AirPods

AirPods

Apple's AirPods took over the wireless earbud market with their ease of use and integrated features with the iPhone. There are four models for sale today from the low-priced entry model to the ultra-premium over-the-ear headphones. The H1 processor enables long battery life and long-range low-latency connection with Apple devices.

● Truly wireless, bluetooth earbuds
● H1 processor in latest models
● "Hey Siri" functionality
● Spatial Audio with head tracking
● Automatic device switching
● Find My network support
● Starting at $159

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Apple may not have been the first company to make "true-wireless earbuds," but it has undoubtedly popularized and perfected them with AirPods. When the company revealed an iPhone without a headphone jack, it gave users a solution — a $160 set of earbuds.

The AirPods brand has evolved to become more than Apple's wireless earbuds. There are three generations of Apple's standard AirPods, the AirPods Pro with more premium features and the over-the-ear AirPods Max.

What makes something an "AirPod" is its Apple-first design and vertical integration of hardware and software. The H1 chip leads to better battery life, "Hey Siri" support, better connectivity with low latency, and operating-system-specific integrations in software.

Share audio to multiple sets of AirPods Share audio to multiple sets of AirPods

When a set of AirPods is near an iPhone or iPad, it will show up on the screen in a UI card for pairing and viewing battery life. Any device with an H1 or W1 chipset is paired with the user's iCloud account and will fast-switch between devices when selected in the AirPlay menu.

When paired with an iOS or iPadOS device, there are specialized controls available. These include switching between Active Noise Cancelling and Transparency mode, selecting Spatial Audio mode, and shared audio control.

Software Updates

Lock your AirPods Pro when you've lost them thanks to advanced Find My features Lock your AirPods Pro when you've lost them thanks to advanced Find My features

Find My AirPods was introduced in iOS 10.3, allowing a user's iPhone, iPad, or Mac to keep tabs on the whereabouts of the tiny earphones. Utilizing the host device's positioning hardware, GPS, Wi-Fi, or other component packages, the connected device could tell a user where a missing AirPod was last seen.

iOS 13 and later allow a user to pair two sets of earphones to one iPhone or iPad. This lets two people watch a movie or listen to music in tandem.

The latest versions of iOS also allow text-to-speech reading of messages from iMessage and third-party apps like WhatsApp. This lets users keep tabs on their messages when it isn't practical to look at their iPhones.

iOS 14 enables "auto-switching" of devices with an H1 chip, including all current models of AirPods and select Beats by Dre headphones. Alongside iOS 14, Apple launched a firmware update that added spatial audio, compatible with select video streams, to AirPods Pro.

iOS 15.1 adds improved Find My features that include a new Lost Mode and Find My network integration. Users who misplace their AirPods will see their device's location updated as other Find My network devices pass nearby.

AirPods (third-generation)

AirPods (third-generation) AirPods (third-generation)

The third generation of AirPods takes on a new design that mimics the AirPods Pro. The shorter stems have pressure-sensitive controls for pausing audio and summoning Siri. The earbuds are bulbous and direct sound into the ear.

Apple implemented a few of the AirPods Pro features into its new mid-tier earbud. For example, these have Adaptive EQ, which has customized audio adjusted in real-time based on the listener's ear shape and earbud fit.

Apple also made the new AirPods water-resistant. That means sweat and rain won't damage the earbuds, but they still aren't optimized for anything more intense.

The battery life of each earbud is now six hours. The charging case can fully recharge the earbuds four times, leading to 30 hours of use. Five minutes of charging enables one hour of use.

The charging case is also wirelessly capable and can be placed on a MagSafe Charger. Magnets lock the charging case in place but still charge at the same rate as a standard wireless charger.

The third-generation AirPods cost $179 and are available in white.

Review

AppleInsider scored the third-generation AirPods a 4 out of 5. The new features and design are worthy upgrades to Apple's wireless earbuds, but they occupy a strange place in the lineup.

Design

The earbuds themselves are a cross between the original AirPods and the AirPods Pro design. The stem is shorter and has a more bulbous earpiece, but there aren't silicone tips for a custom fit. Apple heralds the design as a "universal" fit, but your results may vary.

The charging case is squatter than the original case but not as wide as the pro case. It ensures four additional charges are available to your AirPods when not in use, however.

We liked that the charging case can magnetically attach to MagSafe Chargers. The extra security of that grip ensures the wireless charger is aligned and makes charging the case less of a hassle.

Sound

The sound quality is improved when compared to the second-generation model. There are other wireless earbuds in the $180 price range with better sound quality, however, and the AirPods Pro isn't that much more expensive when found on sale. Even the Beats Fit Pro seems to have a better bass-heavy sound with changeable ear tips and ANC modes for $20 more. Audio quality and style will be a personal choice, so there are options for users within Apple's ecosystem if AirPods don't quite cut it.

Spatial Audio with dynamic head tracking is an interesting feature that won't appeal to everyone. We've enjoyed listening to Dolby Atmos music and viewing movies with this option enabled, but the feature can be turned off for those seeking a more traditional listening experience.

Overall Value

The third-generation AirPods case can magnetically attach to MagSafe chargers The third-generation AirPods case can magnetically attach to MagSafe chargers

As a set of AirPods, these are the obvious choice for those seeking the latest and greatest feature set while avoiding the complications of exchangeable ear tips or ANC modes. The second-generation model is still for sale at a much lower price point, so if budget is a concern above all else, those may be a better choice.

In the $150 to $200 range, there are many earbuds and headphones a user can pick from, several of which are Beats earbuds with Apple's proprietary H1 processor. This means the customer will have to decide based on fit, finish, and sound reproduction — all of which are personal decisions.

Pros

  • Improved audio quality
  • Smaller stem
  • Force stems replace the fickle tapping controls
  • MagSafe charging is wonderful
  • Smaller stems look better while wearing
  • Very comfortable
  • Adaptive EQ tunes audio automatically
  • Spatial Audio with head tracking is great for movies, sometimes audio
  • IPX4 resistance helps for workouts or weather
  • Skin detection sensor helps prevent audio starting inadvertently
  • Battery life is fantastic

Cons

  • No tight seal in your ears
  • Case still scratches easily
  • Hard market position between second-generation AirPods, AirPods Pro, and new Beats
  • No color options

AirPods Max

AirPods Max in blue AirPods Max in blue

The AirPods Max is Apple's first over-the-ear headphones. They use the proprietary H1 chip and include Adaptive EQ, Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency Mode, and Spatial Audio.

Apple is shipping the over-ear headphones in five colors: space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink. The unique design aims to achieve ultimate comfort while remaining easily identifiable as an Apple product.

AirPods Max introduced Adaptive EQ to the line, adjusting audio based on the ear-cup seal and sound within the headphones. It measures the sound signal and adjusts the low and mid-frequencies in real-time. Apple's goal is to use real-time data to provide richer and more detailed audio.

Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos support enables music to surround the listener when properly formatted for the feature. Thanks to further updates to the format, users can use the gyroscopes in the AirPods Max to move their head within the sound as of iOS 15.

Review

AppleInsider scored the AirPods Max 4 out of 5. Its integration into Apple's ecosystem, premium design, and good quality audio add up to justify the $550 price point, but just barely.

We found it difficult to justify Apple's high price for AirPods Max We found it difficult to justify Apple's high price for AirPods Max

Design

We believe the AirPods Max have one of the most bespoke designs ever created for a set of headphones. The stainless steel headband is coated with a soft-touch material similar to silicone. The canopy is made of a proprietary mesh that lets the headband rest atop your head while evenly distributing weight.

The steel and aluminum construction, the internal batteries, and everything else add up to a heavy set of headphones. At 14 ounces, these land heavier than competitors which are usually nearly half the weight. However, we've worn AirPods Max for many hours and the weight hasn't been an issue.

Of course, weight feel and tolerance of that weight will vary from person to person. Accessories and third-party earpad options will let users customize the fit and weight distribution of the headphones as they see fit.

The Case

Apple chose design over function for the AirPods Max case. While other sets of AirPods have charging, pairing, and other functions built into their case, this one is a simple piece of fabric with magnets.

Customers and pundits alike have had rather visceral reactions to the case, and while we don't hate it, we believe it could be better. Apple seems to have chosen a form factor for the sake of being different, which sacrifices functionality and practicality.

The AirPods Max case is designed to protect the ear pieces while putting the device to sleep The AirPods Max case is designed to protect the earpieces while putting the device to sleep

The fabric cover does little to protect the expensive headphones and offers only one actual feature — low-power mode. A magnet within the case activates a low-power sleep function of the AirPods Max that keeps them from pairing to devices. After 18 hours of being in this state, Bluetooth and Find My is disabled entirely.

Third-party cases can build in this functionality, so those who particularly dislike this case can find one that fits their needs. We didn't mind some aspects of the case, like having the headband exposed. This makes them easier to grasp when taking them out of your bag and takes up less space when packing.

Our biggest critique of the case is its lack of protection for the ear cups. The soft aluminum casing seems to be the most vulnerable part of the AirPods Max, yet they are barely protected by the case. We'd be happier if Apple made a case that completely encased the ear cups.

Sound modes

The Active Noise Cancellation for AirPods Max is easily best-in-class and performs much better than the AirPods Pro. The larger drivers, ear isolation, and additional microphones make the ANC perform great when compared to other models.

The Transparency Mode is also quite good, though we ran into a few shortcomings during our tests. This mode allows external noise to be passed through the headphones into your ears, so things like vehicles passing by or people's voices can get through. While Transparency Mode works great in most conditions, high-pitched noises and subtle rustling can creep through and there's no way to fix this.

Spatial Audio with head tracking enables listeners to move their head through the audio Spatial Audio with head tracking enables listeners to move their heads through the audio

The effect of watching properly mixed media can be quite jarring for first-timers on AirPods Max. Thanks to the Spatial Audio with head tracking feature, central channel audio will always sound like it is coming from the device, like your iPad. This makes it seem as if your headphones aren't actually working since it sounds like the audio is playing from the device speakers.

When listening to multi-channel content, especially content mixed in Dolby Atmos, this effect expands to surround you. So, if a sound is coming from your left during a video, you can physically turn your head and "face" the sound.

Without Spatial Audio, the center channel always stays in front of your eyes Without Spatial Audio, the center channel always stays in front of your eyes

Since our review, Apple has added the ability to listen to Apple Music in Dolby Atmos. The same head-tracking effect will occur when enabled, and let users move their head through the music audio.

Audio Quality

We were underwhelmed by the audio produced by Apple's ultra-premium headphones. While the audio is pleasing and improves at higher volumes, audiophiles and those expecting $550 sound will be disappointed.

Apple built these headphones to offer premium sound and offer a range of features to cater to its customers. The combination of technology and premium materials pushed the price higher, not the audio fidelity. However, we believe the average consumer will be fine with the sound produced.

Overall Value

Those who want premium headphones deeply integrated with Apple's ecosystem will find value in the AirPods Max. They are above average and compare favorably to popular consumer choices in the $350 range, but it is difficult to justify the higher $550 price tag.

We believe the price is worth it, however, and Apple users are going to enjoy all the deeply integrated experiences. Customers shouldn't be buying these based on sound quality alone, but the feature set, build quality and sound as a whole.

Pros

  • Excellent, premium design
  • Dual H1 chips for audio processing, range, and signal robustness
  • Extremely comfortable
  • Deep iOS integration
  • Spatial audio is killer
  • Better than average audio
  • Good battery life
  • Excellent ANC
  • Solid physical controls

Cons

  • The case — enough said
  • Controls are easy to bump when removing the headset
  • Audio quality could be better
  • Transparency mode harsh on highs
  • No aux cable included and Apple's is expensive and fragile

AirPods Pro

AirPods Pro have changeable ear tips AirPods Pro have changeable ear tips

In 2019, Apple introduced the AirPods Pro – a new high-end version of Apple's earbuds. While they look similar, the pro-level earphones have silicone ear tips that allow for noise isolation and customizable wear.

Features include Active Noise Cancellation, a new touch-control system, and a Transparency Mode that allows users to mix ambient noises with audio from the user's device.

This model has similar battery life to the previous generation, though using Active Noise Cancellation will reduce that somewhat. They utilize the same H1 chip, which enables quick switching between devices and "Hey Siri" voice commands.

Apple added Spatial Audio to the AirPods Pro in a September 2020 firmware update alongside iOS 14. The feature uses accelerometers and sensors to figure out which direction sound should be coming from. It supports Dolby Atmos and multiple-channel surround sound up to 7.1 channels.

The update also included automatic device switching when a user starts playback from different devices. Users can turn off automatic switching on certain devices to make the experience more useful.

Review

AppleInsider scored the AirPods Pro 4.5 out of 5. The improved audio quality, ANC and Transparency modes, and sweat resistance make this an obvious choice for anyone looking for a truly wireless earbud, but existing AirPods users may not need to make the jump.

Apple introduced a new design and more 'pro' features for the AirPods Pro Apple introduced a new design and more 'pro' features for the AirPods Pro

Fit and Audio Quality

When testing the AirPods Pro we knew we wanted only a few things to justify the upgrade from the standard model. First and foremost was a more secure fit.

We hit the gym and tested all of our common routines with the AirPods Pro in our ears. To our surprise, we made it through an hour and a half without a single earbud coming free.

Apple includes three sizes of ear tips with your purchase, so you have some choice out of the box. We'd have preferred more size choices, but appreciated the ear tip fit test that told us if our fit was secure enough and the sound wasn't bleeding out.

Speaking of sound, the quality was great. While it isn't audiophile quality or able to compete with over-the-ear cans, the sound was enough for us to say "wow."

Change your AirPods Pro tips for a better fit Change your AirPods Pro tips for a better fit

ANC and Transparency Mode

Active Noise Cancelling came in handy in some situations, but we feel that we're not using it as much as others may. The sound mode we defaulted to most was Transparency Mode.

Being able to hear your environment, hold conversations, and move around safely with Transparency Mode active made this one of our favorite features. The sound felt more natural when compared to the noise blocking ANC mode.

Overall Value

We feel that customers will fall into one of three camps when shopping for AirPods Pro — existing AirPods users, new users, or budget-concerned users.

If you're looking at the AirPods without the wireless charging case, then the $100 price jump is difficult to justify. Those whose priority is price should look to Apple's cheaper models. However, if you're at all tempted by the AirPods with wireless charging case, then the $50 price bump is a no-brainer.

Existing AirPods owners will be the most difficult to convince. The customizable fit, better audio quality, and water resistance may be enough to justify an upgrade, but only just.

Pros

  • Smaller design
  • Much better audio quality
  • Great ANC
  • Transparency mode is outstanding
  • Stay in much better
  • Work with Audio Sharing
  • Announce messages with Siri is particularly useful
  • Water/sweat resistant

Cons

  • Needs more granular ear tips
  • Force sensors are awkward to use
  • Charging case is awkward
  • Higher price tag and no price decrease on second-gen

AirPods (original)

Second Generation

Apple launched the second-generation AirPods in March 2019, with the first hardware update providing a host of new features that improved Apple's earbuds.

The AirPods are totally wireless earbuds The AirPods are totally wireless earbuds

Swapping out the W1 chip for the H1 processor means it's now twice as fast when switching between active devices and one-and-a-half times faster for phone calls, with 30 percent lower gaming latency. The H1 chip included support for hands-free "Hey Siri" functionality, allowing users to control volume and swap songs via voice commands, so owners of this version don't have to tap the earphones with a finger to activate Siri.

Beam-forming speakers work in tandem with accelerometers to detect vibrations in a user's skull, giving AirPods improved background noise reduction. Tap gestures let users change tracks or volume and activate Siri if one doesn't want to use "Hey Siri." A separate voice accelerometer kicks in to block ambient sound.

When listening to music, AirPods provide up to five hours of battery life, and the case provides an additional 24 hours of use. The addition of the H1 chipset increased talk time an entire hour to three total. Popping them in their case for 15 minutes yields more than three hours of playtime, according to Apple.

Second-generation AirPods use Bluetooth 5, which improves stability and range, especially on newer iPhones. 

In addition to a new processor chip and Bluetooth 5, the second-generation earphones also add a new Wireless Charging Case. The Wireless Charging Case is compatible with any Qi-enabled charging mat. Users can also purchase it separately for $79 to upgrade the first-generation AirPods.

When opening the Charging Case, the earphones inside automatically connect to a nearby device, and, using built-in sensors and an accelerometer, they can detect when they are in-ear, playing, and pausing audio accordingly.

First Generation

First-generation AirPods didn't have a wireless charging option First-generation AirPods didn't have a wireless charging option

Phil Schiller, Apple's former SVP of Worldwide Marketing, debuted the AirPods on stage at the September 2016 iPhone event that also debuted the iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2. Inside the AirPods is Apple's custom W1 wireless chip, which affords a fast and robust connection while allowing for five hours of use.

Apple had filed its first AirPods-related patent in June 2015. The primary motivation for creating an all-wireless earbud was the headphone jack and the desire to remove it.

“We’ve got this 50-year-old connector — just a hole filled with air — and it’s just sitting there taking up space, really valuable space," said SVP of Hardware Engineering Dan Riccio. “It was holding us back from a number of things we wanted to put into the iPhone. It was fighting for space with camera technologies and processors and battery life. And frankly, when there's a better, modern solution available, it's crazy to keep it around.”

The additional space allowed Apple to more easily install the Taptic Engine that powers the solid-state iPhone 7 home button; include bigger batteries; and remove a key point of liquid ingress, permitting the company to meet the IPX7 water resistance specification. The AirPods went on sale in December 2016 and started shipping later that month.

Since their debut, Apple's AirPods have made a sizable impact on the wireless headphone market, with the audio accessory reportedly capturing more than a quarter of the market by early 2017.

Review

AppleInsider scored the second-generation AirPods 5 out of 5 stars. The update added more features to an already near-perfect set of earbuds.

Apple's second-generation AirPods has a wireless charging case Apple's second-generation AirPods has a wireless charging case

Audio

Audiophiles will tell us that there are better-sounding headphones out there, but we won't care. In our testing we found the audio of Apple's truly wireless earbuds to be great, and an improvement over the first-generation model.

The louder volume and better audio quality make for great sounding headphones in a compact form factor. Combine that with Apple's integration into its device ecosystem and you'll have trouble finding something that matches these earbuds feature-for-feature.

Siri

The ability to summon Siri with the "Hey Siri" command rather than a double-tap is a game-changer. Having hands-free Siri at our beck and call enabled us to interact with the assistant more frequently and easier than ever.

Apple also sped up the interaction so you can belt out your entire command without waiting for the "beep" to indicate Siri was listening. While this leaves you wondering if it heard you correctly, it does make each interaction faster and smoother.

Siri isn't without its downfalls, however. The "Hey Siri" command will activate any device within listening range, and the devices will poll who is meant to answer based on a number of metrics. While this polling works, it isn't foolproof and we've had a HomePod and AirPods respond to the same command.

AirPods vs other earbuds

The third-generation AirPods are Apple's latest earbuds meant to have the largest market appeal thanks to a mix of features and a decent price point. AppleInsider has compared each of Apple's earbuds with each other and the competition, and this is what we've discovered.

AirPods vs AirPods Pro

The third-generation AirPods may offer a handful of new features and a pro-like design, but it becomes difficult to choose when you take AirPods Pro into consideration. Fit, sound modes, and battery life will be the biggest deciding factors for customers.

If you're in the market for new true wireless earbuds and don't need fancy features like ANC or Transparency Mode, then you'd be well served by third-generation AirPods. They are cheaper and have Adaptive EQ and Spatial Audio like AirPods Pro.

However, those who want a more custom fit, sound isolation, and ANC modes will want the AirPods Pro. As a bonus, these earbuds have been on the market for over two years, which means sales will drive the price down within dollars of the standard AirPods.

Read the spec breakdown and more feature differences in our full comparison.

AirPods vs Beats Fit Pro

When considering third-generation AirPods versus the Beats Fit Pro, the same considerations have to be made when comparing AirPods Pro. The Beats Fit Pro have a different, more custom fit, with ANC modes and different battery life.

The Beats Fit Pro are $199, have a slightly "cheaper" plastic feel, and use the Beats brand signature sound programming. However, they are more friendly with Android devices thanks to a dedicated app experience, so switching between an iPad and an Android phone is much more seamless than with AirPods.

The charging case for the Beats Fit Pro is much larger than the AirPods case, but only provides up to 24 hours of total charge to the earbuds. AirPods get 30 hours total when using the charging case.

Customers also get color options with the Beats Fit Pro, while AirPods are only available in white. Beats Fit Pro are available in Beats White, Beats Black, Sage Gray, and Stone Purple.

Read the spec breakdown and more feature differences in our full comparison.

Third-generation AirPods versus second-generation AirPods

Those who have a budget in mind above all else will buy the second-generation AirPods, but the decision isn't quite so clear if the price isn't your only consideration. The third-generation AirPods are a solid upgrade and have a price right in between the previous models.

The new features like Spatial Audio with head tracking and improved water resistance will appeal to most customers. Audio quality has improved too, but the fit has changed. Even if the original version fits your ears, the new more-bulbous design may not.

Battery life improvements are also a big gain for those considering the third-generation model. Also, there are no ANC modes to complicate battery life, the earbuds simply get six hours of listening when in use.

Read the spec breakdown and more feature differences in our full comparison.

AirPods Pricing

AirPods with standard charging case cost $129. The third-generation model is $179, and the AirPods Pro ring up for $249. AirPods Max cost a premium $549.

Apple AirPods 3 earbuds

AirPods (3rd Generation)


Apple AirPods (3rd Generation) feature Spatial Audio with Dynamic Head Tracking. Prices are in USD and are subject to change at any time.
$169 at Adorama

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Apple AirPods Pro with MagSafe Charging Case

AirPods Pro with MagSafe


Apple AirPods Pro feature Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency Mode and changeable ear tips. Prices are in USD and are subject to change at any time.
$229 at Adorama

Use coupon code APINSIDER with this pricing link in the same browsing session.

Apple AirPods Max

AirPods Max


AirPods Max feature Active Noise Cancellation, Transparency mode and Spatial Audio support in an over-ear design.
Coupon at Adorama

Use coupon code APINSIDER with this pricing link in the same browsing session.

 

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