Subsequent rumors from frequent Apple leaker Jon Prosser have suggested the price could actually be $350.
While either price would fall in line with premium consumer options for noise-canceling over-ear headphones, Apple typically gravitates toward top-end pricing, and $399 represents the high water mark for the category as seen with the Bose 700.
Along with this revised pricing estimate for the over-ear headphones, Prosser said AirPods X was probably a placeholder name for over-ear headphones, then later associated AirPods X with a fitness-focused $199 pair of headphones featuring a connected earbud-style like the Beats X.
This is a point of contention with another reliable source for Apple rumors, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who believes that product is “more likely to be” new Beats headphones. The Beats X line is overdue for an update, so unless it's being abandoned, a new pair of Beats X would absolutely fit the bill.
Apple AirPods X release date
We expect to see the over-ear headphones launch either towards the end of the summer or alongside the iPhone 12 in September. The aforementioned Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo was the most recent to weigh-in on this timing, with his sources suggesting mass production would start in mid-2020, which roughly aligns with the projections from Prosser.
Apple AirPods X design
There are two separate designs for the over-ear headphones along with a potential third connected earbud product. Rumors have indicated that one of the over-ear options is a more traditional design similar to what is seen on the Bose 700 or Sony 1000-MX3 and the second uses a lightweight design to accommodate fitness activities.
Let’s take a look at the heavier traditional model first. The prototype designs have been described as “retro” with swiveling oval earcups and thin metal arms connecting to the top of the earcups.
It wouldn’t be an Apple product without some clever bit of design and reportedly both the earcups and the material on the headband are magnetic, which will allow you to swap them out for different styles. This isn’t a unique feature, but it does help to secure Apple’s place in the higher-end of the market as this is something typically found from expensive brands like Master & Dynamic or Bowers & Wilkins.
Less is known about the fitness-focused design other than it being more lightweight than the other and that it features perforated earcups to allow for better breathability.
Given the target market and pricing, these are expected to feature active noise-canceling technology along with the Transparency mode found in the AirPods Pro. The latter would be particularly valuable for headphones intended for fitness.
Turning finally to the semi-wired earbud design, according to Prosser, this would look very much like the existing Beats X headphones with a cable connecting the two earbuds. Given the price and intended market, we don't expect these to include noise-canceling technology, but they could include the Transparency setting for increased awareness of the environment while exercising.
What we want from the Apple AirPods X
Advanced noise-canceling: Our reviewer was reasonably impressed with the active noise-canceling found in the AirPods Pro, but they were no match for a pair of over-ear headphones. Apple needs to take a dramatic step forward in this department with its over-ear offering.
Long battery life: While Apple has managed adequate battery life with the AirPods and AirPods Pro, neither is anywhere near best in class when it comes to earbud battery life. Wireless over-ear headphones from Bose and Sony offer 20 hours or more of playback on a single charge. Apple will need to match or beat this mark.
Improved audio quality: While Apple has done a solid job with the audio quality in the AirPods Pro, it doesn’t hold up to best in class options like the Sennheiser Momentum. The form factor has been a major selling point for the AirPods and AirPods Pro but without this advantage for over-ear headphones, we are going to be less forgiving about audio quality.
Portability: Obviously, if you are looking for something supremely portable, you should be turning to the AirPods Pro or another true wireless earbud. That said, over-ear headphone manufacturers have increasingly managed to cleverly leverage hinged designs to allow them to fold down to a more reasonable size for travel. Having a nice included case that the headphones can fold into and fit in a carry-on or backpack is a must.