It seems like an eternity since Apple decided to ditch its headphone jacks on the iPhone 7 devices and caused a whole bunch of (what I thought was) overly dramatic reactions.
Now that the iPhone 8 devices are out and that the iPhone X is looming over the horizon, more people are going to face life without a headphone jack. If you’re getting your first pair of wireless earphones, I cannot think of a better pair to recommend than the Apple AirPods.
Wire-free since 2013
From a selfish point of view, I’ve never had an issue with going wireless. I was already rocking a pair of Bragi Dash, a pair of Bose QC35s and a set of Sony MDR-1BT IIs. Having to untangle cables or getting them snagged on a random stranger’s bag in the tube felt like savagery to me.
What does US$129 buy you?
Freedom. Lots of it.
TL;DR: for US$129, the AirPods are a fantastic purchase - even if you look at it from a complete utilitarian perspective.
What it gets you isn’t the best sound quality you can find. The sound quality is just good enough to make music enjoyable in the office and for audiobooks and podcasts during a commute.
What it gets you is much more valuable - it’s freedom through comfortable sound, ease of use and transparency.
Let’s start with comfortable sound
After discovering in-ear headphones at an early age, I wondered why anyone would ever use earphones that don’t go into your ear canals. The level of bass response you get from a pair of in-ear headphones just cannot be reproduced with non-in-ear headphones like the legendary Sony MDR-E888LP.
After growing up, working in an open office and multiple long-haul flights for business trips later, I realised that the custom in-ear phones I paid so much for cannot stay in my ears for more than 2 - 3 hours without some form of cartilage fatigue. So I bought bluetooth headphones like the Sony MDR-1BT, MDR-1000X and the Bose QC35s. These sound great and are comfortable in winter, but don’t work really well in summer or a tropical country as your ears tend to feel like they’re in an oven. They also mess up my hair, of which I am losing enough.
The AirPods figure out a good enough solution for both conundrums. They are comfortable enough to wear for half a day. Apple’s engineers have also figured out some way to pump the bass response up on these things by designing some sort of a resonance chamber that pumps out very well defined bass in an office environment.
Would I wear them on a long-haul flight? Of course not, that’s what I have my QC35s for. But for everyday use in the office and short-haul flights around Asia, they are good enough and save a lot of space for the short hops.
I've never had any luck with the stock EarPods staying in my ears, but the AirPods have never dropped out of my ears - even when going for a run. This is simply due to the fact that there's no cable tugging on them. YMMV, but try out a friend's pair and you'll see what I mean.
Ease of use for the multi-screen user
Bluetooth headphones have sucked for people who live on multiple screens for a long time. Just as we develop workarounds like booting into pair mode to quickly shift our Sony headphones from the iPhone to the iPad, a manufacturer like Bragi comes in and says “No. You have to disconnect the headphones from the iPhone by turning bluetooth off on the iPhone, because nothing else uses bluetooth these days.”
The AirPods just work on devices signed into your iCloud account.
- Swipe up from an Apple Watch, iPhone or an iPad and choose them.
- Click on the volume control on your iMac or MacBook Pro and choose them.
- Heck, you can even swipe down on your Apple TV remote and select them for audio output!
What do you do when a call comes in? You just double tap to answer it.
In the early days, switching between devices worked only 80% of the time. These days it works 99% of the time. Such is the power of firmware upgrades, and I didn’t even have to perform any finger gymnastics to get them upgraded. They just get upgraded behind my back.
Transparency and its benefits
I used to think that passive isolation was the way to go when it comes to headphones. Until I had to work in a collaborative environment.
The AirPods let just enough sound in when someone is speaking to you for you to remove one side and listen in, (the music automagically stops) have a conversation and put it back on (the music automatically plays). This transparency simply allows you to be comfortable enough to put it on and know that it takes that little effort to take it off and put it back on again.
Take a walk with the AirPods and listen to your audiobook or podcast. You’ll feel like a conversation is happening around you, you'll feel like you're one with the environment.
The one slight frustration I have with transparency is with the MTR here in underground tunnels. Sometimes it just gets too loud for me to hear anything, but it’s a frustration I’d gladly accept for the rest of the convenience.
You might have noticed that I spent majority of this review lamenting about other headphones instead of praising the AirPods. But that’s the exact brilliance of it. This device solves so many of the issues that you may have had with headphones, both wired and wireless ones over the ages that it just blends in with your life.
They give comfortable sound, are easy to use and transparent. They deliver sound into your ears and stay out of the way. They give you the freedom to put it on with the assurance that it will be that simple to take a pause or switch screens.
What more can you ask from a pair of headphones in 2017?
Help support this site
Buy the AirPods on Adorama