Headphones are fickle, yet necessary, friends. Be it a fifteen-hour flight to Hong Kong, or a bus ride to the grocery store, they are accessories many of us use frequently. Packing them, though, is a pain. Be it in pocket, purse, or portmanteau, more often than not you end up with a wadded up mess. Worse, the strain on the cord can significantly shorten the lifespan of the headphones.
Wireless, then, is the way to go, and Apple’s AirPods have won over many converts. Mostly iPhone users, naturally, though the buds reportedly work well with Android, too.
Having used AirPods for a good half year, I firmly stand behind them.
Life altering might be a bit of a hyperbole, but they sure have made life easier. Right from the start, pairing them with an iPhone is a breeze and a revelation for anyone who has messed with Bluetooth in the past. You open the charging case, and that’s about it. The AirPods fulfills that stock Apple promise of magical ease of use.
The design of the of the buds is well thought out, with the Bluetooth chip and batteries located in the short stems where the iPhone EarPods would connect to the cord. The buds contain the sound reproduction hardware. In that sense, you will find more compact headphones than the AirPods, but these tend to compromise sound- and pairing-quality. The AirPods rarely give out, and when they do, the glitches last only for a fraction of a second.
Initially, reviewers compare the AirPods’ sound quality to the EarPods. My guess is the notion was based on trying them for a short amount of time in a preview environment. I’m not a hardcore audiophile, but I know good quality, and for $159 — not a price to sneeze at, granted — the AirPods reproduce audio very, very well. The bass is deep, without hitting the Beats overkill, and ambient music, like that of Christopher Willits’s excellent Horizon, comes across in soundscapes the EarPods never could reproduce.
Don’t get me wrong. A $350 set of wired, over-the-ear Sonys deliver higher quality sound. With the AirPods’s mix of convenience and audio, I’d instead take the extra $200+ and apply it to a high-quality turntable/Sonos/HomePod/whatever for the house.
There are some downsides, of course. The AirPods come with four hours of battery life, so a handful of charges are required on longer flights. Luckily, the included charging case means you won’t have to plug anything into the wall to keep the buds going: Twenty minutes in the case will get the headphones back in action. I don’t know how long the actual case stays charged, but based on my use; I would be surprised if it died during flight. Plus, as most planes have USB charging, you could just plug it in for ten minutes, if so needed. It doesn’t take much longer than that for a full charge.
I should also mention how well designed the case is. It fits perfectly in your pocket, nearly unnoticeable. The lid has a satisfying click when it’s opened, and I sometimes find myself idly fiddling with it while ruminating about whatever is happening inside my head.
Things get a bit more muddled with the
in-flight entertainment. Airplanes generally do not support Bluetooth, and the AirPods will do you little good with in-flight movies. Of course, the current EarPods require a Lightning Adapter to connect to auxiliary ports, so that is an extra piece of hardware to carry around (small as it may be). With free in-flight headphones, one could argue all of this is a minor issue, but the availability of those seem to be a gamble these days.
The solution might be to bring an iPad or whatever, with some Netflix movies downloaded. Or read a book. It’s good for you!
So, yes, $159 is an investment, but with its ease-of-use and surprisingly decent sound quality, I consider the AirPods my headphones of choice. Should you additionally own an LTE Apple Watch, you can travel untethered with streaming music. The future Minority Report promised us is here!