Apple’s Airpods have been out for a while now, but their combination of features and performance make them one of the best truly wireless earbuds out there. While they may not actually fit in your ears, for the lucky ones that can use Apple’s audio products, they’re a real treat. If you’re getting one of the raft of new iPhones, you may want to take a look and see what AirPods have to offer you.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on Oct. 21, 2018 to reflect new data, information on Android, and Bluetooth.
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The box is pretty standard for the Cupertino company: all white, with a picture of the Apple AirPods on the front. Inside the box is the charging case with the headphones, some instruction and warranty booklets, and a lightning charging cable.
How are the Apple AirPods built?
Apple is king when it comes to build quality and design, and that’s still the case with the AirPods… kind of. Even though they’re made of plastic, the charging case feels great in the hand. It’s lightweight and sturdy enough to be tossed into your pocket. This is good because you’re going to want to keep the case on you at all times—even if it’s just to store the ‘buds when you’re not using them.
The bottom of the case has a single Lightning port for charging, and on the back there’s a button to enter Bluetooth pairing mode on non-Apple devices. But what really makes the build quality stand out are the magnets. The lid is held closed by a magnet, and flicking it open or closed is easy. There are also magnets on the inside of the case, so even if the lid does open, these won’t fall out. On the inside of the lid, there’s a small LED that indicates whether the ‘buds have paired or not.
Then you get the Apple AirPods themselves. In all honesty, they’re not great. Then again, I saw plenty of people at CES 2018 wearing them and they didn’t look as bad as I expected them to. Still, I just can’t bring myself to actually wear them. If you were an early adopter of Google Glass, then maybe this won’t phase you, but I hate the way I look wearing them. I really like the sleek, minimal black design of the Jabra Elite Sport Wireless, but these go in the complete opposite direction.
The AirPods dangle from your ears. On the bright side, they fit pretty well on me while I’m sitting or walking around—just not so much with any other physical activities. We did a fit test video on how they fit that dropped along with this one, so make sure to go check that out if that’s what your main concern is. As for the AirPod design, they don’t look too different from regular earbuds, just without the wires obviously. You have the plastic hardshell casing that’s supposed to be a one-size-fits all, which I highly doubt if the AirPods are anything to go by. But on each earbud you have a tiny microphone for voice calls and a small sensor that gives you a few controls when you tap them.
We’re splitting this part up into two sections: iOS and Android.
Connecting to an iOS device
Connecting to an iOS device is as simple as tapping connect on the card that pops up on your device. When you connect to one device it also connects to every device on your iCloud account. During testing music never skipped once while connected to my iPad Air (except for when I was really testing range but that doesn’t count). You also get full access to all of the cool sensors and features on iOS. For instance, when listening to music you can take one earbud out to pause the music, and placing it back in your ear will resume music. You can also double tap the outside of the earbud in order to access Siri.
You’re going to have to get used to talking to Siri because that’s also the only way to control volume which kind of makes no sense, especially if you’re on the subway. In the settings on iOS you can change the double tap to pause or play music, which also makes no sense. If I’m reaching up to double tap, I might as well just remove the earbud to automatically pause the music. When it comes to range I was able to get to leave them on my desk and walk around my entire house easily without any stuttering. That’s about 60 feet away with walls and a floor in the way, not bad at all. Overall, I’d say connection was pretty great with iOS.
Connecting to Android
This was more of a process and a much different story. The connection was still impressive, just not great. To connect you have to pop open the case, hold down the button on the back of the charging case to enter pairing mode, and also find the AirPods in your Bluetooth settings. Okay sure, that isn’t really a big deal. But once connected, the experience is different. The connection strength to my Google Pixel wasn’t nearly as good as on my old iPad. I counted about nine stutters in only two hours of listening. Range also suffered when on Android. I was able to get to to the fringes of 50 feet before stuttering occurred if I turned the wrong way.
This is to be expected considering the new W1 chip is optimized to work with iOS, but it’s something that’s worth mentioning if you want to use these with your Android device. You also won’t be able to automatically pause music by removing an earbud. Music just continues playing. Double tapping the side of the AirPod also won’t access the Google Assistant either (as of July 2017, this is now possible). These don’t have too many features to begin with, but on Android they barely have any features. All you can do is double tap to pause or play whatever you’re listening to. Though I was still impressed with the range and the synchronized music playback, it’s easy to say that they won’t play as well on Android as they do on iOS.
Additionally, testing by our crack team here at SoundGuys revealed that connecting to Android devices means lower audio quality, though just how bad it sounds varies from device to device. It’s peculiar—and frustrating—but it’s another reason why we don’t list these as the best true wireless earbuds out there. A set of headphones or earphones that use only AAC will introduce an element of variability to your listening, and that’s no fun for anyone.
Apple claims that the battery will last you about five hours on a single charge, but during our objective testing, we weren’t quite able to reach that. Instead, at 75dB we found that the Apple AirPods were able to provide 3.45 hours of playback time via the AAC codec. Though this may seem like a significant drop, to Apple’s credit, most people won’t listen to their music at 75dB. For one, this could impair your hearing if it becomes a habit, and it’s just not realistic. In which case, most listeners should be able to get closer to four or more hours of playback time from a single charge.
As we already mentioned, the AirPods take a one-size-most-all approach, so chances are these won’t fit your ears perfectly. This means that outside noises easily find their way into your ears and these things leak like it’s nobody’s business. If you don’t want the person next to you to hear your music, you’re going to have to turn down the volume substantially.
The theme here is that the AirPods have a very consumer-friendly sound, and you can see it above. However, this is only under perfect conditions. The AirPods target a somewhat bass-heavy response, but most people will not hear it simply because the AirPods don’t cancel out sound, nor do they block it out.
The bass (pink) and the mids (green) are where most vocals and music life, and this type of response is very common in consumer headphones. There’s a peak in the highs (cyan), but again, it’s a super common feature in headphones of all types meant to mimic how the human ear hears high-frequency sound.
Right to the point, the low end isn’t great. It could be because of the lack of a seal, but the bass in California by Childish Gambino feels like it’s a very low mid rather than a bass.
Just like the regular wired EarPods, the mids are given a huge boost in these; vocals come through crystal clear. This goes for voice calls as well, by the way. These are probably the clearest phone calls I’ve ever taken on Bluetooth ‘buds. When it comes to music you can easily sing along to your favorite tunes, but background elements don’t really sit well with each other. Basically every instrument in Generator ^ Second Floor by Freelance Whales seems to lose its weight and depth.
Considering how loud these can get, I’m actually really impressed with the highs. Sure, there isn’t a ton of detail reproduced by a cymbal hit, but nothing ever gets harsh or painful.
Should you buy the Apple AirPods?
Let’s be honest, you’re probably not buying AirPods for sound quality. If you are, you’re better off just getting the regular Earpods because they sound very, very similar. The only difference I can find between them is that the AirPods have killer features, and they’re wireless. The reasons to buy the AirPods have nothing to do with sound and everything to do with convenience, but that only works if you have an iPhone. The charging case is amazingly built and easy to carry; removing one ‘bud to pause or play music works perfectly, and the connection rarely drops.
That said, they’re clearly made for iOS users and they still don’t offer much in terms of extra functionality—Android users have absolutely no reason to buy these. The Jabra Elite Sport Wireless or Bragi Dash also offer things like heart rate monitoring, workout tips, sweat or waterproofing, and a nicer design in my opinion. But they’re also significantly pricier. If you don’t care about any of those features and just want to listen to music, the AirPods aren’t terribly priced at $159.
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