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Comment: The latest report increases my optimism about Apple headphones

I said back in February that my experience of HomePod had made me feel optimistic about a report that Apple was working on ‘studio quality’ over-ear headphones.

Apple hasn’t exactly made a name for itself for headphone quality, either through its own-brand EarPods and AirPods, or through the Beats-branded products it has promoted since buying the company […]

But my experience of HomePod gives me a very different perspective on this. Sure, I’m still not expecting the audio quality of any Apple headphones to rival that of my favorite B&W P5 Wireless, but the company has demonstrated itself capable of dramatically stepping up its audio game.

And today’s report increases that feeling of optimism …

The report says that Apple is working on some higher-end AirPods.

Now, it doesn’t say anything specific about those having better audio quality. Rather, it says they will offer three improvements:

The Cupertino, California-based company is working on new AirPods with noise-cancellation and water resistance, the people said. Apple is trying to increase the range that AirPods can work away from an iPhone or iPad, one of the people said.

The report also has nothing new to say about the over-ear headphones, save that they have been pushed into next year – something of a pattern of late.

But the very fact that Apple is considering a range of headphone products, rather than just a single model each of in-ear and over-ear headphones, is encouraging.

Apple’s headphone history to date has been disappointing. I couldn’t find anything positive to say about EarPods beyond the fact that they’re free, and AirPods simply mirrored the performance of EarPods in wireless form.

Apple of course went on to acquire Beats, a brand noted more for its thumping bass and slick marketing than for accurate sound reproduction. But HomePod took the company in a new direction.

Most of us aren’t willing to accept audio quality we perceive to be poor, but when the difference is ‘great’ versus ‘really good,’ then the convenience factor does come into play. And for me, HomePod audio quality ticks the ‘really good’ box in exactly the way the Sonos Play 5 did […]

My verdict, then, is that a pair of HomePods makes a very decent speaker system consistent with the $700 investment. It’s not up there with high-end HiFi, but as someone who’s reasonably fussy about audio quality, it’s good enough that I’m going to relocate the B&O speakers to the living room and stick with these for the winter garden.

Apple isn’t a Hi-Fi company, and I’m sure has no plans to become one. But with HomePod, it is making decent-quality audio part of the ecosystem, and it seems that it has plans to extend that into headphones.

To me, that’s a sensible move. Apple has a strong music heritage through iPod and iTunes, and more recently through Apple Music – but it’s probably true to say that a big chunk of the company’s customers have only ever listened to that music on the move through EarPods and, more recently, AirPods.

Apple-branded headphones offering HomePod level audio quality will introduce many more of the company’s customers to a better listening experience. That’s a win for them, and a win for Apple’s efforts to sell them more music.

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Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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