The Apple AirPods combines convenience and advanced software features that make it one of the best sets of true wireless earbuds out there. While the buds may not actually fit in your ears, for the lucky ones that can use Apple’s audio products, the AirPods is a real treat. As popular as it is, it was never perfect. Let’s dive in and see why the AirPods is such a popular pick for iPhone owners.
Related: Best Apple AirPods alternatives
Editor’s note: this Apple AirPods (2019) review was updated on July 12, 2021, to include the Google Pixel Buds A-Series as an alternative.
What’s it like to use the Apple AirPods?
Apple is king when it comes to build quality and design, and that’s still the case with the AirPods… kind of. Even though it’s made of plastic, the charging case feels great. 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 new AirPods (or AirPods 2) still look exactly the same and have exactly the same build as well.
Start here: What makes a good set of in-ears?
The bottom of the charging case has a single Lightning port, and a button on the back lets you enter Bluetooth pairing mode. But what really makes the case design stand out are the magnets that keep the lid shut. Magnets also rest inside the case to secure the earbuds. The only real difference that is visible to the eye when it comes to the original AirPods and the new AirPods (2019) is the small LED light on the front of the case for charging and pairing. It was previously on the inside of the case, so you would have to flick open the case in order to see it. The case is absolutely necessary when using the Apple AirPods. If you don’t have it with you, it’s all too easy to misplace and lose the earbuds. We did a fit test video on how the original version fit, and since the build and design haven’t changed at all it’s still applicable here.
Then you get to the Apple AirPods earbuds, which haven’t changed much. Actually, the earbuds haven’t changed at all. The AirPods’ inability to seal your ears leads to a lot of problems that just aren’t all that easy to hand-wave away. For example, outside noise is a much bigger problem for users of AirPods than it is for users of Bluetooth in-ears because neither version of AirPods isolates you from background noise. 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.
Additionally, because the open-fit earbuds don’t seal, some people will find that the AirPods sitting outside the ear canal makes them vulnerable to drop-outs and shifting positions. These are extreme problems for true wireless earphones, as losing one bud means the death of your product. Now I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of people do all kinds of physical activities wearing AirPods, and if you’re one of them consider yourself lucky because if the AirPods don’t fit in your ears, they really don’t fit. If you want true wireless earbuds that fit well and afford all the same benefits of the AirPods, check out how the Beats Powerbeats Pro compares to the AirPods. Or if you have a little more to spend, you can go for the newer AirPods Pro which has a much better fit.
You might like: Apple AirPods Pro vs Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro
How do you clean the AirPods?
Whether you were an early adopter of the AirPods or you just got a pair, it’s a good idea to clean it consistently. That doesn’t mean drowning the buds and case in water and destroying them, but there are some steps you can take to make sure that your buds stay clean and sanitary. We have a full article going over it step by step, but it basically involves q-tips and some isopropyl alcohol. You should be more careful when cleaning the original AirPods as it doesn’t have any protection against liquids.
Are the AirPods earbuds waterproof?
Unfortunately, these earbuds are not waterproof. People still use these buds in the gym and for running, so anecdotally they may seem like it, but there is no official IP rating from Apple to say that these are protected against water damage. If that’s what you’re after then you might want to go for the newer AirPods Pro which is better in many respects, one of which being that its earphones have an IPX4 rating and are fine to use in the rain or at the gym.
How do you connect the AirPods?
We’re splitting this part up into two sections: iOS and Android.
How to connect to AirPods with 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. Plus, the new AirPods come with a new H1 chip (updated over the previous W1 chip) which lets you use the “Hey Siri” phrase to activate the voice assistant hands-free. Of course, you can also turn this option off in the settings of your iOS device if you want to squeeze a little more juice out of these batteries.
You’re going to have to get used to talking to Siri because that’s also the only way to control volume. 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. I can leave my phone on my desk and walk around my entire house easily without any connection hiccups. That’s about 18 meters away with walls and a floor in the way, not bad at all. Overall, the connection was pretty great with iOS.
How to connect to AirPods with 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 3 isn’t nearly as good as on my old iPad. I counted about nine stutters in only two hours of listening. The range also suffers when on Android. I can reach the fringes of 15 meters before connection issues occur. With the new AirPods, I even experience a significant lag in audio between the left and right buds, which only resolves itself after I pause and resume the music. 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 does access the Google Assistant, which will allow you some control, but not as much as say, the Sony WF-1000XM4
Additionally, testing by our crack team here at SoundGuys revealed that connecting to Android devices can mean lower audio quality (device depending), 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 the Apple AirPods as the overall 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.
How long is the battery life of the AirPods?
Apple claims that the battery will last you about 5 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 lasts 4 hours, 7 minutes of playback time using an iPhone X over the AAC codec. Compared to the original version, the H1 chip seems to offer about 21% longer life on the newest iteration of Apple’s true wireless earbuds. Though this may seem like a significant increase, we’re only talking about 30 or so minutes of extra battery life because the power cell is so small.
The overall battery life is quite poor compared to even regular Bluetooth earbuds, or even Bluetooth over-ears—and that’s if you’re using them with an iOS device that has been optimized to work with the new H1 chip. If you’re connecting to an Android phone, battery life is basically unchanged from the first version at only 3 hours, 29 minutes. That H1 chip also helps switch between iOS easier (which works nicely between my iPhone X and iPad Air) and it also allows for a stronger connection when you’re on voice calls. To be fair though, the quality of your call is going to depend more on the service coverage you have, but the AirPods will still get the job done.
Because the Apple AirPods' batteries are tiny, they won't last very long
The other thing you have to keep in mind is that because the Apple AirPods’ batteries are tiny, they won’t last very long compared to other units. Battery cells can only last so long before degrading, and even moderate use of the AirPods will accelerate their degradation. Just like it is with all true wireless earphones, you can’t replace the batteries in the AirPods, and this product will wear out within a few years’ time.
How to charge the AirPods?
Due to the small size, AirPods earphones don’t have giant batteries inside, so they don’t last too long. Thankfully, the charging case does a good job at keeping them topped off when you’re not using them. After every use, simply placing them back in the case for safekeeping will keep them charged up for your next use. On the bottom of each earbud are small metal connectors that, when they come into contact with the small metal connectors in the case, proceed to charge them up.
Now depending on which model AirPods you have, charging the case can be slightly different. To determine which generation you have, check on the inside of the lid. There should be text printed on the underside that will tell you. If you can’t find it you can also check the settings in your iOS device while connected to the AirPods. In the settings app, you should also be able to find the AirPods model number.
|Earbuds||AirPods (1st gen)||AirPods (2nd gen)||AirPods Pro|
|Model Number||A1523, A1722||A2032, A2031||A2084, A2083|
If you have the first generation, then your charging case can only charge via Lightning connector. So plugging in any old Lightning cable from Apple will get the job done. If you have the second-gen charging case then you can also charge wirelessly with any Qi-compatible charger. This just means that while the charging pad needs to be plugged into an outlet, you can just place the AirPods case onto the pad in order to charge them up without plugging in the case. Pretty neat.
One thing worth mentioning is that if you have the original AirPods, you don’t need to completely replace your earbuds in order to get wireless charging. Instead, you can just purchase the wireless charging case without the AirPods separately for about $69.
How does the Apple AirPods sound?
Again, Apple takes a one-size-most-all approach with these earbuds, 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.
Isolation is very poor and among the worst we’ve tested simply because the earphones can’t seal to your ear (much like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live). The higher the pink line, the more that certain frequency is blocked out, but as you can see, the AirPods do little to affect even high-frequency sounds. This has its perks, though: you can remain aware of your surroundings while walking to work or commuting on the subway, which can keep you safer.
Lows, mids, and highs
Right to the point, the low end isn’t great, but that’s entirely because of the lack of a seal. For example, 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 clearly. 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.
Can you listen to lossless audio with Apple AirPods?
Sure, you can enable lossless streaming on a compatible service but you won’t be getting it through the Bluetooth connection. Bluetooth currently does not support lossless audio in the way a wired connection can. Despite the addition of lossless audio to Apple Music, you won’t see any benefit to using it via your AirPods, so consider using a lower quality setting. Trust us, you won’t be able to tell the difference, even if you’re listening in a quiet room with no noise.
How good is the microphone?
The Apple AirPods does a surprisingly decent job with their microphones, as its tiny capsules can only provide so much audio quality. However, we’re confident in saying that these should be just fine for conference calls and other voice chatting services, as they manage their shortcomings extremely well. You can hear the sample we recorded for our comparison between the AirPods and the Samsung Galaxy buds below.
Apple AirPods microphone sample:
Should you buy the Apple AirPods?
Let’s be honest, you’re probably not buying AirPods for sound quality. The reasons to buy the AirPods have everything to do with convenience, but that only works if you have an iPhone and ears that fit the product—otherwise you’re spending a lot of money on a disappointing product. The charging case is great; removing one bud to pause or play music works perfectly, and the connection rarely drops. Plus, the new version gives the AirPods even more battery life and you can charge the case wirelessly, which is nice.
That said, the AirPods is clearly made for iOS users and they still don’t offer much in terms of extra functionality—Android users have little reason to buy these. We also now have to point out that the Apple AirPods also have a bigger, badder brother in the AirPods Pro. For an extra $50-100, the Pro model offers a sealed listening experience with active noise cancelling and a bunch of iOS-specific features not currently enjoyed by the AirPods. But dropping about $230 is a lot of money to slap down on something that has a lot of competition below its price bracket, so you may want to save your money.
What are some alternatives?
While the AirPods are the most popular pair of true wireless earbuds around, they’re not the only ones available—and they definitely aren’t the best. There have been plenty of other releases in the last year or two, and some of them might be worth looking into. If price isn’t an object and you still want all of the cool features that the AirPods have, then you should check out the Apple Powerbeats Pro.
- Apple AirPods Pro: The long-awaited successor to the AirPods was launched on October 30, 2019, and hosts a slew of updates that fix the worst things about the original AirPods—aka their lack of a seal. Additionally, they have active noise canceling, and enhanced features. Unfortunately, they cost about $240 before tax and shipping, which may not be worth it to you. Be sure to check out our head-to-head article comparing the two true wireless earphone models.
- Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2: If you don’t want to spend too much then definitely check out the SoundCore Liberty Air 2 true wireless headphones. At under $100 these are without a doubt one of the best values you can find.
- Google Pixel Buds (2020): If you’re on iOS then you might as well just pick up the AirPods, but if you’re an Android user you should definitely first check out the Google Pixel Buds. While they have a different design that isn’t for everyone, they’re actually a really solid pair of buds that are worth giving a try. To save a bit of cash, check out the budget version, the Google Pixel Buds A-Series. Though its audio output is very quiet when hooked up to an Android, there is a way to fix this issue. Otherwise, it has very similar specs to the 2020 iteration.
- Jabra Elite Active 75t: I usually recommend the Jabra Elite 75t or the active version to just about anyone. They have solid battery life, good sound, a decent connection, and a great microphone. Best of all, it doesn’t matter whether you’re on Android or iOS as you’ll get the same features anyway. Plus the active model is built for the gym and therefore has a sweatproof build that the regular AirPods don’t have.
- Apple Beats Powerbeats Pro: While there are plenty of people using the AirPods for fitness, that isn’t what they’re made for. If you want to hit the gym with true wireless buds, check out the PowerBeats Pro. These have an IPX4 certification to protect against sweat, 10 hours of constant playback, and of course the around-ear hook design to keep these in place while you move around.
- Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus: The Galaxy Buds Plus is another option for Android users that nail basically all of the important things. They have Bluetooth 5 for a stable connection, access to the Google Assistant, an IPX2 certification, and over 11 hours of constant playback as well. Plus, the AKG-tuned drivers sound pretty sweet. If you want a noise cancelling version, get the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro instead.
Should you get the Apple AirPods Max instead?
There are quite a few differences between the original AirPods and the new AirPods Max, the most important of which is the type of headphones they are. The original AirPods are true wireless earbuds with an open design. This means that they don’t form a seal when you put them in your ears and outside noise will get in. This makes it harder to hear whatever it is you’re listening to if there is anything going on around you.
The AirPods Max are over-ear headphones that will completely seal your ears against outside noise. On top of that, it also has the best active noise cancelling in the business, which will get rid of any noise that sneaks through. It’s worth mentioning that this is only the biggest difference between the two. There are many more features that the AirPods Max have that the AirPods do not have.
The AirPods Max have larger 40mm drivers, transparency mode, an H1 chip instead of the W1 chip (allows for better battery life and stronger connection strength), Adaptive EQ which constantly adjusts the EQ of your music depending on your environment, Spatial Audio so that you can get a 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos surround sound experience with compatible content and devices. They also have a much higher price tag. The AirPods Max will run you $549 USD, and you could get multiple pairs of AirPods for that price.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, if you damage or lose one AirPod, you can buy a new one.
Yes, the case must be charged separately from the AirPods and you can do so with the included Lightning charging cable, or via Qi-compatible charging pad if you purchased the AirPods (2019) model with wireless charging case.
While AirPods don't have silicone earbuds, you can follow the first few steps of our AirPods Pro cleaning article. Just skip the bit about dunking the sleeves in warm soapy water and you should have clean and funky fresh AirPods with relatively little effort!