UK Tech Reviews​​
Audio - Computers - Tablets - Headphones

Apple Airpods Review

I’ve been an enthusiastic wireless headphone user for quite some time now and have had the opportunity to try quite a few different models over the last few months. When I purchased the Airpods I had every intention of trying them out and returning them if the sound quality wasn’t up to snuff - guess what - I didn’t return them!

What makes the Airpods so good? They are definitely not designed to cut out outside noise at all.  With no music playing you could easily not even know you’re wearing them. This does offer some advantages but also does potentially have an impact on sound quality because you’re constantly fighting against the ambient sounds around you.

So what is it about the Airpods that makes them so cool and groovy. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly for me, the bluetooth performance is very good. Out of all the bluetooth headphones I have tried, there’s only a handful of them which offer a good enough wireless connection for me to consider using them as primary headphones. The Sony WH1000X2m, V-Moda Crossfade Wireless and the 1More MK802’s are the only full-sized bluetooth headphones I have tried so far which could genuinely replace conventional wired headphones without any significant loss in quality - for most of the time.

The purist in me would always want to adopt the path of least resistance when it comes to sound quality though - in this respect bluetooth headphones - no matter what codec is used, will always come in second place - at least that’s what the thinking part of my brain would say. The truth be known, I strongly suspect that my ears would no longer be able to tell the sometimes subtle differences between the very best wireless codec such as APtX-HD and wired. The differences for me now are probably in tone rather than detail. One thing that I am capable of detecting though is the difference between SBC and APtX - I can do it every time without fail - except when it comes to the Airpods.

Apple’s W1 Wireless Chip is doing some real magic here. To the best of my knowledge the Airpods do not support APtX. Apple has never really embraced that particular codec but the Airpods definitely do not exhibit the typical sound characteristics of the SBC codec - their top end is sweet, detailed and definitely distortion free.

My brain is telling me that this is because either the W1 chip used some bluetooth wizardry to improve bandwidth or the drivers have been designed to not reproduce the frequencies where these distortions are normally heard. To be honest at this point in time I really don’t know. I’m using the Airpods on non-Apple hardware. Typically Android phone and tablet and occasionally the Chromebook. I think I get the best sound quality out of my LG V20 phone but to be honest this could just be differences in volume - the Chromebook can drive headphones quite nicely but in bluetooth mode it can sometimes be a little quiet.

One thing that I feel I really have to point out regarding the Airpods sound quality is that you really cannot possibly get the most out of these headphones unless you’re in a very quiet environment. They leak sound in like nothing else. From a safety point of view when outside this isn’t always a bad thing but outside noise definitely has a negative effect on sound quality - and there really doesn’t have to be a lot of it.

Mids are perhaps very slightly recessed on the Airpods - but only slightly. This helps produce a sense of spaciousness - projecting the performers slightly ‘outward’ - I personally think that this helps them to avoid listening fatigue.

Bass is there. Earbud there if you know what I mean. If you had a musician’s skill set you could easily pick out and notate the bass - it’s just that the bass won’t cave your chest in. The basic sound character of the Airpods is actually very similar to the Sennheiser 598se full sized open backed headphone. They too tend to be somewhat lean on the bass - super accurate perhaps but lean nonetheless.

The physical fit with the Airpods really is a personal thing. I feel that they do fit me exactly as Apple intended but I am used to in ear monitors and so as such the Airpods don’t feel super secure. I have a massive bag of foam pads which will fit (with a bit of a struggle) and in my opinion they do definitely improve the bass response a little bit and perhaps even tame the treble a tad - but primarily they just improve the fit and make them feel a little more secure.  Whilst I can still fit the Airpods in the case with the foam tips fitted, the touch controls can definitely become a little hit or miss.

The case is nothing short of brilliant.  It charges fast, it charges the headphones fast and is small enough for you to easily fit them in the coin pocket of your favourite tight jeans. It uses Apple’s proprietary cable but it does come with one supplied so I really can’t complain about this. Out of all of the portable headphones I have ever owned I can honestly say that the Apple Airpods are the only ones I have carried around with me all the time.

When I first bought the Airpods I had every intention of sending them back if I didn’t feel that they were worth the money they cost. I really felt that they wouldn’t be able to do this - I was completely convinced that I would be sending them back the next day. The very first time I tried them out I was completely convinced that I was going to keep them. They’re worth every penny. Damn you Apple. Damn you to hell!