Apple’s popular white plastic buds spurred the ubiquity of true wireless earphones. Competitive companies now make more ear-candy devices at wallet-friendly prices, offering other colors, styles, and feature-sets. So are AirPods really worth their price tag now?
AirPods provide the single greatest benefit of “true wireless” audio: total mobility. But their small size sacrifices audio quality for convenience, and they cost an awful lot. So at first, I plunged into the unchained audio space with a chonky pair of bluetooth headphones.
Those wireless aural ear muffs were super affordable; I loved them. But the AirPods feature-set of bells and whistles kept ringing in my ears. Resisting their temptation proved futile. Eventually, I overcame sticker-shock, bought AirPods Gen 2 on sale, and now love using them daily.
Yet with almost 2 years of enjoyment, I’m now asking if AirPods are still worth it.
Thanks to my lovely wife, my eyes have been re-opened to other options for my ears. She was in the bluetooth earbuds market — outside Apple’s walled garden; AirPods don’t fit her ears — for a pair without a triple-digit price tag. Helping her shop, I noted that solutions from established companies like Sony, JBL, Razer, Jabra, and more look great, with several under $100.
If my AirPods died today, would I be willing to pay Apple’s cringe-worthy price tag again for a newer pair?
To help answer, Consumer Reports says that, for iPhone owners, AirPods Gen 3 are recommended. The main reason they exceed the competition is the synergy of Apple’s tech:
“Used with an iPhone and other Apple products, the AirPods will give you a more seamless experience.”
The only distinct, maybe dubious, advantages I’m aware of with AirPods are how they’re treated as a first-class citizen with Apple’s gear. For example:
- Easy pairing with Apple devices
- Seamless switching between MacBook, iPhone, iPad…
- Precision finding of misplaced AirPods (iPhone 11 and up)
- Siri summoning
Easy pairing to Apple gadgets is fast, nicely done, and works well. Pairing other bluetooth devices can be too much of a hassle — a win for Apple magic.
Seamless switching between devices works most of the time and is quite awesome, but sometimes it doesn’t work, which can be frustrating.
Precision finding seems handy, but my iPhone 8 Plus lacks the specialized chip for it; I can’t use that unique advantage.
Siri Summoning is fast and reliable…but Siri isn’t always helpful.
AirPods are great overall, but I have a little gripe: sometimes just working…doesn’t work. Too often, my right AirPod won’t turn on when I put it in my ear. It’s a minor issue that shouldn’t exist at the quality and price-tier I bought into. Paying twice as much for an Apple solution should net about double the benefit over the competition. Yet with AirPods, paying much more may only net little more versus others.
Per several websites’ Best Buds of 2022 articles, AirPods are typically not the number one pick, though they’re often in the top 10 and sometimes in the top 5. Here are a few sites’ best true wireless buds in the AirPods 3/AirPods Pro price range overall:
- Sony WF-1000XM4, The Verge
- Google Pixel Buds A-Series, Wired
- Sony WF-1000XM4, Forbes
- Samsung Galaxy Buds, Consumer Reports
And for the best buds on a budget:
- Jabra Elite 3, The Verge
- JLab Audio Go Air, Wired
- OnePlus Buds Z2, Forbes
- Skullcandy Dime True Wireless, Consumer Reports
Note why some sites omitted AirPods from among its picks:
“…while Apple's standard AirPods (first, second, or third-gen) do some things well, we just don't like them all that much. (Read our review.) They get OK battery life, come in a compact case, and work well for calls, but they don't fit all ears well, and since they don't have ear tips or wings, you're out of luck if they're loose.” - Wired
“As an avid Apple user…I like that the AirPod Pros work with other Apple devices. At their suggested retail price of $249, however, these earbuds are more expensive than much of the competition without the audio quality to match.” - Forbes
Finally, there’s AirPods Gen 3 review by MKBHD that basically says they’re a no-brainer if you’re in the Apple ecosystem.
Deciding if AirPods are worth the expense isn’t easy. Their hardware quality is Apple-renown and their feature-set is great — not just for audio playback, but also for hands-free phone calls. Yet affordability is highly valuable. Can I be content with only the necessities of AirPods — or any Apple hardware — or must I have some niceties too?
Do you think AirPods are worth it?