Microsoft to Take on AirPods with Surface Buds

Posted on April 15, 2019 by Brad Sams in Hardware with 50 Comments

Late last year, Microsoft surprised many with the announcement of the Surface-branded headphones. The premium peripheral has opened the door to the company exploring where else they can apply the Surface branding and the next stop appears to be a pair of earbuds.

According to multiple sources who are familiar with the company’s plans, Microsoft is currently working on a pair of earbuds under the code name of Morrison. The company is looking to capitalize upon the development of its audio tech by expanding its portfolio to cover the two major categories of headphones: over-ear and in-ear.

This isn’t Microsoft’s first adventure into the earbud segment, the company previously sold earbuds with its Zune music player several years ago. And with wireless earbuds being a quickly growing segment with Apple leading the way and Amazon likely joining the party soon, Microsoft will be entering a saturated market but that has never stopped them in the past.

The codename for this product is a bit different than others we have seen come out of the Microsoft camp when it comes to hardware. There are devices like Andromeda and Centaurus that use astrological names but the original Surface Headphone name was Joplin – likely related to Scott Joplin (or actually, Janis Joplin), an American composer known for his ragtime music.

Morrison is likely related to Jim Morrison, who was the lead singer of the Doors and is considered to be a classic American rock star. As for the name, Surface Buds has been tossed around but I don’t know if that will be the retail name when they do arrive.

As for features, the details about how Microsoft will differentiate this hardware from other players isn’t fully clear yet. But, by looking at what the Surface Headphones offer, Cortana integration, noise cancellation, and what I have heard, is a way to improve interactions between a phone and the earbuds to make reading content easier on the phone, are all on the agenda for this hardware.

When will these earbuds become available? That I don’t fully know yet as project timelines often slip and products do get canceled; a 2019 release does seem plausible but is not guaranteed.

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Comments (50)

50 responses to “Microsoft to Take on AirPods with Surface Buds”

  1. jmeiii75

    Perhaps Joplin refered to Janis. Would match up with Morrison

  2. Lauren Glenn

    If I didn't already have a Jabra 65t (which I love).... The only benefit to this for me is that they're not black earbuds and then I can see them better when it's dark in the room

  3. harmjr

    Brad, Paul, I wonder if you guys have heard if the surface headphones are selling? I am guessing that they must be if they are doing the earbuds. To be honest I am surprised about this. To me this market seems saturated by apple, Samsung, and others.

  4. Jason Peter

    "Microsoft will be entering a saturated market but that has never stopped them in the past."

    Oh, how much fun I could have with this one...

  5. BeckoningEagle

    These could also act as hearing aids if they include the functionality of amplifying sounds like they did with the Surface Headphones.

  6. Tony Barrett

    Just sounds like MS are becoming a 'me too' company at every opportunity. Just why is Microsoft, who have always been pretty much just a software company, going 'all in' on hardware? Are MS really that desperate to become the next Apple. They've had so many attempts fail, yet, as everyone else is doing it, so they will to. Makes you wonder if this is more about brand awareness with the younger generation, but come on, Microsoft 'ear buds'? Really? MS are just not cool. Nowhere near.

    • codymesh

      In reply to ghostrider:

      yeah, when people think 'Surface', they think 'me too'.

      200 iq galaxy brain take sir

      • William Kempf

        In reply to codymesh:

        Let's not forget the lowly mouse. Microsoft made the first PC mouse, moving that bit of hardware into the mainstream (no, I'm not claiming they invented the mouse). They've also made some of the best keyboards on the market for decades. Heck, this article points out this isn't even the first ear buds they've made, with the last ones predating the Apple ear buds they are supposedly so desperate to emulate. Microsoft has been in the hardware business for a long time, no matter what the haters think or claim.

  7. Polycrastinator

    I'd love for them to pick up and run with the tech that was used in Here One. Those remain one of my favorate blue sky tech purchases, and I was enormously disappointed that the company folded, I thought they had something really, really special. I keep living in hope that someone will resurrect the tech, and since the developers have scattered to the winds, but I can hope that someone tries to take the tech and run with it, and it would be the sort of differentiation that Microsoft is already moving towards with their headphones.

  8. gregsedwards

    Having already spent $350 on a pair of over-the-ear Surface Headphones just a few months ago, I'm really more excited about these ear buds. I currently use a pair of Jabra Elite Sport ear buds, which have decent sound quality and some nice fitness oriented features. It'd be nice if I could replace those with something a little more...Surface-y.

  9. HellcatM

    At least they won't look like earponds. Those look so rediculous!

  10. irfaanwahid

    I guess the "Surface" brand no longer stands for "create new device category".

    They seem to now enter every other segment whether they make something trully different or not.

    I don't mean their hardware isn't premium or not praise worthy, eg Surface Headphones.

    But initially what Microsoft and Panos Panay set out to create something new/different, is no more the case I believe.

    • cluegate

      In reply to irfaanwahid:

      Bluetooth earbuds have plenty of room for improvement so I welcome Microsoft to give it a go. I find the controls on most earbuds limited, even Apple hasn't done much in that space.

      1. If Cortana is still a thing for them, it's a great way to get that service back into the competitive space especially from a business perspective.
      2. Xbox integration would be superb.
      3. Ability to designate what device to connect with from the earbuds.
      4. Volume control.
      5. Battery pack/case supporting Type C
      6. Firmware updates
      7. Maybe a mini scroll button imitating the Surface Headphones noise cancelling feature. This alone could add a lot of versatility beyond noise canceling.
    • dontbe evil

      In reply to irfaanwahid:

      1- surface pro

      2- surface book

      3- surface studio

      4- surface hub

      give them a break :)

      they should have used surface also for hololens :)

  11. skborders

    I actually like the looks of these over the EarPods. Probably cost more then I am willing to pay though.

  12. Pierre Masse

    I don't understand. At least Apple and Amazon have their streaming music service. It makes no sense at all.

  13. locust infested orchard inc

    Person 1: Wassup ?

    Person 2: Wassup ! Microsoft is developing a bud too.

    Person 3: Wassup ! Def the bud, I wanna Surface Foldable™.

    Person 1 and Person 2: True.

  14. wright_is

    I thought Bose and Sennheiser started the trend for in-ear cordless. It has certainly been overrun with cheap Chinese knock-off for the last 4 years or so.

  15. PanamaVet

    Have they fired the team that designed this consumer hardware? If not it won't take long. I think the MS Band design team spent a lot of time looking over their shoulders. It is amazing what the aura of termination can do to the design of a product.

    Sad to say but Microsoft management deserves these comments.

    I would like to thank the Zune HD design team that Microsoft fired early on. It is still the best sounding, best looking audio device I use in my car and at home. It is virtually indestructible as pointed out in an early review. I have a spare battery and a screw driver ready for the next replacement.

    The Microsoft force feedback joystick was great until Microsoft decided not to update the driver for Win 7. It was working but useless without support by the company that created the O/S bricking it.

    Will I purchase this Microsoft consumer device? No, I would rather give a shout out to the Zune HD Team! They deserve the praise.

  16. webdev511

    And like Surface Headphones they probably won't be Teams Certified devices either.

  17. Winner

    I wonder why they always chase everybody else?

    Does Microsoft think they will actually make a lot of money on these?

    It feels like the Band all over again.

    • dontbe evil

      In reply to Winner:

      yeah they're always chasing: surface pro, book, laptop, studio, hub, hololens, continuum, uwp, kinect...

    • skane2600

      In reply to Winner:

      To be fair, Apple does that a lot too. And, of course, Apple was hardly the first company to produce wireless earbuds.

    • Stooks

      In reply to Winner:

      I had BETTER blue tooth ear buds prior to my Apple Earpods. Did Apple chase everyone else? I think one of the big reasons Apple ditched that charging pad was because there are hundreds of options out there already and no one would care.

      Once the battery dies on my Earpods, which is happening after about 2 years for most, I wont buy another pair. They are good but not as comfortable as others for sure.

    • bluvg

      In reply to Winner:

      I was skeptical of the Surface headphones as well, until I tried them. The noise cancelling options are superb--particularly the option to bring in ambient sound. I don't know if anyone else has implemented that yet, but it seems to eliminate that "head in a vise" feeling that makes other noise cancelling headphones uncomfortable after wearing them for a while.

  18. bart

    Love the art work. Not sure the logo is the way to go though. Before you know it, people expect these things to run Windows 10 ;)

  19. AnOldAmigaUser

    These look amazingly easy to lose.

  20. MikeGalos

    Seeing the Morrison code-name it's more likely that Joplin was named for Janis Joplin than Scott.

  21. beatnixxx

    Given recent history, I'll be avoiding anything that isn't specifically related to Office 365 / Azure. Maybe this will be the rare exception, but these days I'll assume this product line is canceled the second it's added to my shopping cart.


    • Gerard Samuel

      In reply to beatnixxx:

      Agreed! I'll watch from the sidelines and wish them the best..

    • jgraebner

      In reply to beatnixxx:

      I would tend to think that earbuds would be reasonably safe. Even if they don't sell well and are discontinued, they should just keep working as they wouldn't be dependent on any services. I suppose if they have Cortana integration, that might go away at some point, but I doubt much of anyone will use that to begin with. :)

    • geschinger

      In reply to beatnixxx:

      What history are you referring to? I can't think of a single Surface product that has ever been cancelled. Am I missing something? Closest thing I can think of is the original low end Surface which the Surface Go isn't exactly the same thing.

      • beatnixxx

        In reply to geschinger:

        The history of Microsoft introducing consumer-focused products/peripherals only to abandon them unceremoniously later. The fact that they tout Cortana integration in this product while other parts of the company are walking away from Cortana (which is one such consumer focused area they gave up on) pretty much demonstrates the point.

        I don't plan on spending any $$ in this regard, but to each their own.

        • geschinger

          In reply to beatnixxx:

          Fair enough. I would disagree slightly in that I don't consider what gets offered through the Surface line to be consumer focused products. I too would be leery of any one off Microsoft product offered like Cortana speakers or Groove or any other isolated service.

          While I'm not in the market for Surface Buds if I was I would consider these only because they are under the Surface umbrella. I think that gives them a future that they might not have otherwise had if they were just Microsoft Buds as I've seen no indication that anything in the Surface line is an experiment or something that they won't be behind for a long time to come.

  22. rmlounsbury

    Having consumer audio hardware seems a little odd given that Microsoft is jettisoning all of their other consumer endeavours outside of XBOX. But I suppose this does make some sense. Especially considering Panos Panay has been spinning the Surface Headphones for business workspaces. Plus the developer space tends to like to have a good pair of cans or buds to listen to music while coding.

    I'd consider the Surface Buds. I got a pair of Samsung Buds when I got my Galaxy S10+ and those where free so it would take a solid feature set to make me buy a replacement for those.

    • wright_is

      In reply to rmlounsbury:

      I bought a cheap pair of in-ear wireless buds for sport. They are fine for listening to Audible in the gym, which is all I need them for.

      I agree about it being an odd move for consumer, but as the Surface Headphone are, as you say, aimed at the workspace, it makes a little more sense. Although I hate having music in the background when I am writing code.

  23. Bats

    Lol...I have no problem work Microsoft wanting to do this, but....

    "Following on the success of the Surface Headphones, "

    The Surface headphones were successful? Lol... Really? Seriously? Uh... Where are the stats? Where are the stats that say that the Surface headphones were successful?

    This statement made me laugh as the time Brad declared the Surface Pro the"darling" and"savior" of the PC industry.

  24. Daniel7878

    Am I the only one that likes the ‘unsealed’ design of the AirPods?

    • cyloncat

      In reply to Daniel7878:

      There are really two issues there. "Sealed" versus "unsealed", and "fits" versus "doesn't fit." I can't stand the "sealed" fit, from anyone's designs. And the AirPods fit, for me. But yeah, AirPods are love 'em or hate 'em.

    • dspeterson

      In reply to Daniel7878:

      It seems to be one of the more divisive things about the AirPods.

      I’m sure plenty of others agree with you (although I’m not in that camp).

      • Vladimir Carli

        In reply to dspeterson:

        well, it depends from what you use them for. Airpods are amazing in some situations and awful in others. To have a good differentiator, Microsoft should do them with isolation and with noise canceling. I would happily have both but my main problem with the isolated design (as the one depicted) is that after half an hour my ears hurt. I can wear the airpods the entire day with no discomfort. I am aware there are people with the opposite situation. We are anatomically different, that's why these products are divisive

        • wright_is

          In reply to Vladimir:

          The existing Surface Headphones look almost identical to my Sony headphones. If they have made an OEM deal with Sony for the headphones, I would expect a similar deal for the buds and the major headphone producers (Sony, Bose, Sennheiser etc.) all have good noise-cancelling technology.

  25. Tony Barrett

    I don't think MS will be 'taking on' anybody with this product - if it's ever released. It's certainly not an enterprise solution, meaning consumer only, and MS don't really do consumer anymore. MS don't have their own streaming music service. They don't have their own mobile platform. Cortana is now heading for the assistant scrap heap. MS don't have the best reputation for supporting their own hardware very well either. Surface ear buds? No thanks.