Disclaimer: I’m not an audiophile, or a tech reviewer, but I love my music and enjoy the tech. I stopped buying CDs when iTunes Store opened. I have purchased many cheap and not so cheap headphones and earbuds over the years. My current wired cans came free with a magazine subscription - AirPods are just the latest addition to a long line of listening tech.
Upon unboxing, the immediate thing that grabbed me was how small the case is - it’s really compact. Held shut by magnets, with more magnets keeping the AirPods in their nest, the ‘feel’ of retrieving them is highly satisfying. I suspect Apple spent a long time on this one thing alone.
AirPods come partially charged and ready to use. Pairing is as simple as opening the case next to the iPhone and choosing ‘Connect’ on the pop-up dialog. That initial pairing seeds your other iCloud connected devices, so that simply opening control centre and choosing the AirPods is all that is required to switch sources.
My main concerns were fit and sound quality. I never liked any of Apple’s bundled EarPods - they didn’t seem to match my ears, causing them to ache after a period of time. My view here has softened in the last few weeks because I’ve been using EarPods for a lot of hands-free calls as part of my work, and to be honest I started not to notice them so much.
Because the AirPods don’t have the drag of the cord, they feel virtually weightless, and I feel like I can wear them for extended periods.
On to sound quality. Some reviews mention the somewhat sub-par sound quality, and I would tend to agree, *however* I am comparing them to my stalwart Ultimate Ears Metrofi 220’s (which are over 10 years old!), and in that comparison, the AirPods win easily.
For wireless listening, I turn to my Sennheiser MM 500-X Bluetooth headphones. The immediate advantage of these is the over ear design, which provides superior insulation from ambient sounds.
While AirPods don’t have anything near the same sound insulating properties, they are surprisingly close in terms of bass delivery to the Sennheisers. Perhaps they need running in to loosen up the midtones, but after a extended listening session, the AirPods were starting to reveal the music in finer detail than my initial impressions let me believe. I found the perfect playground in Goldfrapp’s Silver Eye album, with it’s rich combination of layered synth bass and sweeping pads and vocals. Here, the AirPods easily matched the Sennheisers for punch and stereo staging.
In the nice-to-have category, if you store a single AirPod in the case, the other AirPod is able to down mix the stereo to one ear, useful if you want to listen to music more discretely.
Then there’s Siri integration. It’s poor at best. Siri with AirPods shows no enhanced functionality over standard Siri with Apple Music (or iTunes). Siri is the perfect platform for added control ‘smarts’, such as saying ‘Skip 3 tracks’, or ‘Play track 4’, or ‘Start this album from the beginning’. The usual ability to tell Siri what to play (provided Siri interprets your request properly - my request ‘Play anything by Peter Gabriel’ caused Siri to play a random track from, of course, Phil Collins. I think she hates me.) still exists, but finer remote voice control would be welcome.
I wasn’t sure if I’d like the AirPods for the reasons stated, but after a few hours listening I’m noticing them less and enjoying the music more, which is the important thing.
To sum up:
- Supremely convenient, with a innovative charging solution in a tiny package.
- Sound is adequate, bordering on good, matching other BT headphones in performance.
- Easy switching of sources on iOS without needing to visit Settings.
- I found the BT range to be excellent.
- Siri integration offers no improvement over standard Siri.
- Changing volume remotely by telling Siri is tedious.