Apple AirPods: The Ultimate Buying Guide [2022]



In this AirPods buying guide, we’ll detail everything you need to know about Apple’s AirPods, including all the different models, their features, what they do, and how they’re all different…


Table of Contents

    Here’s an interesting fact for you: Apple’s AirPods business generates almost THREE TIMES the revenue as Spotify’s entire business. During 2022, Apple generated around $10 billion via AirPods sales, while Spotify earned itself just $3 billion.

    And AirPods are just ONE aspect of Apple’s business. Its iPhone generates even more. In addition to this, Apple’s AirPods now control upwards of 28% of the ENTIRE wireless headphone market, beating out old-guard brands like Bose, Sony, and Panasonic.

    If you’re interested in buying AirPods in 2022 or beyond, you probably want to know more about what makes AirPods so popular compared to other, equally priced and similarly specced (and often cheaper) TWS options, right?

    This Apple AirPods buying guide will explain everything you need to know about Apple’s AirPods, covering off the following stuff in detail:

    • AirPods Models (All Current Types)
    • AirPods Features
    • Apple’s ANC Technology
    • How AirPods Integrate With iPhone
    • How Much AirPods Cost
    • What Makes AirPods Special

    But before we get down to brass tax, let’s first do a quick history lesson on Apple’s AirPods, so we can form a better picture of how we got to where we are today.

    The History of Apple’s AirPods

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    The thing you need to remember about Apple’s AirPods is that Apple planned them for years in advance of releasing them.

    And Apple had a dastardly plan in place the entire time.

    In fact, work on its AirPods started as long ago as 2011. This means Apple’s plan to take over the headphone market started while it was working on the iPhone 4s!

    Prior to the launch of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, rumours were flying around about Apple removing the headphone jack.

    At the time, this kind of thing seemed unlikely. All phones had headphone jacks, after all. How else were you supposed to listen to music without a headphone jack?

    Sure, Bluetooth headphones had been around for ages at this point but most people – meaning a good 95% of the general public – still used wired headphones to listen to music via their phones.

    Apple knew this, so it couldn’t just remove the headphone jack and let other, third-party headphone brands like the ever-popular Samsung Galaxy Buds fill the void – that would make no sense, fiscally speaking.

    And then it happened: Apple launched the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus and, in a move that literally shuck the foundations of the tech world, confirmed that neither phone would have a headphone jack.

    Instead, users were invited to buy Apple’s new AirPods which would go on sale just in time for Christmas 2016.

    There was plenty of resistance to the move, for obvious reasons, mostly from the anti-Apple press, but Apple didn’t pay any attention. Instead, it just talked-up its AirPods and, like they always do, people went out and bought them. By the boat-load.

    According to reports, Apple sold in excess of 10 million units during the first 12 months its original AirPods went on sale. In 2018, it sold 20 million. In 2019, 35 million. And in 2020, it sold 50 million AirPods units – hugely impressive growth, even by Apple’s usual standards.

    Apple then added in new models in the form of the AirPods Pro and the AirPods Max, effectively increasing its ownership of the market by adding in ANC-support on the Pro models and, with the Max, an over-ear option, again, with ANC, for users that prefer that style.

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    AirPods Models

    As of 2022, there are currently three models of AirPods you can buy:

    • Apple AirPods
    • Apple AirPods Pro
    • Apple AirPods Max

    However, there are now three generations of its base-model AirPods and two generations of its AirPods Pro. The AirPods Max have yet to be updated with a 2nd generation model, but that is rumoured to be happening either in late 2022 or early 2023.

    AirPods (Base Model) Compared

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    Here’s a quick overview of all the changes Apple has made to its base-model AirPods since 2016. In the table below, you’ll see the specs and release notes for Apple’s AirPods (1st Gen), AirPods (2nd Gen), and the current and latest AirPods (3rd Gen).

    AirPodsAirPods 2ndAirPods 3rd
    Size (earbud)40.5 x 16.5 x 18 mm40.5 x 16.5 x 18 mm30.8 x 18.3 x 19.2 mm
    Weight (earbud)4g4g4.3g
    Size (case)44.3 x 21.3 x 53.5 mm44.3 x 21.3 x 53.5 mm46.4 x 21.4 x 54.4 mm
    IP certificationN/AN/AIPX4
    Fit typeOpenOpenOpen
    BluetoothSBC, AAC; Bluetooth 4.2SBC, AAC; Bluetooth 5.0SBC, AAC; Bluetooth 5.0
    Active noise cancellationNoNoNo
    Wireless chargingNoYes, with wireless charging caseYes, compatible with Qi and MagSafe,
    ChipsetW1H1H1
    Touch controlsYesYesYes, with force sensor
    ConnectorLightningLightningLightning
    Battery life (75dB SPL)3.45 hours4.175 hours6.35 hours
    Price (At Launch)(Discontinued)$159 USD, $199 USD with wireless charging case$179 USD

    AirPods Pro Models Compared

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    Similarly, here’s a quick comparison of how the AirPods Pro (1st Gen) compare to the AirPods Pro (2nd Gen):

    AirPods ProAirPods Pro 2nd Gen
    Size (earbud)30.9 x 21.8 x 24 mm30.9 x 21.8 x 24 mm
    Weight (earbud)5.4g5.3g
    Size (case)45.2 x 60.6 x 21.7 mm45.2 x 60.6 x 21.7 mm
    IP certificationIPX4IPX4
    Fit typeSealed (three ear tip sizes)Sealed (four ear tip sizes)
    BluetoothSBC, AAC; Bluetooth 5.0SBC, AAC; Bluetooth 5.3
    ANCHybrid ANCHybrid ANC
    Wireless chargingQi and MagSafe (2021)Qi, MagSafe, and Apple Watch chargers
    ChipsetH1H2 (earbuds)
    U1 (case)
    Touch controlsForce sensorForce sensor and swipes
    ConnectorLightningLightning
    Battery life (75dB SPL)5.1125 hoursTBD
    Price$249 USD$249 USD

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    AirPods Compatibility

    Apple designed its AirPods for use with iPhone. But that doesn’t mean you cannot use them with other non-Apple products. All of Apple’s AirPods models can be used with Android phones, consoles from Sony and Microsoft, and even Windows, Chromebooks, and Linux computers.

    Essentially, so long as your device runs Bluetooth 4.0 or higher, you can connect AirPods to it. Beyond all the bluster and iOS/iPadOS/macOS-hookups, all AirPods really are is Bluetooth-powered true wireless headphones.

    Apple AirPods: The Ultimate Buying Guide [2022]
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    The real secret sauce of Apple’s AirPods, like most of its other products, is how they work together with other Apple products.

    And this means, in order to get the absolute best performance from your AirPods, accessing things like Siri and automatic switching between devices, you need to use AirPods with other Apple products like its iPhone, iPad, and its Macs.

    Is this fair? No. But it is the way Apple does things. It wants you inside its walled garden, using ONLY its products. And this approach, while not popular with everybody, is the biggest factor in Apple’s truly gigantic growth between 2001 and 2022.

    AirPods iPhone Compatibility List

    AirPods are designed to function optimally with iPhone but not all iPhones support AirPods. Older models of Apple’s iPhone no longer carry support for Apple’s AirPods. Here’s a full breakdown of all the iPhones that are currently compatible with Apple’s AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max.

    • iPhone 14
    • iPhone 14 Plus
    • iPhone 14 Pro
    • iPhone 14 Pro Max
    • iPhone 13 mini
    • iPhone 13
    • iPhone 13 Pro
    • iPhone 13 Pro Max
    • iPhone 12 mini
    • iPhone 12
    • iPhone 12 Pro
    • iPhone 12 Pro Max
    • iPhone 11
    • iPhone 11 Pro
    • iPhone 11 Pro Max
    • iPhone XS
    • iPhone XS Max
    • iPhone XR
    • iPhone X
    • iPhone 8
    • iPhone 8 Plus
    • iPhone 7
    • iPhone 7 Plus
    • iPhone 6s
    • iPhone 6s Plus
    • iPhone SE (3rd generation)
    • iPhone SE (2nd generation)
    • iPhone SE (1st generation)

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    Design

    Apple makes three models in its AirPods line: AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max – and they’re all different. Let’s start out by going over the design of its entry-level AirPods, the standard Apple AirPods.

    Apple AirPods (3rd Generation)

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    The standard AirPods’ design hasn’t changed much since 2016. The outer shell is all plastic, looking like a set of Apple’s older earbuds sans wires.

    Not as comfortable as the newer Pro model, hard plastic inside your ear has always been a tough sell for me, the base-level AirPods are positioned as Apple’s “least expensive” option – the ones you go for if you don’t want to spend a lot of money.

    Apple’s AirPods – now in their third-generation – might be the cheapest model Apple sells, but they certainly do not pull any punches when it comes to features, packing things like Spatial Audio, Adaptive EQ, and a raft of sensors that includes:

    • Dual beamforming microphones
    • Inward-facing microphone
    • Skin-detecting sensor
    • Motion-detecting accelerometer
    • Speech-detecting accelerometer
    • Force sensor

    There’s no ANC, of course, but the sound quality is still very good. They’re also powered by Apple’s H1 headphone chipset and they come with a full IPX4 water and dust resistance.

    Apple has also improved the battery life too. You now get up to 6 hours of listening time on a single charge (5 hours with Spatial Audio enabled), and the AirPods Charging Case will provide up to 30 additional hours of battery life.

    Additional Resources:


    Apple AirPods Pro (2nd Generation)

    AirPods Battery Life Comparison
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    The AirPods Pro, for me, are the sweet spot in Apple’s AirPods range, meaning they’re most likely the ones that you’ll want to go for.

    The AirPods Pro are more comfortable too, thanks to the use of soft silicon earbuds (rather than the hard plastic used on the base model AirPods), and they pack in Apple’s incredible Active Noise Canceling (ANC) technology which, even on the 1st gen, is truly incredible.

    The design is different too; on the AirPods Pro, the stems are significantly longer, giving the design a completely different aesthetic to Apple’s entry-level AirPods. Packed with sensors, the AirPods Pro are easily the most contextually aware headphones I have ever encountered.

    If you start talking to someone, they immediately drop the music so you have a conversation without removing them; if you switch devices, say from your iPhone to your MacBook, it just swaps over without you having to do a thing.

    And then there’s the ANC which is other-worldly, thanks to Apple’s innovative approach to noise cancellation.

    In terms of overall sound quality, they sound incredible too. I have a couple of Bose and B&O over-ear headphones. I thought these were badass, more or less untouchable. They both cost a fortune. But since I’ve had my AirPods Pro, they’ve been sat collecting dust in a drawer in my office.

    I use my AirPods Pro around the home, when running, walking the dog, and whilst doing the shopping. They’re great for music, audiobooks and podcasts, and, if that wasn’t enough, they’ll also dictate your messages to you while you’re wearing them, saving you the hassle of taking your phone out of your pocket.

    Add in things like Siri support, decent battery life, and the fact that the AirPods Pro Charging Case brings with it an additional 30 hours of charge and you’re looking at what are arguably the smartest and best-sounding wireless earbuds on the market right now.

    Additional Resources:


    Apple AirPods Max

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    The AirPods Max are Apple’s most expensive set of wireless headphones. Unlike the AirPods and AirPods Pro, the AirPods Max are over-ear headphones (sometimes called bins). They pack in all the smart features you get with AirPods and AirPods Pro, of course, but quite a lot more when it comes to drivers and audio tech.

    In total, the AirPods Max run 9 microphones to achieve its market-leading noise cancellation. Of these 9 microphones, six are outward facing and two are internal facing. This is done to “balance” the ANC, ensuring users do not feel pressure inside their head when it is activated.

    You also get beamforming microphones too which are used to isolate your voice on calls and inside apps like FaceTime. The ANC, as you’d expect, is incredible and is, for the most part, one of the best integrations of the technology we have tested to date.

    Each of the drivers inside the AirPods Max run a dual-neodymium ring magnet motor which is designed to minimise harmonic distortion across the entire audible range. This means less noise, less distortion, even at loud volumes, and a beautifully balanced sound, packed with lows, mids, and highs.

    With a powerful Apple‑designed H1 chip in each cup, our custom acoustic design and advanced software, AirPods Max use computational audio to create a breakthrough listening experience. By tapping into each chip’s 10 audio cores, computational audio helps block outside noise, adapts audio to the fit and seal of your ear cushions, and makes movie scenes sound like they’re happening all around you.

    Apple

    And if ALL that wasn’t enough, you get all the smarts and sensors that Apple’s AirPods Pro run. Things like:

    • Transparency mode
    • Personalised Spatial Audio with dynamic head tracking1
    • Adaptive EQ
    • Optical sensor (each ear cup)
    • Position sensor (each ear cup)
    • Case-detect sensor (each ear cup)
    • Accelerometer (each ear cup)
    • Gyroscope (left ear cup)

    Basically, if you want the absolute best sound, the most comfortable wearing experience, and access to Apple’s most advanced audio technology, the AirPods Max are the headphones you want to be looking at – they run rings around nearly all of their similarly priced competitors.

    Additional Resources:


    AirPods Charging Case

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    Apple’s AirPods and AirPods Pro come with a charging case, known as the AirPods Charging Case. On AirPods (3rd gen) and the AirPods Pro, the AirPods Charging Case comes with support for MagSafe charging as well as wired charging via its built-in USB C charging port.

    The AirPods Charging Case is where you charge-up your AirPods. It is small enough to carry around with you everywhere, so when you’re not using your AirPods you simply place them back in the charging case and they’re topped up with more charge.

    This is why the AirPods rather meagre battery life isn’t really a problem; you’ll get five to six hours on a single charge. But most users don’t listen to music or podcasts for that long at a time – it’s usually 90 minutes or less. And once they’re back in the charging case, they’ll be charged back up to 80% inside 15 minutes.

    The AirPods Charging Case uses a LED light system to communicate how much charge is left. Here’s what the AirPods Charging Case LED lights mean:

    • Green light with AirPods inside: AirPods is fully charged.
    • Green light with no AirPods inside: Your case is fully charged.
    • Amber light: Less than one full charge is left in the wireless case battery.
    • Flashing amber: This may mean that you need to set you AirPods up again.
    • Flashing white light: AirPods are ready for set up.

    In order to get maximum usage from your AirPods, you’ll need to ensure that your AirPods Charging Case is charged regularly. I leave mine on a MagSafe charging mat most of the time, so it is constantly at 100% whenever I take it anywhere.

    If I’m travelling or away from home, I charge it using its USB C via a wired connection to the mains. This ensures that my AirPods, even when I’m away from home, always get recharged when they’re placed back inside the AirPods Charging Case.

    AirPods Pro Charging Case vs AirPods Charging Case

    AirPods Pro Charging CaseAirPods Charging Case
    Up to 30 hours of listening time
    Up to 24 hours of talk time
    Qi‑certified
    MagSafe Support
    60.6 x 21.7 x 45.2
    mm
    Up to 30 hours of listening time
    Up to 20 hours of talk time
    Qi‑certified
    MagSafe Support
    54.4 x 21.38 x 46.4 mm

    Additional Resources:


    AirPods Features

    When you’re talking about AirPods features, there’s plenty of cross over between Apple’s three models. All of them deeply integrate with iOS and its core functions – stuff like Find My, Siri, and messaging applications.

    But each type of AirPods has its own unique features and abilities, and as you move up in price you unlock more and more features, topping out with the AirPods Max which offer the best sound overall and the best features.

    Here’s a quick breakdown of all the features and options you get on each model of Apple’s AirPods:

    AirPods Features

    • Improved audio quality (over AirPods 2nd Gen)
    • Smaller stem (compared to AirPods 2nd / 1st Gen)
    • MagSafe charging
    • More comfortable (compared to AirPods 2nd / 1st Gen)
    • Adaptive EQ tunes
    • Spatial Audio
    • IPX4 resistance helps for workouts or weather
    • Skin detection sensor
    • Battery life is fantastic

    AirPods Pro Features

    • More compact design
    • Improved audio quality (over AirPods and AirPods Pro 1st Gen)
    • Great ANC
    • Transparency mode is outstanding
    • Stay in ear much better
    • Audio Sharing
    • Announce messages with Siri
    • Water/sweat resistant

    AirPods Max Features

    • Amazing design
    • Dual H1 chips for audio processing, range, and high fidelity audio
    • Very comfortable
    • Deep iOS integration
    • Spatial audio w/ head tracking
    • Solid battery life
    • Excellent ANC
    • Solid physical controls via its Digital Crown

    As you can see, there’s plenty of parity between the different types of AirPods, but also plenty of differences too. With the AirPods Max, the main difference, aside from the cost and design, relates to its Charging Case, AKA the AirPods Max Case.

    It is a fabric wrapper-type case and is completely unlike the AirPods Charging Case you get with the AirPods and AirPods Pro. Reviewers pretty unanimously hated the AirPods Max Case, claiming it was tricky to use, provided little protection, and lacked the features most had come to expect from an AirPods charging case.

    The fabric cover does little to protect the expensive headphones and offers only one essential feature — low-power mode. A magnet within the case activates a low-power sleep function of the AirPods Max that keeps them from pairing to devices. After 18 hours of being in this state, Bluetooth and Find My is disabled entirely.

    Third-party cases can build in this functionality, so those who dislike this case can find one that fits their needs. We didn’t mind some aspects of the case, like having the headband exposed. This makes them easier to grasp when taking them out of your bag and takes up less space when packing.

    Our biggest critique of the case is its lack of protection for the ear cups. The soft aluminum casing seems to be the most vulnerable part of the AirPods Max, yet the case barely protects it. We’d be happier if Apple made a case that completely encased the ear cups.

    Source

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    AirPods Battery Life

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    When it comes to battery life performance on Apple’s AirPods, things vary quite a bit as you move through the different models and different generations.

    For instance, the AirPods third-generation have better battery life than the AirPods second-generation – up from 5 hours to 6 hours. With the AirPods Pro, there is no change between the first-gen and second-gen models – it remains at 4.5 hours w/ Spatial Audio and ANC.

    The AirPods Max have the best battery life overall with up to 20 hours on a single charge. The reason for this is that they run much larger batteries, so if battery life and overall audio quality are your main concerns you’re best off going with them.


    Specification
    AirPods (second-gen)AirPods (third-gen)AirPods ProAirPods Max
    Active noise canceling / reductionNoNoYesYes
    Transparency modeNoNoYesYes
    ConnectivityBluetooth 5.0Bluetooth 5.0Bluetooth 5.0Bluetooth 5.0
    Earbud size (mm)40.5 x 16.5 x 18.030.8 x 18.3 x 19.230.9 x 21.8 x 24187.3 x 168.6 x 83.4
    Case size (mm)53.5 x 44.3 x 21.346.4 x 54.4 x 21.445.2 x 60.6 x 21.7134.5
    Earbud weight (g)44.285.4384.8
    Case weight (g)38.237.9145.6134.5
    Battery (earbud)Up to 5 hoursUp to 6 hoursUp to 4.5 hoursUp to 20 hours
    Battery (case)More than 24 hoursUp to 30 hoursMore than 24 hoursN/A
    Water resistance certificationNoIPX4IPX4No
    Wired chargingLightning connectorLightning connectorLightning connectorLightning connector
    Wireless chargingNoQi-certified or MagSafe chargersQi-certified or MagSafe chargersN/A
    Charging cord includedLightning to USB-ALightning to USB-CLightning to USB-CLightning to USB-C
    Price$129$179$249$549
    Custom chipsApple H1Apple H1Apple H1Apple H1 (in each ear cup)

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    Richard Goodwin

    Richard Goodwin has been working as a tech journalist for over 10 years. He is the editor and owner of KnowYourMobile.

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