It sounds like the first AirPods with a USB-C connection will arrive alongside the iPhone 15 at the Apple September event on the 12th – and it seems that USB-C is pretty much the only hardware change on the cards.
According to the generally reliable Mark Gurman in his Power On newsletter (via MacRumors), the first AirPods to get the new port will be the AirPods Pro 2, which will switch from having a Lightning port to a USB-C connection – and that's it as far as upgrades go.
So these probably won't count as AirPods Pro 3 – after all, it's not the first time Apple has refreshed the AirPods Pro with a new charging system partway through their life. The original AirPods Pro (2019) got refreshed in 2021 to add MagSafe charging, and Apple just quietly made the change to the existing product.
I'd expect the same here – the AirPods Pro 2 will continue to be sold, but now they come with USB-C. It's possible that Apple will keep both the Lightning and USB-C models around for a while, and you'll be able to choose which ones you want, but I wouldn't put money on that either way.
This plan should work well for the AirPods Pro 2. They only came out in late 2022, and still rank among the best wireless earbuds you can buy, thanks to impressive audio quality, very strong noise cancellation, great features for Apple users, and an official price that's lower than flagship buds from Sony or Bose.
But I think there's a good reason why the rumors are only for the AirPods Pro – none of Apple's other earbuds hold up quite so well, and would need a lot more than a USB-C port in order to stay relevant.
AirPods 3 and AirPods 2 need serious tuning up
At this point, it seems obvious that the AirPods 2nd Gen are in need of a drastic overhaul. Their small case is still nice, but there are vastly superior products available for around half the price, such as the Earfun Air Pro 3. Supposedly, some kind of new AirPods Lite model is on the way, which would surely arrive with USB-C for the off, and the original AirPods design will find itself locked in the charging case of history.
The AirPods 3 are the bigger question. There's not really much that the AirPods Pro 2 do that the AirPods 3 don't – with the obvious exception of noise cancellation and an in-ear fit, but the point of the AirPods 3's design is not to offer those things, and to give you an alternative fit.
But they're too highly priced for their level of audio quality. They're getting squeezed from above by the likes of the Sony WF-1000XM4, which have received a price drop now that the Sony WF-1000MX5 are out, so you can pay just a little more for a far superior sound.
But you also have the likes of the Sony WF-C700N at around the $100 / £100 mark, which sound better than AirPods 3! We awarded them five stars in our Sony WF-C700N review, largely due to their incredible audio quality. And if you can get that for a huge saving compared to AirPods 3… where does that leave the AirPods 3?
Certainly, a tweak to add USB-C without any other changes won't be enough. They're going to need a bigger overhaul if the next version is going to make a return to our list of the best true wireless earbuds.
Still, there's probably some good news from this whole situation for bargain hunters – if Apple straight-up replaces the old versions with USB-C version, the Lightning versions will probably get some great discounts among the Black Friday deals as retailers look to clear their stock.