Ah. The Apple AirPods. The tiny little headphones that sit in your ear and deliver sweet music into your soul (your ears, but soul sounds more dramatic). There’s so many imitations in the market (and so many other types of earbuds) but there will only ever be one AirPods. Well, five, actually. And here’s what you need to know if you’re looking at buying a pair.
A bit of history
First, a little bit of history. Apple announced the AirPods on September 7, 2016, at an Apple Special Event. Headlining that event was the iPhone 7 and Apple Watch Series 2. The AirPods (that became known as the first generation) began shipping in December that year.
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Apple AirPods (first generation)
When they were first announced, it was obvious that AirPods were Apple’s attempt to distract everyone from the iPhone’s lack of a headphone jack. AirPods were Apple’s version of truly wireless earphones, a gadget lots of companies at the time had been trying to perfect with varying degrees of success.
In true Apple form, it was the ease of use that got everyone hooked. Hell, in Gizmodo Australia’s review of the AirPods back in 2016, we barely said a bad word about them. They were extraordinary for their time.
Looking back, however, the stems were so stupidly long. And they really were quite uncomfortable. When they launched, they were priced at $229.
With three other (and way better) models launched in the five years since, Apple stopped selling these, but you can find them hidden around the internet for sale.
Apple AirPods (second generation)
The second generation AirPods were released in 2019. In our review, we said they were very good, but as an upgrade, they were ‘fine’. They weren’t revolutionary.
To the naked eye, the second generation AirPods are identical to the first pair, but they’re functionally better. They also gave us the option to buy a wireless charging case.
This is basically why there’s no need for the first-generation pair anymore: the second-gen set are the same, but better.
The second generation AirPods are available at a lower price now the third generation exist. This means they’re somewhat reasonably priced, at RRP $219.
They’re still a compelling buy. The extra $60 for AirPods 3 gives you lots of new features that might be worth the asking price, but if you don’t want to stretch your budget that much, the older AirPods remain a good alternative.
For some people who have older Apple devices, the second-generation AirPods are the only good option given that the pricier AirPods are incompatible with some devices.
Apple AirPods Pro
When the AirPods Pro dropped, users of AirPods were in awe. The sound was phenomenal, noise cancellation had been nailed, Apple had improved on the original AirPods design and the comfort factor also got a plug in our review at the time.
The AirPods Pro are the most expensive of the earbuds we’ve covered here, at RRP AU$399. If you want an in-ear fit with active noise cancellation, you should buy AirPods Pro. They’ve got exclusive features like Conversation Boost, which focuses the microphone on the person talking in front of you to help boost their audio in face-to-face conversations, and it’s useful for those who face hearing difficulties. AirPods Pro also work with separation alerts, so your iPhone can warn you if you leave them behind.
Apple AirPods (third generation)
The third-gen AirPods were announced in September, and while they may be missing features found on similarly priced earbuds today, they still deliver a fantastic experience when paired with Apple’s other hardware.
They were actually good enough to convert this non-AirPods writer to be an Apple earbuds stan.
The new AirPods have shorter stems than their predecessors and the things Siri can do are not to be slept on. They actually look and feel like the AirPods Pro, just without the silicon tips. The battery life on the third generation AirPods is better than the Pros, too.
One of the major selling points of the new pair is that they boast up to six hours of listening time and up to four hours of talk time. This is an extra hour of battery life over the previous generations. And with five minutes on charge, they last around one hour.
The third generation AirPods will set you back RRP $279. New subscribers get six months free of Apple Music with their AirPods, too.
Why would you buy the AirPods 3rd generation? Because they’re actually a decent enough improvement on the prior pair and offer a cheaper (by $120!) alternative to the AirPods Pro.
Apple AirPods Max
What about those over-ear ones, the AirPods Max? Oh yeah, those.
Back in December 2020, Apple decided to sneak in one last cheeky product launch for the year — the AirPods Max. They were the company’s first over-ear headphones and we couldn’t help but be charmed by their design. They have beautiful sound, great noise-cancellation and a lovely design. They are so distinctly Apple and look nothing like other headphones on the market.
The downside to these bad boys, however, is that they’re too heavy, the case kinda looks like a bra and the AirPods Max are extremely expensive — RRP $899.
Apple AirPods (fourth generation)
Ok slow down, Apple has only just released the 3rd generation pair.
But what would we like to see in them? Well, providing Apple sticks to its creative naming conventions, the AirPods 4th generation should come with noise-cancelling. It’s the only thing really stopping the 3rd generation pair from being kick-ass. But, if they did, they would lose the AirPods Pro consumer and the AirPods would obviously cost more.
While the AirPods experience is best, well, experienced, on Apple devices such as the iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro (oh boy I’d have loved these when I had an iPod), you can also use AirPods on an Android device.
Hopefully that helps you decide which pair of Apple AirPods are right for you.