Apple AirPods full review
Apple revealed the second-gen AirPods with little fanfare in March 2019, and while the new AirPods are more of a refinement than a reimagining of the original model, there’s enough here to tempt consumers. The H1 chip makes the new AirPods faster, more responsive and capable of handling hands-free Siri activation, improving the industry-leading experience Apple created back in 2016.
But despite providing a great overall experience, the second-gen AirPods aren’t perfect. Find out why in our AirPods 2 review.
Pricing and availability
The second-gen AirPods are available in two variants: one with, and one without wireless charging. If you’d rather charge your AirPod Charging Case via Lightning cable and save yourself a bit of money, you can pick up the second-gen AirPods for £159/$159 from Apple. However, those that want to wirelessly charge the AirPod Charging Case will have to pay an extra £40/$40, setting you back £199/$199.
There’s some good news for first-gen AirPods owners; you can buy the Wireless Charging Case separately for £79/$79. While it won’t bring the upgrades of the H1 chip, it’ll provide a simplified charging experience.
At a glance, you might struggle to notice the difference between the first- and second-gen AirPods, and that’s because in terms of design, there’s no real change. While some may see that as a bad thing, we don’t; the bright-white-and-chrome AirPods are some of the best-looking wireless earbuds on the market at the moment, featuring a clean, premium look and long stems that, along with the iPhone’s notch, are becoming an iconic part of Apple’s design history.
The earbuds themselves are very comfortable to wear in part because they don’t go deep into your ear canals and tickle your brain like other buds on the market, and the stem that so many other manufacturers have ditched helps keep the buds secure in your ears. This makes them easy to put in and take out, and that simplicity is often underrated by consumers.
Of course, the flipside of this is that the AirPods don’t provide the perfect seal for everybody. Ears are fairly unique, so creating a design that works for everyone is a challenge and while Apple has done exceptionally well, it’s not perfect. While they stay secure a lot of the time, we’ve found that we have to adjust the earbuds every now and again to improve the seal and thus, improve overall audio quality.
It’s a complaint we and others had with the original AirPods, and it’s something we’d hoped Apple would address in the second iteration. We can’t help but wonder how much the experience would be improved if Apple followed the trend of other audio companies and included some kind of memory foam tips, providing a more secure, unique seal while also providing passive noise cancellation.
Like the buds themselves, the design of the AirPod charging case has been largely unchanged, but again, that’s not a bad thing.
The charging case is well-designed, using a satisfying magnet seal to keep your buds secure and contact charging to keep your earbuds topped up, while somehow managing to pack a battery providing 24 hours of charge into an exceptionally small form factor. (If you want to keep this case scratch-free, you may wish to invest in an additional case/cover to go on top.)
Take a look at other similarly priced wireless earbuds on the market to see what we mean – they come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s one similarity amongst them; the charging cases are bulky and awkward to carry in a pocket. The AirPod charging case, on the other hand, is so small and lightweight that it can even fit comfortably in a jean coin pocket.
It’s only if you opt for the wireless charging case that you’ll notice a slight change in design. The premium case features an LED on the front to let you know if it’s charging, and once it’s fully charged. It’s only a small change, but one desperately needed with the finicky nature of wireless charging mats in 2019. We imagine AirPower could’ve changed that, but we won’t talk about that here…
It’s all about ease of use
The main draw of AirPods is arguably not the audio quality, but the ease of use and the overall experience the wireless earbuds provide. Due to the small form factor and lack of buttons, wireless earbuds generally don’t have the best reputation when it comes to usability, but that can’t be said for the AirPods - from setup to everyday use, the AirPods are an absolute dream to use.
The setup process takes seconds; open the lid of the charging case, unlock your iPhone (running iOS 12.2 or later) and follow the on-screen prompts to pair the device to your smartphone and link it to your Apple ID, and from there it’ll be able to automatically connect to any iOS device connected to your Apple ID.
But it’s not just the setup; small features, like automatically pausing music when you take an earbud out (to talk to someone) and resuming playback when you put it back in, or automatically switching from stereo to mono output with no drop in connection when you’re wearing a single AirPod, are what make the AirPod experience such a premium one.
That has been further enhanced with the second-gen AirPods via the H1 chipset, bringing improvements to synchronisation and responsiveness that provides a generally quicker experience.
The H1 chip also brings enhancement to battery life; you’ll still get an average of five hours of charge listening to music, but average talk time has increased from two to three hours. Admittedly, that’s not exciting for everyone, but it’s good news for the chattier amongst us. There’s no change in the 24-hour life the charging case provides, but that’s still an industry average in 2019.
The second-gen AirPods are also noticeably quicker establishing a connection with a paired iPhone, and when switching between devices, courtesy of the new chipset. Gaming is a huge part of the core iOS experience, so Apple’s claims that the H1 chip provides 30 percent lower gaming latency should be welcomed by gamers.
Though you have to pay an extra £40/$40 for the pleasure, you can now wirelessly charge your AirPod charging case. The Lightning port is still present and remains the fastest way to charge the case, but dropping the case onto a charging mat is a lot simpler than fumbling with a cable. Take a look at our favourite wireless chargers, ideal for use with the wireless charging case.
While you had to tap the AirPods to activate Siri on the original earbuds, the latest AirPods feature the same ‘Hey Siri’ always-listening tech as iOS and macOS devices. This allows you to activate the virtual assistant simply by saying ‘Hey Siri’ – ideal for those times when you’ve got your hands full and need to call your flatmate to open the front door!
Siri works impressively well, considering you don’t have an in-line mic like you would with wired headphones. The beamforming mics built into the AirPods do an incredible job at filtering out noise and focusing on your voice, even in loud environments, which is great news both for Siri use and taking calls when out and about. There were certainly no complaints about call clarity or quality from recipients during our tests.
Crucially, the Bluetooth connection is consistent, with no annoying drop-outs in busy signal areas. It’s something we’ve experienced to a degree with almost every pair of wireless earbuds – and some headphones – we’ve used, so it’s quite the feat from Apple. It might not sound like much, but it’ll negate those annoying quiet moments during your favourite songs.
What do AirPods 2 sound like?
There’s not much of a change in the audio department. The second-gen AirPods sound almost identical to the first-gen earbuds, although we have noticed that the overall volume has increased. While some will inevitably be disappointed that Apple hasn’t improved on what is the most important part of an audio product, the AirPods – both first- and second-gen – do produce decent quality audio.
As with the originals, the new AirPods are suited to a wide range of music, though the output has noticeably been tailored to favour bassy tones. That’s not a bad thing for those that love bassy music as it provides a more immersive experience, but it does so at a sacrifice of overall clarity. It goes without saying the AirPods won’t be able to emulate the crisp audio of high-end headphones double the price, but even at a similar pricepoint, there are better-sounding wireless earbuds on the market.
But the seamless connection with Apple devices is a huge selling point. Apple is more focused on providing a well-rounded experience, from setup to everyday use, rather than providing the perfect audio experience.
The second-gen AirPods are more of an iterative upgrade than a reimagining of the product. Fans of the first-gen AirPods may not find enough here to warrant an upgrade, but it’s a great time for prospective buyers to take the plunge. Alongside the suite of smart features unique to Apple’s offering, improved connection speed, talk time and Hey Siri support are welcome improvements on a product that was already industry-leading in many aspects.
But while AirPods easily provide the best all-around experience of any wireless earbuds on the market, there’s no improvement in the audio department, and while it was great by 2016 standards, there are other earbuds on the market in 2019 that provide better audio quality.
It all boils down to what you’re after; if you want a smart, fluid listening experience, the AirPods are the ones to go for, but if you’re looking for the best audio quality possible, you may want to look elsewhere.