AirPods 3 and Apple Music HiFi said to get May 18th launch

Are AirPods 3 finally coming, alongside higher-quality Apple Music streaming at last?

AirPods Pro
(Image credit: Apple)

The much anticipated launch of Apple AirPods 3 and a higher-quality tier of streaming from Apple Music are both set to be announced next week, according to a new leak.

The claim comes from Apple YouTuber Luke Miani, speaking to the website Apple Track (opens in new tab) (via MacRumors (opens in new tab)), who says we should expect to see announcements for AirPods 3 and ‘Apple Music Hi-Fi’ on May 18th.

We expect that the actual release of both will come after that – particularly since a new music service upgrade will probably require iOS 14.6 to be released, and we’re only three weeks out from iOS 14.5.

Early betas of iOS 14.6 hinted at higher-quality Apple Music options coming soon, and analysis of the code (spotted by MacRumors (opens in new tab)) seems to suggest that it may only be supported by certain devices, such as AirPods Pro, AirPods Max and, we assume, AirPods 3. At least, that would be for Bluetooth headphones – what that means over AirPlay 2 or if you’ve gone to the trouble of a wired connection, who knows.

This does lead us to wonder exactly what an improved tier of Apple Music might actually be. Higher-bitrate, like we tend to think of most ‘hi-res’ music? Apple’s devices are certainly capable of handling it, and have been for some time, thanks to FLAC support, so it certainly seems like an obvious option.

But some think that it might not be about improving bitrate, but about ‘Spatial Audio’. This is Apple’s name for offering 3D audio on AirPods Pro and AirPods Max (and, again we assume, AirPods 3), and it’s possible that the aim with Apple’s upgraded music service will be to go beyond stereo, bringing realistic music surround sound to people.

Dolby Atmos music tracks and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio format (as featured on the Amazon Echo Studio) have been pushing in this direction, offering a way to listen to music that few have had a chance to try.

What about AirPods 3?

As for the new headphones, the rumours are that they’ll look a lot like AirPods Pro, but without the in-ear fit, and without active noise cancellation. The shorter-stem design will be welcome with lots of people, and we’re expecting a big boost in audio quality compared to the current regular AirPods too.

The latter is really important, because while the slick pairing and easy device switching of AirPods still makes them a favourite, when it comes to sound quality, you can get better audio for less money these days, as our guide to the best true wireless earbuds will tell you.

Throw in Spatial Audio too and you’ve got a nice upgrade, though the price will be a big factor – earbuds are just getting cheaper and cheaper.

Don’t forget, Apple fans, we’re expecting the new iPad Pro 2021 and iMac 24-inch (M1, 2021) to be released imminently, so keep your eye out for more information about those too soon. And Apple’s next big keynote – its WWDC 2021 event – is coming in June.

Matt is T3's former AV and Smart Home Editor (UK), master of all things audiovisual, overseeing our TV, speakers and headphones coverage. He also covered smart home products and large appliances, as well as our toys and games articles. He's can explain both what Dolby Vision IQ is and why the Lego you're building doesn't fit together the way the instructions say, so is truly invaluable. Matt has worked for tech publications for over 10 years, in print and online, including running T3's print magazine and launching its most recent redesign. He's also contributed to a huge number of tech and gaming titles over the years. Say hello if you see him roaming the halls at CES, IFA or Toy Fair. Matt now works for our sister title TechRadar.