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How to tell if AirPods are fake

The best way to come out on top when buying AirPods is to either buy directly from Apple, or another reputable vendor in the first place.
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Published onDecember 4, 2023

So you’ve gotten yourself some brand spankin’ new AirPods, but after the initial dopamine hit has worn off: how do you tell if they’re actually legit? Do you open the box? Because AirPods are easily the most popular line of personal audio products, they’re also the most likely to be counterfeited because of the large potential profits to be made. Copies are often extremely convincing, sometimes to the point where there often aren’t obvious differences on the outside.

We’re going to go over the signs that your AirPods may actually be fake, but this isn’t gospel: sometimes the differences between what’s real and not aren’t something you can always see.

Check the packaging

Before you open the box, you need to verify that the serial number on the back is actually a real product serial number. Some retailers won’t accept a return of an opened set of earphones for various reasons. Because we’re trying to minimize any damage done by fake AirPods, avoiding opening the box should be mission #1 if you’re within your return period.

Take a look at the box of your AirPods or AirPods Pro and try to find the fun little stickers at the side where the UPC and all the compatibility information is. You should be able to see some very obvious tells. For example, if you see missing punctuation or misspelled words, something’s up. Additionally, Apple likes to use multiple stickers on the back instead of just one. This is another tip-off.

A photo of the Apple AirPods Pro 2ng generation box.
The serial number (blacked out here) will be on the side of the box below the UPC.

You can also look for other tells, like the logo. On the box of any AirPods, you should be able to locate an Apple logo. The bite mark is a perfect semicircle, so there should be no rounding on the points where it meets the outer bounds of the Apple logo. Additionally, if it’s a sticker or inset, also fake.

Finally, check the contents of the box to ensure that there’s more than just a manual in there for documentation: there should also be a warranty card and a safety sheet. If these are missing from your packaging and the box was sealed when you received it, there’s a decent chance you’ve got fakes.

The AirPods Pro Lightning charging cable in front of a plant.
Lightning and USB-C connectors are similarly shaped but cannot be mistaken for one another.

As obvious as it should be, there is also no such thing as AirPods with alternate colors unless you’re talking about the AirPods Max. You can’t buy red, blue, or black AirPods—they don’t exist. If you see AirPods in any other color than flat white, they’re fake, so don’t buy them.

Check the serial number

The serial number is less obvious. When you look at the same sticker, below the UPC should be small text that reads: “(S) Serial No.” and then a string of letters and numbers. This is your serial number. Bring the box to your computer or mobile device and go to Apple’s serial number checker to verify that it is, in fact, an Apple serial number. This will also have the benefit of helping you determine if you are actually holding stolen AirPods—even less cool than counterfeit ones.

Even if your serial number is confirmed, there’s no guarantee it’s a legit set of earphones, but they sure as heck aren’t if the tool says they’re not. At this point, you’re going to have to open up the packaging and attempt to pair the AirPods with your phone to investigate further. Next you’re going to have to confirm that the serial number of your AirPods are printed on the actual product themselves and confirm that it’s the same one on the box.

AirPods Pro 2nd Generation, and AirPods 3rd Generation serial location:

A photo of the AirPods Pro case with the serial number blacked out.
The serial number of the AirPods and AirPods Pro is located on the inside of the lid of the charging case.

Open the charging case and look at the inside of the hinged lid. In the indent where the earbuds go should be a bunch of printed text. The serial number should be there, right near the edge of the case.

AirPods Max serial location:

Pop off the left ear pad and look just above the speaker. Right near the top should be a bunch of printed text, and your serial should be there.

Check the charging case

The Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) lays on a wooden surface next to the Apple AirPods Pro (1st generation), earbuds in open cases, shot from above.
The first and second-gen AirPods Pro look and operate similarly to one another.

Before you connect your alleged AirPods, look at the outside of the case. On the bottom should be a Lightning port and not a USB-C or micro-USB port. The multifunction button on the back should sit flush with the casing, and have next to zero slack. Other signs of counterfeiting are the results of cheaper manufacturing. For example, loose hinges, scuffs, dents, visible seams, and rough raised areas are all good hints that there were shortcuts taken in manufacturing—something Apple takes great care to avoid with AirPods.

Other tells you should be aware of are the LED color and the placement. In some counterfeits, you can tell the AirPods are fake because they have a blue LED (not found in genuine AirPods), or the LED will be in a really weird spot instead of the front of the case.

Check the AirPods themselves

With fake AirPods, you should be able to notice some signs that the earbuds weren’t made to spec. For example, if you notice any loose grilles or if the shape of the AirPods deviates from any of the photos on Apple’s site (or ours). You may also notice that the force sensor indent on the stem is replaced by a button or simply missing. You should also be able to pick out minor issues like poorly fastened material, noticeable seams, ill-meshing seams, and circular-shaped nozzles.

Connect to your phone

For iPhone users, connecting to your phone will be a dead giveaway whether or not your new earphones are legit or not. Say what you will about the “walled garden” style of Apple products, but a lot of the nonsense associated with being a completely open platform is less of an issue.

Screen shots of the Apple AirPods Pro (2nd generation) pairing pop-up cards on an iPhone.
Lil Katz / SoundGuys
When you first pair the AirPods Pro (2nd gen) to your iPhone, you’re met with a few pop-up cards. If you aren’t, it’s possible you have a counterfeit.

Open the case to your AirPods (or follow the pairing procedure for the AirPods Max if that’s what you have). If you have an iPhone, it will either start the pairing process or it will inform you that the phone can’t verify the product and that you need to connect to your “AirPods” conventionally. This is a great sign you have a counterfeit pair. Though it’s still possible that something else is up, it’s extremely unlikely.

Other signs will be painfully obvious as well, as features like “find my” earbuds won’t work with counterfeits, as they’re Apple-exclusive features. While it may seem like a really obvious thing to say, it’s insanely difficult to make fake AirPods that will work with every feature Apple offers. For Android users, this will be a little more tricky because these features do not work by default on your phone. It’s one of the many drawbacks of using Apple accessories with non-Apple source devices.

What to do if you have counterfeit AirPods

If you discover you have counterfeit AirPods, the best thing to do is to try getting your money back. Be prepared to be taken for a ride if the vendor knows what they’re doing, but sometimes they, too, were hoodwinked. Don’t try to confront anyone in person, and definitely don’t try to be a hero. Use Apple’s reporting tool to let them know what happened, and supply as much information as you can in order for the company to handle the issue the rest of the way. Though Apple has to play whack-a-mole with counterfeiters, they have a pretty good motivation for going after the manufacturers of such things.

A photo of a man and woman shopping online.
Scoring a good deal can make anyone happy, but make sure you’re not getting had first.

If you’re in the United States and you bought your “AirPods” with a credit card, try talking to your credit card company about a chargeback—major credit card companies offer many purchase protection options you might not know about. Look on the back of the credit card you used for a customer service number, and they may be able to help you out. They may tell you to file a police report or file an insurance claim. At the end of the day, it will be a bit of work, and it may end up in nothing.

For the time being, the best way to come out on top when buying AirPods is to either buy directly from Apple, or another reputable vendor in the first place.

Apple AirPods (3rd Generation)Apple AirPods (3rd Generation)
Apple AirPods (3rd Generation)
H1 chip • Easy for iPhones • Deep Apple integration
MSRP: $195.00
These work with Android, but iPhone users will see the best results
The Apple AirPods (3rd gen) are just a slight upgrade over the second-generation models, but iPhone users will be quite happy with the deep integration and ease of use these earbuds provide.

FAQs

They might, if you are lucky, but probably not as well as real ones, and they won’t have all of the Apple-exclusive features.

Real AirPods might fit in a fake AirPods case. However, that doesn’t mean they will work properly. Apple’s AirPods cases are specifically made to work with AirPods, and fake AirPods don’t charge in an authentic AirPods case.​

No, they cannot. When the serial number of fake AirPods is tested on Apple’s Check Coverage online service, it will indicate that a purchase date cannot be validated, confirming that the AirPods are fake. Authentic AirPods always have a valid date of purchase, and it’s impossible for shady manufacturers to replicate this feature in the Apple system.

Some fake AirPods may try to include magnets to replicate the looks and design of real AirPods. But again, they might not be implemented correctly or of the right strength and size to generate a similar sound.

No, fake AirPods are not better than real ones. They lack the advanced features, quality, and compatibility that genuine Apple AirPods offer.

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