With an AirPods refresh imminent, is it time for a meaningful price drop?

AirPods with Wireless Charging Case and iPhone in the background
AirPods with Wireless Charging Case and iPhone in the background (Image credit: Joseph Keller/iMore)

If everything goes the way we're now expecting, Apple will announce newly refreshed AirPods sooner rather than later. They've been rumored for months, but it looks increasingly likely that we'll see them break cover within the next few weeks. Based on rumors we expect to see a redesign in terms of looks — but is it also time we saw a refresh in terms of price, too?

Apple currently sells AirPods with a starting price of $159, although you can pay as much as $199 if you want to add a Wireless Charging Case to the mix. You probably do, although it's far from required. I'll stick to the $159 price for now.

If the rumors are true, AirPods will get a look similar to that of AirPods Pro. That means an in-ear design and smaller stems than we're accustomed to. That's all good stuff and it could be said those changes are good reasons to keep the prices the same. But as much as these might look like AirPods Pro, they very much aren't AirPods Pro. There will be no advanced features like ANC, for example. These will still be Apple's entry-level earbuds. The ones it gives away when it's 'Back to School' time.

But as inexpensive as these things are compared to AirPods Pro, they're still costly in the grand scheme of things — and you only need to look as far as an Apple-owned company to see proof. Beats, and its Studio Buds, show just how costly AirPods are.

The Beats Studio Buds sell for just $149 and sure, that price difference isn't huge. But the Studio Buds look like modern earbuds, thanks to their "much less obvious look than the AirPods," as Rene once put it. And they come in three different colors. AirPods come in any color you want — so long as it's Apple white.

And then the kicker — Beats Studio Buds support Active Noise Cancelation and Apple's fancy Transparency mode, just like AirPods Pro.

Beats Studio Buds Buds

Beats Studio Buds Buds (Image credit: Rene Ritchie)

That $10 saving over AirPods suddenly seems like a bigger deal, doesn't it? As well it should, because what it shows is that Studio Buds are much closer to AirPods Pro for AirPods money than some might realize. No, there's no head tracking for some of Apple's more advanced Spatial Audio magic. And no, some of the instant device switching smarts are missing. But they're also $100 cheaper than AirPods Pro and $10 cheaper than AirPods with a more complete set of features.

In truth, Studio Buds leave AirPods in no man's land — too costly to compete with Studio Buds, but without the features needed to justify it. This brings me back to my original question — should Apple's AirPods refresh also come with a price drop?

Unless there's a serious rejig of the specs sheet, I'd have to say it should. And then it might just make them the best AirPods deal yet.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.