AirPods are Apple's wireless headphones that aim to deliver a unique experience. Via the W1 chip, then later the H1 chip, these wireless earbuds offer seamless pairing with iOS devices and a strong Bluetooth connection to minimize interruptions.
● Truly wireless, bluetooth earbuds
● Apple's W1 chip in original, H1 in second-generation
● "Hey Siri" functionality
● Five hour listening time
● Charging case gives 24 hours of listening time
● Spatial Audio update with iOS 14
● Automatic device switching with iOS 14
● Starting at $159
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Apple is betting on the future being wireless, and the AirPods are the surest sign of that bet. The company introduced the audio accessories in 2016 after ditching the 3.5-millimeter headphone jack on the iPhone.
The AirPods brand is evolving to become more than just Apple's wireless earbuds. After two generations of the standard model and one of AirPods Pro, Apple released AirPods Max, the first Apple-branded pair of over-ear headphones.
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 and low latency, and operating system specific integrations in software.
When an Apple AirPods device is near an iPhone or iPad, it will show up onscreen in a special UI 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.
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 iPhone.
iOS 14 enables "auto-switching" of devices with an H1 chip, including all current models of AirPods and select Beats headphones. Alongside iOS 14, Apple also launched a firmware update that added spatial audio, compatible with select video streams, to AirPods Pro.
The awkwardly named "AirPods Pro Lite" are a bit more of an anomaly, perhaps falling somewhere between the non-pro models and pro. These could be a $199 priced model of earbud with changeable tips but no active noise cancellation. Some rumors say they could be a Beats X like product with a cable running between the earbuds and be directed at sports use. In the fall of 2020, Apple launched a BeatsX successor named Beats Flex, suggesting the leaks may have mistaken the Beats headphones for an AirPods product.
Ming-Chi Kuo released a report in early 2020, stating that new models may not arrive until sometime in 2021. A second report in June 2020 said that the "AirPods 3" would come in 2021 and have a similar design to AirPods Pro.
The AirPods Max are Apple's first over-the-ear headphone. They use Apple's 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 the real-time data to provider richer and more detailed audio.
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, allowing for noise isolation and customizable wear.
They 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 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.
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.
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.
Phil Schiller, Apple's former SVP of Worldwide Marketing, debuted the AirPods onstage 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.
AppleInsider has reviewed each AirPods variant, from their 2016 debut up to the high-end AirPods Max that launched in late 2020.
AirPods Max Review
We gave AirPods Max 4 out of 5 stars, praising the premium design, smart features, and comfort, but questioning whether the headphones live up to their $549 price.
"AirPods Max have one of the most bespoke designs ever created for a set of headphones. The top portion of the headphones is made of stainless steel before being coated with a premium soft-touch material akin to silicone. The canopy is made from a proprietary mesh that is designed to wrest just atop your head.
"We've worn the headphones for many hours in our few days with the headphones, and for us, the weight hasn't been an issue. We feel as though it makes the headphones feel sturdy and solid. This will undoubtedly vary person-to-person as we've already seen on social media and comments on existing coverage. Like with any headphones, it will always come down to individual comfort.
"Many people have strong feelings about the origami fabric that is the headphones' Smart Case. We won't go as far as to say we hate it, but certainly, more could be done. It comes off as different for the sake of being different and winds up sacrificing functionality and practicality.
"Apple designed the case from a single piece of precision-cut fabric folded, glued, and shaped into a pliable case that the headphones can be inserted into. The case barely covers the two ear cups. The anodized aluminum ear cups are arguably the most vulnerable part of the headphones and most likely to be scratched if tossed into a bag.
"The main point of a case is to offer protection to your headphones, but the Smart Case skirts its responsibility. With the case on, parts of the cups are still exposed. There are large gaps on the underside as well as the top that could still be scratched inadvertently.
"We don't mind the lack of top protection on the Max, as it does make them easier to grasp and they take up less space when in our bag. We took ours with us on a road trip and when in our backpack, it was much quicker to pick up the headphones right from the headband.
"Recently, we've been comparing the Max to other popular headphones such as the Sony MX4 and Bose NC 700. The Bose has a case that is quite a bit larger than Apple's headphones, takes up more space in our bag, and is harder to remove. Had Apple crafted an appropriately luxe case that more adequately covered the ear cups, we'd be happier."
"Active noise cancelation is even better here on the Max than it is on the Pro. The larger drivers and additional microphones are likely contributing to that. There are nine microphones on the Max, eight of which are used for ANC and three used for voice control and phone calls.
"In all environments we tested, it removed any background noise as well as its competitors. This is easily best-in-class ANC and one of the best features Apple has baked in here."
"Turning to audio, we're underwhelmed. In short, they produce above-average audio but fall short of other $550 headphones.
"Baked into the headphones are 40mm Apple-designed dynamic drivers. Apple seems to be targeting a neutral audio profile, with excellent fidelity on the mids and highs but no extremes on either end. The soundstage is fantastic and more significant than most comparable models, which is fantastic for listening to music and watching movies.
"Bass isn't bad but is volume dependent. The lows were disappointing when turned down, but as we hit 50 percent or louder volume, the bass came in punchy and strong. At near-max volume, the bass was enough to near shake the cups on your head during a bass-heavy song.
"Overall, the audio sounds clean and clear. The simplest way to describe it is as "pleasing." While that may not suffice for audiophiles, the average consumer who picks these up should be just fine with it."
"If you don't put any value in having a set of headphones tied closely into the Apple ecosystem, we'll never be able to convince you AirPods Max are worth it. Simply put — they don't sound like a pair of $500 headphones. They are absolutely above average and compare favorably to many popular models like the Sony XM4, Bowers & Wilkins P7, or Bose NC 700, but they fall short at the $550 price point.
"That said, for us and our uses, they are worth the price Apple set — but just barely. The build quality is exceptional. The audio quality is fantastic and is going a long way towards bringing Hi-Fi to the masses. And the tight integration into iOS is a far cry from what third-parties can even hope for."
AirPods Pro Review
In our review, we gave AirPods Pro 4.5 out of 5 stars. We liked the smaller design, audio quality, and ANC. However, the limited ear tips options, awkward force sensors, and charging case gave us pause.
"With those in mind, the absolute first thing we did after getting our hands on AirPods Pro was hit the gym, testing all of our common routines. To our surprise, we made it through an hour and a half without a single earbud coming free. Whether jumping around or lying supine, the earphones didn't fall out.
"That isn't to say that the fit was perfect for us. We've historically terrible luck with in-ear headphones. They never stay put for us.
"As a general rule, they did fit well for us, but we could use more sizes of the silicone ear tips. A smaller size or half sizes would go a long way towards making these fit perfect. Apple, like Klipsch, chose to use an oval-shaped tip which could be part of what makes it stay in so much better, even with not the perfect size.
"Apple does offer up the fit test within Bluetooth settings and while neat, didn't provide any real benefit to us. We could tell what fit very easily just by trying on the different sizes, but maybe it is more beneficial to others with differently shaped ears."
"The audio quality was great. With a good fit, it was punchy, a full sound, and a huge step up for Apple's earphones brand. Not saying this is audiophile quality or what you'd get with a set of dedicated over-ear cans, but wow. We were very happy with the audio quality these put out."
"The active noise cancelation was a bonus for us, but a week in and we don't use it as much as others may. It is nice to have and we used it in the gym for a more immersive workout, but day-to-day we relied on transparency mode. It sounded so much more natural and allowed us to hear people talking to us in the office, delivery drivers hitting up the door, or other runners while we were out with the dogs. It may be our favorite feature of the new AirPods Pro."
"If you are an active user, moving around, jumping on planes, or frequently working out, AirPods Pro are the way to go. Otherwise, it gets murky.
"Most folks are going to fall into one of three camps. They are either existing owners of Apple's earbuds who are debating an upgrade, they are new to AirPods and debating the second-gen model with wireless charging case, or they are new users looking at the second-gen with the standard case.
"If you are in the latter camp, it is kind of hard to justify the $100 price increase between the two. There are a lot of features for that differential, but if you just want AirPods in the most cost-efficient form, then it isn't this pro-level model.
"If you are looking at the second-gen set with the wireless charging case, springing for this more expensive model is a no-brainer. It is a $50 difference and you get better fit, water resistance, ANC, transparency mode, and far better audio. We'd make that jump in a heartbeat.
"Those in the last group are hardest to quantify, being that they already have a set of Apple earphones — possibly the second-generation set that launched only in March. For us, with audio quality and fit being most important, we were able to justify it. Especially after gifting our other set to a family member. Before these, we were forced to use another set of headphones while at the gym. With AirPods Pro, we get to use them twice as much."
AirPods (Second-Generation) Review
We awarded the second-generation model a rare 5 out of 5 stars.
"You can tell us that there are better headphones in the world and we would believe you. However, we wouldn't buy them. Where we were happy with the sound quality on the original AirPods, the new AirPods 2 are unquestionably better.
"Just how much better is harder to precisely define. On 'Rocket Man (2018 remaster)' by Kate Bush that we looped for testing, AirPods 2 let us clearly hear what sounds like the sort of breathy fault you get with vinyl, and which just isn't there with the original AirPods.
"AirPods 2 are certainly louder, but it also somehow feels as if these new headphones are working harder. They're bringing us closer to the artist's intention. The sound is fuller, perhaps brighter."
"Overall, Siri is unexpectedly excellent. Seriously, if you shrugged at that feature, you won't once you've got it.
"Not only did it suddenly seem like a chore to call up Siri with the old double-tap, we actually forgot how to do it. To compare the audio quality, we've been swapping back and forth between the original AirPods and the new ones. And you should see us frozen on the spot, trying to recall which AirPod we had to tap and whether it was once or twice.
"This wasn't after protracted use of AirPods 2, it was immediate. This is Apple doing that thing it does of making something somehow right. The way that once they've done it, you can't imagine why it was ever any different."
"You do have to actually use a pair of AirPods to understand why people love them so much. The original AirPods were surely the closest Apple product to genuinely being 'magical' and they made you feel as if your life were surrounded by music.
"That sensation hasn't disappeared in the slightest with the new version, you do not ever get inured to how brilliant AirPods are. And if it weren't for one thing, Apple's greatest competitor for the newly updated AirPods would be the original AirPods."
AirPods with standard charging case cost $159. The version with a wireless charging case cost $199. AirPods Pro ring up for $249. AirPods Max cost $549.
|Apple AirPods Pro||$249.00||$199.00||$197.00||$209.95||$249.00||$219.99||$215.00||$249.99||$218.00||$52.00|
|Apple AirPods With Charging Case||$159.00||$145.00||$114.99||$129.99||$159.00||$159.99||$145.00||n/a||$129.00||$44.01|
|Apple AirPods With Wireless Charging Case||$199.00||$169.99||$159.98||$169.95||$199.00||$199.99||$175.00||n/a||$159.00||$40.00|
|Apple Wireless Charging Case For AirPods||$79.00||$66.99||$66.99||$66.99||n/a||$79.99||n/a||n/a||$66.99||$12.01|
|AirPods Max Space Gray||$549.00||$549.00||$489.99||$499.00||sold out||n/a||n/a||n/a||$489.99||$59.01|
|AirPods Max Silver||$549.00||$549.00||$489.99||$499.00||$549.00||n/a||n/a||n/a||$489.99||$59.01|
|AirPods Max Green||$549.00||$549.00||$499.00||$499.00||$549.00||n/a||n/a||n/a||$489.99||$59.01|
|AirPods Max Sky Blue||$549.00||$549.00||$499.00||$499.00||$549.00||n/a||n/a||n/a||$489.99||$59.01|
|AirPods Max Pink||$549.00||$549.00||$499.00||$499.00||$549.00||n/a||n/a||n/a||$489.99||$59.01|