We’ve all had experiences with Bluetooth that demonstrate why the technology often fails to deliver its promise of quality, convenience, and reliability. Apple, whose products epitomize accessible luxury and are some of the easiest-to-use mobile devices available, at least according to my grandmother, devised a solution to our woes. The company’s H1 chip serves to make the Bluetooth streaming experience that much smoother and is integrated into the company’s AirPods and some of their Beats products. That’s all well and good, but what is an H1 chip?

Editor’s note: this article was updated on November 12, 2021, to include information on the difference between W1 and H1, and to add a contents menu.

What’s the H1 for, and how does it differ from the W1?

The Apple AirPods Max in white on a coffee table next to a newspaper.

The AirPods Max makes full use of the H1’s abilities with a long list of features including Adaptive EQ.

Each pair of AirPods contain microprocessors that allow them to connect to each other and control the Bluetooth connection, switch between devices, provide DSP, and deliver audio to the amplifiers and drivers. The 1st generation AirPods used Apple’s W1 chips, which were upgraded in the 2nd generation AirPods with the H1 processor, which brought additional capabilities and performance refinements. Apple didn’t just develop the H1 for AirPods, though, it’s used in a number of other products.

As well as improved pairing speed, lower latency, and the move from Bluetooth 4.2 to 5.0, the H1 also allows for the launching of Siri via voice command rather than the double-tap required on the 1st generation AirPods.

How does the H1 chip increase headphone performance?

The Apple AirPods Pro in a man's left hand (foreground) with an iPhone and the AirPods Pro wireless charging case in the background.

To get an optimal, streamlined audio experience from your iPhone (or other Apple device), you need headphones that include H1 chip integration. As is Apple’s modus operandi, the H1 is a proprietary system-in-package (SiP) chip that allows an array of improved abilities for AirPods and Beats headphones. There are three main benefits from using Bluetooth headphones equipped with an H1 chip, with the caveat being that it must be paired to an iOS device, which is to say an iPhone or iPad.

Immediate pairing, connecting, and battery life increases are all improvements afforded by the H1 chip.

The first big perk is that headsets or buds with the integrated H1 chip pair quickly to Apple devices and ensure auto-connecting once they are powered on. Second—as is mentioned in our AirPods reviews—the connectivity is reliable and largely impervious to signal drop-outs. The third big advantage promised by the H1 chip is improved power efficiency. We’ve seen improvements in the Android space with wireless earbuds that use Bluetooth 5.0, but Apple’s been making advances in the power efficiency space for a while and it’s one of the drivers of the H1’s development.

How do you know which chip your accessory has?

Shot of the Powerbeats Pro next to running sneakers.

Some Beats branded products also benefit from Apple’s technology.

Devices with the W1

  1. AirPods (1st Generation)
  2. BeatsX
  3. Beats Solo3 Wireless
  4. Beats Studio 3
  5. Beats PowerBeats3 Wireless

Devices with the H1

  1. Airpods Max
  2. AirPods Pro
  3. AirPods (2nd generation)
  4. AirPods (3rd generation)
  5. Beats Fit Pro
  6. Beats Powerbeats
  7. Beats Powerbeats Pro
  8. Beats Solo Pro

Does the H1 chip deliver the best audio from an iPhone?

A hand holds a Apple AirPods (3rd generation) case with the earbuds in place and embedded sensors in view.

Increased energy efficiency means less time in the charging case and more time in your ears.

Just as there exist different mobile operating systems, there exist different Bluetooth codecs—some of which are optimized for Android and one, AAC, that’s well optimized for iOS (granted, AAC is supported by Android phones, it’s just not always great.) A word of warning: if you have an Android phone, the H1 chip won’t provide the same pairing performance or other benefits.

Squeezing the most out of your iPhone’s audio capabilities means getting a headset that supports AAC and ideally H1 chip integration. This way, you benefit from the improved audio quality yielded by the high-quality codec in tandem with the efficiency and connection reliability provided by the chip. This connectivity improvement is experienced with AirPods and most recent Beats headphones (not the Beats Studio Buds), whereas typically Bluetooth devices and most true wireless earbuds continue to struggle.

While you might not want to buy into the Apple ecosystem and question its pricing, the convenience of Apple’s pairing system is hard to ignore.

Next: The best AirPods alternatives

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