AirPods review: the best wireless headphones that don’t work for me

Let me start off by saying I waited pretty much an entire year before succumbing to the urge to buy a pair of AirPods. I’ve never liked Apple’s headphones, the EarPods are terrible and the ones before EarPods were god awful. But, everyone has been clamoring that AirPods are different, much better even. During the last hour of my 4+ hours waiting in line at the Apple Store in SoHo this past Friday for the release of the Apple Watch Series 3 (which I also bought and will have more on soon), I counted about 15 people who walked by me wearing AirPods. The guy in front me, who I befriended while in line, also had AirPods.

Enough was enough. Before I left the Apple Store, I decided to ask if they had AirPods in stock. To my surprise, they did (they’ve been extremely hard to get ahold of). At that moment I made the split second decision to buy them.

I rushed home almost more excited to try the AirPods than my brand new Apple Watch Series 3. After setting up my Apple Watch Series 3, I opened the AirPods. The pairing process for AirPods is pretty magical. All you have to do is open the sleek white [battery] case (which is where you charge your AirPods when you’re not using them), take each AirPod out, and pop them in your ears. AirPods will seamlessly transition between devices too, so you could connect them to your iPhone and then start using your iPad and want to connect them there, simply select them in the Bluetooth settings on your iPad and they will connect. The same process can be applied for your Mac or Apple Watch–it’s a very smooth experience. This experience is all thanks to the custom designed Apple W1 chip which is in the AirPods.

The Magic

The graphic when you open the AirPods case near your iOS devices.

Apple really got it right when it comes to easily pairing AirPods with your devices, but perhaps even more importantly, they figured out how to get two independent speakers to work in unison–all the time. That’s a really hard nut to crack and they did it. I’m also currently reviewing the Jaybird Run true wireless headphones which are Jaybird’s answer to AirPods and man, well, let’s just say it’s clearly not easy to do what Apple has done here.

In my few days with the AirPods, they rarely ever dropped connection with whatever device I had them connected to (iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, Apple Watch). If they did, it was likely due to me fussing with them in my ears (more on that in a bit) and it was just for a split second.

It’s pretty incredible the amount of technology packed into these tiny little things. They are small and very lightweight (each one weighs only 0.14 ounces), making them ideal for people who are constantly on the go.

Speaking of technology, going back to the W1 chip for a second, AirPods use optical sensors and a motion accelerometer to detect when they are in your ears. This means you can easily take one AirPod out and leave the other in and the one in your ear will continue to route audio appropriately. It’s really pretty cool. The last bit of magic is noticeable when you are on a call or talking to Siri. Apple has built in an additional accelerometer that works with beamforming microphones to filter out background noise and focus on the sound of your voice. This works really well. I did several calls while using the AirPods and each person thought I sounded crystal clear. Additionally, my Siri tests to adjust the volume and change the song playing worked flawlessly (even when I was on a busy street in NYC).

Battery Life

Apple claims up to 5 hours of battery with AirPods, but if you have the case handy, you can extend the life of your AirPods to 24 hours. What’s also nice is that AirPods charge pretty quickly, if you find yourself with nearly dead AirPods, stick them in the case for about 15 minutes you just bought yourself 3 additional hours of battery life. In my experience, I’ve found these claims to be right on and haven’t felt battery starved at all.

Sound Quality

I’m a bit of an audio snob but I was pleasantly surprised by the AirPods. For what they are, they offer adequate sound quality–they are certainly better than their predecessors, the EarPods. I’d say they are actually light years better than EarPods sound wise so chances are they are good enough for most people. The bass is even a bit punchier than I expected.

The Problems

Ok, so, no doubt that AirPods are awesome. I do have one qualm and one major issue though.

First, the qualm, I wish they had more gesture based controls–for example, swiping up on the stem to raise the volume or swiping down to lower it. I don’t like how heavily reliant on Siri they are. That being said, you can obviously adjust the volume, change the song, etc from your device too, so it’s not the end of the world.

Now, the major issue: only my left AirPod stays in my ear adequately. No matter what I do to adjust my right AirPod, it is in constant need of adjustment in my ear within one minute of the last adjustment. I’m not sure how common this is, I’m not sure if my ears are just weird (they probably are) and not the same, but it is certainly frustrating. If anyone has any thoughts on how I can remedy this (short of plastic surgery–can they even reshape your inner ear?) I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Conclusion

So far based on my experience with truly wireless headphones, Apple’s AirPods are certainly the best ones out there. That being said, due to their standardized one-size-fits-all design and lack of first party ear adjusters/fins, there is a possibility they will not play (pun intended) well with your ears. The only way to know for sure is to try them yourself. Fortunately, you can go to an Apple Store and ask to try on AirPods (be sure to walk around the store at varied speed) and they will be more than happy to help you out before you plop down $159 on a pair.

About the author

— Jeff Weisbein

Jeff is the founder & CEO of BestTechie. He has over 10 years of experience working with technology and building businesses. He loves to travel and listen to music.

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